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Monday, March 31, 2014

My revoltingly unacademic preface to Mirbeau

Learn French if you really want to read Mirbeau. Learn Russian if you feel that strongly about The Idiot. Translation is a miserable thing. 
Then again, this injunction ignores the main problem with a translation from the 19th century: time. The past is an unyieldingly exclusive set of countries that the likes of you can never even visit, much less become fluent in the local parlance. My dear modern Anglophone, can you even read Shakespeare and really get the shade of every word? Ftt, I can’t. It’s hard enough for two brothers to tell each other how they feel in the secret language they’ve known from the common den. How is a modern person going to tell another modern person what a prodigy manipulating words a hundred and fifteen years ago was trying to say without sounding like a crazy old foreigner?
The first problem is to not make the translation sound like a stilted, sexually frustrated Martian trying to speak Earth languages. In other words you can’t translate things too literally; I’m trying to show you how good Mirbeau was, ideally, not how well I know 19th-century French. (Good thing, since that body of knowledge would fail to impress a speech-impeded hamster.) Then again, wading too deep into the waters that make the translation flow can easily fall into rewriting, and writing over the author. There are some things you can say in perfectly natural French that you can barely approximate using even the most contorted English; that’s the nature of the beast; all languages are incomplete, otherwise painters, like the antihero “Lucien” of the story that follows, would have no reason to put brush to canvas (or whatever it is that visual artists do now). And so the translation monkey must, once in a while, just let the translation sound weird.
 But “language barrier” is an incomplete term; it only covers the gap between two contemporaries. What would you call the other gap I’m translating here? Time is the worst obstacle to “good” (insofar as it can be) translation. It’s one thing to turn modern French into modern English; they’re both stuffed with slang and obscenity, so one fuck in the hand is worth three merdes in the bush; screw it. It’s another to translate any previous time in history to the mass, lemminglike assumptions that our global interhorde makes about narrative and dialogue. For example, what do I do about the fact that Mirbeau’s characters keep on saying “oh!” where we would merdefuck, or the fact that he writes paragraphs that are longer than our attention span for the entire day?
Well, fuck it.
I let Mirbeau have his lack of unchained obscenity, except where it seemed his relatively genteel nineteenth-century characters were so broken down they lapsed into ancestral coarseness; once upon a time, if only for a time, people could accept expression of deep feeling as being genuine without any references to poop or genitals. And I let him have his long paragraphs, with a few exceptions for the sake of dialogue. Mirbeau was a journalist, but our modern semiautomatic rules of journalistic style weren’t fixed yet, perhaps because page design, much less web page design, hadn’t been fixed yet either, and people didn’t need to “break up long blocks of text” to compete with pop-up ads. Deal with it. If your wee head needs a breather, go get a beer. You may need a good deal of it for this book; it’s brilliant, but it’s a killer. You can leave a trail of breadcrumbs to the place where you left off if you really need to.
I even let Mirbeau keep his stacked narratives.
Switching topics to keep your attention for the moment, and dropping the crotchety old man sarcasm gradually as I do so, let the translator for a moment awkwardy assume the mantle of literary critic. An abused term, these days denoting either a gushing blurb writer or a deconstructionist out to destroy a canon; no, I just want to tell you a couple of things that might help you enjoy a text with which I have become almost uncomfortably intimate.
I’ve said Mirbeau was a journalist. Back then journalism and fiction weren’t quite such divergent paths as they seem to have become now, for all but a few trust-fund-deficient and talented, money-hungry few; god damn it, I was going to mention Neal Pollack, and his journalistic works, and his recent absolutely brilliant book Jewball, and this sentence was just rammed into a brick wall by the Jewish money stereotype diptardation. I should have said “men who need to feed their hungry families,” that has a more neutral…[1]
Baaaaah, screw the present and all of its denizens except bien syr you, dear reader of the pre-existentialists (because if anyone would lay claim to that title, he must fight his way around Mirbeau). Let us concentrate again on that stacked narrative, as I run in circles trying to provide useful pre-criticism while avoiding spoilers; I can’t stand forewords that assume you’ve already read the bloody book.
Let’s just say that the strangest thing about this book is that the framing narrative parallels the main narrative in plot, but disagrees with it logically on several key points. And since nearly every character in the book accuses nearly every other of being insane at least once, one would assume that every narrator within is more or less assumed to be unreliable by the ensemble cast itself. But since so much of the text is so close to Mirbeau’s journalistic and autobiographical writing, is any of it essentially unreliable? Augh!
But I fear these mysteries of process may be leading me further from the theme, while I… augh! No! These incongruencies are the theme! They fit perfectly! The theme is the inability of art to grasp life, or for life to encompass art, or the fine line that art walks when it tries to speak to living beings when it speaks from a realm that’s slightly outside life. Or perhaps the real danger is when it speaks from living beings, when it is telling tales—“it” might call them “truths,” in its creepy half-consciousway—that are slightly beyond life. The failure of the framed tale to jive logically with the main story… would the author of Diary of a Handmaiden have done something so random? No, I think the bizarre structure here is no absinthe-sucking paint-eating accident; the mismatched structure fits perfectly into the rotten underbelly of its heroes’ beautiful but impossible attempts to escape from life. As the second-person hero of the interior frame says: You can’t snub life, because life will have its revenge.

