NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: BOOKS IN JARS

by johannespunkt

Good day! And what a day. On the menu today is Books in Jars. English translation notes are below the story as usual. These introductions in English are mostly here so that people don’t click away as soon as they think the main thing is not in English. We are very worried about click behaviour. By “we” I mean humans. If this is the first time you’re reading and you like what you see, you might like reading everything else in this series as well. In which case, here’s a link for you: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/

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NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: BÖCKER I BURKAR
    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Magnetiskt bläck var en intressant litterär innovation då det lät oss lagra böcker utan papper. Tack vare flytande kod kunde varenda molekylklunga komma ihåg vilket alfabet och vilken sekvens den tidigare tillhörde. Detta tillät orden att lägga sig själva i rätt ordning när man hällde ut dem på någon lämplig yta. Till slut ledde det till fenomenet av att lagra böcker i burkar som en pöl av oåtskilt bläck där de väntade på ytor att trycka sig själva emot.

Som förväntat ledde detta till experiment. Flytande böcker blandades och skakades – vi tvingade orden inuti att kompromissa om sin ordning. Resultaten var förvånansvärt begripliga: mönster och handling kunde på något vänster överleva strömningsdynamikens kombinatoriska kaos. Vi kunde kombinera kokböcker med varandra för att snabbt kasta om recept, eller med skönlitteratur för att hitta tidigare omöjliga smaker. Skön- och facklitteratur fattade förvånansvärt nog tycke för varandra; de verkade känna igen något av sig själv i varandra under hopblandningen. ”Man skulle kunna säga att böckerna läser varandra när vi kombinerar dem,” påpekade en forskare. ”Det som oroar mig är att de också verkar förstå varandra.”

De mest skärrande resultaten uppmärksammades inte förrän årtionden senare. Vi hade valt ut särskilda volymer att låta fermentera i en vinkällare i Oxford. Efter att de uthärdat det otryckta livet alldeles för länge hade dessa litterära verk blivit författarlösa Cyprianusar och volymer av fram tills dess oskriven skräck. Analyser visade att bläcket hade lärt sig att läsa sitt eget innehåll genom att trycka sig mot sig själv upprepade gånger, vilket skapade komplexa, patologiska handlingsavvikelser som reflekterade varje burks personlighet. Bara ett fåtal karaktärer lyckades någonsin överleva de fermenterade utgåvorna av sina romaner.

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Notes

In Uel’s original, the passive voice is used … well, I mean – Uel uses the passive voice to let the narrator absolve themself of responsibility. That’s the way I read it, at least: the agent (i.e. the doer in a sentence) is so conspicuously absent that it almost has to mean that the entity responsible is the one giving the address.

So, I made a bold move to unhide the “we” lurking in there. This was not a task undertaken lightly. I mean, I did not undertake this task lightly. The main reason was flow: I found no adequate way of letting the narrator keep their distance and not trip over the words. While that stumbling diction may be a good literary device, hinting at nervous guilt, I found no trace of it in Uel’s original and introducing it would change more than letting the narrator reveal themself and move dispassionately on, letting the “we” obscure individuality and absolve responsibility in another way but a way similar to the passive voice. After all, the boardroom may be guilty even as each individual member of the board gets off scot-free. As the saying goes.

My first translation of “liquid encoding” was “Vi chiffrerade vätskan …” which, unfortunately, seems to say a different thing than what the English says. This is a problem with the present participle (the -ing form), which is deceitful and doesn’t always point at the direct object, if it has one. It’s also a problem with there being no exhaustive equivalent of encode in Swedish – there is chiffrera, which is closest to cipher (although the word for decipher, dechiffrera, is far more common by my reckoning), and then there is koda, which is the only option my dictionary gives. And now that I’m this deep into the explanation I don’t know if I understand it well enough to explain it. It’s the two domains of code – language and cipher. We have them both in the noun kod but I can’t make both domains fit into the verb. The phrase “liquid encoding” seems to blur them, because you need both the cipher of turning a letter in dried ink into a blobule of liquid ink and back, and the language of telling it where to go.

If I had gone with “Vi kodade vätskan” I would be committing two errors, the first being that, for whatever reason, “we encoded the liquid” in both languages sounds grammatically wrong whereas “liquid encoding” does not. The second is that I would not be including the cipher. Now, the thing is maybe not meant to be plausible; this magnetic ink idea is not necessarily waterproof. But it needs to make sense when you read it, surely. I toyed, briefly, with the idea of a pun on the homophony of “koda” and “kåda” (resin), but this was too silly, if not entirely out of place. Then I went away from the problem a long while, went back to write down my progress, and hit on the idea of “flytande kod” – liquid code. It sidesteps the present participle problem (although the adjective for “liquid” is in the present participle in Swedish) and it implies the exact same thing as the English, as far as I can tell. One must use liquid code to do liquid encoding. Phew.

Another issue with the present participle – hah, you think I’ve got it bad here but my non-fiction translator friends tell me it’s the bane of their lives and the result of an ancient curse and whatnot – is the -ing-clause that begins “revealing,” in the second paragraph. In Swedish I rendered it as a colon, because I’m daring and reckless and it works, actually, to signal what “revealing …” signals in English, in this specific context, because of the helpful exposition of “reults” earlier in the sentence.

This next thing is, depending on your philosophy, either a bonus or a grievous oversight. The Swedish verb “trycka” means both to print and to push/press, so the phrase “printing against itself” becomes more subtle, meaning press/push more broadly as well as the specific print.

We have no word for grimoire in Swedish, the closest we get is an old Danish spellbook called Cyprianus, after its witchmaster author, Cyprianus. One can, apparently, use the word to mean an old book full of spells, and probably no-one reading knows about it really. It’s not like I did. But I really like the effect of Cyprianus the man unbecoming, becoming an unauthor, so I picked this word instead of saying something like dödsbok or svartbok, death-book, black book.

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This has been the North of Reality Translation Project and I’ve been your translator, Johannes Punkt. It was foolish of me to start doing outros because now I have to think of content for them, too. But we keep ourselves alive by accepting small but ongoing responsibilities. We’re not alive by design or some grand faith that life is better than death, we’re alive because I have a dance to go to this evening, and because you promised you’d write that email about your top five Lana Del Rey songs and why.

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