On the delicate art of translation

Excepted from Tales of a Misanthrope.

As all itches are inevitably scratched, I endeavor to burden the reading public with yet another translation of Boris Leonidovich Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. This is partly in response to Pasternak’s Sestra moya Zhizn’ having so affected me in my youth and having left upon my better and younger self a prolonged impression.

Translation is a colossal undertaking and is frequently under appreciated. Not only must the translator understand the historical and social realities which underpin the original work, he must so fully respecting the sensibilities of his intended audience, an audience unfamiliar with the cultural exigencies of another set of distinct life-affirming values; furthermore, it is of singular importance to pay close attention to every crease and fold in the fabric of this untidy drop cloth known collectively as language. It is often said that poetry is untranslatable, which only heightens the difficulties one must face when broaching Pasternak, the poet and novelist. Is a true translation even possible?

The question burning on your lips–those lips, pouting slightly, cranberry red, moist and inviting–is probably why now. Why do we need a new translation at this time?

The answer is that I am bored. But rather than dwell on such a grievous admission, let us jump headlong and unguarded into the text of the translation itself, which was incidentally influenced by a previous translation and found by means of crawling dirtily inside a series of caverns under the echoic halls of this great institution, in an underground library, built on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis and modeled after the catacombs in Lima, all in the hope of preserving books and drug paraphernalia collected from Peruvian gangsters over the course of one particularly fine decade.

And as the front and back covers, and a beautifully illustrated frontispiece (apparently replete with fat cherubs dressed in thin raiment) were repurposed as bedding material for the birthing of merry moles (which, after having read said book, interpreted it as a menage a trois featuring small mammals with bad eyesight) the translator’s name is undiscoverable. Only the date, 1968, remains legible, thus situating its publication after the universally-adopted 1957 translation.

Concomitantly, my interest in moles was piqued, and I did some extracurricular research, learning that moles are the most literary of the burrowing animals, evincing high intelligence, especially as compared to rodents, which are dimwitted and generally offput by the humanities.

And now, without further ado, let’s figuratively get our hands and knees dirty, taking care not to inadvertently crush an opium pipe in the damp floor litter, and look at the text, starting with the 1968 translation:

Lara, Babe, pass the suture.

As a craftsman and man of the times, I wanted the new translation to be more hip hop friendly. For example:

Lara, what a ho. Your Adidas walk through hospital tents.

Those who floss twice daily or who curse mainly at inanimate objects, may posit that a worthy translation must obligatorily start with the text in its original language. And here I beg to differ. Too much of the author’s baggage can taint the fledgling manuscript (here I use ‘manuscript’ as a synecdoche). Best to commence from a sensible English translation and then contextualize.

The scene where Zhivago looks across the Suez Canal and is seen by a gangrenous-looking fellow on a motorcycle who yells, “Who are you?”, should be re-situated near a strip mall, thus functioning, metaphorically, as a lament for the death of such commercial spaces. Small detail, but highly important. Besides, what was Zhivago doing in the desert? A felicitous blunder in the original, I suppose, which was finally corrected after several translation passes. There is nothing like the disinfectant of multiple rewrites.

The complete translation is soon to be available for purchase on Amazon. I contacted Jeff Bezos directly. He wrote back saying he was tied up at the moment with a personal matter. Then he launched into a tirade, incoherent at times, about exchanging goods or something peculiar as that. My honest opinion: Jeff has spent too much time in shipping. He ought to work his magic in one of those glass penthouses, the ones with a motorized bar and satin bed sheets. Are you really telling me you can’t find a place for a new translation, I thought to myself, now displaying evidence of an ague fit. Who are you, Jeff Bezos, just a guy who wants to have current events whispered lovingly into his hungry ears by a professional news anchor? (Money does not buy happiness, but rather encourages it, like a desk lamp encourages the hatching of a mysterious egg, brought to your attention by unsupervised children in the community, and where surprise is the key component.)

And here I end this Faustian tale with a direct plea to JB. Please make room for ‘A New translation of Dr. Z’ in one of your sub-zero temperature warehouses. Hasn’t the public had enough of meat dehydrators or those electric bars used to heat bath towels?

