Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lost in Translation

A while back I posted, for interest's sake, some of my responses to questions sent by the German translator of VELLUM, Hannes Riffel. Now, Hannes is working on INK and has kindly agreed to let me do the same again. I think it's a neat way to give an insight into the intricacies of the translation process and cast a little pen-light on some of the details without too much blather and self-importance (some of those "details" being, after all, fuck-ups and follies on my part.) Though anyone who hasn't read INK yet might want to beware of spoilers. Anyway, all page numbers are from the UK edition.

p 30: "We only tried to give you what you want ... the meaning of fiction in your factual lives." I don't understand the second half.

It's a nihilist/existentialist thing. Facts have no "meaning". Life has no "meaning". Only fiction has meaning. So the bitmites have reshaped the factual world so it has the meaning of fiction -- heroes, villains and all that jazz.

p 35: "strands of skandas" Hindu god? But what are the "strands" (dto.: "skanda strands" on page 38)

In Buddhist philosophy the five skandas (with a small "s") are what makes up the self. See this link:

I'm not clear on some of the distinctions a Buddhist would make between "physical form", "sensation", "perception", "conception" and "consciousness" (like between sensation and perception or conception and consciousness), but the idea here is of the self being separable into strands (streams, the discrete but interwoven, linear *experience*) of feelings, thoughts, memories, ideas, and so on. The idea is that in the post-Evenfall Vellum it's not just the world that's been deconstructed; humans have too. So you get these wraithike scraps of torn-up identity, strands of skanda.

And (just as an add-on) you get some of those strands that have woven themselves back together into the semblance of agency, the sylphs. But it's a multiple perspective agency, skanda strands of memory from multiple origins -- hence the shift from third person to first-person plural. And you get other skanda strands which have attached themselves to a semblance of form but remain, to all intents and purposes, lacking in that agency, bereft of any real consciousness; those are the shabtis.

p 36: "faun" -- is that a colour as well?

Oops. That's meant to be "fawn", which is, yes, a shade of brown. Bollocks, I always get the baby deer and the mythical creature confused.

p 36: "king" among all those animals means what?

Exactly what it says. King's are just another "noble beast" to be skinned and stitched into the harlequin's suit, far as Jack's concerned. The logic is sort of: well, kings claim the divine right to rule, claim to be distinct from common humanity, with their "blue blood" and all; so, if they have *different colour blood*, they're, like, a different species altogether; so that makes it OK to hunt them down, kill them like the animals they are, and wear their hide like you'd wear the leather of a cow. There's a sort of whimsical notion of hubris at play there, in the idea that the very act of setting yourself up as a king is an invitation to be slaughtered as a beast. It's also a foreshadowing of Pentheus's death at his mother's hands, the way she sees him as a lion to be hunted.

p 37: "city known as Themes" -- any allusions in this name I should know about?

Thebes >> Themes in the rewrite of THE BACCHAE, as an allusion to "theme" in literary terms. It's part of the whole wordplay-system, like Rome becoming Rhyme, Greece becoming Verse and so on, in the historical texts excerpted in the faery chapter of VELLUM.


Anonymous Jim Steel said...

My favorite text on this subject is Umberto Eco's 'Mouse or Rat? - Translation as Negotiation'. The title comes from the fact that the term for mouse and rat in Italian is the same. One can see the implications that this might have for both Walt Disney and James Herbert, for example. I have yet to check on the Italian title for the book, but I highly recommend the English version.

10:54 pm  
Anonymous Fábio said...

Hal, this is a very elucidating post indeed. Translation is an one-of-a-kind job, since it´s the rewriting of an original, so the translator is something like Italo Calvino´s Cloven Viscount, schizophrenically divided in half. But when he can count on the writer to illuminate certain passages, all the better for the work and for the readers.

3:10 am  
Blogger Tj said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:09 am  
Blogger Tj said...

It took me forever but I read the whole Book of All Hours! I'm stoked, it was a exhausting challenge. Still, I can't wait to read it over again and again until the bindings fall to pieces! The flipping tv channel style blew my mind, and the ink overflowed the pages into my thoughts! There's so much more for me to understand in the pages, it's going to take a long awesome time.

I actually read half of the first book, and got frustrated. I put it down in favor of other novels on my list, but kept both books on my shelf. I picked up the two for a long road trip and hit the gas as I picked through the end of Vellum. I started to tip the red and blew through Ink, devoured it in two 5 hour sittings.
Every word counts, and every phrase holds meaning, the sign of the best writers! I will eagerly be following this blog and any further works by you!

11:11 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Jim, Fábio: Yeah, I find the whole process fascinating. So I'll probably keep posting these Q&As as long as the translators involved are up for it. Actually, I've got a notion to do something more on the subject, but we'll see how it goes.

Tj: Cool, man! It's actually geat to know you were frustrated at the start but broke through it. Judging from the Amazon reviews a lot of the folks who hate it just don't click to the fragged narrative and end up dropping the book, but I always reckoned there might be a weird threshold effect, where at some point it just starts clicking together for the reader as the fragments resolve into the "Big Picture". Anyway, it's well cool to hear someone who didn't click to it at first being so enthusiastic about it afterwards. Cheers! :)

3:58 pm  

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