Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Today The Man had some questions for me. He has been translating a book by a person who does not have a way with words (to put it mildly), and there were some bits he did not understand. He wanted me, as a native speaker, to explain them to him.

I am fairly sure that the last time he translated a book and had questions for me I was able to answer most of them. This time, however, he has become cleverer. He only asks me about bits that I can't understand either. The whole experience has left me feeling a little irate. Why is it that New Age-y writers are so bad at writing? I know they are frequently sloppy thinkers, but do they have to be sloppy writers as well? Why can't they at least write clearly?

How, for example, can ordinary reality be both superseded AND infused by some kind of non-ordinary reality? I was unable to explain that one. I wondered at first whether non-ordinary reality could be like a tea bag. You infuse the tea bag, and then put it aside to be superseded by the cup of tea. But no, I realized – 'infused and superseded by' means that the water is infused by the tea bag and then superseded by the tea bag, so you'd have to throw out the cup of tea and keep the tea bag, and that couldn't be right. (Just as well, too. It would be terrible to waste a good cup of tea like that.)

Also, and this was another one, what happens when you reach a crack in the universe and 'return from the place from whence you came'? I simply could not get my head around that sentence (possibly because it was still spinning after the tea bag thing). Does that mean that the crack in the universe is the place from whence you came? No, that doesn't work, because you just got TO there, not FROM there. So let's see, you get to the crack, then go to somewhere else (unspecified) that you originally came from and then ... return from it? Why would you return to a crack in the universe? That doesn't sound right. And anyway, what is a crack in the universe? I couldn't even explain that much.

AND. . . did you know that a medicine man 'causes rain by doodling with a bug'? The Man wanted to know how you doodle with a bug, and I'm afraid I was no help at all, even after I stopped laughing. I have only ever doodled with a pen or pencil. Doodling with a bug sounds, somehow, rude, or at least impolite. (Especially if you're a bug.)

Those were the three things that baffled me the most.

I learned something, though. I learned that if you see an extraterrestrial it will be surprised. They are not used to being seen, apparently, although I am not quite sure how you can tell they are surprised. (Perhaps their antennae stand on end.) This has led me to suspect that The Man is actually possessed by an extraterrestrial because quite frequently I surprise him exactly like that. I look at him and say something, and he responds by jumping and screaming loudly. This never fails to disconcert. He always tells me (after we have both stopped screaming) that he thought I wasn't in the room and he didn't hear me sneaking in, but I find this explanation unconvincing. I do not sneak. Sneaking is not my style. It's that stupid surprised extraterrestrial that must have taken up residence right next to his startle reflex. Perhaps we should hold an exorcism. Does exorcising work on extraterrestrials, do you think?

(Actually, considering the kind of sentences The Man has been trying to understand for the past few months, I am not surprised that he has been concentrating so hard he does not hear me entering a room. The world could have blown up while I was trying to understand those tea bags, and I would not have noticed a thing.)

Anyway, if anybody has any clues about any of the unanswered questions above (the supersede/infuse thing, the doodlebug thing, and the return from the place from whence you came thing), please enlighten me. While for most of his other questions I was able to tell The Man what I was fairly sure the author was trying to say, for those three my answer was either, "Leave that sentence out," or "Make something up," which was not particularly satisfactory.

If nobody else understands them either, though, I won't feel quite so unprofessional.


Keera Ann Fox said...

OK, I've read a lot of New Age literature (in my world, the crack in the universe is in my own head; problem solved - or at least localized) but even I don't get it.

It is possible to write about the esoteric without offending insects (or mangling a good cuppa), but sadly, a lot of us who have such interests may have them because we aren't clever enough with other things. Like writing. Or even using a dictionary.

But I'd sure like to surprise an extraterrestrial.

StyleyGeek said...

I don't have a clue about most of those, but I wonder whether the "place (from) whence you came" is meant to be either metaphorical (i.e. you get to the crack in the universe and you realise you have been going round in circles), or if it might be not the place you JUST came from, but ultimately. I.e. you get to the crack in the universe and realise that you have returned to your source. Or something.

I'm assuming the author meant "you return" in the sense of "you HAVE returned" rather than "next you return".

And you know that "from whence" is redundant, right?

Carrie said...

I am very confused by all that. I guess maybe it means that your soul comes from a crack in the universe, so your soul is returning to its source? Maybe.

I have no clue how you doodle a bug. I've heard of a doodlebug before, but am not even sure what it means.

kenju said...

It's only 7pm here, but I am already too tired to think those out! LOL

What is the title of the book? I want to avoid it, although I also have read my share of metaphysical lit.

Contamination said...

It's clear that you aren't taking the same mind altering substances that the Author is taking.

Much of the new age stuff is just pure fantasy, and not even good fantasy at that.

Badaunt said...

Keera Ann: Yes, it IS possible to write about the esoteric without messing things up horribly. A good editor would help. Where ARE the good editors? Doesn't anybody actually sit down with a writer and tell them, "This sentence is completely meaningless"? Usually I can tell what the writer intended to say, but with this guy even that is often impossible. Which makes me wonder if he knows what he's trying to say himself...

Styleygeek: I DID know that 'from whence' is redundant, but I was so distracted by all the other problems I didn't even notice that. Basically I read that sentence and my brain threw up its hands and shouted, "NO! NO! I GIVE UP!" (You didn't know my brain had hands, did you?)

And assuming that he means 'you have returned,' . . . well, I've been doing a lot of assuming with this book. You have to assume, to make the sentences mean anything. I can't remember what we ended up assuming with that one. It's a funny thing with translating - you realize how important it is that words don't just sound like they might make sense. They have to ACTUALLY make sense. I get the feeling this guy just strings words together sometimes because they sound good.

Carrie: I'm glad you don't know how to doodle bugs. I was starting to think that maybe it was something everybody knew except me.

Kenju: I don't want to write the title here - it might get The Man into trouble. But I'll email it to you if you want.

Contamination: There's an idea. Maybe if I took some drugs I'd know how to doodle a bug.

Anonymous said...

Cracks in the universe are one of the ways Philip Pullman's characters travel between his parallel universes (http://www.philip-pullman.com/). Cracks between universes really; and every Y person is entirely into Pullman - the more so now there's that awful representation of Dark Materials on screen. (We all have a fav. universe, mine is the one with the wheeled creatures & the anthropologist. Or the side universe in Lyra's Oxford...)

Stylegeek's right on IMNHO on the the coincidence of the point of departure & destination - it's a cliche of mysticism I think, & turns up somewhere in TS Elliot (Ash Wednesday?)...

Carrie said...

I just realized I don't think I've heard of a doodlebug. I've heard of a Doodlebop, which is probably an entirely different creature. I'd like to bop a doodle, if the doodle was a doodlebop. (They are a really annoying children's band.)

Badaunt said...

Anon: My favourite universe is Discworld. :-)

Carrie: Actually the writer didn't use the word 'doodlebug.' That was me. And actually I don't know what a doodlebug is either, any more than I know how to doodle with a bug (which is what the writer said).

It sounds like it SHOULD be a word, though, doesn't it?