Amateur Translation: Cross Channel – Meeting Misato on the Roof (Commentary on Commentary)

Commentary on Commentary

Warning. This post is filled with spoilers for Cross Channel and stuff that sounds like conspiracy theorist ranting.

Seems a tad extreme doesn’t it? I’ve already taken 2 translations of 39 lines, translated those in 3 variants, done a commentary on those 39 lines plus the two translations, but now I’ve discovered that George Henry Shaft has his own commentary hidden in the script file.

So, to complete my job thoroughly, I’ve decided to have a commentary on GHS’ commentary. Why? I feel it’s a bit important to point out a bit of problems and holes that you can fall into with translation, or interpretation in general. There are many many many ways to translate, and if you can find Borges’ essay on the translators of the Arabian Nights, you’ll be able to see the tons of different approaches taken to all of them – some translate smoothly and poetically and don’t care about meaning, others do it culturally and academically and make sure to strive for a one-one relationship with the author, further others aim to bulldoze the meaning altogether and censor the text with their own view for a societal purpose.

Thankfully, we don’t really have people enacting the last option anymore, but censorship can come in various nefarious forms. Censorship, to me, means the narrowing of the possibilities of meaning within a text. Everyone will censor the text to a certain extent, but, at the very least, being aware of this fact can help mitigate that possibility.

On the other hand, since I subscribe to the poetic method of translation, I believe that the only time when it may be valid to censor the text is when you do it for the sake of flow and mood. Of course you can’t do this for certain important plot points or moments with supremely weighty subtext in them. But, not all meanings are born equal, and some meanings have more meanings than other meanings (take note of the opposite end though. An infinity of meanings is equivalent to having no meaning. Anyone who read 1984 should know this with the example of Newspeak. When a word means every single thing, it means nothing).

John Keats has a term called ‘Negative Capability’ (which was made fun of in Woody Allen’s Manhattan as a term abused by middle-class snobs) that he defines as “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. I think this is a great definition for the job of an interpreter, and, in extension, a translator. Most of the time, people think that criticism is about ascribing meaning, when, actually, it’s more about ascribing the potentialities and possibilities of meaning. Keep that point in mind, because I’ll probably explore it in my commentary below. As a caveat, remember the above. Although words are hazy and ambiguous and open for a boatload of pathways. There are simply better ways to use these ambiguous footholds, which still opens the way to objective criticism. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word ‘objective’ which opens up a bit of a trap to make it seem like I’m talking about a quantitative evaluation. Things are qualitative. I’ll stop here because this isn’t exactly the place to ruminate on that.

Reading over GHS’ notes reminds me of three books. The first is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, which is about people getting caught up in the flux of conspiracy theories. The second is Pale Fire by Vladmir Nabokov, which is about a mad delusional scholar writing a commentary on a long poem, only to have the commentary twist into vivid stories of the scholar’s imaginary life. The third is a short story in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Magnitude, which is a parody of the various literary criticisms of Finnegans Wake. All these are warnings about the pitfalls that people can fall into with interpretation.

Without further ado. Take note you need to refer to the commentary here to know what sentence he’s talking about.

(1)

Wind” is also “pretension/deception”. In my first altogether-too-adapted version, I experimented with using “bluff”, which the wind doesn’t do but sorta-sounds like it should, but decided against it in revisions. It’s completely impossible to notice unless considering the meta-implications of the rooftop being the place closest to Heaven but the hokora, and metaphorically, the place where interpersonal communication takes place – the wind is part of the disturbance, the lies, the communicative difficulties, the language barries, and all that that the exposure to the elements (sun as well) and the Penelopean (sysyphean?) effort of the building of the antenna. Plus all the meta stuff about Misato. In short, it would go in the explanation anyway.

Commentary

GHS seems to be talking about the fact that 風 can also mean ‘appearance’ or ‘style’. But, we also have the same kinds of expressions in English e.g. “She had an air of anger around her” or “She walked with a giddy wind in her step” or “Her countenance had a chilly wind to it”. Now, while it’s true that CC has the main theme of human relations, pretense etc… to it, what GHS misses out on is the fact that placement determines meaning.

Let’s say I wrote a sappy melodramatic paragraph as such, for example, about a scene where a girl is lying about something:

“The wind blew. The trees shivered in that wind. The birds were chirping. Both of them were standing on the roof. The boy looked at her. The girl looked back. The boy opened his mouth to say something. It was a confession. The girl looked back. The girl replied, that she accepted. But, it was a lie.”

“The birds were chirping. Both of them were standing on the roof. The boy looked at her. The girl looked back. The boy opened his mouth to say something. It was a confession. The girl looked back. The girl replied, that she accepted. The wind blew. But, it was a lie.”

“The birds were chirping. Both of them were standing on the roof. The boy looked at her. The girl looked back. The boy opened his mouth to say something. The wind blew. It was a confession. The girl looked back. The girl replied, that she accepted. But, it was a lie.”

