Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

You may be required to show proof of id.

Tag: politics


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.

Emotional Compromise

Emotionally compromised. It is such a wonderfully political-sounding, malicious, delicious phrase, “emotionally compromised”. Taste it. It’s smooth. It sounds like: We will rescind our guilt trips if you vow to feel guilty about it at least once a week, for a period of no less than one consecutive hour, and if not active guilt at least one full day of this nagging back-of-your-mind throb. It tastes like: We have found out what you really feel, you can spill it out now, it is over. We have isolated the leak. We have learnt from our mistakes. This will not happen again.

Dead Zone

The train slows to a halt in the middle of one of the few dead zones left in the country, all fields of wheat and poppy. We get out our phones in vain, then there is nervous chatter to fill the space the engine rumble left.

A sextet of police officers comes in through the door calmly, wielding their instruments. The front man points – “Him,” he says, baton a millimetre from someone’s nose. “And him. And her.”

These people are led to the last cart, that cart is detached. The train starts rolling again and those left exhale with relief.

The Fires

Trust me, they create jobs. Though ostensibly disastrous, these fires must break out in order to feed the economy. New houses can be built over the ruins of old houses. Infrastructures can be refitted easily. Besides, most families have developed certain ways of sensing when the fires are coming, so they can roll their loved ones to safety long before any danger can befall them. A couple of years here will do that, and it’s done. The city needs the flames: destruction is a necessary part of the capitalist system. Without yearly, regular fires something much worse would come, later.

A Few Plots You Can Have

Hi. Here are a few plots with accompanying titles you can have free of charge. Content warning: it is entirely possible these are all stupid, or at least pulp.


Hidden Profile

genre: thriller

Social media and serial killers – what’s FBI to do when their top criminal profiler, Adam Brundsbury, starts murdering people left right and centre, posting about it on microblogs and otherwise being invisible? Douglas Minth, the man who killed Brundsbury’s daughter, takes on the case at a price the bureau might soon regret paying.


The Scenic Route

genre: sci-fi

Aliens land on Earth, there’s a big party about them not killing us, and then both of the alien ambassadors are shot at point blank range. Still, it seems impossible to find out who actually shot them. Individuals stop existing; they all represent things to the aliens now, as the aliens launch an investigation of their own. Read this cultist conspiracy theory-inducing pageturner and feel the need for more, immediately.


If I Woke up on Earth

genre: historical/religious fiction

Two giants, Hilde and Ann, are awoken at each pole, unaware of each other, in the early middle ages. News travel slowly of their arrival but they eventually hear of each other and realize that they need to meet. However, an old prophecy foresees the end of the word if ever the twain shall meet, and there is kind of a plague breaking out in Europe. Tragic and entirely made up, this story takes us to a magical place that is, like most things magical, a bit uncomfortable.


A Mouth with Three Teeth

genre: spy fiction

Title comes from a powerful metaphor employed in the story. Lyndon Hannover is mistaken for a spy in Soviet Russia, but quickly grasps the Moscow Rules. His old life disappears before his eyes and before he knows it, he’s sitting in a radio tower, freezing to death, trying to decipher the codes with the help of a dead man’s diary. Turns out there’s a third player in the cold war …



genre: dark fantasy

An evil religion is channelling what they call the Imagination of the Watchers, and it seems the Watchers have only destruction on their minds. Gasparde and Viola, two senior priests in the nice religion  Skreeism (which deals in age and is the reason people die), are rejuvenated to infiltrate the Wentelwiekans in apprentix roles. However, when one has been old for 200 years, one savours the fruits of youth. Their love affair threatens the mission and they don’t care, even though the Wentelwiekans are getting closer and closer to summoning the Wentelwiek. They see portals created, whence evil comes, but are having problems caring. Et cetera.



genre: new weird

A world-renown mage challenges another world-renown mage on a duel and then realizes she is going to die in this duel, in what magelore calls a flash. She flees but the other mage is relentless: we follow both the magicians in a cat-and-mouse game all over the fossilized world of old earth, as magic is explained in more detail, and hope and time seem to run out.