I tried to keep the footnotes to a dull roar, and in fact managed to pare them down to one explanation of a character’s sarcastic reference to a contemporary artistic fad. This lone footnote was roughly 85% plagiarized from Dr Pierre Michel of Angers, the greatest Mirbeau scholar my little existence will ever encounter, and the mastermind behind this translation project for lo these many years it’s taken us to finally bring this lost masterwork into the multilingual global economy at last. Mazel tov all around…

Ann Sterzinger

[1] But speaking of Jews, Google the Dreyfus Affair if you want to know what Mirbeau was really most famous for; it happened long enough ago that I can sum it up as an injustice, surprise, surprise. Second injustice: his contemporary writings about a contemporary yet eternal human bullshit problem have tended, subsequently, inasmuch as people remember him, to overshadow his fiction.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dear unhappy couples:

You're both in it together!

The one great  thing you have in common is that no one else in the world knows the particular hell you're going through together. How romantic is that? No wonder you keep at it. It's a more glorious addiction than all the other drugs in the world put together. Can you help putting yourselves and each other through it? How can you stop, without the horrible sensation that you're betraying yourself, and everything you've thought you are?

Damn, if I knew the answer to that question I would be a millionaire.

And no, if you're wondering, this thought has nothing to do with my own meat life, the current one anyway; it does, however, pertain to the final scenes of the novel I'm living through a thousand times as a translator.

Serendipity: As I eagerly prepare to take on the duties as editor at Taki's Magazine online, I am just finishing up—with just a day of buffer time, gee whiz—my translation of Octave Mirbeau's IN THE SKY, a REAL heartbreaking work of genius which, up till this time, has been inexplicably absent from English translation. Octave Mirbeau is to Camus sort of as Amis pere is to Amis fils: the ancestor of the mid-20th century Existentialists and, very simply, a far superior version.

Dr. Pierre Michel, head of the translation project, has asked everyone involved if they'd like to write a foreword. I cranked one out last night when I was too tired to translate anymore. I HIGHLY doubt the publisher is going to go for it; it's a tiny bit, er, experimental. Not terribly scholarly. I know a lot about Mirbeau by now, but I'm just not good at scholarly writing, I don't have the patience quite yet. SO, for your entertainment, I plan to think about it for a bit and publish it here on Monday. Oh goody, a preface to a book you won't be able to buy for months. You're welcome!

At least I studiously avoid most spoilers.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I really want to find the worthless "human beings"

... who are behind the spambots that continually try to post shit on this blog. AND BEAT THEM TO DEATH. No one's going to miss them. Who would fucking miss a parasite? The world would thank me for pulling the worms out of its ass. Also the ones behind email scams, etc, obviously, but then again at least they're entrapping people based on their worst instincts (mainly greed). These fuckers just try to strike at random.

