marcel barang

Blog fallout

In English, Reading matters on 28/06/2011 at 10:08 pm

The new bilingual blog has registered more than three thousand visits in twelve days and the expected decrease in interest has yet to take place: visits average 200 per day lately. (The decrease seems to have taken place on this here blog instead, sniff, perhaps because I haven’t posted often in the last week or everyone has gone to the beach.)
Most visitors are drawn from the Manager website and the ad placed there. Imagine what a similar ad in the Bangkok Post or The Nation websites would generate…
The blog has nine ‘active subscribers’ so far (this one, 32). And the six comments registered – three written in English, three in Thai, but all but one coming from Thais – are highly positive, which flatters and disappoints in equal measure: I’m glad people like it enough to say so and ask for permission to reprint as two Thai readers have done, but I’d rather hear from sceptics or censors who question my translation or ask for clarifications.
But then I’m aware that I’ve placed myself in the uncomfortable position of a pedagogue in the field of translation which, in this country, implies total immunity from criticism. Already too many people have been calling me A-jarn (Professor), which I secretly resent because I started in life as a teacher and hated every minute of it: remembrance of blues past.

One development I find pleasing, though, is that new readers who are also writers are beginning to send me their stories to assess, whether or not I decide to translate them – a trend I hope will gather momentum. Please pass the word around.

With the death of Chor Karrakeit, that cornucopia of decent to great fiction, the dubious quality of stories carried in Ra-hoo Om Jan (Lunar eclipse), and Writer magazine yet to be reborn, it’s difficult to keep abreast of current production, spread out over many media; and besides, what I need most are digital versions no one has to retype for me. Sure, I’ve pilfered perhaps fifty Thai short stories a few magazines make available on the net but … I have yet to read them. As I also must a backlog of printed stories from the above-mentioned literary magazines and some collections of short stories I purchase independently or receive through the mail.

Only yesterday a writer on whom I know nothing, whose pen name is Theera Theerasathian, emailed me two of his short stories, formerly published in Netchan Sut Sapda (Weekend Nation). I managed to find time to read them and to explain to him why, despite their merits, I couldn’t consider translating them: one is about a ‘farang monk’, a straightforward panegyric couched in thickly layered Buddhist language which seems to revolve around a poor joke he makes about ‘farang’ as foreigner, as guava (‘farang’) and as potato (‘man farang’); the other is of an entirely different style: entitled ‘Power over the Ra-man canal waters’, it’s OK Corral in the Thai boondocks where – let’s see: จาร เจ้าท่า – เชียง เจ้าท่า – ปั้นหยาเบิกไพร – คุรุแห่งเบิกไพร | คุรุเบิกไพร – เอก ท่าน้อย – ไอ้กลอย – ไอ้เอก – ไอ้หน้าบาก – อั่ง ท่าข้าว |เจ้าพ่อท่าข้าว – ลูกตาขีด – almost a dozen characters with folksy names as single characterisation blithely kill each other in occult power plays over less than three thousand words.
I do hope the author doesn’t take my criticism as a personal affront – a risk I take at all times given that I must read ten to twenty stories before I find one I like enough to translate.

One who hasn’t is Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa.
Recently, he sent me his latest fiction, ‘Disordered utopia’, for me to assess. I was thrilled by it almost throughout and told him that I would consider translating it if he could convince me that Part 9 was essential to his ten-part story.
What pleased me very much was that he took the time to write the equivalent of one A4 page to explain what he was trying to say throughout (and a very ambitious and sophisticated endeavour it is) and how Part 9 fitted in the overall scheme of things.
You didn’t quite convince me, Khun Wiwat, but you know what?
Now that I’m through with Chatcharin Chaiwat’s ‘Boy’s reporter’ story on the sensitive topic of transsexuals, which by the way isn’t as bad as I read it first and, once fine-tuned, which took me an inordinate amount of time, reads very well in English, I’ve started translating ‘Disordered utopia’.


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