Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Schrödinger's Cat

I just completed the fist draft of the Sullivan translation. Curious, how I've done a dozen different drafts in my head; one stanza at a time, one sentence or metaphor. It is difficult to know what any expression means when it can mean a dozen different things at the same time: and any translation collapses this beautiful amorphous field of meaning much in the same way as opening Schrödinger's box collapses the probability wave which results in either a living or a dead cat. Or no cat: my favourite interpretation of this thought experiment is the one where on opening the box, it is found empty.

Some time ago, I read a novel by Ursula Le Guin where conducting Schrödinger's experiment in the fictitious reality resulted in the whole world's becoming completely unpredictable, with the breaking of the law of cause and effect. In the end, only the cat was left licking his (her?) whiskers while the storyteller her(him?)self dissolved in a wave of improbabilities.

Does my translation, in its first and purposefully very literal draft collapse the wave and kill the cat? Surely, a better solution would be to find the poem alive after its transformation. How to achieve this? Some degree of metamorphosis is necessary to create a new probability wave, for the readers to collapse in this or that meaning at their whimsy.

It is difficult to achieve this when I do not know what the writer wants to say in this poem, what are the thoughts and feelings she would like the reader to experience when faced with this text. What were the thoughts which inspired this poem? Does it have some personal significance to its author, did some particular incident (a car crash? suicide?) cause her to write this?

Of course, I could ask her, she is still alive. But I'm not sure if I should. There is a tradition among the Canadian feminist translators of discussing and/or altering the text with the original author, but I question its helpfulness with poetry. What if I did ask her and found out, for example, that the poem was written after the death of a close friend/relative as a result of her (the author) attempt to understand the situation and her own mortality - if I knew, would it change the words themselves? This is a poem, without any room for explanations or footnotes. There are only so many changes that can be made without moving from translation to rewriting.

This is something I must consider. In some degree, this poem also becomes mine through the translation/rewriting process, but I acknowledge a debt of loyalty to the author's original creation. Whatever the end result will be, it won't be something done blithely or off-hand.

The box is still closed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Warning: may cause shortness of breath

Things such as motorcycle maintenance manuals. Oh, not just those - physics equations, java programs, math problems too. Notice a trend here?

For some reason, I start panicking a bit while trying to figure out How Stuff Works, or to solve certain types of problems (Such as maths, physics and programming languages). So why do I do it? I guess there's a certain fascination in trying to push your limits.

You see, it isn't the easy stuff, it's those thoughts that I almost understand. Almost, but not quite. And trying to bend my mind around this new idea is frightening. It's like when I tried to grasp the concept of eternity and the void of space when I was a child and ended up having nightmares. It just wouldn't stop.

I feel like I have to somehow build a model of the concept in my mind. With usual things like fiction books this is easy; after all, there aren't that many original plots in existence. Philosophy is harder. But so are java programs.

The concept of void stopped frightening me after I grew up and understood that I could not understand it. Accepted that there are some things that a common human brain is not equipped to handle (but I won't vouch for Stephen Hawking).

The problem is, however, that my brain refuses to accept that I can't run a computer program in my mind, or to create an animated model of a bike's gearbox in my imagination. There must be people who can do that; after all, somebody wrote the program and invented the gearbox. And when my stubborn, stupid one-track mind can't accept that yes, there are things beyond my imagination, it goes into panic.

One of these days, I'll learn. Before that, though, there's this description of the inner workings of a carburettor that I've been meaning to check out.

Remember: slow, even breaths.

Motorcycle Carburetor Theory 101

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Sullivan poem

Today, I had the thought to do a blog. As you can see. I was actually supposed to do about a dozen other things, but as usual, I wanted to do something else. It could've been coffee deprivation, I suppose. But after all the trouble of finding the right place, and setting up, I seem to have forgotten what I was supposed to say. Is this much of a loss?

After all, I created this page to have a place where I didn't need to have something to say.

It isn't a stream of consciousness. While writing, I always find myself editing what I've written, deleting, rewriting and thinking things over and over again. Sometimes just to find the exactly right word. Sometimes changing entire paragraphs and rearranging the things on a page. It was no different when I was restricted to pen and paper at school - why not now, with the incredible speed and smoothness of a keyboard that turns pixels on and off on the screen?

One of the things I am supposed to do (now) is translating a poem.

I waded through a dozen poems, several books, many pages on the web but nothing spoke to me and said: Do Me. Like Alice in Wonderland and her magical potions? But no. And one day (last year, actually, if I'm totally honest, and why should I not?) I stumbled upon a poem by Rosemary Sullivan: "The Universe Is As Close As the Veins In Your Neck" and knew that I might translate this one.

It flows nicely. The words seem to say nothing and everything, at once. It could be about love, or about death, or about existentialism, and as I have flirted with that particular line of thought these days, or perhaps because of some completely different reason, I wanted to translate it.

Then, of course, it was written by a woman. Somehow I wanted - no, somehow I did not want to deal with something written by a man at this point. Why? Simple prejudice, I suppose. Although I should say that I shied away from one text by a woman, well written, because of its unashamed sensuality. Not sexuality as such, but the thought of translating it, thinking about it, writing about it and analysing it both by myself and in the group, was disturbing all the same.

This is not the case with the Sullivan poem. It could be about love, as much as anyting might be, but love in the abstract. It is very much a poem of the mind, rather than the body. Or is it only the way I read it?

Rosemary Sullivan: The universe is as close as the veins in your neck