And so, there you have it, related to me practically at gunpoint, the first person account of one of my colleagues at the sanatorium, who exudes from every pore the chill sense that his work is not being taken seriously. He maintains that his next English translation, that of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, coincidentally another framing narrative, will be the one to launch his career into the thermosphere–his word–so that he too may join the pantheon of writers who are too mentally unstable to recognize their true worth in society.

 

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Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Matty,

It is with deepest regret that I must inform you of my passing in 2018. This in large measure explains my conspicuous absence. Rest assured, I am accustomed to the experience, having died once before in 1991 as a result of abusing powerful intoxicants, a wily mélange of alcohol and over-the-counter cough drops. Nonetheless, as I am wont to say nowadays, when the grim reaper calls, it won’t be on your galaxy S9. Death is ultimately sudden, even when you have been expecting it all your life. By-and-by, I propose to revisit the subject on the occasion of my third death, which is foretold to end under the crushing weight of a tractor in some mud-laden field.

My recovery has been swift but I am still frail. Presently I fear my huge investment in copper will be my undoing. A savvy investor yourself, you can well understand how I blame the Chinese for most of my malinvestments. If not for crippling debt they might actually have an economy in need of base materials. But other than not being able to make a quick, obscene profit from commodities, what is it people don’t like about copper right now? It has a nice sheen. Why the hate? Personally I find the sight of coppery locks curled upon the temples of a grammar student almost too dizzying to bear. Nevertheless I believe copper will be the next big thing since gadolinium. Of course certain divestitures were necessary; for example, I no longer own my huge collection of Victorian pornography and had to auction off some of my cars. Parting with the Lambo was difficult, as the searing image of its sad eyes and dinted forehead filled me with mean-spirited melancholy. That’s when I attacked the tow truck driver, a toothless automotive “professional” wearing a ruddy baseball cap. “Careful with that chain,” I said to him with the same amount of goodwill on offer by madman wielding a paring knife. As though dropped from a steep cliff or nudged from the cozy comfort of a C-47 and facing an uncertain future over barren land, an idea lodged itself within the hazy periphery of my fanatically morbid mind. Was the altercation truly about dentistry? Was having a perfect set of creamy canines and of masticating molars–stroked daily with the vellicative touch of silky strands of dental floss, oh! those easily titillated incisors–correlated with a penchant for fast cars? Let’s face it, the poor sod would never own a Lamborghini and that was as certain as snowfall in Sweden. And verily, his fetid odor was not a reprisal for his conspicuous lack of the trappings of wealth, but rather a natural statement about inevitability. Oddly and fittingly, there’s nothing natural about a Lamborghini, and out of the two I’d cast my lot with the downtrodden over the hydraulic on most days.

He had the eyes of a weasel yet the bonhomie of a seasoned swine. I also got the feeling he was just putting in his time, and that at 5 o’clock he’d abandon everything mid-doing and leave for another planet. Then suddenly, as though out of character, he took me back millions of years and spoke heatedly about lobsters and serotonin. I humored him with an attentive ear. Was he making a cogent point about hierarchies? Had he recently done a repo on the SUV of an evolutionary biologist?

Still, he must have been a Marxist. But from my vantage the stench of Mao Zedung’s [sic] delusions ( it’s unmistakably the stench of death) seems to cast a pall over the revival of that brand of governance. In contrast and in stating the obvious, any meritocracy will have excesses, but such unevenness is the spark of life, its guiding principle. If I’m at sea and Poseidon decides to throw a shindig, I’d rather have a qualified captain at the helm than the cook or a chamber maid with unappreciable navigation experience, save for her ability to circumnavigate the captain’s escritoire with long goose feathers (the video, available in certain sectors of the internet, is quite exquisite). I don’t have anything against cooks, toothlessness, or ornithology when it comes to it, but the thought of my cabin filling up with water without a genius seaman at the helm does not give me succor. There is a time and place for everything (suddenly this missive takes a pithy turn, co-opting the worse instincts of the greeting card industry) and this is the time for a decorated naval officer.

