NORTH OF REALITY TRANSLATION PROJECT: WAYFINDER
Good $TIME. I am so $EMOTION to see you. Take a $SEAT, and welcome to the North of Reality Translation Project! Today’s special offer is Wayfinder, with a side of translation notes and language/culture musings in English. But our menu is well stocked with other courses: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/
NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: DEN SOM FINNER VÄGEN
av Uel Aramchek
översättning: Johannes Punkt
Under en synnerligen lång vinter började labyrinter bryta ut i metropolen som en infrastrukturell sjukdom. Varje natt vävde sig gränder in genom varandra och formade tjocka betongknutar som blandades med tunnelbanelinjer och fallfärdiga telegraftunnlar. Tegel och glasfiber vreds till vilda helixar och motorvägar ömsade sina skinn likt ormar för att komplicera härvan. I dagsljus återstod inga bevis av dessa rovlabyrinter, förutom de tillfrysta kropparna som lämnats kvar av de som snärjts in inuti dem.
Till slut spreds legender, inte bara om dessa mörka utrymmen men även om den som kunde leda vilse själar ut ur dessa urbana grottor. Hon sades hölja sig i paisleymönstrad midnattsskrud, upplyst av vad som verkade vara hennes eget blod. I sin högra hand bar hon sitt eget självlysande hjärta som en lanterna, en pulserande tacka gjord på gyllene muskler som tjudrats till hennes bröst medelst en ansamling tjocka kablar. Det dröp här och var som hon vandrade och lämnade ett spår av plasma som andra kunde följa i säkerhet.
De som påstod sig ha blivit uteskorterade ur labyrinten av henne säger också att hon inget namn gav mer än ”Den som finner vägen” och konverserade knappast mer än att hon insisterade på att de skulle lita på hennes omdöme. Däremot ryktades det fritt om hennes ursprung. Det förmodades att labyrinten svalde henne levande en olycksalig afton, men att hon lyckades överleva pärsen och kravla i säkerhet genom dess trådar, fast hennes anatomiska struktur förändrades permanent. ”En gatlykta hällde tillbaks henne i vår värld likt en kran,” säger en variant av berättelsen. ”Hon dog den kvällen, och återföddes som en del av staden själv.”
Andra är mindre övertygade av denna tolkning. ”Den här staden har aldrig varit på mänsklighetens sida,” förklarade en vagabond som tröttnat på den här versionen. “Stålet, glaset, fan, till och med skräpet … det trängtar efter att förtära oss. De där fantomgatorna hon vandrar igenom är stadens inälvor. Nej, hon är inte del av staden alls; hon försöker skydda oss från den.”
I had problems finding a good title for this. The very ideal would be a neat and compact composite noun like “Wayfinder” but the immediate solution – “Vägfinnare” – sounds daft as all hell. I was stumped for a long while and then I decided to go with a longer thing: “The one who finds the way.” It sounds equally mystical, but from another angle, and the namelessness of the name is enhanced.
Half-relatedly, in the time period in which I grew up, they stopped translating movie titles into Swedish. The effects of knowing some movies by their Swedish title because they were made before the tide turned is baffling, a bit like being from a parallel universe. Generally, the translators of movie titles were gentle and caring: classics like Some Like It Hot got translations based around the key title words (“hot,” in this case), while others were just translated literally to no fuss, like The Birds, or kept as they were because the title was not a translatable word as such, such as Casablanca. However. Things got weird, probably because of comedies. National Lampoon’s Vacation, which for some reason is considered a classic, was translated as Ett päron till farsa – “A pear for a dad.” The word for pear is slang for “parent,” I suppose, but if there’s more meaning to it than that it is lost to time (read: I don’t feel it will be enlightening to look it up, so suck it). Mel Brooks’ The Producers was translated as Det våras för Hitler, the name of the musical in the film, Springtime for Hitler. This is a bit weird, but okay: it is more eye-grabbing than “Producenterna.” Then The Twelve Chairs came, with a translated title we can back-translate into “Springtime for Mother-in-Law.” Then Blazing Saddles: Springtime for the Sheriff. Young Frankenstein: Springtime for Frankenstein. Springtime for the Silent Movie. Springtime for the Nutjobs. Springtime for World History. Springtime for World Space. World … Space? Probably that movie is what made the bubble burst, I feel. The title of Men in Tights was translated word for word, like picking up broken pieces of porcelain after one has failed an almost amazing trick using just a tablecloth and some fine china.
What were we talking about? Ah, yes, literary translation. For this piece I also encountered problems trying to translate “civic.” As it’s used and translated, it mostly refers to the human part of a city, or a population, but here that was clearly not the case, referring instead to the infrastructural schematics of streets in a city. After a few weeks of trying to climb this wall I realized that in my describing the problem I had used the perfect word for translating it – infrastructural – and just as quickly dismissed it for whatever reason. So, that was silly of me.
For some reason the phrase “to safety,” which appears twice in the text, stumped me. The correct way to say it is, unless I’m mistaken, “i säkerhet” (lit. “in safety;” but that’s very literal). Further proof that no-one should ever trust prepositions in any language. I always mess prepositions up no matter what language I’m speaking.
I feel like I’ve used the word “självlysande” for like fifteen different Aramchekian adjectives at this point. It’s actually just two – luminous and phosphorescent – but what would I do if these adjectives showed up in the same story? I’d have to use a fancy word like “fluorescerande” (fluorescent) for the phosphorescence. Which is not a word I’d really use otherwise. It’s all about the equilibrium, though, as always. This same problem actually comes up sprite-swapped in the translation of “interpretation” and “rendition,” both of which very squarely become tolkning. “Rendition” can also be version, fortunately. Although this becomes a problem when you consider that I had translated “version” in the paragrpah above simply into the Swedish “version” (imagine that I’m pronouncing these words different, since they’re spelled the same). So I changed that into “variant,” which probably is a nicer word there anyway. Solved.
Lastly, the word “ichor” is a nice word. Its roots in Greek and the mythology that it drags with it make it impossible to really translate as such, since translation is often root transplantation. (This metaphor might make more sense if you consider the roots of “translate” – trans meaning roughly “across [a border]” and late coming from something meaning “carry,” so “translate” = to carry from one place to another. We are carrying from English to Swedish here; when a word is too firmly rooted in Greek we have to use the same word in the translation. Like when you have a character talking Spanish in an otherwise English book, you would keep the Spanish, not carry it over to French or something (It’s a different story if we were to translate that into Spanish BUT that’s not my problem, so suck it (Again.).).)
So we have two options: deracinate or neologise, essentially. We do kind of have “ikor” in Swedish, in that I’ve seen it in at least one place and used it in at least one story myself, but my dictionary renders it as “gudablod” (gods’ blood) or “blodserum,” “blodserum, blodvatten” (blood serum, blood water) and googling for “ikor” only gives me obscure texts. If we deracinate it, we might instead talk of ectoplasm or just plasma. I am partial to the plasma and don’t think that the ichor has a very central role here, so I’m pulling out its roots to tend the garden.
It’s actually really easy to get sick of that word, “ichor” – you just have to overeat yourself on H. P. Lovecraft. I remember when I read Lovecraft I kept a tally of his favourite words. I was adolescently holed up in a Czech hotel with nothing to read but a werewolf glamour book that took a few hours to plow through and the whole Necronomicon collection, which I had conked all the way there. I remember most of them now. Squalid. Indescribable. Ichor. Could have sworn I remembered more of them. It’s been enough years now that I can speak them without bile, but it was touch and go for a while. Thank you for reading The Teenage Literary Review; next week maybe I’ll tell you about The Little Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli.