A weekend of extreme translation

By Hesse1309 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=487491

The picture above isn’t one of mine. It’s in Norway, though. I think I may have seen this sign on one of my journeys; I know I saw one like it. We take our trolls seriously, we Norwegians. If they kidnap a princess or two, well, that’s the price of living in the most beautiful place in the world.

It was quite a weekend, friends. I was intensely engaged with the Norwegian language. I will not tell you what translation project I was working on, and I’ll not tell you whom it was for. It was a script. You can guess the medium for yourself.

But I had a lot of work to do, and a deadline to meet. I was a little insecure about meeting it, but it turned out I’d underestimated myself. The work went faster than I’d looked for.  The thing didn’t get delivered as soon as I hoped, due to a glitch that appeared and wiped away a whole lot of work that had to be done all over again. But I got up early and worked late, and delivered everything well before I’d estimated.

It’s a little disconcerting that I haven’t heard anything back from the client (checking again to see that my email with the files actually went out; yes, it did). But if my product had been awful, I suspect somebody would have said something. I take comfort in that thought.

After all these months, it was sweet to open up the First Draft app and do that voodoo that I do so adequately. It was fun, in the same sense that being a rodeo rider or a cage fighter is fun. It takes its toll, but you come out stimulated. While all around me people were going batty with cabin fever, I was in my element, growing as a craftsman. It was, frankly, the best weekend I’ve had in quite a long time.

If Sickness Is a Dream, Who Needs to Wake Up?

Pro Tip: If you need to adjust your stove eye, do it while the eye is off. Turning it on before adjusting it will only complicate the task.

I was able to watch Inception recently, because it came on Netflix. I enjoy that kind of thing, a deep dive into a single sci-fi concept. Not that it was a deep film or that it even touched on a deep idea. It was just fun–a heist film set in the dream world.

I gather some people took it to be a thoughtful reflection on the possibility that what we call reality is merely a dream or some massive deception. Descartes rejected that idea, preferring to believe he existed and could actually know something. Actually knowing something is kind of a big deal.

In Inception, characters constantly reviewed the rules of how the dreamscape worked: paradoxes, mental defenses, and how to invoke a dreamer to dream a new and deeper dream. Our dreams aren’t made like that. When I realize I’m dreaming, I also realize I can control things. If I see that I’m out in public and have left something, I can decide that I have it and there it is. In the movie, if they imagined they have bigger guns, they could use them. But tell the target he’s dreaming, and he can’t just slip down a rabbit hole and sit by the river until he wakes up.

In a dream, only what I perceive exists, and then, of course, there’s you. How are we all dreaming coherently together? But let’s stick with perception for a moment; many unperceived, even imperceivable, things have rearranged our lives for centuries. Shall we just roll over and wonder how this dream will end? That’s all we’re left with, if everything is a dream. We can’t study medicine, engineering, farming, or anything that produces something outside of our preferences if nothing is real.

The eye of my stove burned my fingers because the electric coil producing the heat is a reality outside of my perception. Had I turned the wrong switch I would have had heat in another eye and possibly wondered why my pan wasn’t warming up. That’s my perception at play in a real world.

Try to stay healthy, friends. And for the kids at home, remember the Lord who made you; that’s the start of good perception.

Dispatch from the translation front

I’ve become a little cautious about discussing translation work. So suffice it to say that I snagged a nice one, and there’s a deadline coming on, and I can’t really spend much time on a blog post.

But rejoice with me that I’ve found work, when better men are filing for unemployment. Whatever my project is, it’s interesting. Have a good weekend. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do (that ought to keep you pretty safe).

‘Santa Fe Mojo,’ by Ted Clifton

Vincent Malone, hero of Ted Clifton’s Santa Fe Mojo, was once a hotshot lawyer in Dallas, until alcohol trashed both his career and his marriage. He drifted to Denver, where he found his niche as a legal investigator. Then he developed gout, and missed too much work. Figuring a warmer climate would help, he headed for Albuquerque, and cheap housing. But in a diner in Santa Fe he saw an ad for a job driving a customer van for a bed and breakfast. On a whim, he applied for the job.

Vincent is a misanthrope, a man who’s seen the worst in people and has distanced himself from them. But the couple who hire him are annoyingly nice. He doesn’t know what to do with them, but he kind of likes working there as he gets used to it.

They’re excited to greet their first guests at the B&B, but something is wrong. The rooms were booked by a major sports agent who lives locally, for a group of his top clients and their spouses. But when they hold a meeting, it ends in shouting and threats.

