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.

 

Expansion

DSC_3502_mn_sm

Expansion

Expansion of the waist; expansion, what a waste.

 

Advice for writers

aDSC_4481_mgct_sm

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/

Ponytales

DSC_3450_sm

DSC_3444_sm

For Cynthia (as promised):

About 500 years ago, I was presented with a choice: Beaucarnia recurvata or Beaucarnia stricta. Naturally I chose B. stricta, as I could foresee (having charlatanism in my blood) that B. recurvata–the so-called ponytail palm–would some troublesome day become quite popular as a potted houseplant, and I was having none of that.

So I planted my light-emitting Beaucarnia stricta seeds and went on a journey (called Odýsseia). Upon my return, I saw that my castle had been renovated several times by Mr. Wind and Mrs. Neglect (though these two were never technically married (living in sin for millennia), they spent a lot of idle time together and I use the Mr. and Mrs. ruse as a matter of pure though spectacular convenience).

Being a cad, I disguised my identity while ambulating around the scarcely familiar castle environs. From behind a giant cabbage-like plant, a giant hedgehog edged his way forward. He looked at me with doleful eyes, wagged his tail, and died instantly of a cardiac arrest (I guess he had a pickled egg for a heart, Sue). He was a puppy all those years ago when I had absconded with the company funds and was forced to leave the Ithacan island of my birth. Poor rodent (editor’s note: are hedgehogs really part of the rodentia order?).

In my grief, I heard, in the abstract distance, a panflute melody (based on the ionian scale, if I am not mistaken). Must be a group of lazy farm laborers, I thought. I was wrong. It was Gheorghe Zamfir and I told him to get off my land.  But later, under a halcyon sky, amid a field of buttercups, near a willowy windmill, I was disturbed by a rogue group of farm hands, and forthwith I told them the story of my life (leaving out all the bits of truth wherever possible). Mesmerized by their impassive faces, I regaled them (regale: windy again ) with long, epic-poem-like tales of crop failures and, in a compassionate moment, the benefits of good dentistry. One farmer (like Neptune, I mused) held a pitch fork so steadily I quivered. I bid them good day and wiped the miscreants from the page with my Pink Pearl eraser.

Once at the castle, I was met by my former housekeeper Goneril (a bastardization of gonorrhea, I suppose) and she died instantly of pleurisy (if you’re counting–that’s a second untimely death in a few paragraphs, Bruce). But her sister Cordelia recognized me instantly. I swore her to secrecy (not about her rigor mortisizing sister, but about my identity). (Note rigor mortis is not a verb–under normal circumstances).

The third sister was missing and Egon was put on the case. But this long preamble is to inform you that my Beaucarnia stricta was mislabeled and is most probably, recklessly, frustratingly the common Beaucarnia recurvata.  Some readers will no doubt make the connection between a man hiding his true identity and a Beaucarnia seed doing the same ( being recurvata while pretending to be stricta). That is epic.

P.S. you will notice the marionette strings operating the ponytail puppet (in truth, if you can believe it, designed to keep Mr. Wind in check).

Intertextually and at your peril, you may wish to visit:

Sue, to learn all about condiment hearts
https://redosue.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/god-is-a-good-kisser/

Cynthia, to bask in the glory of  epic poetry
https://littleoldladywho.net/

Bruce, for the science of untimely deaths
https://weaveaweb.wordpress.com/

And Dagmar, for the adventues of Egon, master detective
https://tomorrowdefinitely.wordpress.com/

Also this –

The Exorcist

Aloe excelsa

DSC_3383aloe_excelsa_sm

Unsubscribe Me

Spring

Tropaeolum majus DSC_8274_wb_sm

Ham

Old Flames

DSC_2444_agfa_sm

Old Flames

Spitfire

DSC_1651_bwm

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/

Camu camu cupcakes

cacari camocamo

Ever made camu camu cupcakes? Well, this post isn’t about that. It will be at least eight years till I can harvest the fruit, provided the sprouting seeds actually survive and later thrive. But, as usual, I am hopeful. And just so you know, Myrciaria dubia, or camu camu (or, if you are still unsatisfied, cacari), is the fruit with the highest vitamin C content ever measured. I even puts acerola to shame (I’m growing acerola too, but more on that some other day).

And so this post is only tangentially about cupcakes or, for that matter, camu camu. It’s actually about another sort of seed, which has sprouted into another drabble (i.e., a 101 word story).

drabble, Prospero Dae

You can read it here.
http://www.101words.org/cupcake/

I am providing a few notes on the text (for those who are interested). Another picture of Myrciaria dubia (or camocamo, but that’s my last offer) provides a buffer, allowing you to read the story first without spoilers. And do keep in mind that an author’s explication is usually all but worthless and probably wrong.

camocamo, cacari

Cupcake is a very very (camu camu) short story about bullying in school. Cupcake is used as a term of endearment and so the opening line is somewhat deceptive. One automatically assumes a romantic relationship and that the electricity felt by the unnamed male character has to do with the kiss. Mothers are ever-loving, but voluptuous? Here we have an Oedipal drama unfolding.

Oedipus was fated to marry his mother and unwittingly murder his father. The father is seen as a rival. Is the boy buddy buddy (camu camu) with his father? Is this why the schoolyard bully is ironically called Buddy? In the Oedipal complex, the father is seen as a rival for the attention of the mother. Buddy certainly seems to play that role (being a projection of the father in the boy’s mind). Freud saw this rivalry as a crucial stage in the normal developmental process (no wonder he was always in therapy!).

Nonetheless, the boy is left to deal with his own problems. He is frustrated (and children are always frustrated in silence, as they cannot articulate their feelings properly) that his mother seems to think that the whole solution to his problem is simply to not give his cupcake away (to Buddy, as some sort of protection money). The boy feels the bullying at a visceral level and cannot understand why his mother is dismissive of the anguish he feels. This is why the story ends so matter-of-factly.

And what if the sky, one miserable and weepy day, went up in a puff of smoke?

DSC_9329_cs_sm

And what if the sky, one miserable and weepy day, went up in a puff of smoke, and the azure or lapis lazuli it was accustomed to produce was no more? Because if there was one thing I could always count on, it was the sheer size, hue, and predictability of the firmament. Alas, no more. It was now, apparently, the site of a great battle. The last battle? Who knows.

We are, you and I, sitting on a dewy carpet. Can you see it in your mind’s eye? Do you feel the slight tingly breeze? Do you notice how disarming the pallor of your skin can be when sunshiny flecks deposit themselves athwart your bare arms? And I want to tell you that as a means of connecting more deeply with the world (and it’s unfathomable mysteries), I force myself to re-learn something everyday. Though this exercise may seem wistful to you, I can stake my reputation on its illimitable effectiveness. Today I re-learned the meaning of clouds.