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What’s in a name? If it’s The Eternonaut, it’s a lot.

November 7, 2014

eternonaut coverThe graphic novel I translated a few years ago is in production, and coming out with Fantagraphics (swoon) next year. It’s an amazing work by the phenomenal Argentine author Héctor Germán Oesterheld, illustrated by the incredible Francisco Solano López. I’m so excited to see it brought out in English, I can barely contain myself. And for the most part, I’ve received some really great feedback on the translation and my advocacy for the work. But there’s this thing that has come up before, a few years ago when I published a few excerpts of the work in Words Without Borders. It’s about the title.

The work in Spanish is titled El Eternauta. It’s a neologism in Spanish, combining the root eter with the suffix -nauta. -Nauta is pretty easy, it’s a cognate, and it translates as -naut, as in astronaut or cosmonaut. Those are the two that first come to mind to me (and I’d bet most people), though this handy Wikipedia article lists a myriad of others, including hallucinaut and my new favorite insult for academics, jargonaut. It’s the eter that makes it a little complicated to translate. Well, that, and homophonics, which I’ll get back to briefly. Eter translates literally as ether, but shares a root with eternidad which translates literally as eternity. So the root plays double duty in the Spanish neologism, referring simultaneously to the ether (as in the invisible substance that was once considered an element, through which invisible waves like light and radio travel) and eternity. Fitting, since (spoiler) the titular character ends up traveling through both time and dimensions. And according to the rule-book of super-literal translation, since eter actually means ether, the language-police-approved right-and-only way to translate it should be The Ethernaut.

For me, that posed a problem. Say it out loud. It’s uncomfortable in English, and uncomfortably close to ethernet, which isn’t very superhero-y. And the language police weighing in on this one in comment threads (I know, I know, don’t feed the trolls) must instinctively agree with me on that, because it’s not the “correct” title that’s been proposed. What this commenter, and some very vocal others, have preferred is an Anglicization of the Spanish neologism: The Eternaut. So just lopping off that final vowel, that telltale Spanish syllable, makes it an English neologism. And I think neologism for neologism is the way to go, at least in this case. But say it out loud. Really, do it. ETER-NAUT. Did you say it “eat-or-not”? Because that is just absurd. Especially if you’re not constrained by literalism, which this neologism isn’t because, as we’ve already learned, eter means ether not eternity.

When I was working on this, one of the several neologisms in the story, it was all abstract. I was thinking about this with other translators, comics scholars, and writers. It was a fun puzzle, playing out the various choices that could be made, figuring out how to coin a neologism in English that approximated the sound and intent of the Spanish. It’s through that kind of play that many difficult translation choices are made. And the great thing is that there is an argument to be made for or against any of them – that’s part of the joy of translating for most if not all of us who work as literary translators. It’s not direct equivalences that delight translators, it’s the knotty problems that we get to work over and over on.

In the end, I chose The Eternonaut. I borrowed the “o” from astronaut and cosmonaut, the two most recognizable -naut words in English, and made a neologism. It loses something of the ether, but gains a Cold War context that I find poignant and interesting and appropriate. And I knew, especially after the response on fan forums after I published some of my initial excerpts from the work, that it would be a potentially controversial choice. But after going over the possibilities, and the reasoning again, I still think it’s the best one. Or at least, it’s the most in line with my aesthetic preferences. And as the translator, that (and a lot of good dictionaries, some local informants, and native speakers) is what I have to guide me.

I’m curious, though. What do others think? And, most importantly, why?

Translation is a Compromised Body

October 23, 2014

open pressSome smartening of some stuff I said about translation and poetry and compromised bodies at a poetry-gathering last week in LA made its way onto the Poetry Foundation blog. Amanda says these things way smarter than I think I did, though.

