current events

Goliath/David redux (empate técnico)

Monday. A cold rainy morning in Barcelona. All across Europe the headlines scream: Le Pen winner of French elections, UKIP wins in UK.

Racist, xenophobe right-wing extremists who once struggled to eke out even a single seat in the Europarliament have now become many voters’ number one option. France’s prime minister Manuel Valls (not exactly an immigrant’s best friend himself) publicly called LePen’s victory ‘a disaster for Europe’. I don’t know how you say ‘a fucking disaster’ in French, but that’s probably what he said in private.

By mid-day though, rays of sun break through the clouds.

In Spain, a new formation by the name of Podemos (one of the ‘smaller grassroots platforms’ that I mentioned yesterday) surpasses all expectations with over 1.2 million votes. 5 seats in the European parliament from which to pursue their platform, available here in Spanish. Regardless of what you think of their agenda, it’s undeniably heartening that a group with only 4 months of existence and a campaign budget of some €200,000 has been able to make such a dent in its first elections.

Some have complained that leader Pablo Iglesias’ experience as a panelist in a number of Spain’s ever-popular TV ‘tertulias’ (debate programs somewhat in the vein of the old McLaughlin Group or Cross-fire) have given him an unfair advantage. Iglesias responded thusly (quoted from an article in El País):

“The criticism is fair. I don’t like it either that there are people who are famous just for being on TV […] We don’t have the funding of the PSOE or the PP, we haven’t asked for a loan, we don’t have any powerful friends nor any friend in the media who give us concessions as favors–we just have a kid with a ponytail on the TV.”

However, some allege that they do in fact have friends in the media–Grupo Planeta, for instance, or Mediaset. Others say that LaSexta TV’s televisedsparring matches between Iglesias and La Razón director Pepe Marhuenda function as a sort of mediated, self-congratulatory voodoo doll are designed to make viewers feel like their voice is being heard and at the same time keep them passive, on their couch, glued to the screen.

Maybe so. Be that as it may, Europe and the world seems to be getting grayer and more dystopic with every passing day. Podemos has a long way to go if it truly hope to achieve its goal of winning the next elections. In the meantime, I say: Damn it, for once just please let me have this one ray of sun.

 

 

 

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current events

When Goliath wins

J.M. Aznar, ex-president of Spain whose land reform inflated the housing bubble and Florentino Pérez, Real Madrid club president and construction magnate

José María Aznar, Florentino Peréz (l-r).

Fate decreed that the Champions League final and the 2014 elections to the European parliament are both being held on the same weekend. I doubt very seriously that the parallels between the two are lost on anyone who’s been paying attention to either.

But just in case, allow me to explain.

Last night two Spanish teams (more specifically, two teams from Madrid), Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, disputed the final of the Champions League, the biggest and most elite tournament in European football. For those who are  unfamiliar with the narrative between these teams, it goes something like this:

Real Madrid (as the name, ‘Royal Madrid’ implies–the King himself Juan Carlos I is a supporter, not coincidentally) has throughout its history been seen as an upper-class team, ‘posh’ if you will. They also bear the unfortunate stigma of having been the official team of the dictatorial Franco regime. Even after the death of the Caudillo, they remain the ‘establishment’ team par excellence.

As for el Atleti, their English-language Wikipedia page sums it up admirably:

“On the other side, the Rojiblancos were always characterized by a sentimiento de rebeldía, a sense of rebellion, although during the early Francisco Franco years, it was Atlético that was the preferred team of the regime, albeit forcibly[…]

“Such perceptions have had an important impact on the city’s footballing identities, tapping into the collective consciousness. In this vein, Atlético fans were probably the originators, and are the most frequent singers, of the song ‘Hala Madrid, hala Madrid, el equipo del gobierno, la vergüenza del país’, “Go Madrid, go Madrid, the government’s team, the country’s shame.”

(One would be remiss, though, not to point out the shadier parts of Atleti’s history, namely the 16-year presidency of Jesús Gil, mayor of Marbella and one of the most famously corrupt politicians in Spain’s long history of corrupt politicians.)