The next morning the police come. The agent has been murdered. Vincent can tell that the sheriff’s department would like to hang something on him, but they quickly settle one of the clients – a major league baseball player. Security video shows the two men fighting in the agent’s front yard, a few hours before the murder.

Vincent, though, based on his investigative experience, thinks the cops haven’t looked far enough. They found an easy suspect and stopped detecting. The accused’s lawyer shows up, and he’s the accused’s uncle and Vincent’s spiritual twin – a hard man who got rich defending whoever paid him, using any kind of trick he could get away with. But he’s older now, and thinking it might be nice to form some kind of bond with his only surviving relative. At least he forms a bond with Vincent, who shares his bemusement at discovering morality late in life.

Santa Fe Mojo straddles the line between cozy mystery and hard-boiled, and does it pretty well, I think. The gradual softening of Vincent’s hard shell in the warmth of human friendship provides an enjoyable sub-plot. I enjoyed Santa Fe Mojo quite a lot. Cautions for language, mostly.

‘The Musketeer’s Seamstress,’ by Sarah D’Almeida

Sarah Hoyt is a Facebook friend and a fellow Baen author. Aside from her SF work, she has produced, under the nom de plume (a particularly appropriate term in this case) Sarah D’Almeida, a seies of novels about Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers. These are mysteries, and have been inserted directly into the timeline of that classic novel. The Musketeer’s Seamstress, second in the series, occurs shortly after D’Artagnon meets his swashbuckling friends, but (if I understand correctly) before all the bother about the queen’s diamonds.

Aramis, the romantic musketeer destined for the church, is at the palace, dallying with his mistress, a lady of the court whom he refers to with his friends as his “seamstress.” He steps out of the chamber for a moment. When he returns, he finds her dead, a dagger through her heart. Like so many idiots in mysteries, he pulls the dagger out, getting blood all over his hands. When he hears people at the door, he makes a leap from the balcony onto a convenient tree and then manages to get away over a wall – stark naked. He is fortunate enough to find his friends Athos, Porthos, and D’Artagnon at guard at one of the gates, and they help make his escape. Cardinal Richelieu, who seems to cherish a particular dislike for Aramis, sets a hunt going, but Aramis manages to get away to his home estate, while his friends try to uncover how an “impossible” murder was committed.

The author, I think, did an interesting job with the familiar characters. She invents back story material for them that Dumas only hinted at, and as far as I can remember it’s pretty consistent with his portrayals. I particularly like the character of Porthos, who is envisioned as a man not stupid, but simply plain-minded and practical. Which makes it possible for him – sometimes – to see things his subtler friends miss.

I felt a certain tension in the insertion of a whodunnit into what is essentially an action/adventure setting. The action is quite good when it happens, but a lot of the book involves people just thinking and discussing matters, which struck me as a little incongruous. However, as I said, I liked what was done with the characters, so such scenes were not without interest.

I wouldn’t rate The Musketeer’s Seamstress as a top-shelf book, either as an actioner or a mystery, but it was an enjoyable read, and I had a good time reacquainting myself with what is, perhaps, the archetypal male-bonding group in all literature.

“Aerial America” on YouTube

Smithsonian Channel has also begun to roll out entire episodes on YouTube, and weekly online “watch parties” are planned to make the “Aerial America” viewing experience interactive despite social distancing. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. EST, Smithsonian Channel’s Facebook page will host state-specific trivia while showing an episode. Each episode will simultaneously drop on YouTube.”

It may not be Epcot’s Soarin’ ride, but it’s close and much longer. There are currently four episodes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, and Arkansas.

‘Desires and Dreams and Powers,’ by Rosamund Hodge

During the later part of the war, the government issued a pamphlet on how to recognize changelings. Violet read it (a green tinge of the features; propensity to cruelty) and laughed. The real signs had been far more pervasive, far less clear. Sometimes she thought she had only realized she wasn’t human when she was fourteen. Sometimes she thought she had always known.

That’s the first paragraph of a story called “More Full of Weeping Than You Can Understand,” possibly my favorite among the stories in Rosamund Hodge’s delightful collection, Desires and Dreams and Powers.

A friend sent me a copy as a gift, and I’m extremely grateful to him. As I’ve often said, I don’t much care for most modern fantasy. But when someone gets it exactly right – as in the cases of Walter Wangerin, and Mark Helprin, and Leif Enger, the result is delight of an exquisite sort.