Now, the fact is that a guy who over-interprets like GHS can read these paragraphs and still determine that the wind is a symbol for the deception. That I agree with. But, with a certain amount of logic, you can sort of weigh out in which position does the word “wind” have a different connotation to the discerning reader. In the first one, because I place it before the descriptive scene-setting words, there’s a stronger connotation that it’s merely atmospheric. The second paragraph, because I place it in the middle of a key moment, it holds the connotation of a ‘false air’. In the third paragraph, the wind has a closer connotation to a ‘lightness of love’, because I place it exactly at that key event of confession. (Perhaps I can also use Kahneman’s terms with Type 1 and Type 2 systems. GHS is using a Type 1 form of interpretation, when he should be using Type 2)

Take note that all 3 connotations exist within the word “wind” in this paragraph, although in different levels of potentiality, which is why, if it’s read by a person who is undiscerning, and holds too many pre-conceived notions in his worldview, then he’ll merely pick the meaning that appeals the most to him. To translate, on the other hand, is to be aware of all connotations, and balance them out in a way that fits closely to the original text.

What defines a great symbol is its depth of connotations which prevents it from being straightjacketed into a simple structure of clichés. The wind has a large connotation to communication later, at the moment when Misato tries to speak and it blurs out her sound. Yet, GHS merely points that out. He doesn’t see the fact that what makes the symbol work is that due to the naturalistic flow of description Romeo applies, it becomes more than a mere symbol and actually becomes embodied in the atmosphere of the scene itself. This is why, if GHS had actually translated it as the wind bluffed, it would be so unnatural and would lose that. It would become merely symbol. Then, to sustain your connotation and make that work you have to permutate every other line to make it sound natural (at least, he seemed to realize that, and chose for the flow). ‘Wind’ in Romeo’s text is multifunctional – symbol, atmosphere, natural rhythm etc…

Of course, the rest of the comment has to do with GHS’ Christian interpretation of Cross Channel, which has copious amount of issues. That part, I can’t tackle really, but I’ll just state that any work which has themes of Guilt, Struggle, Mercy, Forgiveness, Redemption, Sin etc… is bound to have a Christian interpretation out there somewhere, even those aren’t the only connotations (e.g. The Old Man and the Sea).

This is what the text looks like under GHS shades e.g. “The wind bluffed. This lie exacted itself when I stepped outside. Inexplicably, that gave me the pretense of a cheer. Ahead in my sight, apart from a large water tower and a staircase, a large antenna soared Heaven-like. A still unfinished antenna. A Tower of Babel. Components and knowledge insufficient. Yet, it was taking shape, little by little, grinded out through proactive feelings. A single solitary girl – she stands with the antenna, masked in the winds…”

You can only really say that the wind becomes an apparent symbol AFTER I use that much modulation to the tone.

(2)

The implication is that the wind started when he was there. Hallucination in part, in part hints at the above interpretation(s). Which may just be hallucinated because his hallucinations still betray a truer reality.

Commentary

While it’s true that Taichi being an unreliable narrator is one of the facets of the text, that doesn’t mean that every single thing can be read as a lie, and neither does it really matter.

Still, it’s interesting to note that this comment actually outlines one of the stylistic powers of Romeo’s writing. Romeo writes impressionistically, and knits together events, jokes, melodramas, and archetypal characters in a calm natural haze of all sorts of elements. So it reads a bit like a hallucination or a dream (but, his plot structures are still logical). One of the most obvious examples is how Taichi wakes up twice, the first time meeting Nanaka. While you have the logical plot-explanation of that scene, the more important thing is that it conveys to you this strange effect of joking with a mysterious girl on the way to school. A scene like that would probably never ever work in any other work unless the person could convey that effect through the writing style.

Romeo’s line, in this case, is merely an evocation of his style. That gives it so much more weight than the facile level 1 interpretation GHS gives. It does not matter whether the description actually means that. That is like totally irrelevant. What matters is that you feel through the pure prose that Taichi is stepping into this slightly tinted dreamy romantic atmosphere of meeting a girl on a roof. Knowing the truth here is not important because it is the mood that contributes to the main theme of loneliness and communication, not having such an obsessive adherence to analyzing every part of the milieu.

(4)

This line is odd. The water tower described as “spacious” seems just not appropriate. I’m sort of forcing this reading, because it does sound like it’s being described as separate from the staircase, which contradicts the BG of the outside of the school: the water tower is clearly on top of the staircase.

And the antenna is clearly on a different level from the staircase, so how it can share foundation I simply don’t know. Plus there’s those three steps before the antenna, so, dunno. Anyway, there are Two Towers in this place close to God and the outside world: it’s a Tolkien reference.

Commentary

Sometimes I wish I could reach out through the screen and slap GHS because of his amazing leaps of interpretation. Incidentally, it seems he also pointed out the same thing I did about problems with reading that line.

It did not occur to GHS that an antenna and a water tower are could just be the two most prominently tall structures on any roof. That doesn’t mean that everyone who does the same architecture is a Tolkien fan. While the antenna is a clear symbol of communication, the water tower is simply just that – a water tower.

