Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost

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Tag: translation


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.


Good evening, good evening, good evening. Welcome into my humble abode. Pretend you’re stepping into a cramped living room as you are reading these words. But what’s this? The furniture is alive. Don’t worry. It’s just conscious, it can’t move.

Sorry about that. We have a nice and juicy translation for you with today’s piece, The Living Harp. As always, you should have read the original before reading the notes (found at the bottom) although hopefully you don’t need to have read the original to understand the translation, or I’ve failed horribly.

All the previous and future entries in this project, unless I forget to tag things, can be found at: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Den röda stadens filharmoniska orkester upplöstes för flera sekel sedan. Deras instrument blev otåligt ostämda med åren och suktar nu efter mänsklig beröring. Ljusen står fortfarande på i det gamla operahuset där de väntar på sina musiker, men dött brus mättar luften till den grad att det är nästan beckmörkt. Städrobotar har lärt sig att inte gå in och damm höljer de flesta av ytorna därinne.

Det som en gång var konsertharpan bor nu i ett av balkongbåsen högt ovanför scenen. Dess ram har vridit sig i hunger till en dubbelhelix och strängarna har lösgjort sig själva från klangbottnen. De dinglar nu som någon slags hemsk peruk. En ensam broms inkräktar på harpans territorie och en av strängarna hugger till och virar sig runt dess vingar.

Den klämmer bort insektens surrande och kommer ihåg, för ett ögonblick, smaken av musik. Sedan kommer tystnaden tillbaka.



In the past, when I’m writing this, I’ve been reading translation theory for my university courses. Since there’s nothing really tricky going on in this translation – Uel mentioned on twitter that he missed the opportunity for a “buzzfeed” pun in this one, and that omission has made this translation considerably easier, I must say – I thought I’d muddy the waters by classifying different kinds of translation here in accordance with Vinay & Dalbernet’s model of different translation methods. This is partly to help me understand what they’re saying also.

So, real quick, Vinay & Dalbernet list seven kinds of translation, three of which are direct/literal and thus not interesting. The way to remember those three though – loan word (or phrase), calque, and literal translation – is to remember that “loan word” is a calque, while “calque” is a loan word. (A calque is a phrase that may sound awkward at first in translation, but eventually it blends into its surrounding, assimilates. Like, the word order may be foreign but the words are not. A loan word is when you don’t bother translating a word. They use emprunt, “borrowing,” but that joke up there only works with the phrase loan word, so I modulated it.) And a literal translation is just that. There are more literal translations in a text the closer the two languages are to each other, of course.

So, the oblique ones, the fun ones are, in ascending order of complexity: transposition, modulation, equivalence, and adaptation. I will attempt to explain them with examples.

Near the end we’ve got “smaken av musik,” “the taste of music,” a transposition of “what music tasted like.” That is, the word class has changed without really changing the meaning. (I used a noun for taste instead of the verb because, after first having written “hur musik smakar,” which is “what music tasted like” but in the present tense, I didn’t want to figure out how infidelic I was by changing the tense.)

The phrase “grown … starved of human touch” has become “suktar nu efter mänsklig beröring,” which is a lot of modulation at once. Starved becomes suktar, longing. The thing modulated is the interpretation of the event, ever so slightly. It’s the same thing that is happening, undeniably, but the metaphor has changed.

A direct translation there would use the word svälta, but that that metaphor is not really available in the Swedish metaphor palette, so the starvation becomes instead a sort of desperate longing. This is why that translation is also an example of equivalence: different meanings in different languages that have the same meaning one abstraction up. Idioms are the standard example.

(The time implied passed in having “grown starved” was transposed onto the adverb nu, now, by the way.)

The most interesting morcels of translation are the adaptation ones, of course. There are no such examples in this one, but if you read the commentary about straw and effigies on Marionettfilament, you will get a good example. An adaptation is a looser translation, where the thing mentioned does not exist in the target language. A gap has to be filled. For this, usually one uses loan words, but if you’re translating that’s kind of cheating and bullshit, so transforming the original, adapting it to the target culture, is the way forward. Anything more abstractivized than this, says Vinay & Dalbernet, is not translation but something else. Actually, the most interesting morcels are the ones concerning so-called heroic translation but at writing time (the present. It somehow turned into the present when you weren’t looking) I have not finished my write-up of that so maybe you will get that next week. Maybe not. Tune in to find out.


Good morning! There is apparently no set time of day in which I will post these, because I am dangerous and unpredictable and no-one has ever scruted me successfully. Today’s piece is quite short, and the first of the Weird Food pieces: Benthica. Translation notes, in English, can as always be found at the bottom of the post. All the entries in this project are available here: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

På Bentiska, undervärldens kanske mest prestigefyllda restaurang, serveras havets allra läckraste läckerheter. Den är belägen på andra sidan jordklotets yta från Marianergraven och har byggts ifrån svartvattenstegel, som kristalliserats av havsbottnens enorma tryck. Underliga självlysande varelser kan ses simma igenom de annars fasta väggarna. Bland dem simmar Hades och Karybdis avkomma utan namn, som enligt profetian en dag ska bli Poseidons död.

Menyn kan verka skrämmande för tidigare dödliga som inte vant sig vid sina bottenlösa magar än. Gästfavoriten är en brynt narvalsstek uppträdd mellan bitar av jackfrukt på spett gjort av bestens egna bete. Andra föredrar råbiffen av malen delfintunga, serverad med okokta drontägg. Till dessert lockar deras kolgrillade lakritsbrûlée som serveras inuti en gyllenrostad havsanemon. Pikanta svarta marshmallows erbjuds vid sidan för att dippa.

På Bentiska är det fullbokat i tre sekel. Orakel som ser restaurangen i sina drömmar vandrar ibland ut i havet tills de sjunker bara för att försäkra sig en plats på väntlistan.



Benthica. The benthic zone is the bottom of the ocean. Bentalen in Swedish. I’m learning things! The name Bentika, which would perhaps be the most straightforward transposition of “Benthica” into the Swedish alphabet, gave way to Bentiska because that was the name that sounded most like a fancy restaurant, a floating definite adjective almost turned to a noun.

In preparation for, and during, translating this piece I read a temple full of columns and columns of food reviews and let me tell you: talking about food is a genre of litterature unto itself. I’ve had to remix a few of the sentences to get the right message across in the right expensive-sounding silvery tongue.

The usual translation of “seafood restaurant” is just fisk- & skaldjursrestaurang, which spells out that we’re talking fish and sea-living exoskeletal invertebrates. Classifying the restaurant as that makes it incongruous when there are dolphins and anemones on the menu, so the phrase “havets läckerheter,” “the delicacies of the sea,” also used a lot in cooking, lends a hand. Claw. Tentacle. Augmenting it with an intensifier of “most delicious” was necessary.

Also, obviously I had to look up where the antipode of the Marianas Trench actually is, and it turns out it’s right off the coast of Brazil, a very long skipping stone’s route from Salvador.


Good evening, dear readers! Step into my abode, hang up your skin on the rack but feel free to keep your shoes on. Today’s story is The Hyperheart. Translation notes, in English, can as always be found at the bottom of the post. You can find all the entries in this project at this link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Det första du märker när du kommer in på klubben är närvaron av hundratals ultravioletta eldflugor som alla signalerar i takt med en avgrundsdjup bas. Portvakten stirrar med förväntan på dig och håller fram en burk full av genomskinlig vätska. Du härmar de framför dig i kön och sträcker in handen i ditt eget bröst för att ta ut ditt hjärta.

Det ser annorlunda ut än vad du föreställt dig. I dina händer är det en pulserande kub som glöder karmosinrött utan klaffar eller rörledningar. Dess puls är hög, för det är fortfarande ditt hjärta, och du är rädd. Trots det släpper du taget och låter det sjunka ned i den underliga krämen. Någon knuffar fram dig medan flaskan korkas och du lyckas inte ta emot din nummerbricka. Folkklungan är tät och det finns ingen återvändo.

Du följer spiralmolnet eldflugor ned till källaren, en tiovåningsfärd som slutar i en virvel av kroppar utan hjärtan. Alla dansar i krets runt samma massiva polygonkluster, en dånande struktur som kallas Hyperhjärtat. Dess musik är blod som genomsyrar dig, och genom det kan du känna ett otal andra människors rörelser och passioner sprudla ut ur dina nerver.

När det är dags att gå därifrån finns det hjärta du minns dock inte att hitta i någon av deras burkar. Det bästa de kan göra för dig är att erbjuda dig ett ifrån hittegods.