The stories in Desires and Dreams and Powers are of diverse kinds, within the general fantasy genre. There is urban fantasy, and tales of witches, and tales of monsters. But most of them (at least as I recall them) are faery stories. And that’s like a birthday present to me.

Ever since I read Tolkien’s essay, “On Faery Stories,” I’ve wanted to write faeries properly. I tried it in Troll Valley – which I think is a pretty good book, but I’m not at all sure I got the Faery/Huldre thing right. Susanna Clark got it right, I think, in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And now I declare, by the powers vested in me, that Rosamund Hodge gets it right too. The strangeness, the danger, the alien unreason of the faeries is as well depicted here as it ever has been. Kudos to the author.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. On top of the imaginative genius, the prose is first class. Cautions are in order – not for the usual “adult” material, but for the weird and the alien and the disturbing (and the cruel). But read it, if you’re a grown-up and not overly sensitive. There may be a Christian element here too, though it’s not at all explicit.

‘The Conservative Mind,’ by Russell Kirk

The assault on institutional religion, on old-fashioned economic methods, on family authority, and on small political communities has set the individual free from nearly everything, truly; but that freedom is a terrifying thing, the freedom of a baby deserted by his parents to do as he pleases.

I have done it. I have successfully read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind all the way through. I rate this accomplishment just a bit behind getting my master’s degree.

The essence of conservatism is aristocracy – at least that’s what this book seems to be saying. Which is not optically optimal, in my mind. And I may be misreading Kirk’s intentions – he may simply be accurately transcribing the arguments of the historical conservatives he’s surveying, from Edmund Burke to T. S. Eliot.

Most English and American conservatives, up until recently, have defended some kind of aristocracy. Not because they believe aristocrats to be superior by blood, but for prudential reasons. Your alternatives in governance, they argue, are either some kind of autocracy – where a monarch or a dictator rules by personal caprice – or pure democracy, where the public, which knows only what it wants, uses its votes to allocate all the wealth to itself. You can’t get any kind of real justice from either alternative.

The aristocracy, they have argued, is some kind of class of men (or people) who’ve been schooled in the ancient truths and the lessons of history. They preserve the institutions that guarantee rights and freedom, which dictators and the masses alike would take away.

Since the 20th Century, though, the cause of aristocracy has mostly been lost, and we’ve been trying to find a way to raise an aristocracy out of the general public through education. Kirk saw hope for the future at the time of writing, feeling that conservatives were producing good art and analysis and positively influencing culture.

It seems to me, however, that prospects look less sunny since the 1980s when the book was last updated. We now have an educational system expressly committed to erasing the Anglo-American tradition. And our immigration policies are focused on bringing in large numbers of people who are either indifferent or actively hostile to that tradition.

Kirk’s original title for the book was The Conservative Rout. He meant it to be a story of a long retreat, but with hope in the end. For the conservative reader in the early 21st Century, I fear the outlook is less encouraging.

And that was before the epidemic…

What Are You Doing Sunday Mornings?

Our church cancelled our worship services three weeks ago, and we held our first live streamed service this morning. Prior to this our pastors distributed written sermons with discussion questions and our usual liturgy with supplementals that we could use on our own. I led my family through an ad hoc devotional time two weeks ago and followed the church material last week, which took far longer than I expected. We sang all the verses of all the songs, and my reading of the sermon with two breaks for questions took over an hour alone.

The streamed service this morning was comforting. I don’t need a familiar service in a familiar setting to get through the current crisis, but being together in a local body in whatever manner we can is a natural, grace-filled habit God has given us.

What are you doing? How are you making it through on your own or with your church?

With Easter coming in two weeks, I assume all of our plans will be rather low-key. Will we hear the gospel anew, stripped of the color and pageantry we’ve attached to the season? Will the world hear a different song than the one some of them think they know already?

Lord, have mercy on us.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is

People started talking about cabin fever the day after their mayor or governor directed them to shelter in place. Maybe they are the folks who rarely stay at home for anything, those who dash off to the store, the crab shack, the boardwalk, the open road–anywhere at the drop of a hat. (For the kids at home, “the drop of a hat” is an expression from the days when adults wore hats daily and dropped them on the sidewalk, taxi seat, or chaise lounge several times a day. At those times certain people would do that thing they would do and, you know.)

Now that most of us are working from home or at least staying at home more than we would have been, we may find ourselves more irritable than normal. We may act and react with emotions we didn’t expect, and because of that, we may not feel okay (insert tangentially related song).