Mat, as impending death hangs around me like gaminesque groupies ensconced in the backstages of unwholesome rock concerts, I rediscover your writing. And as the likelihood of my slipping into a coma increases with each passing day, with each marauding cloud, I beseech you to inform me of your forthcoming literary awards from institutions which still dole out as a token of esteem statuettes of naked gods and goddesses, carved with anatomical precision. Porcine literature, your unapologetic niche, is bound to palpably surface as tales of pig farmers migrating to the bustling city are just beginning to capture the public imagination. It is my fervent hope that serious critics start to honor the very best in what has been termed Pig Lit by fans of the genre. As such, I may enjoy, vicariously through your good self, the pleasure of being feted as a literary maven, thus, delicately and seemingly, vindicating my years of despoiling perfectly salvageable paper with Byzantine sentences and intransigent vocabulary. You are my only hope now, Mat. Don’t be an ass.

As an additament, the Finns have sadly banned the use of dental amalgams, some malarkey about toxicity, which coincidentally use copper; nevertheless, I continue to blame the Chinese for my misfortunes.

Sincerely,

P.

Mat’s writing can be found anywhere condoms are sold or alternatively by scouring his pockets if you happen to spot him pacing the length and breadth of Brighton Beach.

If that wasn’t enough, his work can be found on his blog or on the floors of local animal shelters.

https://drysailorboy.wordpress.com/

A bubo on the groin

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

And so, Rubber Ducky, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Penguin have recently been inducted into Monopoly’s family of tokens.

As luck would have it–and it often does–Harry, Janet and Becky decided to play Monopoly, and from this unlikely ménage à trois came this story, as rapidly as sputum is ejected from the back of an inflamed throat.

There were the usual pregame festivities, some of which involved a bowl of chip dip and a Victorian corset, but the place for such tittle-tattle is not in an article such as this (try subscribing to Netflix).

After the preliminaries, Janet hurriedly jumped on the chance to be Rubber Ducky (team Government); Harry greedily grabbed Tyrannosaurus Rex (The People), and Becky, a fiery redhead, who desperately wanted to be represented by an hourglass-shaped cerise blob of industrial plastic (she’s team History) had to settle for Penguin–and evidently there was no time to consider the allegorical ramifications afoot.

And, to make matters worse for the reader, Janet is a Democrat, Harry a Republican and Becky an independent. Now that your head is swirling (or feeling as though it has been suddenly pressed in a waffle iron), I endeavor to continue the story.

As with all board games, some board-side banter is inevitable. For example, Harry threw the dice with such vigor that the chaotic cubes ricocheted off the board, knocking over T-Rex in the process, one ending up secreted inside a Ming vase (which was on loan from a local museum–please don’t ask ) and the other in the unlaced corset. And as the search for the dice was underway, the conversation somehow drifted to the news and how the ideal newscaster ought to be a eunuch. But then Harry, soon cashing in on his string of casinos on Park Avenue, exclaimed, in a rather brusque tone, that mainstream news is fake. Strangely though, he believes his lies have the imprimatur of authenticity. Where I come from there’s another term for this assault on reason, but propaganda is such an ugly word.

Granted, some journalism misses the mark. More and more it’s news as told by the Radio City Rockettes or by some peeping Tom in a nice suit. But the choice is between propaganda and ineptitude. I know where I stand.

History suddenly piped up: “Hey, look at me. My truth, sandwiched between two slices of morocco leather, is sacrosanct.”

“Get down from your high horse, corn beef and rye” retorted Janet. “History is viciously penned by the victors. And, by the way, you owe me rent for one mole-infested hotel. Whine about it later, in chapter fifteen, if you still have an agent by then.” Becky ( she’s so sharp) bowed her head in mock-shame.

Between Government’s lies and History ‘s quavering truth, between Scylla and Charybdis, the People must decide. At this point Janet landed on the dreaded GO TO JAIL square. Then, drawing inspiration from Godfather III (available on Netflix), a swat team crashed through the ceiling, but that’s fake news, as this sort of thing only happens in the dodgy realm of fiction.