Try, because honestly Blogger does a great job of zapping the comments. The notifications of posted spam comments just pile up in my emails. First world problems? OK. Fine, having billions of humans around whose only goal in life is to scam people is fine with you? Fine. Fine. I'm still going on a murder rampage. I'm grabbing all the bombs I can find.

That is all. I hate your job. There is nothing to envy, there is only HATE.

Later: Well, most jobs are about scamming people, and are useless. Damn, was I ever cranky this morning!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Someone Liebsters you

The good news: I got an award I've never heard of!

The bad news: No money! Why was this even invented?

I shouldn't be an ingrate, though. I've been Liebstered by Elijah Armstrong, and now I have to write a blog post about it/myself in order to accept. Well, at least no trees will die in the making of this immortal work. At least I don't think there are a lot of tree-burning power plants left in the world, though I could be wrong. And for all I know this is a prestigious award; I just happen to avoid those sectors of the Internet where people approve of stuff.

Basically, when you get one of these, you answer a list of wacky questions, then write your own list of wacky questions and send them to your own chosen bunch of blograts. The detailed rules are at the end of this post, preceded by a list of my nominees and a list of questions for them. (If you are on this page because I have nominated you: scroll to the bottom and read the rules to orient yourself.)

And thank you, Elijah! I may be a smartass about it but I appreciate any crumb from the table of the gods. Not that I don't hate the gods, but I'll still eat the crumb. I don't think Elijah is an immortal, however (correct me if I'm wrong), so that's a shitty metaphor. Anyway. Here's a link to Elijah's amusing and informative blog:

...and then we commence. His questions for his nominees, and my answers:

1. Are you a synaesthete of some variety or other?

I get touch sensations from sound, which makes ASMR videos my drug of choice these days. Free drugs!


2. What, to your knowledge, is the most unpleasant documented method of execution (past or present)?

Jobs. Or maybe necklacing. It's a toss-up.


3. Do you enjoy highly automated or highly complex work more?

Define "work"... if I'm allowed time to indulge in what I consider to be my life's work, obviously I like it complex, because it distracts me from the thundering reality of mortality. However, if I'm doing a job just to stay alive, I want it to engage my brain as little as possible. I can be forced to rent out my body, but I'd prefer you didn't rent my mind. 

Unfortunately, unless you have a steel constitution, your body eventually gets too old and creaky to rent for most purposes, so then the fun begins.


4. Do your intellectual interests incline more toward aestheticism or toward scientific inquiry?

About 80-20 in favor of tall tales. Science may be interesting but it's also mostly bad news.


5. Which will happen first: the assassination of the Uruguyan president or the first major American political figure publicly acknowledging HBD?

 People love guns and hate math, so I'm guessing the former.


6. Would the world be improved if everybody had an IQ of 70 or lower?

 It depends on how you feel about things like food.

With our puny bodies, our slightly less puny brains are all the species has going for it. If you can't outwit the tiger, good night, nurse. Then again, there's the torment that is consciousness...

 Uh... actually, I wish I were living in a world where only MY IQ was 70, and everyone else was around 150. It would be terrific. I'd basically be a bipedal pet dog, and people would pet me and feed me and all I would ever have to do would be to fetch things and watch reruns of GIRLS.


  7. Which of the following epithets has been most frequently used against you: nutjob, asshole or douchebag? Which best describes you?

 I'm called a nutjob a lot by coworkers and casual acquaintences; I, however, am an asshole. I guess I successfully put up a smoke cloud of insanity to hide my seething hatred. Good job, me!


8. Can every even integer be expressed in the form z, where both and are prime numbers?

People love guns and hate math, so I'm guessing COME OVER HERE AND ASK ME THAT.


9. After Comic Sans, what is your least favorite font?

Brush script. It makes me feel sick and angry at the same time.


10. What is the most politically incorrect belief you hold?

I suppose the most FUNDAMENTALLY politically incorrect belief that I hold is that human life is pointless, painfully meaningless, intrinsically unfair, and not worth the trouble—and anything else we think is self-protection, bless our little hearts. 

But that's a bit abstract. 

