Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

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Tag: apocalypse


Your father told you about magic. About the stories hanging from the ceiling of the world like carcasses in a slaughterhouse. About astronomy and astrology. You learned to draw maps of places that didn’t exist. He told you it was okay to not know the names of constellations, because you can create your own astronomical phenomena and your own myths. Sometimes it might hurt seeing lines drawn by someone else hundreds of years ago. It doesn’t matter that things go missing, because you can find them again. Outside the apartment the whole hospital was quarantined. He was talking about himself.



Welcome! Today’s translation notes, found at the bottom of the post, are the longest ever. Today’s piece is The Illuminati Bar. All the entries in this project can be found at: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Du har precis börjat smutta på din drink, en cocktail gjord på starkvin och myrsloksblod, när en välklädd affärsman kommer fram till baren. Han slår sig ned och skjuter fram tre pärlemorskimrande och böjda polletter. Du känner igen dem från en förbjuden konsumenttidning du råkade komma över för tre månader sedan; de är sjöjungfrunaglar, Illuminatis officiella valuta.

”Jag tar en Albert Pike-special,” rosslar han. ”Och ta det lugnt med isen.”

Bartendern tar fram ett glas som ser ut som ett par pyramider som skär varandra. Släpper i två kristaller och fyller det sedan med en del tran till varje tre delar apelsinlikör. Det blir en härsken blandning, men det bryr sig affärsmannen inte om. Han förtär den sura drycken omedelbart, halsar ner den i ett svep. Ställer ner glaset på bordet igen och skrattar sitt förfäliga rökskratt, hostar sin förfärliga rökhosta.

”Isen här är alldeles särskild, vet du,” uppbådar affärsmannen. ”Nedfrusna pungvargstårar. Finns bara i begränsat antal. Uppe i Kanada vet jag ett gäng samlare som tjänar storkovan på det här. De samlar ihop tårar från utrotningshotade djur i hopp om att hotet fullbordas, sedan slår de till när det sista exemplaret förbrukas. Det är många som investerar i pandatårsterminer just nu.”

”Och du då?” frågar bartendern.

”Det ska jag berätta för dig.” Hans reumatiska händer finner ingen ro. ”Jag är övertygad om att vi endera dagen kommer uppleva en cygne noir. Kanske blir det atombomben, eller kanske kommer pesten tillbaka, men människan som art är snart utdöd. Ikväll kommer jag frysa ner en till sats av mina egna tårar och hoppas på det bästa.”



Alright, this will be a long one so buckle in. At writing time it’s the only one I’ve had to translate three times to get the mood and connotations right. So I’ll ramble a bit, but it all serves a purpose.

Who is Albert Pike? A freemason, apparently. Fun story about freemasons: once, a high-school friend of mine found out that the freemasons still exist in the world, in Sweden even. He had been speculating about when they had their last meetings and what the atmosphere was like, when his dad said that the last meeting they had was last tuesday and it was in fact much like any other of their meetings. He then showed something to prove his membership to his incredulous son, although I do not remember if this was a membership card or an actual robe or what. It was to my friend, I gather, a bit like seeing a pharaoh up close, still breathing. His dad was adamant that they did not have the power my friend imagined, that they were just a gentleman’s club with etiquette and secrecy, but I believe the damage was already done. We visited their address later that week and stared at the door but did not knock. That building also has a wine bar, a beauty parlor, and what I think is a plastic surgeon’s office in it.

There is no famous Swedish freemason I can think of, so this story stays American-sounding. Although much of the American timbre has elided in translation, because I cannot recreate that in Swedish without evoking silly yank tourists, which is obviously the wrong kind. So, “easy on the ice” becomes “ta det lugnt med isen,” which is as close as you can get but doesn’t ring American, of course. “Cash in” becomes an unlocalised “slå till” (roughly “to strike”). But America is a huge place. Most of its states are larger than my country, I’m pretty sure. What I’m saying is – the scale implied by writing something in American English (and all of Uel’s stuff is, of course, it’s just that in tis particular piece it feels extra relevant) does not quite exist in Sweden. And, therefore, not really in Swedish.

Calling the frozen tear-cubes rocks was not viable in Swedish, so I called them crystals, kristaller. Saying ice directly also seemed wrong.

The arthritis in the business man’s hands has been changed to rheumatism. I always translate it like that, symbolically. The ailments are usually used as symbols of old age or worn-down-ness and there’s a lot of overlap between them as I understand it. Trying to speak of arthritis in Swedish gets too vague or too specific.

I’m happy with the translation of the odd pair of “endangered” and “extinct.” The direct translation is utrotningshotade, “threatened with extinction,” and utrotade, “extinct.” I opted for the more menacing “när hotet fullbordas” – when the threat is followed through – to express the idea of extinction. This wordplay seemed in line with the spirit of the piece, and maybe it would recuperate some of the flavour lost earlier in the translation.