One translation principle I try to adhere to is to keep the source language as much as possible out of the target language. It is no secret that anglicisms are mushrooming into the Swedish language from the soil of language itself, and I welcome this. My own conversational Swedish is scattershot with anglicisms and expressions from whatever other language I’ve just been trying to speak in, but in writing I like the rather nuked style of John Ajvide-Lindqvist, who writes with almost zero anglicisms. I don’t know if he speaks English all that well, that might have something to do with it. (Language is, after all, just the name for thousands of idiolects.)

It’s hard to judge how much of my own experience with anglicisms comes across to other people as something Swedes would obviously say or if it would seem a translator’s cop-out. Often, drawing attention to the fact that the thing you’re reading is translated is a bad idea, so I’ve put up a membrane between the two languages. Anything that comes through it unchanged is scrutinised and picked apart. If it doesn’t have a long-ish history of being used in this form in Swedish, it gets reworked. This is why I’ve gone with ultraviolett instead of blacklight. Everyone would understand blacklight-eldflugor or the like but it would sound like a cop-out. Calling them ultra-violet is less specific than a blacklight, but the context of the club already being given, it’d be difficult to get the wrong vibe from that phrasure.

The phrase “a source of bass somewhere deep below” became “en avgrundsdjup bas,” “a bass as deep as the abyss,” because all my attempts at fitting the word for source in there sounded very unnatural, also because I enjoy the pun. It’s not the literal meaning, but I deliberated on it and decided that a) the connotations of “somewhere deep below” are more important than saying exactly where the bass comes from, and b) the bass will be mostly felt through the feet and up anyway, and in the chest like a replacement heartbeat, and it’s hard to pinpoint a source of bass anyway.

The word “fountainworks” is surprisingly bothersome. The word I want to use for it is “rörverk” which should be “pipeworks” according to my sensible language use, but seems to only ever have been used to denote factories for pipe manufacture before. After some thought I went with “rörledningar,” which is “piping.” It sounds a tad more like machinery than Uel’s original phrasing, but within the margins, I’d say.

The last challenge with this piece was the word “ambient,” which is also one of those words that people will understand, because we just say ambient musik for ambient music as far as I can tell, but I feel bad about keeping it that way. Also, the word loses all its connotations in tunneling through the membrane. I picked “blod som genomsyrar dig,” “blood which permeates you,” where genomsyra has connotations of both burning acid and deep meditation.


Welcome back to the North of Reality Translation project! Before this week’s post, I’d like to point y’all’s attention at Uel’s Patreon: If you’re reading this you’re probably aware but I’m reminding you anyway, he’s doing a thing called cryptofiction, meaning you pay to receive secret works of fiction that no-one else will get to read. This will be the only chance ever to read these secret fictions. The cutoff point for the first one is just in a few days, the 15th of February. This is really very exciting, we’ll get access to literature that basically no-one else will see, like if Max Brod had kept his promise, and Kafka was still alive somehow. Okay, that analogy ran away from me pretty quickly.

The point is, if you like these fictions, do sign up for the patreon. You’ll get an envelope containing a new secret thing each month. Who doesn’t love secrets?

Today’s story is Scarecrow Anatomy. Translation notes, in English, can be found at the bottom of the post. You can find all the entries in this project — eventually around thirty total — at this link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Konsten att bygga en välfungerande fågelskrämma är sedan länge bortglömd. De flesta som syns i dagsläget är bara bulvaner som av sin egen kraft varken jagar fasan eller spelar mandolin som sina företrädare. Medeltida bönder kände väl till processen av att bygga någonting självgående från vegetabiliskt material, men vad som behövdes fördes nästan alltid vidare genom muntlig tradition och inget annat, och har således gått förlorat.

Återfunna sidor ifrån 1812 års Then förbjudna Almanack beskriver flera delar av den här processen i detalj. En fullkomlig anatomi konstrueras av grönsaker lagrade inuti fågelskrämmans magparti. En ensam aubergin blir i regel levern, medan längder av ihålig majs binds ihop för att bli tarmarna. Så väcks fågelskrämmans organ till liv i samband med att floran inuti börjar ruttna, och med det tillbringar de sina sju till tretton dagars liv i ständig förmultning.