“Here is what Erica Mena (of Anomalous) discussed in response to these questions (of course, this is just a summary, and many parts are missing):

She wanted to contest the idea of translation as a the idea of equivalence—one in which the translated text is thought of as the imitative body of an original text that was pure or whole to begin with. Erica read a passage from an Anomalous Press chapbook that is a work in translation:

From An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy by Mike Schorsch:

1        Hurrying pilgrim, stop here!
Stop here. When you think
hurrying pilgrim, think
stop here! When you think
2        Sara Jessica Parker, you think
Carrie Bradshaw. Stop here
pilgrim, there is a lot more to her than
Sarah Jessica Parker, you think
the place teaches the prayerful
3        to tread lightly.

The chapbook is a translation, through intrusions of pop culture, of a sacred medieval text written by a poet-saint. Erica opened up a discussion about whether original texts are compromised texts to begin with, especially since people think of original texts as pure and inviolable. She questioned whether translation is a “forced insertion” of one textual body into another, raising uncertainties about the ethics of translations. Does translation have to be violent? She said she thinks of the text of Mike Schorsch’s chapbook as a Frankenstein body, hewn and sewn together from many parts, in which the stitches are visible. Does this Frankenstein constitute a whole, brand new body? One that is a modernization of memory, a relic made culturally accessible to the present moment? And if so, does this act of translation mean that a temporarily current self must (violently, narcissistically, solipsistically) impose itself on the original work? Or can the act of translation, as representing one social body interacting with another, move outside of the problem of history—move outside of the dualistic frameworks of violation versus purity?

There is, of course, the thin-ness of identity. And in translation, one body can empathically and imaginatively inhabit or co-habit the body of another. Time itself is a form of translation.

Anomalous also uses many media platforms for its publication, including printed letterpress chapbooks, an online journal, and sound recordings. Erica talked about how traditionally men used letterpresses, and how women only started to use them to publish works after the letterpress was considered to be an obsolete technology.”


You should go read all of it – it’s such a great post, and was such a great conversation!



5 Things That Chester Could Be Listening To That Would Be Way, Way Worse For Us

August 29, 2014

We have a new downstairs neighbor. Well, actually, we’re his new upstairs neighbors. Chester. Chester has lived in our building for almost twenty years. Chester is a cab driver in San Francisco, who is almost always at the lovely across the street bar for happy hour. Chester has excellent taste in classic jazz. How do I know that? Because our building used to be sort of a tenement, with all the cheap flimsy materials and thin walls and floors that goes with that. What our building has going for it is location – the neighborhood that used to be under an overpass and next to the projects is now super bougie, central to everything, trendy, and full of overpriced clothing stores. The overpass came down, the city cleaned up, the prices went up and now for what would get us a whole house in another state we get the top floor of a shabbily constructed apartment building.

Let me put it this way. I can hear our across the stairway neighbors watch TV. I can hear phone calls and trips to the bathroom in the building next to us, with which we share a wall. So when I started hearing jazz come from downstairs, I was actually pretty thrilled. I love good jazz, especially classic vocal jazz, the stuff that Chester seems to have a stellar collection of. And Chester, well, he’s extremely nice. Charming in a shy kind of a way. Listens to great jazz at extremely reasonable times of day, like between 7:30 and 9 in the evening, on weekends. And for extremely reasonable durations, too. One album, maybe two at a time. I have no problem with this, it’s actually almost nice. Unless I happen to be trying to write, or translate, or read, or… There’s something so distracting about music you have no control over. I have the same problem in some cafés, and I’ll pick places to go to based on their musical selection.

Anyway, this evening when the jazz came on, Matt and I talked about how nice it was that he had good taste in music, and imagined things that might be worse:

1. Reggae. It’s all the same g-d song.

2. Thrash metal. It sort of speaks for itself.

3. Hot country. “Is this actually what you like listening to?”

4. Ozzy Osborne. Not Black Sabbath. All Ozzy, all the time.

5. Neil Young. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Any of them, in any combination.

Moving Wrap-up (I Hope): aka, The Move Part 4

June 21, 2014

[Part 1 & Part 2 chronicle the unbelievable nightmare of moving with Fidelity Moving Group. Part 3 has some advice and things I wished I had thought of before moving.]