Curiously, black swan events are translated into French when we talk about them in Swedish. Not a common term. I’ve only ever seen it in writing, and those spottings are few and far between for the eschatological ornithologist.

So far, so good. These notes above are the ones that also work for the first version of this piece. At this point, although there was good thought poured into a lot of the individual bits, it didn’t sound right when it came together. The word “consumer” is a fucking wonderful mess of a word, to be honest. Its connotations are sliced open like an apple thrown against a bandsaw.

And it was at that point, staring at my feeble rendition of “consumer” as “affärsman” (business-man, completely ignoring the consumption going on), that I started thinking of heroic translations. Let us read about heroic translations:

(At writing time, I am reading Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, translated by the author of that article, by the way. It is very good so far.)

I read this article when it came out and it has stayed with me, and I wanted to do something like it. I thought heroics would help me answer pertinent questions such as: how to get across the idea that it is ridiculous and a bit dangerous at the same time that Illumanti should have an official currency? How to do that and all the while keep the lingering unease about how this man is certain there is going to be an economy after the apocalypse? It is so bright and clear in the original, and so murky in my first translation despite containing the same literal ideas. In the second translation, I added in a lot of details, heightened all the paradoxes.

What the heroic translators did was to engage in a conversation between the two cultures, a fact that they seemed to have foregrounded. What I’m trying to negotiate with, I think, is the sense of ‘patanoia present in Uel’s work:

The etymology of this neologism comes from paranoia and ‘pataphysics, if you’re curious. The ‘patanoia in this piece is rooted in strange americana, so without the grounding of this culture my first translation was unmoored. A lot of American culture trickles down to Sweden, of course – we microwave our police procedurals like every other Western country – but the impression I get from the news and my few visits and many friendships in the States is that there is an incertitude to life that is not as prevalent in Scandinavia. Jobs are less secure, the police force is more violent, &c. Everybody clutches their lottery tickets and pray that tomorrow is not the day when their number is drawn. This is very obvious in The Illuminati Bar, of course. The dynamic is reflected in the fiction, because fiction is the liver of a country.

I cannot change the story into a different form or genre, as was the case for the heroic translators of China: we are just as familiar with short fiction as America, making it a European fairy-tale would contort it too much. So what I tried to do was basically explain the cultural references, or seem to. I tried to find the seams where it would look natural.

I described an ad taken out by the Illuminati in the illegal magazine, showing the permanently pixellated face of the head of state of the New World Order, reminding you that reading it was prohibited. I explained briefly who Albert Pike was, and said that he grew up in Massachusetts, the capital of New England, which belies a complete and loveable misunderstanding of American geography. I like coming across huge errata in old erratic texts, so I lifted the idea of getting American geography wrong from that article. In the stead of the word “consumer” I wrote a short explanation about the economic duty of spending, placing it outside the original sentence. &c, &c. Finally I explained that the belief in the black swan is the belief that the sun will not come up tomorrow. (Because apart from black swan events, the black swan is also an idiom about how induction is not trustworthy, and a famous example of induction is the proof that the sun will come up tomorrow, because it came up today.)

This was all certainly interesting, and might have qualified as a sort of spiritual equivalent of a heroic translation, but that didn’t mean that it was good. The explanatory notes in the text functioned as far-too-frequent footnotes, stymieing the dread, interrupting the flow, dissecting the frog (which necessitates killing it).

So I reworked it again, picked the smoothest phrasings out of the two translations, removed anything unnecessary, and then set about injecting the dread again. I would like to think I accomplished it, too. The key was the word “consume,” of course, but I also changed “illegal” to “forbidden,” which somehow helped a lot.

I am growing fond of the technique I talked about in this post, on another translation: /2016/01/14/stray-translation-notes-soundbite/, “to assign connotations to other parts of the sentence or paragraph, if one cannot stuff all the right connotations into a word.” You explode the word, sort of, and let it permeate the rest of the text. In that vein, I put the word konsument (consumer, as in a consumer of products) as a prefix to the magazine, forming a word that means something like the kind of publication that big companies send to their customers, pretending there is such a thing as culture in corporate culture. I put förtära (consume as in imbibe, ingest, devour) in the sentence where the business-man downs his cocktail. And I put förbruka (consume as in use up) in the sentence about extinction, making it more menacing, adding in the connotation of seeing animals as resources, numbers, abstraction.

Hope you enjoyed reading this. It was a really fun but frustrating creative process, but I think documenting every step along the way helped me reach the best translation I could make. Next week I’ll be less verbose, I guarantee.