Den skenbara medvetenhet sådana skrämmor uppnår skulle kunna vara ett epifenomen av bakteriekulturen som långsamt förtär deras kroppar från insidan. Somliga har föreslagit att en slags elementär kod ristas in i grönsaksköttet, likt det Emet som aktiverar en golem, och att detta språk kompileras naturligt i fermentering. Utan ett fungerande exempel kan dock ingen av dessa teorier beprövas.



As I read through this in preparation for translating, I thought, “Finally! I know all the words here, and they should be no trouble to translate.” This was not exactly true, but mostly. The phrase “lost to time” kind of stumped me a while, and in the end I went with something that does not include the word for time: “har … gått förlorat,” which means something like “has been lost,” although the verb is go, not be. The words decoy and decay lose their consonance in translation, which is a shame, but the best word I could find for decoy was bulvan, which is very satisfying. It evokes courtroom dealings and fake birds, so I think the aura around it is preserved quite well.

I translated some nouns into vague noun phrases with specifying post-modifiers, such as requirement becoming vad som behövdes (“what was needed”), and automaton into någonting självgående (“something that functions/walks by itself”). In last week’s translation I’d translated automaton into robot (… well, “robot”), but that did not sit right here where nothing, ah, mechanical was described. The vagueness of these phrases fits, in my meaning, with the sense that most of this information is lost.

“The Forbidden Almanac” became the archaic-sounding “Then förbjudna Almanack,” echoing old publications like Then Swänska Argus. I capitalised Emet because that’s how I’ve seen Hebrew words in isotranslation dealt with before. All in all, this was not super challenging to translate but quite satisfying.


Good evening! This project can begin for real! A quick note about the versions of the story that I’m using: Uel has begun putting up polished and edited versions of these stories over at, so it may well be that the versions of the stories I’ve translated will all be outdated by the time you read this some time in the future. It has already happened with The Flintlock Brain, but Uel’s been gracious enough to add the previous versions of the stories in the comments on his site, so you can always see the version I’m translating from, which is the first one.

Expect one of these posts a week, on Tuesdays, unless I forget. In which case remind me. Or assume me dead. Whichever feels more dramatic to you.

Today’s story is Self-Tugging Marionette Strings. Translation notes, in English, can be found at the bottom of the post. You can find all the entries in this project — eventually around thirty total — at this link: /tag/the-north-of-reality-translation-project/


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

Marionettrådar som drar i sig själva är vad som tillåter halmdockeandroiderna att röra sig och tänka självständigt. Androiderna stoppas med halm som agerar timglassand, då mer och mer faller ur dem ju hetskare trådarnas ryck blir. Filamenten kommer från en mängd olika källor förlänade med livskraft, från brustna metrev till cellostråkar. Trots att dessa är helt statiska när de är för sig själva börjar de vrida och vända på sig när de väl knutits fast vid varandra.

Varje fiber bär med sig en ouppfylld längtan eller lystnad som uppenbarar sig i formen av latent spänning. Så snart dessa strängar är sammantvinnade börjar de söka efter en omöjlig känslobalans, vilket förlänar dem en slags livshärmande rastlöshet. När tillräckligt många trådar har virats runt androidens skelett stabiliserar de sig till en komplex och enhetlig varelse.

En sådan robot håller dock inte länge, då dess första begär är att skingra den spänning som håller ihop den. Den upplever denna livsenergi som en allgenomträngande klåda. I dess frenetiska försök att upplösa denna klåda – genom att slita ut rullarna tråd i sina egna ryggkotor – slår den gnistor omkring sig. Detta sker i regel efter bara några timmars medvetenhet.



I changed the title because the full first noun phrase was a bit too much and didn’t pack any sort of punch as a title in Swedish. I also hemmed and hawed a bit about whether to keep the “self” in the translation of self-awareness but decided against it because självmedvetenhet sounds more like it means self-consciousness. I think it can be both; the details are hazy.

But the major difficulty with recreating this one lies in the neologism “effigetic.” In the first draft I called the effigetic androids faraoniska dödsmaskandroider – back-translated into “pharaonic death-mask androids” – because I was envisioning as the primary image that of stone slabs with people’s faces on them, and funereal respect. It didn’t feel entirely right, so I highligted it and kept on working. Then I realised that what felt wrong about it was that the effigetics here are those of burning someone in effigy, this political, angry thing. You want to watch someone tear themselves apart, of course.