The most knee-jerk-reaction-causing politically incorrect belief I hold—i.e. people get mad at me when I say it—is that women who have had children are intrinsically sexually repulsive (for a minimum of five years thereafter, but most commonly, forever).   

As an equally offensive corollary, my completely unscientific collection of anecdotal evidence tells me that eight out of ten mothers have also been turned into terminal assholes by the endless selfish rationalizations that the mantra of "protecting my young!" programs them to spiral out into. 

In theory I'm a philanthropic antinatalist, but I find the presence of a mother and child to be deeply nauseating. That milky, drooly, overly intimate smell is enough to make me throw up things I ate last year. And people don't seem to like that about me. I've left street canvassers gaping in disgust in my wake after calmly informing them that I do not wish to donate to their cause because I hate children. Naturally, I have strong feelings about the current welfare system.

11. Do you hate Gerard Manley Hopkins like every single other fuckin’ person in the world? Except me, for some reason? Goddamnit, why the shit doesn’t anyone like Hopkins!? What the fuck is wrong with you people?!?!?!


And now, eleven random things about me:

 1. I love the Wisconsin Dells, aka Redneck Riviera North. And not in a kitschy way. All the best times I had when I was a kid were on waterslides, and I'm almost maudlinly nostalgic about them.

2.  I lost several front teeth while doing WWF-style mudwrestling for money. It was a small league in Madison, WI, called the MWO, and it was made up almost entirely of restaurant workers. We wrote our own stories with our opponents beforehand, and always promised to follow the script, but there was a LOT of sudden, chemically influenced improv. My character's name was the Incognito Mosquito, complete with mask, wings, and a polyester costume that weighed about 40 pounds when it got drenched with mud. I know how to do a fake drop without hurting anyone, but I probably wouldn't try it now. I have good fakes now, but I'll always miss my real teeth.

3. I once helped steal a chair from a famous museum. It's still in Lisa Falour's living room. We brought it home on the subway in the middle of the night and no one even looked twice at us. That was the first night I ever tried sake.

4. Jesus, my life is kind of boring now. I'd say I need to drink more and do more drugs, but at my age, instead of having an epic adventure I'd probably just have a stroke.

5. If you hadn't noticed from reading this blog, I've written a bunch of books and some people think they're very funny. Go to Hopeless Books, Inc. or Nine-Banded Books for more details.

6. I'm currently working on a large volume of science fiction called LYFE. I've been working on it for years; in fact I had the idea more than ten years ago, but I decided I needed to write some sort of more point-and-shoot novels first for practice. People think of sci-fi as this candy, stupid, easy sort of genre, but to really do it well takes a lot more work and skill than just writing about the world that already exists. You have to do everything you do in a "real" book, and then throw in creating an entire world on top of it. 

7. The only video game I let myself play is Sid Meier's Civilization, but Jesus, I can waste an entire weekend pretending to be Julius Caesar if I let myself.

8. I seem to have forgotten a lot of my Latin, and I'm in the process of reviewing it. At first I was all grumble grumble grumble, stupid nature of the brain, but then I realized that if I'm not going to be graded or take a test, studying Latin grammar has an extremely soothing effect on said brain. Ahhhhhh.

9. But I'd still rather have a prescription for Xanax, goddamn it. Everyone in my family is insane, so it's my birthright. GIVE ME MY BIRTHRIGHT!

10. If you come up behind me and say my name suddenly, I'll jump out of my chair and scream nearly every time. It's a completely involuntary brainfart. I've actually had coworkers who found this hilarious, and would do it on purpose just to watch me short-circuit. Come to think of it, this is probably a product of sound-touch synesthesia. (See question #1 in Elijah's questions above.) You might as well punch me as say my name. Ah, the dark side of ASMR.

11. Did I mention that everyone in my family is insane? My great-grandparents' kitchen linoleum was permanently warped due to their habit of flinging beer and water at each other when they got pissed. Sounds relatively ordinary, till you throw in the detail that the fights could go on indefinitely because the rest of the family would pick a side and set up OPPOSING SUPPLY LINES TO THE WELL TO GET MORE WATER. They probably took bets, too. Anyway, many, many such stories—too many for all of them to be apocryphal—have led me to believe that I have no hope of being right in the head, so fuck it. As Popeye said, I yam what I yam.