We finally arrived, the day before what was supposed to be our delivery date, in San Francisco, exhausted, sun-burnt, stressed out, and at night. We knew that we should expect a strange, overstuffed couch sitting in our apartment, in addition to what we hoped was all of our own stuff. And there it was. I wish I had thought to have one of my friends take a picture of the apartment when it had all of our stuff, and all of the other customer’s stuff. It would have been insane.

We immediately noticed that there were big black scuffs on the freshly-painted white walls and plaster knocked off a corner in the hallway. We also noticed that a lot of our boxes looked like they had been tossed around violently. Many had corners and tops totally collapsed in, and were close to destroyed.

The next morning we set about documenting the damage. Photographing the walls, the door, the hallway corner. Photographing the damaged boxes. One box, a plastic filing cabinet, had 1/2 of its contents missing, which I later found dumped and crumpled (unfortunately, since some of it was artwork I was storing) in another plastic bin. One small painting had apparently been bent in half while still wrapped in bubble wrap, destroying both the frame and the handmade artwork (it had been a first wedding anniversary present I made for my husband). The back leg of our couch had been snapped off, and the upholstery torn off the bottom. And our large, antique mirror is still missing.

We haven’t finished unpacking, and we’re documenting as we go. But that seems to be most of it. I also heard from my cousin in Florida that they snapped one of the legs off of our heirloom great-grandmother’s mahogany dining room set.

I’ve texted the manager, and the driver, several times to try to track down our antique mirror. It doesn’t seem promising. We’re contacting furniture repair stores to see about fixing the leg on our sofa, but for now it’s totally useless. I’m not optimistic that I’ll get any money back for any of this damage. So I rescind the last thoughts of my part-3 post. Knowing now what I do, if I were to do it again, I would just suck it up and pay the double price for a pod. At least that way I’d have all my stuff, and not have destroyed the only piece of furniture we actually moved with us.

So, final thoughts: do not under any circumstances for any reason ever use Fidelity Moving Group. They are absolutely unprofessional, and your stuff will not be safe with them.

Call for Critical Writing on the Gurlesque

June 21, 2014

I don’t usually post calls for submissions on the blog, but this one is too exciting not to.


Call for Critical Writing on the Gurlesque

In the anthology Gurlesque: the new grrly, grostesque, burlesque poetics (Saturnalia, 2010),editors Lara Glenum and Arielle Greenberg gathered work from​ eighteen contemporary women poets who are “writing about and through femininity . . .brashly, playfully, provocatively, indulgently.” These poems have “unicorns inthem, and sequins, and swear words, and vomit.” Gurlesque alsoincludes eight visual artists whose work, like Gurlesque poetry, “assaults thenorms of acceptable female behavior by irreverently deploying genderstereotypes to subversive ends.”

The second edition of the anthology—​an electronic edition​ to be published by Saturnalia in 2016—will feature the next wave of Gurlesque poetry alongside examples of visual art,videos, music, and fashion that fall under the rubric of this theory.

For the second edition,the original ​editors, along with new co-editor Becca Klaver,​ seek critical writing on the Gurlesque. Submissions of previously published pieces are welcome, but the author is responsible for attaining reprint rights without fees. Essays of any style and medium are welcome, and nontraditional scholarship, video essays, and other innovative forms are encouraged.​

Please submit completed​essays (no abstracts required) ​of 500​-9,000 words by August 15,2014. If applicable, include in-text citations in MLA style and a Works Cited list. Submissions should be saved as Word documents named after the author(LastnameFirstname.doc) and sent as attachments to gurlesqueanthologyATgmailDOTcom In the body of the email, include a brief cover letter with a bio and information,if any, about where the essay has appeared previously.