FakeReview: Under the Honey Moon by Goldiva Stetter

It is true that much of science fiction was founded on white guilt. First contact stories especially imagined a Columbus character but as a good guy, which is pretty wild. Of course, literature doesn’t exist anymore since the drubles annexed our planet, and Goldiva Stetter will be phloxed for writing this book, called Under the Honey Moon: A Retelling of the Invasion from their Side. I feel the need to write a review of her book, of which I have the antepenultimate copy printed before the baible-traz cummoxed the printing press. I feel like perhaps no-one will write a review of this book if I do not, and if no-one expresses their opinions in nuanced but easily swallowed ways, it is a bit like the book does not exist. I grabbed a copy still hot off the presses and ran for all my legs’ worth until I reached the safety of a burbium. Perhaps I own the only copy in existence. Perhaps I’m inviting my own phloxion if I publish this myself. Before you think that: know that I am against this kind of endeavour entirely and I aim to demolish the good reputation of this slanderous book.

Goldiva had found one of those humongous machines they used to print glossy-covered airport novels in, so this slim volume of sarcastic literature-that-shouldn’t-be feels like the ghost of a book. It’s been a decade since I read a new book, but I remember science fiction, and I think Goldiva Stetter does, too. There are all the classic elements of a good military space masturbation fantasy ball of yarn. There’s the excitement of discovering an alien species, there’s the intial misunderstanding, the weird sex scene, the war propaganda, the underlying sense of unease about defining yourself according to your species or defining yourself at all, the dazzling displays of the morally ambiguous achievements of science, there’s a quest, a good ending, and the unanswered question: are we the good guys?

No human speaks himut, of course, so this book is written in English. It tells the story of three imagined diplomats-turned war heroes: Pigeon, Rat, and Flea. In 87 short pages without paragraph breaks we are shown the moral struggle that Pigeon, Rat, and Flea must have felt when they murdered human civilians by the thousands with their pungytien and phloxoi. Their characterisation falls pretty much flat despite all the emotions they talk about having. In one scene near the end of the first act, Flea stops their phloxion and displays a human in exploded view and asks the question, “Are they not like us?” The answer is of course that we are. The human loses structural integrity and dies shortly after.

The Swiftian anger in this narrative is not escaping anyone, I hope. Jonathan Swift, for those of you who learned to read after the annexation, was a very angry man who objected to the drubles of his time, the British humans. He achieved fame, alright, but think of what he could have achieved if he had worked with them instead! At one point, Jonathan Swift poisoned six thousand babies so that when the British humans ate them, they would fall ill. A barbarous act. And Goldiva Stetter will scream her ire like that scene in Braveheart until they kill her for good, I bet. What a shame. Her incredible talent could be used for more productive things, such as galaschet, or moonfarming. Instead she chooses to waste it on writing, on stirring up feelings in the population, of writing coded messages about where the kimmolwoi meet to plan the revolution.

Stetter describes the druble anatomy and vichshen in mundane terms and only when necessary, but spends a disturbing amount of time explaining basic human physiology in an exotic manner. This only adds to the sarcasm which flows from the book so heavily despite its light form. Why on earth would a druble – the intended reader of this book is someone druble who speaks a human language, which is ridiculous as they do not need to communicate with us, but I digress – need to know about the alien concept of “pain”? It is not relevant to their frame of reference. I’m afraid that much like the druble empire I have run out of space and must award some stars now, as is traditional of a review. This book gets one star, no more, because that is the minimum of stars. This may have been the last book ever written. Our sun will shine for a billion long years more. Good riddance, literature.




As you may be aware, my fake review The Cult of Numbers was recently published by Pamphlets for the Apocalypse! Unlike Under the Honey Moon, the book reviewed in there is an economy textbook. You will not be disappointed: you would love to read about a cult that sprung up around an economy textbook. I know you. You would wolf that shit down. Buy it here:


The electricity went out and the apocalypse came and clouds of dust turned out to be more solid than we thought and when they rolled in they flattened our city and you and I survived lying still on the peak of the tallest hill. We stare into space and we are two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, almost touching, and we reminisce about the things in civilisation that we miss the most. You ramble for hours until I curl up and sleep. I have never heard anyone describe a video of kittens riding on turtleback so vividly as you do.

The Author is Undead – how to analyse literature and kill zombies

I can confirm that, since I am the only person still alive on the university premises, I will be teaching this course next semester. I remind you that I am the only person with the keys to this place, and I have hidden the keys somewhere not on my person. I have dried food and resources and I’m happy to share them, but only if you’ve got a passing grade. I remind you, also, that you cannot open locked doors. No, really. You have no special skillset. These are modern doors, in old buildings. You can’t even break a window. You will have to listen to me.