In any case there was no small amount of drama in the duel between the two Madrid clubs last night on the international stage of Lisboa’s Da Luz Stadium, with Real Madrid seeking to capture their tenth European title and Atlético seeking their first, a perfect capstone to their Cinderella season. Real Madrid versus Atlético de Madrid: the team of €100-million transfer deals for players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (seen by many as absolutely criminal given Spain’s current economic situation) versus a much more modestly financed squad (though, truth be told, none of the players on the Atleti side are what you’d call poor, either).

Powerhouse versus underdog. ‘Establishment’ versus ‘sentimiento de rebeldía’.

Real Madrid won, 4-1.

Inevitably, I find that the result of last night’s match has colored my perception of the European elections being held today. As we speak, Spanish voters are casting their votes for the European parliament, and turnout is projected to be abysmal–I, for one, didn’t get the feeling as I accompanied my wife to the polls (she can vote, I can’t) that many people were turning up for what the media often calls ‘la gran fiesta de la democracia’.

Whether that’s down to general skepticism about the European project or perhaps a huge collective hangover after last night’s match, who knows. Maybe people feel as though their vote doesn’t matter. That the major parties have the game rigged in their favor, to the exclusion of smaller grassroots platforms. That no matter who they vote for, the die has been cast, the tide of rampant globalization unleashed and Europe as a whole doomed to backslide into 21st feudalism. That the bigwigs of industry and finance will continue doing whatever the hell they please, regardless of what the great unwashed have to say about it.

Or at least what photos like the one above suggest to my mind, anyway. Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that tonight when they announce the elections result, we’ll be told that–just like last night–Goliath won.

 

 

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other

Translation, asymmetry, intrusismo, a forthcoming offer.

What follows is a somewhat lengthy blow-by-blow account of a discussion across blogposts by several different authors regarding the idea of translating short fiction (genre fiction, mainly) in English ‘on spec’.

The ‘TL;DR’ version: “An imbalance exists between English-fiction-translated-into-other-languages vs. Fiction-in-other-languages-translated-into-English; the idea of established Anglophone authors (i.e., non-professional translators) offering to help redress that imbalance raises interesting questions re threats to the livelihood of literary translators”

The long version:

This morning, as I was leisurely scrolling back through my Twitter feed with cup of coffee #2, I ran across a tweet from the highly prolific and entertaining Alex Shvartsman (@AShvartsman), in which he and award-winning author Aliette de Bodard were offering their services to non-Anglophone authors interested in having their work translated to English.

Clicking along the Internet trail, I was led to a post by the great Benjamin Rosenbaum entitled “Translation, Asymmetry, An Offer”. In it, he begins by pointing out that his stories have been translated into 17 languages: “a symptom,” he says, “of a staggeringly — ridiculously — English-dominated world translation scene.”

He goes on to point out that, “Of all translations worldwide, perhaps about half are from English — within Europe, it’s about two thirds“, while native English speakers are only 5.3% of the world’s population.

“That means,” writes Rosenbaum, “under six percent of the world gets to write maybe a third of the books read by everyone else.”

To redress this, Mr Rosenbaum offered his services as an ‘on spec’ translator (paraphrasing very roughly here): if readers or writers had a non-English-language story they’d read or written that they thought matched his sensibility and was awesome enough to demand the English translation it would most likely never have access to, he would attempt to translate it or pass it on to someone who could. In the first version of this post (later amended), he added, “I’m not really interested in making money on this, and would waive my cut if that’s a thing.”

In the comments section, however, translator Edward Gauvin (whom you may know from his translation work for Weird Fiction Review) pointed out that the “symbolic gesture” on Rosenbaum’s part of translating on spec and waiving his fee could contribute to a disturbing trend:

“In the case of your offer above,” he writes, “we are talking about a very invisible part of an already relatively invisible profession: translating on spec, often in contact directly with the author (and not his/her publisher, much less the minimal contractual protection of any English-language publisher). In this kind of situation, I have seen too many translators, hungry for work or just hoping to work on something they like, get treated really unscrupulously by foreign authors, themselves hungry to get into hegemonic English, to be comfortable seeing translation services offered FOR FREE. Authors who pit multiple translators against each other, who deny the translator ever did any work at all, who go on to defame said translator to authors and publishers… you name it.”

