Amidst a bunch of mediocre-to-abysmal blockbusters, the in-flight entertainment system on my Delta flight had on offer a movie I had never heard of: The Host.

Figuring that a movie about body-snatching aliens could not possibly be that bad (or rather: no matter how bad, would have to be somewhat entertaining), I ended up subjecting myself to what turned out to be 90 tedious minutes of some of the worst moviemaking I have ever seen, only made bearable by occasional bits of unintentional hilarity through sheer ineptitude. I belatedly gave up somewhere around the two-third mark.

All along, I could not quite put my finger on it, but there was something vaguely familiar in the movie’s over-simplistic linear plot, incredibly dull treatment of otherwise time-tested genre tropes, barely-defined one-dimensional characters and empty dialogs masquerading as profundity… not to mention the obvious (though badly muddled) religious undertones. Despite having never heard of that movie until then, it felt as if I may have watched it before.

And then today, while browsing Detroit airport’s equally indigent Travel Bookstore, I happened upon the book that apparently inspired that abortion of a movie. And it all made sense.

Just in case the author’s name alone may not have been enough, a big sticker above it proclaimed, in big gaudy gold letters: “By the author of the Twilight™ series“.

Yesterday, I exposed a few of my more minor (ha) quibbles with the book Hi, my name is Loco and I am a racist. Today, we crank it up one notch to the things that really irked me:

That stuff about racism (in Japan).

I am a little hesitant to dive into that murky swamp of a topic, especially considering it has already been covered to exhaustion on practically every Japan-related English-speaking blog, resulting in previously mentioned wave of publicity for the book (exhibit A, on your screen).

For all its merits, I just don’t think Loco’s book is very good at addressing the ever-fascinating problem of Japanese racism. I doubt I would do any better, and I am too lazy to even make an articulate summary of my problems with his approach, so I’ll just randomly throw a few items here:

Save for the occasional academic non-fiction, I do not read newly-published books: I tend to prefer my authors long cold into the ground. A few tomes on the perennial “Japan Experience” managed to escape this rule over the past decade, but even that came to an end quickly: only so many times you can read lurid first-person recounts of Roppongi debauchery1, to say nothing of these self-annointed experts on Japanese society who think their two years teaching their sub-par English to bored housewives and excitable twenty-year olds with a Western fetish make them the new Levi-Strauss of the orient.

Yet not only did I read Hi, my name is Loco and I am a racist, but I purchased it as one of them newfangled “e-book” thing the kids are all about. And I hate reading more than a dozen paragraphs on any support other than dead trees (freshly-tanned baby seal leather parchment will do, in a pinch). Fuck your iPad: if I wanted text to glow at me, I’d read my books over a 300W lightbulb. Now get off my lawn you damn kids.

  1. I worked there, I was there (and sober) when you “pulled that hot Japanese sex-kitten” and we both know she was 40, looked 60, probably a dude and her face covered in enough rice powder to make a dozen mochis. []

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

No particular reason, just felt in a Rand-bashing mood tonight.

As a hobbyist translator and someone with a general interest in languages, I always enjoy a good mistranslation roundup. Not just nitpicking on what idiom best conveys some tricky expression in another language, but plain outright mistranslations (French faux amis, for example).

Translators working on closely related language pairs such as French and English (as opposed to more distant ones, like Japanese and English) have a tendency to be writers first, translators second. Their actual mastery of the source language is sometimes surprisingly low, but (for good or bad reasons) editors seem to think that the quality of their written production in the target language can make up for their weakness. This is an especially common occurrence in English to French translations, where French speakers barely English-fluent have been known to translate major English literary works (not a new practice either: Baudelaire‘s famous translation of Edgar Allan Poe, while delightfully written, is so incredibly riddled with errors that it could be a new work in its own right).

The smug pleasure of pointing out errors in the work of so-called professional translators can only be beat by one thing: the even smugger pleasure of pointing out errors in said corrections…

In a recent Guardian article, Germaine Greer plays on a rather trite cultural tropism: “Why do people gush over Proust? I’d rather visit a demented relative“.

Yes, we get it: Proust’s writing is long, convoluted and not exactly packed with action. I am far from his greatest fan and would not even put him in my personal top ten of French authors, but criticising his style on length and paragraph count is about as subtle as calling Picasso’s paintings a bunch of kid scribbles by a guy who couldn’t draw a normal face.

The translation comment, however, is what grabbed my attention. Ms Greer chose to illustrate the poor quality of Proust’s English translations with a sentence drawn from the fifth volume (La Prisonnière, aka The Captive):

Pros and cons of loading a 120-ft scroll of tracing paper into my typewriter and going on a frenzied 48h non-stop benzedrine-fueled Masters thesis writing session:

Pros:

  1. It worked for Jack Kerouac.
  2. I’d be done 3 days earlier: more time to edit and correct typos.
  3. I’d be done 3 days earlier: more time to spend drunk in some seedy Golden Gai bar.

Cons:

  1. Actually, it took him three weeks to write it. I don’t have three weeks.
  2. Sleep deprivation-induced typos probably likely to include: entire paragraphs written in Urdu, random obscene expletives, obscure references to isomorphic transformations in alternate planes of reality…
  3. Comparability of Beat literature masterpiece with Natural Language Processing project involving Machine Learning parsing of Rhetorical Structure Trees: dubious.

It’s a toss, really…