And now the moment you've all been waiting for: my own nominees for this incredibly prestigious award are:

Karl of Say No to Life, 

 for his article on happy atheists,

Andy Nowicki

Mostly for his books and the Alternative Right site, since he doesn't write on this personal blog that often, but what's on there is worth reading,

Chip of Nine-Banded Books and the Hoover Hog,

for relentlessly championing crazy ideas

and also

jackasses such as myself,

Ben Arzate, for having a nihilist's top ten, introducing me to the works of Sam Pink, and writing about weird/neglected/bitter writing in general,

despite his blog's URL/name, which is even harder to remember than mine is,

Frank Marcopolos, for his mellifluous reading voice

and dedication to fiction past, present, and future, 

Karl Wenclas,

for insanely refusing to ever give up,

and finally,

Mr. Misanthrope 

(this should be amusing).

Apologies to any deserving soul whom I forgot. There are probably plenty, but like I said in a previous post, the nature of my job is currently causing my memory to short out. Or maybe I'm just getting senile. Just look at my blogroll and read the damn blogs. (Several of which, by the by, did not qualify for this award by dint of having more than 1,000 followers.)


AND here are the questions I have for the aforementioned victims:

1. Why are you still alive?

2. Why are you still trying to write a blog?

3. Just who do you think you are, anyway?

4. What do you think about when you have insomnia? Just give us the five most persistent topics if the answer is "Holy shit, everything."

5. In order from least awful to most dreaded, which are your ten least favorite ways you could die?

6. Do you believe in God? If so, how can you tolerate His apparent indifference, even hostility, to your happiness and well-being? If not, how can you tolerate the void of your meaningless universe?

7. Go back to question 7. Imagine that you believed the opposite of what you do, and then answer the second half of the question accordingly ("Well, if I did believe in God, I would soothe myself with fantasies of putting His eyes out with a dildo." "Well, if I didn't believe in God, I think I have the sort of constitution that could hold up to a lot of smack.")

8. Are there any really amazing new bands you think I should know about?

9. Is painting a dead art? How about the novel?

10. Come up with a worldview which is completely rational, based on evidence rather than wishful thinking, but which is also not a nuisance to one's mental health. You have 200 words.

 11. What does it mean to you to be one of seven billion human beings? You may want to have some whiskey on hand for this one. (Assuming you haven't been shitfaced since #5.)

For the sake of your own publicity, should any of my nominees choose to accept this great honor instead of just resenting me for what may amount to a chain letter (like I said, I'm none too familiar with this award, but you can't have missed the chain-lettery aspect of the bugger), PLEASE POST A LINK TO YOUR ACCEPTANCE POST IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW. Thank you. 

Now, for anyone playing along at home, here are the official rules (have you ever heard of an award with rules? This is the point where, if I were Kanye West, I'd do more coke and start throwing Grammys at people):

If you have been nominated for The Liebster Award AND YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT, write a blog post about the Liebster award in which you:
1. thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
3. answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
4. provide 11 random facts about yourself.
5. nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
6. create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
7. list these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Let bygones be fuck you: An innocent's guide to corporatespeak

Abuse of language makes my hair stand on end and my stomach burn. These days, to make a living, I have to hear English skewered by jargon nonstop. So it's time I made a blog post about it, damn it! That will make everything better. Ha ha.

Anyway. For most of my life I've managed to get by without having to resort to a Real Job; the closest I've had preceeding these dark days of hyper-globalism was working at a newspaper, where people would regularly come to work shoeless, shirtless, and/or wearing pyjamas, and only the North Shore bitches who were busily invading the place used euphemisms when they were pissed off. (One of them wound up getting one of the last fellows standing in classic Chicago journalism fired for telling her what he thought of her work, but that's another long, long story.)