Some of us don’t know what to do with our emotions, dismissing them as temporal fancies that should be reined in at every moment. Or wishing they could be. We take our emotions as improper bursts of energy or simply the way we express ourselves. We see no meaning behind our feelings.

Continue reading What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is

Blogging through ‘The Conservative Mind’: Evangelicalism

Continuing my fairly random commentary on Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind:

Good will is not enough to safeguard freedom and justice: this delusion leads to the triumph of every demagogue and tyrant, and no amount of transplanted Idealism can compensate for the loss of religious sanctions. Men’s passions are held in check only by the punishments of divine wrath and the tender affections of piety.

This passage from Kirk’s chapter on Orestes Brownson is part of one of many discussions where the place of Christianity – or at least religion in general – is considered. Although most of the notable conservatives in the book are heterodox in some sense, and some are even agnostics or atheists, the importance of religion as such looms large. One exception is Roman Catholicism – several of the great conservatives are Catholics, or at least high Anglicans.

Catholics come off pretty well in this book – which annoys me a bit, of course. Still, I can’t deny that the Reformation was a liberalizing force (heck, I’m proud of it. See my post last night). Luther didn’t abolish the hierarchy of the church (check out the organizations of most Lutheran churches worldwide), but he affirmed the principle that there’s a direct line between the believer and Christ, absent the mediation of the priest. In the context of history, this was a step toward individualism and what Kirk calls “atomization” – mankind conceived as a mass of unconnected individuals, all free-floating clients of the state, undistinguished by family, status, or personal qualities.

It’s interesting for an evangelical to observe that evangelicals are newbies to the conservative movement. Again, this is something I already knew – evangelicals were Abolitionists and the Prohibitionists, trying to re-shape the world through legislation, to change mankind through enlightened government force.

But there were dangers in that approach, as we can see now. The reformer who wants to save the world from slavery and Demon Rum, goes on to try to save it from guns and cigarettes and fossil fuels and transphobia.

And yet I don’t believe in a purely libertarian approach either. I think the government has a role to play in legislating morality – all laws, after all, legislate morality to one extent or another.

I’m thinking it over.

Blogging ‘The Conservative Mind’

OK, folks. I’m back on course. I hope you’re all safe, sheltering in place, avoiding hugs, and keeping well.

As I explained a few inches down the page, I’m reading Russell Kirk’s interesting but interminable The Conservative Mind, and blogging as I go. Parts of the book were kind of a shock to me, though a salutary one.

One thing you learn in reading this book this that it’s not a canard to say that conservatives are against Democracy. To the contrary, early conservatives (like Edmund Burke, particular hero of this book), considered Democracy a positive threat to a decent social order. The American Founders generally shared that view. When we say “We are not a democracy, we’re a republic,” it’s true – or was.

Kirk lays that principle down, early in the book, in a list of conservative principles. Here are his words:

[Conservatives hold a ] Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservative often have been called “the party of order.” If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.

This idea in itself was not a surprise to me – I talk about the same thing in my work with Lutheran Free Church history. But I’ve approached it from the other side. I’ve often told listeners and readers that the Norwegian Lutheran pietists who founded my church body were liberals in their time. That the primary difference between liberals and conservatives in those days was their different ideas about the place of the common people in society. Conservatives wanted hierarchy and ancient privileges preserved. Liberals wanted the common people to participate ever more fully in all public life. Hence universal education, leading to broader voting rights.

To the early conservatives, this was all disastrous. The breakdown of the social classes must inevitably lead to the debasement of moral life. There would be no more great, highly educated men to emulate – everything would be debased to a common level of undistinguished mediocrity.

I don’t think we’re meant to take all the early conservatives’ ideas seriously – they mostly distrusted the abolition of slavery, for instance (wanting it to be delayed and happen naturally). For my own part, I can’t help being proud of the achievements of (limited) democracy in America – Abraham Lincoln, as I’ve often said, was a walking reproach to the class-conscious old conservatives.

On the other hand, the horrors those old conservatives predicted seem to be coming upon us at last.

Possibly the American experiment was a fragile flower, one that bloomed briefly in a specialized environment in a blessed time and place, never to be seen again.

But I hope not.

Pastoral Yoda Tweeting: Wise You Think You Are, Do You?

If you’ve read any social media for long, you’ve run across the proverbial, possibly deep, possibly pithy statement from someone who wants to drop the truth on the world. When a Christian leader does this on Twitter, that’s called a pastor yoda tweet.