Sign up now! Limited places available. Intruders will be killed.

In this course we will learn some useful terminology relevant to the field of literary criticism. If you’ve ever been curious why a Nobel Prize winner really won the Nobel Prize, this is the course for you. You will be asked to bring your own shovels, meat cleavers, and pick-axes. I have sealed off the library, but if you really cannot find the literature anywhere else I am willing to let you in to search the shelves. The door will be opened once again exactly an hour later, and if you do not egress by then you will be assumed lost, or turned. The curriculum is as follows.

January 14. “A Mere Rifle”, lecture. In short: the basic survival strategies. Always work in pairs; never use a shotgun; the basics. How do we separate intention from result, or heads from necks cleanly? (You are not required to attend any of the lectures, of course, but even if you think you know everything I am about to say, lecture hall B is one of the safest places in the building, and one of the few that still have electricity.)

January 17. “Is This All the Fault of Zombie Novelists?”, lecture. A history of the zombie apocalypse, to the best of my understanding. A close look at the body of work that predated this armaggeddon. Those of you who were too busy struggling with simple survival might find it interesting to see how this all relates to literature today. What does the addition of poac do to the established modes of thinking of pomo and popomo? Also: we learn when it is okay to describe things as post-infrastructuralist as opposed to post-structuralist.

February 3. Essay deadline. I don’t truly care what you write about, but here are some starting points, should you need them.

1. Does the author’s life up until the point of writing their work factor in on the value or meaning of the book? (No. Don’t be daft.) If you think it does, why wouldn’t the rest of their life also factor in? Many authors keep writing new forewords to their new editions; do we include the sentiments expressed in those? Do we include their incoherent moansfootnote? The author is dead, and should stay dead.

2. You are in a burning book store and can only take three books with you, intending to leave, before the roof collapses. Analyse your mistakes. Why were you in the book store? You almost survive the roof collapsing – the beam is restricting your breathing but not prohibiting it entirely – but you cannot move. Eventually the soot lines the insides of your lungs. Describe your last thoughts.


February 11. “Deconstruction”, lecture. In this lecture, I lay out the tools you can use to apply the knowledge you have gained in praxis. What is genre? What holds a body together, and what can we do to break it down? Gardening tips for the long game.

February 25. “Dead, or Just Sleeping? How to Make Sure”, lecture, followed by open discussion, followed by a big feast. This is the date weakly inked out next to the ‘eat-by’ line on much of the dried food, and by then I calculate that the freezers in the cafeteria will have stopped working. We do cling to the trappings of our old, fallen civilisation. No-one really knows why the date on those bars is 25 Feb., but it is, and we follow it. Surely it should be time to examine our old beliefs and disbeliefs about the world, and not blindly accept the word of those who led us into this darkness in the first place? But we would feel uneasy eating those nutrition bars and rice cakes after this day. We have read things about proteins breaking down, and we have seen the smug scurrying of flour beetles before, and that’s what sticks in our minds. It feels safe to hold onto the past. This building is a safe place. Unless we’ve figured an alternative source of food by this date, I have nerve gas and exactly one gas mask, and if I know myself I won’t have any qualms about eating people by then.

Thank fuck no-one reads this far down in a curriculum anyway.

March 6. Examination. I take you this a nearby graveyard that I found, where the tombstones all mention the prehumous profession of the corpse. We pick out one that says ‘novelist’ or ‘writer’, and you dig up their grave and make sure they are actually dead. Survival means passing.


1. I heard one of them outside my window one night. I recognised her as a famous children’s novel author. “Rrrrrroooooooooooooooohhh” she said, in a long, slow drawl. Later in the night she switched syllable, “hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwlllllllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh”. It was mesmerising to listen to, and I will be updating the curriculum when I figure out a good way to pry myself away from the noises. “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrthhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.”

Le petit jour du jugement

We both scream for God. In French, they call it le petit jour du jugement because of the striking similarities: there is the shortness of breath, and the blood singing in our veins. The quivering and the involuntary throat sounds from deep deep down, and the blinding white pillar of light from heaven that purges the countryside around us. We gasp. We huddle in the bed, narrowly avoiding the wet spot, reaching for the radio by the bedside to find out that the bodycount has reached the thousands. It fans outward from the place where you and I made love.

See the Sun

It’s the end of the world; it feels like a practical joke. People are standing still, slack jaws gaping, gazing at the sun as if they are tricking me into doing the same. Did you know that ‘apocalypse’ is not in the dictionary? I refuse to look it up. I refuse to look up, but the contours of my shadow begin to contort and everything glows blazing red, as if it is only ever going to get redder. Experimentally, I closed someone’s eyes and he crumbled into red sand. Experimentally, I close my own eyes and I see the sun.