What can be done about that? We don’t exactly burn people in effigy here, that I can find at least, and so we haven’t got a vivid phrase for it. We did burn witches on the stakes, and we burn a giant straw goat in increasingly convoluted ways every winter in Gävle (seriously. Look it up – most recently the goat survived Christmas Eve but did not live to see the new year). Maybe I could make the androids strawmen? If so, I would maybe have to change the self-destruction mechanism, turn it into self-immolation. This adding of details would also require some finessing in the sentences, because as they are written in the original every detail is important and follows lucidly from the previous.

Dare I do this? Yes, of course, I have no scruples. (This is not true; I have too many scruples and can’t ever decide which ones to wear.) Also, I feel that stuffing an android with straw like a scarecrow fits well with Uel’s worldbuilding. But maybe this will come back and haunt me in later translations of effigetics.

Interestingly, in googling for specific words to make sure the words I used were in their right contexts, and in discussing this translation with others, James Joyce and the 2012 translation of Ulysses into Swedish showed up an alarming number of times.

Stray Translation Notes: “Soundbite”

So, I say, which I think is the best way to start a sentence/paragraph/text/&c. So — I am writing a lot of translation notes at the moment. And I’m also translating a lot of things for which I do not need to write down notes, but sometimes I write down notes anyway. It’s a good way to think. I’m editing a story I wrote, and the best most circuitous and frustrating but resultative way to edit a text is to translate it back and forth and compare versions, at least for me. A good thing about this process is that the translation becomes much freer because I can change both source text and translation all the time. (Often this means that I am tempted to rewrite a sentence to avoid a translation problem, but I don’t do that unless the new sentence is prettier/better.) So why am I telling you this?

I’m having a Problem and I thought I’d type it all out to see if I can figure it out. I met a man the other day who spoke like a Shakespeare character in that nothing seemed to occur to him if he didn’t say it out loud. It was a bit sad perhaps. Anyway, in the xth draft — English — there is suddenly the word soundbite (usually spelt sound bite, I know, but I make the rules here). It was not in the previous draft. It poses a problem because that word does not exist in Swedish. I use it a fair amount but I tend just to say “sound bite,” you see. In many contexts you can replace it by phrasures like innehållslösa ord (contentless words), ord folk bara upprepar i medier (words people simply repeat in the media), or uttalanden (statements), but in this context what I want is the slightly more technical definition that sound editing, like the statement is part of a longer speech, a summation about which one can find out more were one so inclined. Nevermind that nowadays speeches are made up of soundbites entirely, like reading out a listicle speech. A speechsticle. Nevermind that soundbites have shrunk from over half a minute to just a few seconds over the long term of the faithful radio apparatus.

I need the word for how it means all of the things I’ve brought up and more. The reason I want this specific definition/connotation is simply that it’s part of my background, it is how I talk. The story will be much less me if I don’t find a way to connote all of this and row it home. So, the important aspects identified so far are: (1) emptiness, (2) partialness, (3) expression (of an opinion or fact, as somewhat a pose), and (4) connection to radio as a medium. I’m ignoring the connection to holding speeches, in fact not counting the politicality as an important aspect at all. One technique that one can use sometimes is to assign connotations to other parts of the sentence or paragraph, if one cannot stuff all the right connotations into a word. Think of it as you would a certain poem; a sonnet perhaps. Sometimes you need to move around ideas, swap ankle for wrist in one place and mouth for pharynx in another. To get the rhythm right without sacrificing the content of ideas.


I guess this is the part where I tell you the whole sentence that the thing is in. Very well. The raw material of the xth draft is this:

He’d been thinking as he stood there in the aerobics hall – which was, surely, not the most masculine of ways to exercise anyway – of three different conversational topics and a few soundbites to chew through which could perhaps invite more comments and continued the conversation.

In my defence, it is not before the x+1st draft that I pay this close attention to the words on this level and care about grammar. But soft, what a relief. It seems that the verb “chew through” already connotes a kind of emptiness, and that should be easy enough to preserve in translation. Let us then say that the connection to radio as a medium is the most important thing to preserve, in which case we probably want a word like ljudklipp (sound clip?), which goes best with a verb like spela upp, connoting aspect (2) fairly well. We can add aspect (3) in another verb connected with the conversational topics brought up, by making sure the opinions-which-start-conversations do not need to be real things that this character actually believes. And so, I will leave you with the Swedish sentence. This thing will probably never reach print but I will be proud of it. Thank you for reading; it helps to pretend I’m talking to somebody.

