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/
NORR OM VERKLIGHETEN: ILLUMINATIBAREN
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: io9.com/the-heroic-translators-who-reinvented-classic-science-1696944844
(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:
'PATANOIA (n): The irrational sense that some fundamental truth or universal law of reality has changed, despite everything seeming normal.
— Uel Aramchek (@ThePatanoiac) February 26, 2014
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.