Janet, it needs be said, was an inveterate smoker and terrible at board games–and notably unlucky with IT: Some time ago the server in her basement contracted a pneumonia, coughed cacophonously, and died in agony shortly thereafter. And even though she’d been designated as banker for the game (must have occurred in the pregame shenanigans), her own wad of Monopoly money was in rapid retreat.

Now GO TO JAIL screamed for Harry, who felt sure he had rolled his last double. His face turned a pale shade of black: “This is such a pain in the aspic, a bubo on the groin.”

A five-alarm fire ended the game abruptly (errant matches and corsets do not make such good partners).

Will the Phoenix rise from the ashes?

Ravenala madagascariensis

 

 

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I apologize for including something on this blog that may be of use to someone, as it is not my wont to educate; nevertheless, there are times that such bonhomie, such unstinted desire to share, such generosity of spirit is practically inevitable–the case (and casing) of the ravenala seed being one of those vainglorious examples.

The seed, velvet-black, and almost certainly evil, is covered in a heavenly blue wax, as though having been embalmed by a secret gathering of funereal hands.

By-and-by I will get to the useful information promised, but first we must linger a bit longer in language’s sandbox. When you are ready, we shall begin (unless we are sidetracked by some impromptu exegesis on the part of this blogger, who, some may have noticed, is prone to explaining–at the drop of a clunky cowboy hat–the many iniquities which befoul our peripatetic planet (it puts on a pair of Nikes in the morn and walks around the sun all day, after all)).

So here are the steps to planting your own Ravenala madagascariensis (Travelers Palm).

1) Befriend someone in Madagascar (for obvious reasons). This may require the exchange of intimate photographs, but the internet is a safe and wonderful place.

2) Ask for seeds (among other things).

3) Go to post office and chat with the fluttery-eyed postmistress. Return home when after several hours it becomes apparent that your letterbox is as empty as a banker’s heart.

4) Repeat trips to post office till you either receive an offer of marriage or till your seeds arrive. If the latter, continue to point 5.

5) Store photographs in a safe place. Remove seeds from package. Admire your purchases.

6) Scrape away the blue wax to expose devilish seed.

7) Plant seed in a pot (if you need to be told to add soil you are at the wrong place). Hope for rain.

And that’s it.

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The final product:DSC_4968_sm

 

 

Below is my grass replacement experiment. I think Truman Capote hated grass too, but this may be simply a projection from my agitated mind. (In case you ask, it’s some moon-white Zephyranthes stolen, if memory serves,  from a Texan in the dreary summer of 2032).

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My button is bigger than your button

There’s nothing wrong with an America First policy. America can, and should, put America first. By the same token, other nations must necessarily put their interests above others. Canada, it would seem, needs to be given latitude to put Canada first. In fact, all governments look out for number one (pabulum alert, the dominant ideology today is that of corporate fascism ,where the state’s flesh and bones are torn asunder by the vultures of powerful corporations ) and so this is a tempest in a teapot. Why burn bridges between neighbors for nothing, Larry Kudlow? There used to be a time when reasonable countries resolved their differences without resulting to ad hominem attacks. But this is  ‘Button’ diplomacy and all is permitted (till something breaks).

I have a feeling there’s more ranting to come on this inauspicious day. (Rest assured, I have taken my medications, a few dollops of this–a few dollops of that, and sharp objects have been relocated to the shed).

An Island Moment

 

Adenium obesum, Bermuda

Dear viewer,

Whenever I post something without much text (as opposed to posting something having long, characteristically brilliant swatches of text ), I get comparatively more views–a message not altogether lost on me; consequently, you will not be hearing about how or why this beautiful flower, of Saudi Arabian origin, is overtaking the island and making it unbearably wondrous.

With tingling sincerity,

Prospero

 

Why social media is like a bucket of vomit

You love your Triumph Spitfire. You love going down the freeway in top-down weather. You love the sound of the stinging breeze wrapping itself round your German Luftwaffe Helmet. Oh, the looks you get. They, courageous car buffs, stand in awe; then they forcibly wipe the mud from their shoes and their bandy legs, wishing now they had stood a little further back from that pretty café au lait puddle. Still a madman cutting athwart a thin sheet of muddy water is something to behold. You look back, feeling great. And aside from the motion sickness, you’re on top of the world.

