Or just pure unprofessionalism, but let me try to make my case before you judge me. Sadly, most of us aren’t in the position to be too picky regarding the jobs we take – if we were, then my CV would be as empty as my soul has become due to some of the work that I had had to accept.
Not all of them were bad and as interesting or dull, easy or challenging as they were, each of the translations I worked on was a learning experience, the problem is that what some of them have taught me is how to hate, how to burn with the wrath of chaos and pray to both gods and demons for the destruction of mankind and everything it created in its insolent delusion that it is worthy and capable of fully unraveling the mysteries of the universe it pollutes.
If you think that I’m joking or that my sentiments are grossly exaggerated, I envy you and implore you to find another job before you yourself stumble upon a text that would make Satan whimper and cry for his mommy. And believe me, there are a lot of them around, I have on several occasions soiled my soul by working on them, each time wondering about the morality of it – how can I be so callous to help them spread their venom by making them accessible to speakers of another language, and each time I realized that I owe nothing to the world that was able to spawn them in the first place and expose me to their evil influence, if my brain had to endure the probing of their slimy tentacles so must everyone else’s. Besides, I needed the money.
The texts I’m talking about are those written by ‘authors’ who think that words like ‘transcendent’ and ‘metaphysical’ exist only in order to make the people who manage to cram enough of them in one ill-conceived, unnecessary and spiritually parasitic piece of writing, look extremely smart. The style of such pieces of….. writing is unnecessarily complicated, the point of the text (or, much more often, the lack of it) is obscured by the impenetrable wall of the writer’s glorification of his own vocabulary and intellect.
Just to make things clear, I’m not trying to say that such words are meaningless and that they should never be used, far from it, what I am talking about are the people who use them when they are describing something that is as transcendent and metaphysical as doing laundry, people who have a tenuous grasp on the language they are writing in but insist on sounding like the architect of the universe, like an arcane poet whose very words can alter the fabric of reality - the sad part is they can actually succeed at times – for instance, they can magically transform a previously calm and relatively happy translator into a snarling beast that can never again feel love or compassion.
These are the texts that you can translate without knowing what they are about. You need to watch out for idioms and set phrases, and apart from that, just translate the text word for word, sure, ‘the transcendent cognitive ability of a spiritual entity’ might sound a bit weird, but it is not one bit less odd in the source language, if there ever was a point to such ramblings you just have to believe that it will still be equally less than obvious when you express it in the words of another language.
Now, ideally, in every translation you have three stages – reading the text, understanding and grasping its meaning without the necessity to formulate it in words, and finally expressing that meaning in words of the target language. But you don’t really have to stick to this formula – it would be great if you could, but that’s not always the case. You might say that translating in this manner is highly unprofessional, and it really might be, but you have a couple of things to hide behind and ways to avoid being caught. First of all, the author would probably be flattered if I admitted that I couldn’t understand a word of his or her text, or to be more precise, that I understood each and every word, I just didn’t manage to understand why he or she deemed it sensible to combine them in that particular order, that author would probably be easy to persuade that a lowly translator who didn’t devote several decades to the study of the inner, spiritual workings of the universe could never hope to understand the genius that seeps from his or her linguistic acrobatics. That such a translator is, indeed, unworthy of understanding it.
Secondly, with such texts, if you didn’t make any errors in grammar or spelling, the effect of the emperor’s new suit will probably prevent most people from claiming that you have made a mistake in translation, all that they will see are two completely nonsensical texts and most will be happy to, just like you, pretend that your translation makes sense. Of course, if someone refuses to play along you can just claim that they failed to comprehend the grand idea, but it’s Ok, they’re not to blame, it is, after all, an incredibly complex subject matter – not everyone is capable of diving in such abysmal depths of thought.
Some might be bothered by the fact that they are getting paid for a translation that is, perhaps, less than perfect. Don’t be. As you will find out if you ever come across a text like this, the money you will get will not be nearly enough to pay for all the drugs, booze, therapy or whatever your preferred way of dealing with severe emotional trauma is, that you will need to get over the consequences of working on that text. In the end you will be left with no money and no guilt, but with a sorrow in your eyes that will never leave and with a hollow chest that will ache every time you see a written word.
I complained several times about pointless pieces of writing, so you would be completely in the right if by now you started wondering about the point of this article. I’ll admit, it’s mostly venting anger, but it is also intended as a warning. You might come across texts that you can’t understand because they are beyond your abilities or knowledge, you should avoid them as well, because they deserve to be translated properly, but then, there will also be texts that I wrote about, texts that will reek of anti-sense, that will resonate with those parts of your being that make humans revel in the sight of misery. There are several ways to discover such texts before it’s too late – for instance leave them next to a plant over night: if the plant withers, politely refuse the job, burn the room with the plant and start thinking about becoming a lumberjack in Alaska, or something similar, just whatever you do, don’t take the job because if you do your only comfort until the day you die will be writing bitter articles about the experience and sacrificing vir…. never mind, just don’t do it.
Guest blogger: Mihajlo Matić - professor of English language and literature, professional translator, writer, blogger, SEO expert and a guy who has "seen things, man..."