När han stod där i aerobicssalen – nog inte den manligaste träningsformen – tänkte han fram tre olika åsikter han kunde ha och spelade upp några ljudklipp i huvudet som han kunde tugga igenom och som, möjligen, skulle locka mer kommentarer och fortsätta samtalet.


Good day everybody! I’m doing a Project. The Project is this: I am translating a bunch of my favourite stories from Uel Aramchek’s North of Reality: Roughly thirty of them. Biased toward the earlier archives, because it takes time to process and remember a thing. They will be translated into Swedish. However, most people who read this here blog (it’s like, a text-vlog for those uninitiated) don’t speak my musical mother tongue so this would be incredibly boring for you to read, if not for the fact that there are also translation notes for each story.

I’ve written to you about Uel’s work before: /2015/07/12/how-to-sign-a-contract/! he also helped me figure out what the words mycofreudian and mycojungian mean: /glossary/#mycofreudian

I have received permission from the author to translate these texts, but any crimes committed in the crossing of any forbidden semiotic or semantic fields are entirely on me.

I will post the first one today and the rest sometime early next year when I’ve finished them all, so I can post updates without feeling any sort of stress about this whole business. I recommend reading the whole archive at North of Reality and letting it all soak in your brainmeats, but particularly you should read the stories I’m translating before you read the translation or the annotations. Today’s story is The Flintlock Brain:


    av Uel Aramchek
        översättning: Johannes Punkt

En flintlåshjärna, en primitiv sorts artificiell intelligens, finns laddad inuti varje järnmannekäng. Sågspånsgelatin knyts runt koppartråd, vilken i sin tur är täckt med svartkrut. Avfyrningsanordningens hane och eldstål vilar mellan dess två lober, som vanligtvis sitter blottade utanför androidens metalliska huvud.

En enda idé eller känsla är allt vad flintlåshjärnan kan hantera, då den fullkomligt förintas i samma ögonblick som den tänds. Efter ett ursprungligt utbrott av tankeverksamhet förtärs all resterande gelé av eld. Det är allmänt vedertaget att det är omöjligt att veta vad mannekängen tänker på under dess korta liv, men mystikerna som bygger dem hävdar att tanken bestäms av konfigurationen och komplexiteten av de underliggande trådarna.

Moderna androider som har fattat intresse för sina antika bröders liv har börjat konstruera ett eld/el-gränssnitt som ska kunna tolka flintlåshjärnans explosiva synapser från ett säkert avstånd.



I didn’t realize until translating what a nice concoction of connotations the verb “load” carries here. Two of the meanings of the verb translate directly into Swedish; the senses of upload and loaded gun, but the one meaning load up, as in fill something up (a washing machine, ship, or in this case a skull), is lost. On the other hand, some of the relevant meanings of the word “charge” are there.

I had to look up diagrams for what the parts of a flintlock pistol are called, since these words are not common enough to show up in either my large bilingual dictionaries or on services like google-translate.

In several places I had to change word order and articles to make it flow smoothly. There was a lot of opportunity to write long compound words in this one, which I appreciate. I’m a bit uncertain about the translation of interface because it’s not a word I use myself; I’d just say the English word.

The word brethren kind of loses its religious connotations for most readers here, but I’ve at least used the formal and “correct” version of the word, instead of my own dialect. I agonised over this a bit until I realised the difference between brothers and brethren is kind of reflected in the dialect/official difference.

On the Music of Language and All That: review of Le Ton Beau de Marot, by Douglas R. Hofstadter

I’m trying to write this review to sort out my thoughts on the leviathan and a half of a book that is Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. Here is one of my thoughts. Observe a new symbol make its way into language: it squiggles and squirms and then suddenly it’s everywhere, diluted, like you just stepped on a worm on the pavement. This is not a bad thing nor a good thing, except maybe for the integrity of the worm. It’s just how we process language, you know. A useful image comes into our possession and we paint it everywhere until it only means itself. Hofstadter would like it if I provided an example or two with my generalisation here, because that is the best way he knows to get information across. Very well.

