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.

 

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/

Fiction explained

Fiction explained. Pilot episode.

SS_4https://vimeo.com/230967579

Fright in the depths of a burgeoning kakistocracy

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Eerily, while taking my tripos paper at the University of Lake Erie, I was mistily reminded of an incident which happened to a colleague of mine whilst trying to commit hari-kari with a mint-flavored toothpick. Naturally, he was unable to draw a single gout of blood, but the experience was, in his words, transformative, so much so that it leapfrogged the sum-total of the miasmic flashpoints in his nearly pointless life, till, sadly to report, on a day of obnoxiously pristine clarity, he was hit by a city bus, broke several latin-sounding bones, dented the bus’ fine armature, and died agape of fright, starting in motion the cloak and dagger machinations of competing insurance companies and several legal challenges, proving once again that Lady Luck, that star-eyed trollop (sorry Anthony, not a Trollopean allusion) beclad in a tantalizingly tawdry tunic, still roams around, picking flowers willy-nilly from unguarded gardens or hopscotching through city traffic.

 

 

 

 

Another swift though modest proposal

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TOP SECRET

Another swift though modest proposal.

I, political commentator that I am, was re-reading King Lear, the part when Gonorrhea said to Regan, “Oh, you’re such a ho,” and it occurred to me that there is something wrong in America.

Allow me then to propose a tiny amendment to the constitution:

From this day forth, all presidential candidates shall poll no higher than one percent on name recognition.

The implication is clear: any candidate who is known to the public is immediately disqualified from sitting in a curule chair on the White House lawn.

This is, I think, a small price to pay for living in a vibrant democracy (well, pseudodemocracy–it’s as good as it gets).

I’d also like to propose another tweak (distant pun intended): elections shall take no longer than six weeks after the pistol at the starting gate has been discharged and no campaign donations shall be solicited; rather there shall be five televised debates (instantly available on social media) and one arm wrestling contest.

If you find merit in these ideas, you may circulate them and later congratulate yourself for being a fine, empowered citizen.

The book review that never was…

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Wow them with unexpected flora to suck them in. Anonymous.

 

I thought I’d review Pride and Prejudice, but after a thorough search of the internet–and later the pockets of every venerable vagabond in the vicinity, which yielded several condoms, a crumpled picture of Chairman Mao, and a stack of tiny plastic zip bags–I have concluded that it’s been sufficiently reviewed by my peers, and I don’t want to crowd the field with another essay, which would nevertheless have been received with great éclat, as the work of literary Bolsheviks is always in demand. Luckily and vibrantly, her next novel, Prick Me With a Fork to See If I’m Done, will be out soon and I’ll review that one instead. I’m drooling already.

Jane Austen is an author worth sleeping out in a van for–on a frosty night, without anything that might reasonably pass for a blanket or, alas, without a half-empty (or half-full depending on your general outlook on life) case of cooking sherry procured from a one-armed vivandière and sure to take the bite off the cryogenic chill.

And it must be said that Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s defining work to date, apart from story, setting, and character, is fairly good. My major quibble with Miss Austen is that she’s an unapologetic technophobe. I mean just look at the opening scene. Why not fax the news about Mr. Bingley (Mr. Big) to the Bennet family? In a modern context, what could be more natural than for the Bennet gathering to learn by facsimile that Mr. Bingley is gay and that he’ll soon be moving to Netherfield Park? The fax is a small detail, but it’s symptomatic of Austen’s inability to grasp the import of modern telecommunication devices.

And to add to her modern-day gadget gaucheries, she uses quaint anachronisms in the transport realm as well: no bullet trains or supersonic jets for Austen.  It’s a sort of parallel structure, office equipment and handheld devices on the one hand and monster cars and trucks on the other, that doesn’t quite seem to work. Jane Austin’s Audi never gets into the fast lane, if you’ll pardon the grotesque though totally apt and refreshingly wrought metaphor.

I can’t tell you, for example, how many times Austen mentions horses. Private cars, buses—even unicycles would have been better, grittier. See for yourself:

Your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure.

An author with an ear to the ground would have written something such as–

Your father cannot spare the jetskis, I am sure.

And this business with Kitty and Wickham. Couldn’t flower-sweet Wickham, somewhere in the misty dawn of his tawdry affair, have texted the doe-eyed girl with the news that he was transitioning? Why leave poor, flirty Kitty in the dark for so long? Text the girl, Wiki—you know she always has her phone with her.

Somehow Austen’s work seems stuck in another age. And for this reason her opus stops at the door of greatness (as the security cameras deem the small stack of books to be just about the size of a I.E.D and shoo it away indecorously).

 

Anyway, it’s still a pretty (in)decent book and I look forward to reviewing her next novel, which is, as far as I can tell, a space opera that takes place on the rugged mountains of Mercury, amid hordes of belching sasquatches, under an incandescent sun that is as close to the bald pate of Jason, a convivial moneylender, as Obama is ideologically to Hillary.

And just as Pride and Prejudice before it, Prick Me is essentially a thriller, so you can look forward to some pretty villainous shenanigans—the type of thing you might expect from, let’s say, twin political conventions.

 

Don’t forget to read this or my royalty checks no longer clog up my red mailbox.

 

K & B Get Married

Mat For

For Mat, who yesterday, against my better judgement, exhorted me not to give up the wordpress.  