As a result, Rosenbaum gladly edited his post to stipulate his proposed cut of any commercial work that might be done, as well as clarifying several other points in hopes of removing any implication that translation work is somehow undeserving of remuneration.

“My ideal scenario,” he said, “is that this would create more work for professional translators, along the lines of: 1) Anglophone author who benefits from translation translates non-Anglophone author’s short story, 2) Anglophone publisher, intrigued, contacts non-Anglophone author with a book offer, 3) non-Anglophone author or Anglophone publisher pays for professional translation of book — novel or collection — which no one’s going to do as a lark.”

A similar exchange took place on de Bodard’s blog, where she had wholesale cut-and-pasted Rosenbaum’s original post and Gauvin subsequently cut-and-pasted the concerns he’d voiced earlier at Rosenbaum’s blog. Bodard pointed out in response that “the issue isn’t, per se, the prohibitive cost of professional translation, it’s the fact that there is no translation infrastructure in place from other languages into English […] At the moment, as you point out, there really is little to no market for translating short stories into English on spec, and no smart solution that I can see for creating one…”

To which another professional translator Laura Watkinson replied: “there are professional literary translators out there doing this work already […] Many of us know about possible sources of funding for translations and have professional relationships with publishers. I’d say that there definitely is an infrastructure in place for professional literary translations into English. I’d recommend the Society of Authors as a good place to start.

The discussion in the comments went on (including interesting comments re the going rates for translation vs the going rates for SF short stories, and the fannish tradition of paying-it-forward and so on which I recommend anyone interested in this topic to pay special attention to), but for our purposes here, suffice it to say that this whole thing is a sticky wicket indeed.

Coincidentally I had already in recent months been pondering the possibility of just such a thing, inspired by the example of author Ken Liu’s success in publishing translations of Chinese SF authors in some of the field’s major English language publications.

And I think that the imbalance that Rosenbaum et al point out is something worth addressing. However, the comments coming from the other end of the equation, by translators like Mr. Gauvin and Ms. Watkinson, raise interesting questions about the impact of such an endeavour on the industry of translation itself as a whole.

Indeed, in a country like Spain, the spectre of intrusismo laboral looms large over the translation business–basically anyone with a minimum grasp of basic English grammar can, if they so desire, fancy themselves a translator, whether it’s your stereotypical backpacker native-speaker TEFL teacher with no formal training in translation whatsoever or a Spanish speaker with the First Certificate doing inverse translations(!) for a little extra pocket money.

In the near future, I fully intend to post a similar offer to the one made by Rosenbaum, de Bodard, and Shvartman (though, credential-wise I’m don Nadie by comparison), but not without first giving the whole thing a nice long think.

Meanwhile, writers and translators are welcome to post their take on things in the comments below.

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current events

“State of the World 2014”: My favorite bits

So, it’s that time of year when experts, pundits and assorted brainiacs look back at the global economic, cultural, and political trends and try to decipher the grand meaning of what just happened in the last 12 months.

Actually, maybe “that time of year” was a couple of weeks ago now, but cut me some slack. I was busy.

By now, pages upon pages of punditry have been generated, out there waiting to be waded through, if one is so inclined. Or you could just skip it and read Bruce Sterling and John Lebkowsky’s “State of the World 2014”,  the latest in a series which (if I’m not mistaken) dates back to 2000.

It’s all a bit geeky, and materialistic in a tech-obsessed sort of way, but then we live in an increasingly geeky, materialistic and tech-obsessed world. So there’s that. Also, what they have to say may not be fundamentally different from other such year-end round-ups. But they’re just So. Damn. Pithy.

Extracted without comment on my part below are my favorite bits:

Sterling:

“2013 turned out to be the year when the Digital Revolution trended Stalinist. Old-school Digital Bolsheviks scattered hapless in every direction, as Big Data Killer Bot Commissars scoured the darkening landscape, and Trotsky went to ground in Ecuador.”

