Poe

Poe

Some of you may be wondering what a magician does all day (apart from directing others to perform eleemosynary deeds). Good question. Right now I’m editing The Stories of Vladimir Putin. It’s a slow job since I don’t understand Russian, but I always feel a need to challenge myself. The story called Martha’s Mountain is wonderful, but the rest of the material is a little trashy, so I’m rather enjoying it (linguistic barriers notwithstanding).

But this isn’t the subject of today’s post. Instead I will write about truncation and the art of editing.

I’d like to make clear from the outset that I love Twitter. The idea of reducing complex (and at times beautiful) thought to 144 characters is as much a sign of the times as it is a brilliant metaphor for this generation’s shrinking attention span, which has, by the way, important evolutionary implications–a vitally important subject, and for that reason I will not be covering it. But even more brilliant that imposing a 144 character limit (an arbitrary limit, the type of thing some outmoded feudal lord might try to enforce) would have been to reduce elegant—or in today’s intellectual vacuum–dodgy thought to say 44 characters. Why not? A genius such as Dante—had he been interested in such things, rather than touring incessantly the darksome and dank bits of hell–would have settled upon no more than 9 characters, but this would have been too revolutionary.

But today’s project is to translate Edgar Allan Poe into English. Now I can already hear some you you saying that the stories from the undisputed master of horror are already in English. Yes, I am aware of that. Don’t ruffle my feathers.

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just finished a hearty dinner (with truffles) and was sitting alone in the dining-room, with my feet on a stool. There was a small table, which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some desserts and liquors. In the morning I had been reading some literature; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

And now, after a little editing:

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just finished a hearty dinner and was sitting alone in the dining-room. There was a small table with desserts and some alcoholic beverages. In the morning I had been reading some literature; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

Now that’s more like it. More twitter-like. But even that doesn’t hack it as it is 301 characters long.

The twitter version:

I had just finished a hearty dinner and was sitting alone in the dining-room. I am willing to confess, therefore, that I felt a little stupid.

That’s perfect. And it’s 143 characters long. That means I have one whole character to spare. I could add extra punctuation, a misplaced comma, for example, is always nice, or could substitute a three letter word for a four letter word. Semantics aside, what freedom! Of course brevity and sanity do not make great dance partners. We don’t understand, for instance, why this man felt stupid. But that’s a small price to pay for the privilege or the wow factor of tweeting.

Let’s have a look at the original (in Poe-glish):

IT was a chilly November afternoon. I had just consummated an unusually hearty dinner, of which the dyspeptic truffe formed not the least important item, and was sitting alone in the dining-room, with my feet upon the fender, and at my elbow a small table which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some apologies for dessert, with some miscellaneous bottles of wine, spirit and liqueur. In the morning I had been reading Glover’s “Leonidas, ” Wilkie’s “Epigoniad,” Lamartine’s “Pilgrimage, ” Barlow’s “Columbiad,” Tuckermann’s “Sicily,” and Griswold’s “Curiosities”; I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid.

Isn’t that better? Where did we go wrong?

 

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