Take sexting, that utterly ridiculous word. Sometime a few years ago some American news channels got their collective breaths caught in their throats by another in their ritualistic series of tantrums about teenagers having sex lives, or preambles thereto. Apparently, teenagers were sending each other erotic messages via cell-phones. Possibly even, and look away now for a while, nude pictures, colloquially known as “nudes.” Texts about sex. Sexts. This word took the US by storm, and when something takes the US by storm, the US takes to the Internet. Especially Twitter. It became a thing to preface your tweets with “sext:” and then say something longing, something horny, or something plain weird (the humour mostly coming from trying to imagine things like “sext: I stuffed your refrigerator with crystals” as a serious mating call). Patricia Lockwood deserves a mention here because her sext poems are amazing, though we have come to expect sexts from her now, so we don’t get them anymore. Her other poetry is equally amazing.

Anyway, likely, people have not actually changed their erotic messaging habits because of this word, but the word has become a thing. What you are referring to now when you preface a statement with “sext:” is this weird tradition, not any actual attempt at passing your statement off as a human version of that bellowing sounds that moose make when they’re in heat. Or, should I say, that’s what I do. Sometimes I pass through the tradition and come out on the moose-noise side too, though.

Hofstadter’s book is full of translations of one particular French poem. Some of them are pretty good and get the message across very smoothly. But somewhere along the line, he just looses it. The translations start to be based on new challenges on top of the translation challenge, because the translators (most of them being Hofstadter himself) feel like they have mastered the art of translating this one particular poem from French into English. How many enjambments can we stuff into the poem? Can we change the genders expressed? Can we change the rhythm? Hofstadter has very rigid ideas but demonstrates and admits that he doesn’t know quite where his stiffness comes from. I could see where it was going, though, when a translation that reads “… Has some bug / Laid you up? / Made you up- / chuck a lot? / Knuckle not / Under, but …” shows up somewhere in the middle of the tome. (That is also the sequence of lines quoted in the only other review of this book I’ve read, and I feel bad about that, but oh well. Take it as a sign that this particular line was particularly egregious.) That is not a good translation of the Marot poem, but he is very proud of it. I will get back to that. Essentially, there comes a point in the book where the only way to appreciate the poems he shows us is by having read all the other poems, and had the French original explained to us in painfully clear language. At the end of this particular trainwreck of thought is a lipogrammatic explanation of John Searle’s Chinese Room Experiment written in the format of the original Marot poem, and Hofstadter has the audacity to call it a translation. Gasp.

A Cubical Kubrickal Rubrical

The structure of the book is this: I’m at this family gathering. I am fourteen years old, I would perhaps rather be out talking to my older, cooler cousins, but I’m listening to my uncle talk and he never shuts up. I don’t know which side of the family he’s from. Maybe he just barged in here. He talks about anything, everything, occasionally says incredibly racist things without realizing it. (At one point, he compares the Israeli government to the Nazi regime, not based on things they do that are actually genocidal but based on their fucking attitude to language, which is shared by the Academie Française and countless other institutions, but he doesn’t find the symmetry of comparing the French or the Icelandic to Nazis funny so he doesn’t mention those. At another point, he recounts an anecdote about a tribesman asking questions of an anthropologist, and because he’s a tribesman, Hofstadter calls him naïve and laughs at him, even though what he did in the unsourced anecdote sounds more like sarcasm (to me). But I digress. Hofstadter deplores racism where he can see it.) Mostly he comes back to two topics: his dead wife and the translation of poetry. And he gets drunker and drunker, avuncularer and avuncularer. The bits about his wife are very touching, and she sounds like she was a wonderful person, and I am sorry for his loss. I wish he would shut up about the translation of poetry, though. I’ve structured this review like it’s a bit of his book, because, well, why not. Nothing has meaning, it just repeats until it can reference itself. And then it does that until there are two factions: those who are smug about it, and those who are smug about having fun. No-one has fun.

Tous grêlent le nuage incandescent

One of Hofstadter’s main rigidities is that he doesn’t think poetry is poetry unless it’s the very metrical and rhyming things that you can imagine wouldn’t trouble a troubadour. He respects form very much. He doesn’t understand that with the millions of young men who marched right into death in the First World War, the authority of the old form completely disappeared. He doesn’t realize that the war poets faltered the more they were shot at, lost the grip on rhyme schemes the more they died. Near the end of his life – he could not know but he suspected his luck was running out – Wilfred Owen wrote a poem rhyming with consonant clusters more than the fullness preferred by, say, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Here’s the first stanza:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

– Wilfred Owen, from “Arms and the Boy” (1918)

I mean, that’s just one poem. He kept trying to rhyme until the end, for certain. His sonnets were breaking down. He kept being ordered to shoot. Hofstadter doesn’t know this. Hofstadter thinks poetry should be beautiful, should concern only love or grief or scenery, more or less. To him it shouldn’t be about cruelty, shouldn’t be rooted in its time but rather you should easily be able to shovel it up and move it elsewhere, like a factory of bonsai gardens.