Lebkowsky:

“The reality of growing persistent domestic surveillance is somehow distant an unreal. It’s like we’re watching the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the bad acts are bad video, some sort of fiction imposed by deus ex Tom Clancy. We have the same response to the careful dismantling of government and whole sections of the former middle class – it’s a film by Frank Capra, or maybe Judd Apatow. A cheesy bit of cinema that will somehow resolve itself, credits will eventually roll, we’ll step out of the fantasy and into the light of day, and everything will be fine, just fine. But what we’re watching is not cinema, but a maleficent YouTube video gone viral, shot by rabid weasels with an infected Android, looping constantly like Einstein’s definition of insanity. We’ve dozed off watching it, fallen into nested dream states fed by networks of fantasy, no clear way to consciousness.”

Lebkowsky:

“We know too much (broadly) and we don’t know enough (detail), and that odd quirk of knowing invites us to speculate – about chemtrails, which may be ordinary contrails but could also be a spew of unknown, potentially sinister origin. Or Fukushima…”

Sterling:

“Technology’s not moving all that fast in 2014; tech is simply drifting toward the money, really.  It’s hard  to write fiction about technology because the structure of language is mutating.  Also, the demographics for printed fiction have collapsed.  So, who is science fiction talking to? […] For instance, nobody has ever invented a novelistic way to capture SMS messages, which are the way real people basically talk nowadays.  We’ve got dialogue conventions that work on a page, but we don’t have any SMS conventions.   They’re inelegant.  The result is that literary language loses vitality.   It’s out of touch with the digital vernacular of popular speech. […] So fiction is losing its ability to marinate itself in the tenor of the times, and to create a cultural sensibility, to be the credible witness or social guide to ‘the way things are now.’  ‘The way things
are now’ are no longer what pages and paragraphs are about.  Literary communication is a subset of communication, and communication is in turmoil.”

Sterling (discussing the relative success of the current Serbian regime run by the ‘Radikalni’ party):

“I’ve never seen Serbia in such a state of public contentment and apparent stability. It’s truly startling […] This development gives me the conviction that pessimism is public affairs is just a kind of arrogance.”

There’s plenty more worth copying and pasting here. However, that last bit– “Pessimism in public affairs is just a kind of arrogance”–is a surprisingly positive note to stop on, and something I will try to keep in mind as events unfold in the following year.

(You can read more at the link above.) ~nmw

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fiction, other

“Las maderas”

This past Sunday we went to Caixa Forum to see some free art. There was a Pisarro exhibit. There were lots of pretty paintings, it was awesome. That sounds like me being dickish, but no, it was great.

Also, and this is why I’m writing this, there was an exposition entitled ARTE FICCIÓN. Meant as like a play on words with the term CIENCIA FICCIÓN. Yeah. As in, art inspired by speculative fiction tropes, i.e. Utopía: proyecto o sistema optimista que aparece como irrealizable en el momento de su formulación. Distopía: situación ficticia indeseable en ella misma. Paradoja: idea extraña o inverosímil que se presenta con apariencia de verdad,” etc., etc. 

Anyway, in conjunction with the exhibit they had organized a “concurso de microrelatos”, a contest for “microrelatos de ciencia ficción” (sci-fi flash fiction) inspired by the artworks on display.  There were some examples printed on laminated cards next to each piece in the exhibit. I was like, “Oh, yeah, I can do this.” On the way home I inevitably got to thinking about one of the pieces I’d seen, a pair of images from Galician artist Nicolás Combarro’s  series entitled Arquitectura oculta, for example:

Nicolás Combarro

So I ran home, banged out a little “microrelato” (less than 1000 characters, they said), and went online to see how I could enter their little contest.

Turns out the contest ended on the 2nd of December. Like,  a week ago. Whoops.

