1964: Oh, My Mangled Head!

A Mad Tea-Party in Swahili (1940)In his book Alice in Many Tongues (1964), Warren Weaver spends the last chapter using a curious method to evaluate various translations of Alice in Wonderland. He takes the same passage from each translation—a portion of the Mad Tea-Party—and asks a fluent speaker in each language to “re-translate” it back into English so he can compare them.

In the section, Alice has just arrived at the tea-party and discovered the March Hare, the Hatter, and the sleepy Dormouse.

The Hatter shook his head mournfully…. “We quarreled last March–just before HE went mad, you know–” (pointing with his tea spoon at the March Hare,) “–it was at the great concert given by the Queen of Hearts, and I had to sing

‘Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!’

You know the song, perhaps?”

“I’ve heard something like it,” said Alice.

“It goes on, you know,” the Hatter continued, “in this way:–

‘Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle–'”

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep “Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle–” and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

The song, of course, is a mixed-up version of the English lullaby “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Translators have three options when faced with this kind of parody, Weaver concludes. The first is to invent a parody of a similar well-known children’s verse in the translation language. (This is the superior method in his opinion.) The second is to translate the song as is—perhaps because the translator does not recognize that the parody is a parody—leaving the reader with just a strange song about a bat and tea-trays. The third method is to substitute an unrelated bit of nonsense verse for the original.

A number of translations employ the first method:

The Danish version mimics a children’s song:

Fly, oh fly, my owl,
Fairest of all fowl!
Up to the clouds, fly away
Like tea-things in a bag.
Fly, oh fly

The French version “is a confused (and it seems to me not very clever) modification of a rhyme apparently well known to French children a century ago”:

Ah, I will tell you my sister,
What causes my pain.
It is that I had some candied almonds,
And that I ate them.

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1906: Entrance to Paradise

Wilhelm Bernatzik - Entrance to Paradise (1906)

Wilhelm Bernatzik: Entrance to Paradise (1906)

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1938: Fire

Teresita Fernández - Fire (2005)

Teresita Fernández: Fire (2005)

Fire and heat provide modes of explanation in the most varied domains, because they have been for us the occasion for unforgettable memories, for simple and decisive personal experiences. Fire is thus a privileged phenomenon which can explain anything. If all that changes slowly may be explained by life, all that changes quickly is explained by fire. Fire is the ultra-living element. It is intimate and it is universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky. It rises from the depths of the substance and offers itself with the warmth of love. Or it can go back down into the substance and hide there, latent and pent-up, like hate and vengeance. Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise. It burns in Hell. It is gentleness and torture. It is cookery and it is apocalypse. It is a pleasure for the good child sitting prudently by the hearth; yet it punishes any disobedience when the child wishes to play too close to its flames. It is well-being and it is respect. It is a tutelary and a terrible divinity, both good and bad. It can contradict itself; thus it is one of the principles of universal explanation.

Gaston Bachelard: The Psychoanalysis of Fire (1938) (Alan C. M. Ross, trans.)

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1904: Buy Your Chair Under a Chair

Tell City Chair Co. taking orders at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair

Founded in the 1850’s by Swiss immigrants from Cincinnati, Tell City, Indiana was originally a planned community in which land was distributed by lottery and everyone was guaranteed a job. One of the first businesses in the town was the Chair Makers Union, a cooperative organized by 11 men; all were equal owners and the constitution required every member to work in the factory. The company retained the name even after the cooperative structure fell apartbut eventually became the Tell City Chair Company in 1924.

The photo shows representatives Jacob Zoercher (left) and A.P. Fenn taking orders at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

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1973: And Here As In Other Places

Emiliano Zapata - UFW Newsletter (May 4, 1973)

Fold-out poster of Emiliano Zapata from El Malcriado, newsletter of the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO (May 4,1973) (source)

…And here as in other places, enslaved men and women, whose consciousness has been asleep, are waking up, looking around struggling…

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1880: Autumn Landscape

George Inness - Autumn Landscape with Cattle

George Inness: Autumn Landscape with Cattle; I made up the date.

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1791: Picking Clams


Utagawa Toyokuni: Picking Clams (ca. 1791)

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