But then the proverbial merry-go-round sputters and stops. Your coveted sports car, in truth a sardine can with wheels and a nice paint job, breaks down. Then you learn the ugly truth. The only parts available for the car are stored in a locker somewhere in Asia minor, in the bowels of a godforsaken train station, and the only way to access the stash of now obsolete auto parts is to participate in a religious ceremony involving a small herd of yaks and bitcoin.

All this to say that there are some good things about owing a Spitfire and some not so good. It’s like that with social media too: some good, some bad.

Twitter, for instance, should be for journalists only. What’s the point of laypeople trumpeting (should this now be capitalized?) the first thing that pops into their swollen heads. And so, with the character limitation imposed by Twitter you get–well, you get concise garbage (or pick your own oxy, moron). Tweeting is to blurt out something you’ll regret later. Don’t do it. Attempting to raise the bar, Roseanne did it. Now she’s selling pencils.

There’s another problem with social media. Lone voices get drowned out. There’s bullying; you’ve seen it. Group think shows up to the party, wearing a flashy suit, and so we are left with one opinion, one revolution (now choose a color). Foot-soldier, like me, like some of you, get drowned out. Probably a good thing.

Nevertheless, the game is stacked against you–face it, you’re going to hear disproportionally from celebs. If celebrity X gets several million views for some vapid offering and lone-she-wolf gets single digit views (and the one from her mother hardly counts), is it reasonable to conclude that the celebrity’s contribution is a million times more thoughtful? Could be. If not, there’s room for improvement with this whole social media experiment. Sadly, the bullhorn of celebrity is loudest heard in a celebrity culture.

We seem to have the need to hand the podium to golf pros, to those famous at being famous, to porn stars known for hornswoggling real estate moguls, and don’t seem to notice that we get vomitus in return.

I hear the gentleman from the third row saying it’s sour grapes. The Kardashians are gifted at using social media and need props for that. Okay, I stand rebuked, though their good fortune at having such talents is indubitably my loss.

And here we have a couple sitting at the dinner table. There’s Frank, a vintner, fat-witted, occasionally violent, and then there’s Lucida, as readable as a good font. Cutting to the chase: Frank and Lucida had the common sense to instigate what they called the dinner rule: no mobile devices at the dinner table and no more takeout from Game King–there’s a fetid odor to llama meat that just doesn’t seem to want to let go.

Consequently, they dine in complete silence. And as soon as they leave the table, clean the dishes, wipe the counters, scrape spaghetti from the walls, they go off in separate directions. Only then, when no longer in each other’s company, do they rediscover the lost art of conversation, and text each other frantically till midnight: so long as they do not see each other, and so long as they can communicate electronically, all is well. Then, buoyed by hours of texting, they facebook (is this a verb yet?). Yikes, 143 likes. Goodnight all.

And there’s the typical comment section on UTube:

Your a retard. Eat my vomit. And if you have a moment, go f*ck yourself.

What’s happened to civility, to grammar, to the letter u?

Some are concerned about time management. If you’d spent all your waking hours on that Clementi piano sonata instead of on social media, you’d soon be performing at Carnegie Hall.

We have been entertained (by design) into a coma, and meanwhile we lose track of true friendship, fall into the hands of charlatans, stumble into the wading pool of disinformation, and mayhaps fatally slide into the penumbra of totalitarianism–all without notice or care.

A few weeks ago, I leaned that the developers of Facebook were B.F. Skinner fans and that their chef-d’oeuvre (evil mousetrap) was built upon variable schedules of reinforcement, which result in behavior resistant to extinction. All this to say that posting and waiting for ‘likes’ is addictive (that is, highly resistant to extinction).

When a rat (Burrhus Frederic loved rats) hits a lever and is only rewarded occasionally by a delicious pellet (delicious for rodents), said rat will compulsively keep hitting the lever. Most rats, being unlettered, haven’t heard of slot machines, but you have–you’ve seen the overturned pupils of a gambler stuffing coins into the maw of a heartless box. But, funny thing, when a rat has had too many food pellets, it vomits.