But I was kind of happy with how the piece came out, seeing as how it was scribbled out in about a half-hour in a notebook, so here it is for those of you who read a little Spanish. (If not, you might try sticking it in Google Translate, might be good for a laugh.) Without further ado…

“Las maderas”

Cuando la madera se despertó, nadie lo supo explicar. Teorías había muchas, cada cual más inverosímil. Lo único que estaba claro es que una noche—una noche al parecer como cualquier otra—después de tanto años de genocidio y tortura, de bosques enteros talados o quemados, de hierros oxidados clavándose en su cuerpo a martillazos, años de soportar el peso de paredes y de casas, de mesas y sillas y crucifijos y todo lo demás, después de todo eso, todas las maderas y tablones repartidos en vertederos y almacenes allá por el mundo entero cobraron vida.

Se juntaron, formaron espantosos esqueletos de articulaciones angulosas, se congregaron en las cimas de la montañas y dentro de las cloacas de las ciudades, y allí se quedaron durante días y días, aislados de la mirada curiosa e inconsciente de los humanos, rumiando. Sedientas de venganza.

Hasta que un día se alzaron sobre sus patas alargadas e insectoides y se echaron a andar…

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current events

September 11th fun facts!!!

Hey, did you know that September 11th is the 254th day of the Gregorian calendar! Also, did you know that it’s the first day of the Coptic, and the earliest possible day that the Ethiopian calendar can begin! Fascinating, right?

I have to admit I am somewhat overdosed on September 11th. Yes, an enormous national tragedy of unrivalled scope occurred on that date. I get that.

Also, if I’m not mistaken, Rafael de Casanova gave a rousing speech while Barcelona was falling to the Bourbon forces in the last throes of the War of Spanish Succession, exhorting them to do something along the lines of “salvar la libertad del Principado y de toda España; evitar la esclavitud que espera a los catalanes y al resto de los españoles bajo el dominio francés; derramar la sangre gloriosamente por el Rey, por su honor, por la patria y por la libertad de toda España”. (‘Save the freedom of the Principality (referring to Catalonia) and all of Spain, avoid the slavery that awaits the Catalans and the rest of the Spanish people under French domination, to gloriously shed blood for the King, for his honor, for the fatherland and for the freedom of all of Spain’).

So, if you are overdosed on 9/11 nostalgia, o estás hasta los huevos de escuchar cosas sobre la Diada, why not learn more superinteresting things that happened by chance to occur on this date in history that are like super-relevant to your life and everyone should definitely give a fuck about here:

On this day in history…

  • 1185 – Isaac II Angelus kills Stephanus Hagiochristophorites and then appeals to the people, resulting in the revolt that deposes Andronicus I Comnenus and places Isaac on the throne of the Byzantine Empire.
  • 1297 – Battle of Stirling Bridge: Scots jointly-led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray defeat the English.
  • 1609 – Henry Hudson discovers Manhattan Island and the indigenous people living there.
  • 1792 – The Hope Diamond is stolen along with other French crown jewels when six men break into the house used to store them.
  • 1830 – Anti-Masonic Party convention; one of the first American political party conventions.
  • 1847 – Stephen Foster’s well-known song, “Oh! Susanna”, is first performed at a saloon in Pittsburgh.
  • 1852 – The State of Buenos Aires secedes from the Argentine Federal government, rejoining on 17 September 17, 1861. Several places are named Once de Septiembre after this event.
  • 1857 – The Mountain Meadows massacre: Mormon settlers and Paiutes massacre 120 pioneers at Mountain Meadows, Utah.
  • 1927 – Vernon Corea, Sri Lankan broadcaster, was born.
  • 1939 – World War II: Canada declares war on Germany, the country’s first independent declaration of war
  • 1961 – Foundation of the World Wildlife Fund
  • 1973 – A coup in Chile headed by General Augusto Pinochet topples the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Pinochet exercises dictatorial power until ousted ina referendum in 1988, staying in power until 1990.
  • 2007 – Joe Zawinul, Austrian keyboardist and composer with Weather Report among others, died.

Plus, today is totally Saint Deiniol’s Day, after Deiniol, Bishop of Bangor?

It’s also Emergency Number Day, proclaimed by President Reagan on August 26 in 1987.

And, it’s Teacher’s Day in Argentina, apparently.

Happy Teacher’s Day, y’all!!!

(source: wikipedia)

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