In the last decade of my professional life in France I provided English language translation, communication and marketing strategies for companies targeting American and expatriate markets. One of my clients was the preciously high-brow monthly revue called Art Press. Its businessman publisher was keenly aware of the need for a bilingual edition of this contemporary review in order to satisfy his advertiser base. Its insular editor, a leader of the Sixties Maoist counter-culture, one Catherine Millet, was fiercely hostile to the idea.
The magazine’s untenable snobbery (it was after all radically leftist), its impenetrable jargon, the self-referential insularity, the sheer incomprehensibility of the post-modernist texts marked this gig as by far my toughest challenge.
I began by extending a handshake of friendship to its editor and founder Catherine M. She greeted me with a scowl from under her long bangs and asked if I had come to waste her time with small talk. I explained that I had been hired by the publisher to get the international edition up and running, hence my, to me, quite natural attempt at forging some collaboration.
I politely suggested that since our targeted audience was not initiated into Art Press’ enigmatic style, we might perhaps, maybe, with her permission and approval, include some background or context, perhaps some explanatory notes, perhaps even some simpler expression of some of the seminal ideas. She replied, “I have no obligation to communicate. Unlike you, I am not merely a journalist.”
So how is it that one of the most language-obsessed cultures in the world is so with-holding when it comes down to really connecting?