Continuing my series on advices for the modern writer, I shall seek to debunk the traditional belief (promoted by certain unlettered bloggers, historians, and book binders) that writer’s block can be cured by peripatetic means. There is only one cure for writer’s block  and that’s an alfalfa sandwich on whole wheat toast–made by pygmies or a coven of witches; regarding pygmies, any race of diminutives or lilliputians will do: check the farmers’ almanac or get in touch with your nearest anthropological society–don’t call as they never seem to be home.

The real problem with words, from a semantic perspective, is that they must be de rigueur combined in such a way. I think Wittgenstein agrees with me on this important finding. But there’s such a thing as being too careful. One can easily depauperate the language by trying to make it conform to comely though arbitrary rules. I once came upon a garden of great beauty and instinctively took a machete to it in the mistaken belief that I could tame its wild beauty. Naturally I was charged with trespass by some uppity landowner, and the calamitous fortnight spent in the jailhouse, next to a toothless hobo (malodorous and no doubt implicated in some heinous sex crime) and without basic amenities such as an electric razor, proper ventilation, and unfettered access to fresh fruit, carambola and black sapote for example, was truly distasteful.

My lawyer, a former ventriloquist, was already making great strides in extricating me from my unfortunate predicament. An early release was imminent, or so his dummy was telling me. Our basic legal strategy was to confound the sheriff’s deputy with a litany of detailed requests for information. Swimming in a toilet bowl of paperwork, his mind (the little morsel atop his head) would be too busy to notice the telltale signs of a brazen escape attempt involving a front-end loader, an enormous bulldozer, and a giant catapult (rented, I think, from a mafia don). Bruno, that was the dummy’s Christian name, assured me that the plan was solid and that a failed attempt would not unduly prejudice my case.

The toothless man started to dig a tunnel (he had indubitably seen this in a movie). Later, at three miles from the jail, he collapsed, rusted spoon in hand, seventy-five feet under a dairy truck. Meanwhile the stealth operation at the jailhouse was on schedule. Depute Dunderhead was in a stertorous slumber (incredible what bureaucracy can do to the small, underworked mind) when a flamboyant man, Mr. X,  whose first name after our brief introduction sounded like Dae Us, and looking strangely like Peter Lorre, arrived with letters of transit and I was given safe passage to a neighboring island.

Thus ends this week’s lesson on writer’s block. And here are the three blocks you must play with: a beginning, a middle, and an end. And as Mat often says (while shooting a pistol from the oeil-de-boeuf window of his lavatory): the writing is eeezy–it’s the reeder that buggers things up.

Mat’s writing can be found

This just in …

Arbosculpture

And

Timebox

 

 

 

Advice for writers

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My advice to writers:

Write what you know.

Unfortunately, this has not worked in my case (read the DSM 5 for tantalizing clues).

So, here is my personal directive on writing: learn the difference between advice and advise, for starters, and never forget to take your medications. There are so many underutilized forms of psychosis, so much untapped potential. Add to this the fact that there are thousands of medications out there (the drug companies, your friends, have a wonderful assortment of pills for you; just ask your doctor if such and such is right for you, as if your own physician, Dr. Sugar, can’t determine what you should take!)  just waiting for a chance to get in the door–and you can soon see the scope of the problem. It’s an inequity that needs redress. Watch television, pay attention to the commercials, get ideas.  I am asking you to do something about this–you’ll be a better writer for it (and, concurrently, the drug companies will have better balance sheets, which makes for prettier graphs, rendered beautifully in prescription pill colors such as sucked-you-in red and loser-you’re-hooked yellow, in their annual report, a tradition among business people, which is, sadly never read, as sleeping in broad daylight can be dangerous, particularly in skyscrapers, where business people tend to cocoon in and can, quite easily, after a bout of somnambulism, result in  people falling out of windows, which can be painful.

Oh, one other thing. Exercise your brain. And no I don’t mean to put it on a treadmill. That’s silly. Brains don’t have a means of locomotion (a brain might swim though, so there may be some benefit to dropping it into a bucket of water and letting it do some laps–flailing about trying the butterfly stroke, the dog paddle… whatever. ) No, I mean exercise the body, such as performing a galliard with cinque-pace leaps, in the hopes that some motes of oxygen produced during the exertion may actually reach your gelatinous brain and do wonderful things.

For more writing tips please consult an actual writing guide (which can, in a pinch, be used as a paperweight, or as fuel–if things ever get as bad as I predict they will.

Of course you could get a butterfly dog (to do the butterfly stroke) simply for the beauty of the thing. No special advice or grammar required here.

“There was a farmer who had a dog. And Bingo was his name”… an old ditty, and a brilliant writerly segue to this–

 

https://www.101words.org/bingo/

Spitfire

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This is a fine example of late Jurassic fiction. The telltale signs are the uninhibited use of highbrow language, the tragicomic allusions to opera, the almost offhand use of color, and the recurrence of men dressed in flowing bone-white chasubles and haughty femmes fatales.

The theme of the impossibility of one understanding anyone apart from oneself recurs in works from the Jurassic period and, to give a historical perspective on its critical reception, we will note the thematic was greeted with brickbats.

Cacoethes gluependi. The very bad habit of respiring model airplane glue is a setpiece metaphor for all that ails you–cosseting your cellphone as though it were some precious pet, taking a bite of your cheeseburger and keeping it in a polystyrene tin for further experimentation, you know–all that stuff.

http://www.theflashfictionpress.org/2016/03/15/spitfire/

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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