Adventures in Translation (with Mr. Frumpy!)

27 February 2002

The house is clean, and Scott's coming today. I need to take out the recycling and buy groceries, but other than that, we're good to go. Yay! We've had this plan for awhile, though, and whenever Scott makes plans, it snows. So I'm a bit nervous about the weather in Chicago this morning.

(The other) Scott has introduced Michelle to one of the beings he brought with him from Kansas: Mr. Frumpy, the toaster demon. Michelle was a bit alarmed that she's now living with Mr. Frumpy. Perhaps it's sad, but I'm not alarmed at all. I heard this whole thing and chuckled once and said, "Ah, yes, Scott and his toaster demon."

I think I like having the sorts of friends with whom that's appropriate. Most of the time.

Yesterday I finished The Magickers, and it only got worse. The Harry Potter rip-offs were bad. The said-bookisms were bad ("she remarked," "he commented!" Even when they weren't doing anything in particular, they couldn't just say!). But the ethnic stereotyping reached a new low when the Indian woman -- who was "of course" a doctor and a yoga instructor -- sashayed off to teach her yoga class wearing her sari. Now, as someone who has wrapped a few saris (and that's not the usual "I've read a few books in my time" understatement -- I have only done a few) on my and other people's bodies, I can vouch for this: you don't want to do yoga in those things. You especially don't want to teach yoga in those things. You would essentially have to get dressed again afterwards, and most of the petticoats for under saris are not particularly full-skirted. There are traditional Indian female garments that would work just fine with yoga -- those slitted-side tunics and trousers? Those would be okay. But not a sari. But the author couldn't bother to do that rudimentary research -- she just had to have An Ethnic Character, Dammit. And this woman was so "Indian" that I half-expected a dead husband to appear out of nowhere just so that she could fling herself on his pyre.

Which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't indicative of the whole book. It was one of the worst books I've read in a long time. It was so definitively the first book in a series that not one single plotline was wrapped up. Not one.


But that wasn't even the best of yesterday's reading. I got a translation of Petrarch's Songs and Sonnets from Laura's Lifetime, and the translator...oh. Oh my. He said, "I have taken it as my primary aim to shape poems from my sense of Petrarch's realness, by attempting to imagine what Petrarch is thinking about and by constructing forms that will allow his thought an appropriate clarity...." Okay, first of all, someone could write the words "my sense of Petrarch's realness" and not fall to the floor laughing hysterically. That's pretty dangerous in itself. But as I read further, I found many interesting things. For example, modern readers, according to the translator, Nicholas Kilmer, require more adjectives. Also, "Petrarch's realness" allows Mr. Kilmer to make a twenty-line poem into ten lines of about the same length, with many nouns missing but lots of extra adjectives. Languages vary, I know, and I'd have been willing to accept the idea that eleven or twelve lines of Italian could translate to ten of English. But.

I'm a bit lost: in what sense was this poetry Petrarch's? Rather than Kilmer's Variations on Petrarchian Themes? I know that translating poetry is not a matter of going through and saying, "Okay, 'le,' that means 'the'...." I read Le Ton Beau de Marot. But determining to leave out entire images from a poem? How do you justify that? How do you call it the same poem?

And then there's the issue of what modern readers "need"...frankly, I think that Kilmer's job was to translate from Italian to English. While I can see the appeal in not using needless archaisms, it seems that "modernizing" the entire outlook on how language ought to be used is no longer translating. It's editing at best.

Ah well. I finished reading that volume with absolutely no sense of what Petrarch had actually said or how he had said it. Read Art in Venice, which told me almost nothing about the Venetian glass-making industry (which was why I had gotten it from the library), but had some other interesting stuff in it. Lots of good pictures. Then I started Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher More, so that's my reading choice of the day. I do commend to you Clute's review of the new KSR book -- his reviews always crack me up -- and James Lileks' Screed for the day. And, as I mentioned yesterday, the new issue of Speculon.

Oh, the interview. Right. Well, since you asked (some of you, anyway), the Nix interview. Way back when,, Nix's publicist called me. She had arranged for an interview with him to be published in the Science Fiction Chronicle, but only if a freelancer did it and she liked my Phantastes article, so would I like to? I said sure, definitely. Jumped at the chance. Did the interview while Scott and Michelle were here (toaster-demon-Scott, not arriving-today-Scott). Wrote it up. Queried the editor at SFC to determine how long he had intended this interview would be. And that's where the problem started. Turns out that there had been some significant miscommunication between the publicist and the editor. He said he had never said he wanted this interview, because in fact he did not, and she said that he had committed to it or she wouldn't have asked me in the first place. So the interview was mine to do with as I pleased...and I didn't really have any markets in mind for it at the time. Didn't have a lot of interest in querying on interviews -- Trent does interviews, not me. So it kind of languished, until the changeover of poetry editors made Speculon a little light for this issue. So....

Indeed. At any rate, I'm going to do relatively little today, I think, except for fetching Scott from the airport. And getting a new paper journal. I like new journals. I also like sun-dried tomatoes and polygenic traits. I like lots of stuff. I still have an undercurrent of sadness running around in here -- I dreamed of my great grandmother last night -- but I will be distracted, in good ways.

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