(5)

Unsure what attitude this is supposed to be. Doesn’t sound *that* cheerful

(9)

Solitude still focus

(12)

For her ability to escape

Commentary

Yes, that’s one of the possibilities. But Romeo’s original text places Jealousy first before Admiration. Ending the sentence on that connotation gives more weight to the Admiration. Which opens it up to possibly – jealousy of her ability to escape, jealousy of her devotion to reforming communications, jealousy of the general human persistence that he lacks etc…

GHS cancels out all these possible openings (and also cancels out the fact of the good writing, which allows for all these openings to be simultaneous, creating mnemonic hooks in your brain) and instead aims for the interpretation, which, though possible, is a lesser connotation.

(16)

See book. Otherwise: yuck

(21)

As in, she’s lost in her flight.

(22)

Usurai is a really pretentious way of saying “the season is ending”: http://nihongohaomosiroi.seesaa.net/article/159092872.html (Japanese) so have some Shakespeare instead.

Commentary

Well, at least I understand his reasons now. But, even then, this is still really stupid.

For one, even with pretentious/ornate words, there are exact levels for those kinds of thing:

“Summer’s over”

“Summer ended”

“The summer days ended”

“The summer days faded”

“The summer days thinned out”

“The summer days faded into nothing”

“The summer days blew away in the wind”

“The summer days melted away into puddles”

“The date of Summer’s lease is coming to an end”

“Summer’s lease hath too short a date”

“Enervations of a summer temperate dissipated into the milieu of all oblivion”

“The season’s sunflower wilted its clear yellow buds into the wistful equinox of a period.”

“My Sunflower, O My Soul, I loved you then!” etc…

While I don’t exactly know the exact level of ornamentation since I’m not steeped enough in the culture, at the very least I know that 薄 isn’t like one of those obscure type Kanji, and also that the sentence still flows with the atmosphere.

(23)

This line just makes me laugh. I’m sort of wagering it’s intentional. Of course he knows her face would melt off, she’s about to ‘build’ her smile. Like Taichi does, according to her. If she’s not projecting.

Commentary

For the record, at the very least he floated his translation appropriately. Once again, though, I advise against narrowing definitions, at least, when the prose is so terse.

Paradoxically, GHS may have a better translation than Amaterasu simply because he had an overriding interpretation to stand against, and also he has better word sense, even though he doesn’t seem to be aware of it.

(27)

He can’t read lips. He’s just hallucinating the words, see CCB0005. Notice how we don’t actually hear them.

(30)

‘distant voice’. But such directions don’t seem followed?

(31)

See CCA0010, supposing “I surrender”. Also means “to pressure one’s superiors”, interestingly enough.

Commentary

I was certain this was a standard anime pose, kind of like this:

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(33)

Obvious artefaction

Commentary

See 38

(36)

Somewhat recurring

(37)

The shouts are 99% in the text, sorry

(38)

Although pretentiousness makes me laugh on its own, the entirety of it was just as setup for this punchline. Besides requiring understanding what the hell he’s talking about, the reason this thing is so damn hard to translate is because of the absolute tonal precision some parts demand, like this. Although pretentiousness for the sake of laughter seems to be in Tanaka’s style, and it further continues the undercurrent of criticism towards this kind of writing when used for its own sake, it’s worked in the plot: this is Taichi not taking this seriously in the slightest and refusing to let heavy moods settle in. Later on, this will become uneasy and outright cringe-worthy.

Commentary

The problem I have with this view is that it makes it seem as if CC is doing it in the hardcore postmodern sense of e.g. Delilio etc… From this it makes me seem that GHS is screening all this under the weight of his ‘pretension’ interpretation, which obviously will undermine the fact that Tanaka writes with those kind of pretensions and metafictional awarenesses, but he does it with STELLAR PROSE. So this leads to stuff like GHS making the Shakespeare mis-translation, because he’s so caught up in trying to push for Taichi as that kind of blatantly pretentious speaker, without having any of the subtle modulations that a better writer is able to create, so that pretense + poeticism both exist concurrently. To write like Romeo you have to know when to be blatantly showy, and when to be restrained, because Romeo can encompass those two poles with fluent ease, exactly when he has to.

I attribute this kind of worldview to why GHS fails in his translation. Once again bringing up Delilio, it’s like taking him and putting his blatant facile ironies next to a more calculated wordsmith like Kurt Vonnegut, and then painting them both as the same thing.

Furthermore, with the Christian interpretation, this may lead to a preponderance to use more words of that kind of theological import. Harmless, but a translator has to have as many tools at his disposal to capture the meaning. If GHS’ bias, for example, led to him having to use the word ‘Heaven’, or something related to that in every instance with the antenna, his translation capabilities would have been clipped considerably. At least, from the example above, GHS still has enough of an aesthetic sense to not let those biases rip apart his text, although he falls in the area regarding the pretension theme etc…

 

 

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