Winter = winter, or: Out of Whack and out of Step

Winter: birds sailing in the winter air. Not sure how they make it through the frost nights, but there they are. Wind in the trees, sounding like waves, like a tide of time, coming and going. Single brown leaves falling while the first white buds start to form. This circle of life, of seasons. Of spring summer fall winter.

Winter. It is one of the few words that stay the same in German and English: the winter. der Winter.

It was this tiny thought that brought back the memory of something I once wrote, a reflection on language and words, on translations and synonyms:

Out of whack and out of step

A reflection on translations and synonyms

“For there is only one great adventure and that is inward toward the self, and for that, time nor space nor even deeds matter” — it was this pick-up line of Henry Miller that made me fall for his novel “tropic of Capricorn” in one single sentence.

I borrowed the German version of Miller’s book here in the library in Stuttgart last month, but thought twice about it in the middle of the second chapter and amazoned the English version, which was the right decision. It’s not that the German translation was not worthwhile, it’s just that the original version is so much more of the real thing, it has a different flow, it has a different breathing.

Like this sentence for example: “at least I knew that I was unhappy, unwealthy, out of whack and out of step” is what Miller had written, a line that still could be written today, eventually even could be rapped from a stage. What unfortunately can’t be said for the germanised line: “ich wusste wenigstens dass ich ungluecklich und arm war und nicht aus der Reihe tanzte.” Which rather sounds like a bleak cover version performed by someone who had never been on those ragged roads himself, and translates back into: “at least I knew that I was unhappy and poor and did not step out of the line.”

Which isn’t exactly what Miller had said. But then just going ahead and doing it the babelfish way, translating a sentence word by word and just leaving the original words when in doubt which synonym to pick is not the most elegant of ways either. And probably it’s in fact true what some say, that some things just can’t be translated and that you never know which words the author would have chosen himself if he had written the text in a different language, especially as every language comes with another set of words, with another world of expressions and intonations. Maybe this fact would have even lead to a completely different story altogether, one that starts at the same point in the same setting but follows another chain of thoughts, another line of images, brought upon by this other set of words. And probably it is exactly this difference in cultures that leads to the effect that texts, when they get translated, also get transformed.

And isn’t it a bewildering thought that a huge part of the books that are piled in the bookshops are just that: transformed translations. That they originally had been written in another language, and therefore during the process of translating lost some of their texture, some of their mood, some of their meaning. That they might even have lost something essential, some parts of their personality, some spaces between their lines, some of the wide horizons they unfolded. Some of their identity. Some of their reality. Which basically is what good books are: alternative identities put in words, distant realities wrapped in paper. That is were the attraction of a pile of books comes from, or the joy of walking through a library. It is like standing on the edge of the world, ready to leap into the oceans of other spheres.

Really, there should be another word for that, one that is stronger than “to read”. Maybe “to word travel”. But there isn’t. Even so there are 37 synonyms for “to read” in English, going all the way from a to v: apprehend, comprehend, construe, construe, decipher, dip into, discover, explain, expound, express, flip through, gather, glance, go over, go through, interpret, know, leaf through, learn, make out, paraphrase, perceive, peruse, peruse, pore over, put, refer to, render, restate, scan, see, skim, study, translate, understand, unravel and view.

Maybe there are is another word for “to read” in another languages that has more of that feeling inside, just like there should be another word for the “adventure that is inward toward the self.” And maybe in some ways these two thoughts might even be expressed by the very same word.

“Out of step and out of whack” was first published in the magazine IdentityTheory. Hope you enjoyed the read! Viele Grüße aus Deutschland / Greetings from Germany ~ Dorothee

→ I’m into roads, stories, places, crossings, and all the things they lead and connect to. Read more at my blog life as a journey, or visit some of my stories/multimedia works.