Essays should directly address the Gurlesque and ​might also address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

*gender performativity
*queer theory
*critical race studies
​*performance studies
*girls’ studies
*waves of feminism
​*the Gothic​
*the grotesque
*the burlesque
*the carnivalesque
*riot grrrl
*pop culture
*visual art
​*digital culture​
*cuteness, camp, and kitsch
*capitalism, consumerism, and class​
*literary predecessors of the Gurlesque

*international Gurlesque

What I Learned About Moving, AKA, The Move (Part 3)

June 11, 2014

[Part 1 & Part 2 chronicle the unbelievable nightmare this move has been in more detail.]

Though I’m still in the middle of the country, well, not exactly the middle anymore – now we’re in Arizona – and so the move has not finished because I still have to deal with getting a stranger’s couch out of my apartment when we arrive to San Francisco, I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience. The various other options we had. How I might have taken some precautions to make things go more smoothly.

Let’s start by saying that I’ve moved across the country (well, half-way, and back) four times, and on average for the last 16 years I’ve moved once every year. So I am, shall we say, an experienced mover. I have a packing system, it involves spreadsheets. I’ve packed my husband and I for four separate yet simultaneous moves (when I was going off to MFA school, and he was staying in Boston but moving to a smaller apartment, so some of our stuff had to go into storage at my dad’s and some at his grandmother’s) without missing a beat or a box. I am not a stranger to the complexities of moving.

The first time we moved long-distances we did it the “traditional” college-student way: we rented a truck, packed it up, drove it, and unpacked it. It was horrible. In part because the truck we had was a 12′ truck, but we only had enough stuff for a cargo van, or maybe less. In part because it was extremely expensive (as one-way moves tend to be). And in part because I’m a nervous passenger already so driving a practically-empty 12′ Penske rental truck through the Pennsylvania foothills was probably the worst possible thing we could have done.

Learning from that move, when we moved me back for a year off, my brother and my father rented an Enterprise cargo van (round-trip), came out, packed it up, and then my brother and I drove back while my father flew. It cost about the same as the first way, but was slightly better because we were in a smaller truck when I thought for sure we would plummet to our doom off the rainy Pennsylvania foothills.

So then when we moved back to Iowa, together, we tried a third way. We packed and shipped with FedEx everything that wasn’t potentially breakable. And then everything else got packed into our car (that we had bought for my husband to use for his job in Iowa) that he and a friend drove out, while I just flew out with our cat. That worked well, and was about half the cost of the truck, so that’s what we did on the way back, too.

So that was a strong contender for this move, too, seeing as how we were definitely going to have to drive the car out anyway. I also checked with some friends who’d done this previously, and got estimates on Pods, and other pod-like services. Door-to-Door was the cheapest, in case you’re curious. But when my cousin told me about the movers she had used for her grandmother’s things from Illinois to Florida, and that she was going to use them again to inherit some of our great-grandmother’s furniture I was no longer in a position to keep, I decided to get a quote from them. And the rest is history (part 1 and part 2).

In retrospect, maybe the pod-like system would have been better. Maybe it would have been worth the almost double price-tag to be in control of the packing and unpacking, to schedule the pick-up and delivery. But maybe not. Because in retrospect there are definitely some things I could have done differently to make sure that things went more smoothly.

1. Been extremely firm about the earliest possible delivery date. It’s in the contract. And I don’t know why, but in an attempt to seem flexile and undemanding as a customer I made sure to tell them that “just in case” I had a friend out there with a spare set of keys. Which they took, apparently, to mean that they could deliver things whenever they wanted.

2. Numbered all of our boxes in purple or green sharpie (a color someone else is unlikely to have) 1/40, 2/40, 3/40 etc. That way it was clear exactly how many boxes were ours, and which ones they were. And written our last name on them.

3. Bought stickers to put on all the furniture and boxes that indicated they were ours. The moving company used a sticker system, but they only had three colors: red, green, and yellow. The likelihood (and in fact actuality) that someone else on the same truck would have the same color as ours was high. If, say, I had bought or printed out hot pink nautical star stickers to put on everything, that might have resulted in us getting our, and only our, things.

4. Get everything in writing. When the manager told me it would be all right to pay by credit card on the delivery, I took her word for it. If I had her put it in writing, there would have been no negotiating.