Patient Zero

genre: zombie fiction

Trenton is turning into a zombie, despite the antiretrovirals he’s taking. His boyfriend leaves him, his family are concerned. Politicians are thinking of gassing him, to set an example. And eventually he just shoots himself to get it over with. He rises with a groan.

New Vignette! The Possession of Mmuti Kaan

A fun thing to do when being out of ideas, is to read your old works and see if any of them hint at something that could hint at being part of a continuity. (Originally, his name was Mmuti Has, but – anglocentrically – I changed it to Kaan, as Has is already a word and in a URL it looks like there’s a cutoff in the middle of the sentence. We can’t have that on this blog.)

So I found this:

(Obviously I am fine with sentence cutoffs in the URL for that blog.) So, this might be a running continuity because of that. Probably not, but one never knows!

Time Travel with Politics, and Notes on Lebensdauer

I added another story to the Choice Vignettes!

Before I begin, I want to note that while the author might dead, I can still have opinions. And, generally, I would know more than you about these opinions. I also might have used these opinions while writing the thing.

The title is inspired by the old German propaganda phrase Lebensraum. It means habitat, or ‘living room’. Space in which to live. Basically the Nazis used it to explain why they needed so much of other countries’ land, and starve so many of the lower classes. (If you starve enough people, you enter a surplus! It’s like winning arguments by exploiting dictionaries, but with people’s lives.)

Dauer means duration, which seemed the most appropriate thing coupled with room. Time might be better coupled with space, but Lebenszeit doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t know German, so possibly I’ve made a horrible mistake here.

Anyway, time travel with politics.

Hitler has a time travel exemption act, which means that if you’re writing time travel, you have to clarify why exactly your characters don’t go back in time to kill Hitler. Adolf Hitler, that is, if that was not clear. Unless your story actually centers around murdering Hitler (see: Lebensdauer) writers often feel they have to at least nod in that direction.

Now, it could be that you’ve got a time travel authority that keeps track of all the time travel – presumably by existing in a time-time, which is something I will define if you really want me to – and this authority has a moral obligation to protect history. Or to protect the natural order of things. Maybe time travel always leads to a Niven loop that annihilates itself, and this is how progress disappears – maybe that’s how Hitler came to in the first place: the universe propelling science into the direction of war, and not time, machines. Or maybe, I don’t know, Hitler actually runs the time travel authority and we need to preserve his past.

(Tangent: how creepy would it be if I referred to him as Adolf the whole time?)

Maybe someone demonstrates the butterfly effect. Maybe you’ve got some actual chronomics in there, and you can’t go back in time very far. Maybe the time machine is unreliable and prone to depression and only goes to nice stretches of time because it knows how it gets – it just refuses to land in a war or near bad people. Maybe you need a Weimar-era German passport to meet Hitler and gosh, you just don’t know any good enough forgers. Hell, maybe the people who travel in time are all evil, rich tourists, and dinosaur fetishists. The list goes on.

I once wrote a story in which nazism was actually needed to travel through time – it was simply a function of a certain neural pattern only achievable by nazism. naturally, the Pope (Ratzinger, I mean) showed up at the scientists’ doorstep and wanted to learn about it. He said he was reaching out to the science community, and then he disappeared from time and killed the most famous Jew of all: Jesus Christ.

Maybe the person with the power gets really nervous about meeting famous people and– no that’s enough, stop it. Just stop.

Anyway – once you’ve dealt with why they don’t fix the 40’s, you now don’t have to spend more time dwelling on the ramifications of time travel: clearly you’ve considered it. But if you actually have unlimited time travel, shouldn’t you be morally obligated to fix things? Having unlimited time travel at your disposal would be a heavy burden, if you stopped to think about it. Kind of like having omniscience, but less reliable.

I don’t think time travel exists. I think people who write time travel into stories should be more creative about it. I feel kind of bad for writing about it, adding another Hitler story to the pile, even though I was clever. I also feel bad for having the urge to write the infinite list of why we will not kill Hitler – and to remedy this I need to write something more clever, is all.