This isn’t the same as tweeting a quotation from a quotable writer, but it may be a statement made by one such quotable writer on his own account. He may even be quoted himself. Tim Keller quotes from his own books in an effort to say something strong that has a context that can been explored. Here are good examples of pastors and leaders who aren’t quoting themselves.

Ronnie Martin: “It has never not been our moment. #thechurchthatjesusbuilds”

Also Ronnie Martin: “A quiet, without a calm. These are times when ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’ is desperately needed for both personal comfort, and public compassion.”

Issac Adams: “A commitment to forbear with someone is a commitment, in no small part, to not pick nits.”

David Paul Tripp: “Today you face war, no, not with the people in your life, but a war of kingdoms, fought in your heart, that will not be fully settled until you’re on the other side.”

But of course there are those who would like to tweet proverbial wisdom and fail.

The Happy Rant guys have talked about good and bad tweeting a few times. Here’s one episode that talks about pastor yoda tweeting and also features a story about John Piper speaking to a crowd that completely misunderstood him. Here’s a recent one in which they worry about too much yoda tweeting.

Earlier this month, Taylor Burgess explained it well, “Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you’ve got to be at least 40 before you drop one of those ‘young pastor, [insert wise proverb]’ tweets. Err’body out here trying to be Yoda when most of us are Attack-of-the-Clones Anakin.”

‘Return to the Future,’ by Sigrid Undset

Pre-Christian pagans – Greeks and Romans and Nordic peoples, or redskins and Asiatic tribes – have usually conceived of the Golden Age as having been some time in the past. The present was hard, and the future was dark and full of menace. When the Christian Church began to speak and taught that God’s kingdom would come, it was in reality challenging people’s innermost convictions.

Inconstant and fickle as I am, I shall now contradict what I told you yesterday about blogging my way through The Conservative Mind. A small writing job came up which required me to bone up on Sigrid Undset, and I decided I needed to read an Undset book I’ve owned for a while but had not yet read – her 1942 war memoir, Return to the Future.

The original manuscript for Viking Legacy included a short passage from Undset, about the ancient piles of stones in Norway which have been cleared from the fields over the centuries. She declares them Norway’s “proudest monuments of antiquity” (my translation). Sadly, that passage (which I adored) was omitted from the final version. I didn’t realize, until I picked up Return to the Future, that it was the opening paragraph of that work.

In April 1940, as the Germans advanced northward in Norway, author Sigrid Undset left her home in Lillehammer in haste. She and her youngest son, Hans, fled with other refugees up to the coast at Molde, where they turned eastward toward the Swedish border, traveling at times on foot or on skis. It was only after their arrival in Sweden that they learned that her oldest son, Anders, an officer in the Norwegian army, had been killed in action. After a short stayover in Sweden, she and Hans took a Russian plane for a connection to the Trans-Siberian railroad.

The trip on the Trans-Siberian forms a large section of the book, and does not present an appealing picture. Even traveling first class, they found the accommodations (built under the Czars and badly maintained) filthy, the food terrible, the compartments stifling (you could not open the windows because of the soot, which got in anyway), and there was no running water. What she saw of the country revealed nothing but poverty, filth, and dull, lifeless faces. In spite of vaunted universal literacy, almost nobody read anything. The Catholic Undset saw in Russia everything she already suspected about Communism.

Arriving in Vladivostok, they take a steamer to Japan, and it’s a whole different world. Though like the rest of the world she is appalled by reports of Japanese atrocities in China, she can’t help but marvel at the beauty of the clothing and the architecture, the delicate politeness of the people (though they insist on ignoring her in favor of Hans, because he’s the male), and the cleanliness everywhere. Her description of the Japanese leg of her trip gives her the opportunity to meditate at length on the nature of politics and power, and how the West has – to some extent – brought the war on itself through treating non-westerners as if they were as materialistic as we are.

Her voyage ended in the United States, and she crossed our country by train, finally settling in Brooklyn. But the book ends before her arrival. One assumes it was brought out fairly quickly, as part of her campaign to promote the cause of the Norwegian government in exile.

Return to the Future was interesting, both for the first-hand account of Norway under attack, and for Undset’s thoughts about international politics, morality and war. She spends a lot of time on the historical sins of the Germans (she baldly declares Martin Luther a “psychopath,” but I forgive her). The sense of the title, as I understand it, is that the Nazi invasion had plunged Norway back into the dark past, and that in coming to America she was returning to the “future” to which she was accustomed. The implication is that America had an obligation to bring that future back for the victims of the war. I would rate the translation by Henriette C. K. Naeseth as adequate, though I flatter myself that I could have done better.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture