Novelist Michael Chabon, who just happens to live in Berkeley too
In my previous blogspewage, Prof. Eric Wagner responded in the comments section with a quote from Michael Chabon, which related Joyce's Finnegans Wake to something almost sinister or evil or menacing, as HP Lovecraft's Necronomicon was meant to make us feel. The latter book, while fictional, "is" real on some ontological level - it has some ontological status, I will argue. But this isn't my point, of course. You're reading the OG and you know he digresses like Laurence Sterne on bad acid.
What "is" the first paragraph, above? "Many addicts..."?
It was an experiment in machine translation using Babel Fish. Here's how the first paragraph was derived: I cut Prof. Wagner's quote from Michael Chabon, pasted it into Babel Fish's box, and translated it into Chinese, with a nod to Prof. Searle. I then cut/pasted the Chinese (which I understood exactly zero of, looking at it) into the original translation box, chose the Chinese to be translated into Arabic (more weird characters I didn't have a clue about), and then repeated these iterations, from Arabic to Spanish, Spanish to Ukrainian, Ukrainian to Dutch, and finally, Dutch back into English.
The original quote from Chabon, as given by Wagner, was this:
"A reader steeped in the work of H.P. Lovecraft could not help observing that, to many educated people, there was something unmistakably loathsome about the Wake, a touch of Necronomicon, as though it had been bound in human hide. - Michael Chabon"
H.P. Lovecraft (d.1937)
I'm guessing the Machine thought "Lovecraft" - at some point - was really "basic entry." Anyway, the translation by Babel Fish was, I thought, ironic, in that, the original subject matter had to do with a novelist's take on Joyce's novel, which most people find the most difficult book to "translate" from Joyce's own Dream-Wake-Language (at times I've called it "Wicklang," for reasons readers of the book might understand) into their own understandings. Chabon further related Joyce's book to Lovecraft, whose profoundly extra-terrestrial, transdimensional forces of appalling indifference to human understanding or suffering suffuse his books. It's as if the Transhumanist's Artificial Intelligence Machines, from the year 2030, combined with Genetics and Nanotechnology, had reached their "singularity," and come back to haunt us with a stark omen for us all: "formation of the people after the end of the road, which leads to death, hitting something disgusting, as if there were linked to/related human skin." But then my ma always said I had a very active inventive complex...
Supposedly the small print is the first page?
For the translation going on in my own nervous system (i.e, "speaking for myself"), Chabon's observation has, via an iterated polyglot Babel Fish peregrination, been made far more..."eldritch," to use a word Lovecraft himself used often. And thus, what I see as ironic.
The Reader (translation: you) may see it differently. If we keep looking at the translated passages, back and forth, we can see where the Machine got its ideas. "Bound in human hide," via its commodius vicus of recirculation via Babel Fish becomes "linked to related/human skin." Readers steeped in HPL's work became "addicts" at some point. Where the Machine got "formation of the people at the end of the road" seems somewhat less clear to me, and therefore qualifies as my favorite part of the translation.
I was actuated to think/write about translation by Prof. Wagner's answer to my question.
Russian structuralist linguist semiotician
Roman Jakobson (1886-1982) I interpret
his expression here as something like:
"Wait a minute...did I forget to turn off the
stove before I drove to the library?"
Professor Roman Jakobson, the great, great structuralist, said there were three basic types of translation, and I'll give my riffs on each, after you look at Dr. Timothy Leary for a second:
- Intralingual: This looks like re-wording. Hope I'm not giving Dr. Jakobson short shrift here. I would give many examples I've gleaned from academics, but I'd rather sit here and wonder about the scads of translations of the Tao Te Ching, supposedly by the Chinese person who history has (at times) named as "Lao-Tzu"...how much has THAT book changed via translation down through the years, travels, languages, changes in semantic understandings, writing systems, etc? To go back to Prof. Wagner's answer: How can I not agree? Let me give perhaps an extreme example, but I think it nevertheless fits my purposes here: Timothy Leary wrote a book called Psychedelic Prayers and Other Meditations. In some definite ways, it's a "loose" (what the hell does that mean?) translation of other previous English translations ("intralingual") of "Lao-Tzu," who was known to have been translated very early on circa 300BCE by syncretists who wished to lessen political factionalism among warring Chinese states. Leary didn't know Chinese. And furthermore, he's using his own syncretistic ideas derived from ethology, psychedelic drug experimentation, diverse religious knowledge and metaphors derived from them, and his PhD in Psychology to concoct a "guidebook" for people in the late 20th century English speaking world...to prepare for psychedelic drug trips. Leary re-worded much of prior English translations of the Tao Te Ching and translated/interpreted for an assumed audience. I think if Jakobson were in my room right now he'd be screaming at me for mis-interpreting what he meant by "intralingual," but then Roman would've been missing the point, my point. I'm a hermeticist anyway! This is what we do...<cue: canned laughter from 1960s TV sitcoms>
- Interlingual: I think Jakobson means "translation proper" here. Sorta like what you non-native English speakers are doing right now, as you read this blog. If you were to look at my text here and re-write it "in your own words," - in whatever language - without trying to do "damage" to what you think the OG means, I think you're having at Interlinguality. But then, as Professor Carlin said, when he noted that often in the court of law, a lawyer will tell someone on the witness stand to "tell the court...in your own words..."...this is absurd! No one has their own words! We're all using the same ones everyone else is using! But if you must use "your own words," just go ahead and say them: "Fringly cragit ponchee flooo!" (I suspect Roman would again be all frowny were he here.)
- Intersemiotic: As I understand it, Roman Jakobson meant "an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems." Hell, that's the interpretation by one of his colleagues that I copied into my notes from some highfalutin' book on Semiotics. I'm not sure and don't remember, but Jakobson may have been able to speak English, and may have actually written those words himself. I don't know. Do you know? Anyway I think he meant something like reading a book of poetry (in translation?) and then doing something like making a painting out of how the poetry made you feel. I'm not entirely sure. You come up with a better interpretation!
Ending The Blog Post
I harken back to one of my favorite living writers, Tom Robbins. In an essay collected in his book, Wild Ducks Flying Backward he writes about how his novels have been translated. Now, most writers tend to assert something substantial got lost in the translation from their native tongue to the translated one, but Robbins goes on (see pp.209-211) about how he thinks that, sometimes, "literal back-translation" into English has improved his work. Say what you will, but I must applaud Robbins here for his cosmic sense of humor and overall non-graspingness.
Q: Can loose translations of texts give rise to edifying misreadings? And if so, why? (You may choose to take this course for non-credit.)
Tom Robbins, one of my favorite
living prose stylists. Born: 1936. Died: NEVER