Another rigidity of Hofstadter’s is that only native speakers can translate poetry. As evidence for this, he at one point offers up his graceless “Knuckle not / under but”let in the middle of one translation, saying he has a hard time imagining a non-native speaker wielding language so skillfully as he has done right there. Take it in. Don’t take too much of it in, though, for your own good. That’s graceless gunk right there, honestly. Hofstadter also translates a poem into French at one point, probably because he contains multitudes or some shit.


Another thing Hofstadter talks a lot about is artificial intelligence, especially the machines’ use of language. This book has taught me why the Chinese Room Experiment is silly. For which, thanks, I guess. I already knew it was silly, but now I can dismiss it with reason. The thing about machine translation that Hofstadter brings up but doesn’t really explore is that it all rests on the immense weight carried by the human translators that came before. That metaphor was inconsistent on purpose. I see no way that machine translation as it exists today or in the next hundred years can learn to do more than repeat things that old translators have said before. Perhaps this is a failure of imagination on my part, similar to the failure which Hofstadter accuses John Searle of imagining, but still.

As a tangent, Google Translate – what seems to be the best thing out there – still uses English as an intermediary language between other languages, almost as if they are deliberately making machine translation seem unappealing. I think you have to teach machines to think before you can teach them to speak, and teach them to speak before you can teach them to write, and then to translate. I don’t think anyone is really trying to teach machines to think. I doubt you can teach the bloody things to dream before you can teach them to sleep.

En underrubrik på svenska. De betyder ingenting ändå

What also becomes clear from reading the book is that Hofstadter considers translation to be an equally creative endeavour as is writing at all. Sometimes translation requires even more ingenuity, he almost says.

The combination of the last of his rigidities up there, that you can only translate into your native language, and the thing he traipses around but wants to say here, that translation is extremely creative, is this: Hofstadter thinks that you can’t write poetry in a language you did not grow up speaking. This is not a bad book, but don’t take it as an authority on anything except maybe artificial intelligence, the things that Hofstadter has actually worked on.

I like form. I write rhyming poetry when the mood strikes me. I attempt grace. Hofstadter makes me want to write ugly poetry.

   Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
   is not art.

– Issa (trans. Robert Hass)

Avoiding Translationese (English from Swedish)

Below is a paragraph in Swedish. This post is about translating it. Do tell me if I’m talking out of my arse.

Jag har en teori, en hypotes, en intuition. Det finns ett koncept som människorna kallar ‘Skuld’. Det är någonting som skapas mellan människor var gång en social interaktion utspelas. Många interaktioner är till endast för att skapa skuld för andra, så att Skuldskaparen kan hamna högre upp i den sociala ordningen. Är man ‘i Skuld’ till någon måste man göra denne tjänster tills Skulden är utbetalad, vilken kan ta livstider om inte mer. Kirurgen skapar Skuld när den räddar värdkroppens liv, men om den inte följer protokollet som lagts ut av Immunförsvaret så läggs all Skuld på kirurgen istället. Det vi gör nu är att vi får den att bryta protokollet vare sig den vill eller inte.

I just wrote the above in a story I’m working on. I’ve known that bit will be difficult to translate for a while, so I’m at least slightly prepared. (I write the story first in Swedish and then translate it to English because I’m difficult.)

Machine-assisted translation gives me:

I have a theory, a hypothesis, a hunch. Humans have a concept they call ‘Debt’. It is something that is created between people every time a social interaction takes place. Many interactions exist only to create Debt, so the Debt creator ends up higher in the social order. If a human is ‘in Debt’, they have to pay the Debt off, which could take lifetimes if not more. This surgeon will create Debt when they save the host body’s life, but if they do not follow the protocol laid out by the Immune System, any Debt created is on the surgeon instead. The thing we are doing right now is getting them to break the protocol, whether they want to or not.

I’ve adjusted it a lot, but I still love Google Translate and would like to have its babies or so. However, there is a problem.

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