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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Moribund ways

Social media, facebook

My latest hobby, shunning social media, is, as Dorcus Lane is wont to say, my one obsession, and here you may notice a hint of malevolence, albeit enunciated as delicately as a dragonfly flutters its violet-tipped wings over the blistering green of a lilypad.

And all this ecstatic and ebullient talk of insects serves as the frontispiece for this bit of gristle: the facebookian logic of publicly posting fescennine photos of myself, in close communion with my boss, rather escapes the cuniculi and dark alleys of my better judgment. Still, live and let live. Who am I to defend moribund ways, to hark back to the days when privacy was still scintillatingly sacrosanct? And I should point out that I speak of my former boss, at my former place of employment, and so on. But the fragile entity known as the ‘self’ persists though our long litany of places of employment, the eventual destruction of our credit card rating, and our undiminishable horror at having been placed on some sort of kafkaesque stop list, and that’s the rub, isn’t it? The more they know about us, the more material they have to play with—so why give up our personal life voluntarily?

And as a consequence of my visceral rejection of newfangled ways, this humble conjurer is no longer accepting comments–a highly ineffective (feeble really) boycott of the most cherished tenets of social media (to say nothing of the malady of ‘liking’ as a surrogate for ‘won’t you please visit my pages, big boy’). And if you insist on taking this chastisement personally, you may (but take my advice and don’t) because I have more than a soupçon that this has far more to do with the delusions of a recalcitrant author than it has to do with you, dear reader (in the Baudelairean sense?).

Of course I may some day be lauded for having coined the word ‘facebookian,’ and once I expiate the shame of having unwittingly promoted that what shall remain nameless–faceless more aptly–brand, I may, at or around the hour of my death, rejoice unreservedly at the tenuity of my contribution to humanity. But death bed scenes are so tedious and I will spare you the horrors of such tripe.