Turbulence Commission: “Les Belles Infidèles” by Ethan Ham #elit


“Les Belles Infidèles” consists of a short story — written specifically for this project by Benjamin Rosenbaum — that has been translated and retranslated by more than 40 translators into 15 languages. The project is an exploration of the story’s compounding mutation as the translators attempt to make it work in different languages and cultures. The term “les belles infidèles” comes from a 17th century quip by Gilles Ménage in which he compared a set of translations to an acquaintance of his: beautiful but unfaithful. The phrase has come to express the tension between making a translation seem natural in the target language versus keeping it as close as possible to the original text.

The project’s source code is available under a GNU Affero General Public License and the original short story can be used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

“Les Belles Infidèles” is a 2011 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence website. It was made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.


The influence of Ethan Ham’s former career in game development can be seen in the art he makes. The artworks are often playful and demonstrate his continuing interest in the interaction between an artwork and its beholder. Ethan is a sculptor and installation artist who often explores themes of translation and mutation. His projects include literary/art hybrids, kinetic sculptures, and internet-based artworks. He has been commissioned by Turbulence.org (Tumbarumba and Self-Portrait), The Present Group (Anthroptic), and Rhizome.org (Email Erosion). Ethan is an Assistant Professor of New Media at The City College of New York.

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