After the recession of aught-eight, the only jobs I could find were minimum wage restaurant work and Corporate Dronedom. I tried the former first, but christ, I'm getting too old for that shit! I need health insurance. I don't need to slip on a greasy kitchen floor without it. So, off to corpoland I went.

It was not the world's smoothest transition. If there's anyone more wont to speak his mind than an old-fashioned newsman, it's a goddamned line cook. For most of my life I've been able to fondly insult my coworkers all day long. And not being clear about what's going wrong can cost everybody a reeaaaaaally shitty lunch rush.

The corporate world is very different. You never know what anyone is thinking or feeling, and they don't want you to know. But they DO want to be able to use their emotions to manipulate your behavior. 

For those of you who, like me, wandered into the corporate world with no experience of how these people communicate, this can be confusing as hell—and you'll wind up making enemies without even knowing it. (You'll find out weeks later that so-and-so hates your guts, and after months of trying to make nice with her you STILL don't know what you did wrong, etc.)

So, for the benefit of anyone who comes behind me, here's a handy guide to office euphemisms. Knowing the true intention behind these oft-abused words is crucial to your ability to fly under the radar and not attract the ire of god knows who. As annoying as these poor, stomped-on words are to think about, I only wish someone else who had gone into this thicket ahead of me had provided me with such a guide. You're welcome.

NOTE: This guide will start out short, because work has been rough lately and my memory is shorting out. But I will add phrases and translations as I recall them or run across them. Suggestions in the comments section are very welcome and will be added to the main body of the text with your name cited.

Let's start with the passive-aggressive classic:


Usually appears in a sentence such as: "This was incorrect, and moving forward I would like you to x, y, and z."

Apparent translation: "I'm going to let bygones be bygones, and let's just improve things in the future."

Real translation: "I'm pretending I want to let bygones be bygones, but inside I'm simmering with resentment of your stupidity/slackerdom, and I will leap on the first opportunity to ream you out again that I can find."

2. "Let's chat."

Apparent translation: "Let's chat."

Real translation: "I am so pissed off at you. Now let's have a tense conversation about how we're going to fix your screw-up."

3. "I'm confused."

Apparent translation: "I'm not sure what's going on, maybe I don't understand something."

Real translation: "I know exactly what you did wrong and I'm pissed off at you, but I want you to admit it out loud yourself so you'll be extra humiliated."

4. "We need to speak to the client more formally."

Translation: "Don't ever speak to the client again without a normal person's supervision. I don't care if you didn't use any swear words, you still managed to come off as a lunatic."

5. "Timing is our hurdle at the moment."

Apparent translation: God only knows what someone wants you to think when they say this.

Actual translation: "I have a cushy job. In fact, it's so cushy that when I do actually have to do something, I forget to do it. Then I suddenly remember, and have a panic attack, and now you schmucks who are responsible for actually doing things will be working at my frantic behest till 8 PM for a few days to meet the deadline I've known about for three months."

6. (Supplied by Unknown): "Think of it as a challenge."

Actual translation: "I know this is a shit detail, but by God you are going to do it and like it."

7. "It is what it is."

Apparent translation: "I am a hardy stoic philosopher."

Real translation: "Suck it up, peon. Thank god I'm such a good bullshitter that I don't actually have to deal with this."

8. "Let's regroup."

Apparent translation: "Let's get together and sort this out like adults."

Actual translation: "Oh my god, we're so fucked. We should really just put our heads down, but instead let's take the time to figure out who to blame."

9. (From Mr. Misanthrope): "empower"

 Have always thought that the oddest bit of corporate jargon involves the word “empower” (as in a manager saying “I am empowering you to …”). Is the boss going to consecrate a talisman or lay-on hands? Such implicit notions of psychic energy demonstrate that an office job is really something closer to a religious cult.

Friday, March 7, 2014

More reviews posted on the Hopeless Books site...

People are going to start thinking Matt Forney is my nephew. No, he's just prolific, and a member of the tiny caste of modern readers who have, may I say, any taste at all, in the John Waters sense of saying that... At Hopeless Books, we may be pink flamingos, but at least we aren't Cream of Wheat.