5. Asked for emergency contact information in case we needed to reach someone while their offices were closed (like all day on Sunday, the day of our delivery). This should not be negotiable. Either they have someone who can help us on a Sunday, or the delivery can’t take place on a Sunday. End of story.

If I had done those five things, and/or if we had just gotten our things delivered on or after the day that we had on the contract as the earliest possible delivery day, then I think the whole thing would have been a breeze, and we would be singing their praises. Provided nothing got broken, which, of course, is still to be seen. Hopefully there won’t be a part 4 to this, and I can just move on with my life already.

Providence to San Francisco: The Move (Part 2)

June 10, 2014

Oh, and actually that wasn’t the end of it.[Part one: pickup, and botched delivery before we arrived.] Today, June 9, I heard from my friend that the driver had contacted him (not me, not the manager or dispatcher) to get access back to our apartment. Because he had accidentally delivered someone else’s stuff as well as ours. I told my friend not to do anything, and that we would handle it, since I didn’t trust these people to figure out which stuff was ours without me there. He didn’t have the keys anymore anyway, he had left them with my other friend who lived in the neighborhood. I called the dispatcher/manager Sasha, who had called earlier in the morning to see how things went. Sidenote: when I told him how terribly things had gone, before finding out about this development, he asked why I hadn’t called. I told him I had tried calling three different phone numbers, the only ones I had. I asked him why he had scheduled our delivery a week before our earliest possible date, without calling me, and he said “well, that’s the only mistake I made.”

Anyway, I called Sasha back to ask him about this mistake, and he seemed like he didn’t know about it. Then the driver called me to tell me that he had accidentally moved someone else’s things into our apartment. I told him that I would try to arrange access, but only if I could talk to the other customer. I wasn’t convinced that anyone from Fidelity was competent to tell the other persons’ stuff from ours. Next thing I know I got a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. No introduction, nothing by text, just a phone call.

The other customer, Murali, was obviously distressed, and upset with the company as well. I told him that I thought I could get them access, but only if he went with them. He agreed. Then I had to try to get ahold of my friend at work, figure out when she could get there to let people in, field endless anxious texts from Murali (understandably), and try to get ahold of Sasha to see if another driver was able to do this. This took dozens of texts, four or five phone calls that seemed to result in no actual communication with Sasha, and me finally telling Murali that he had to call Fidelity to figure out the truck, driver, and movers. Over the course of 3 hours while we were driving through Missouri.

In our first conversation Murali told me that the original driver, Jared, had been supposed to deliver his things after our delivery on the 8th. He called Murali that afternoon and told him he was “running late” after leaving our delivery, and that he’d be there by 8pm. Then he called and said he’d be there by 11pm. Then he told him sometime around noon on the 9th. All of this before he’d contacted my friend with keys (he didn’t call me until I had called Sasha to tell him about everything). This led me to believe that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to our apartment without letting anyone know about it. Only after failing did he try to call my friend to get back in, without letting Fidelity or me know. No evidence of this, but why else would he keep telling Murali he was “on his way” without getting in touch with me (or my friend whose number he had) to get legitimate access to the apartment.

Anyway, I left it for Murali to arrange the movers, and got confirmation from my friend that they would be there at 7 (not 5:30 as they had originally said). She texted while they were there saying things were underway and I thought finally this was all over. Nope.

After the movers and Murali left, my friend called to say that they had not been able to move out Murali’s couch, which was still in our apartment. She said they tried, but had started damaging the door and wall and she told them to stop. She also said that even though it was different people than yesterday, they were even less professional. Just minutes after arriving, two of the movers got into an extremely aggressive argument, one threatening the other. They kept arguing the whole way through, and, ultimately weren’t able to get Murali’s couch out of the apartment.

Now, I still have to deal with someone else’s couch when I get there. This nightmare just seems never-ending. So tired. So stressed. And pretty helpless, in Albuquerque.

[Part 3:]


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