Since I wrotePart 2, I’ve figured out one reason ‘reading voice’ is so hard to follow. Ordinary speech has either a consistent volume/energy level, or elevated volume/energy on the most important words. Raising the volume/energy for certain words is like using boldface. Making the volume/energy highest at the beginning of the sentence and tapering off towards the end tells the listener that the beginning is especially important, and the end is unimportant. If the first words are not actually the most important, it throws off the listener. It’s like putting the first three words, and only the first three words, in boldface. Would you want to read a long text like this?
High-quality machine voices are easier for me to follow than professional audiobook narrators. Why? They don’t form a personal connection with the text. They don’t form a personal connection with anything.
I’ve debated with myself writing about this for over a year.
Finally, I’m doing it. Maybe this post is terrible, but at this point writing something bad is better than asking myself month after month whether or not to write about this. That I can’t get the idea of writing this out of my mind is a strong hint that I need to write this.
I considered keeping this private and only writing to certain people (I have already discussed this privately in a very limited way). But then I’d have to choose who to contact and who not to contact. What if someone would benefit from this and not be one of my contacts? So this is public.
I haven’t left the City and County of San Francisco since February 2020. I haven’t been to anywhere other than San Francisco or Alameda County since October 2019. 47 square miles / 121 square kilometers has been the limit of my physical world.
How do I feel? Surprisingly, I feel fine.
As soon as pandemic restrictions became serious, people complained about cabin fever and how much they want to ‘get out’ and travel far from home. Even now, over a year later, I… still don’t relate.
My life is such that I rarely have an ‘essential’ reason to leave city limits. Among people in my physical social circle, I’m unusual in not having crossed city limits at all since the first stay-at-home order. Many people I know have essential reasons to cross city limits, but I also get the sense that they are surprised by how seriously I’ve taken the ‘no nonessential travel’ thing.
I’ve been lucky to have already done quite a bit of travel in my life, and even before the pandemic, I felt I was getting diminishing returns from additional travel. For me, personally, staying in San Francisco city limits for over a year wasn’t bad.
Reading Indistractable by Nir Eyal gave me a whole slew of reactions.
I never owned a smartphone. Therefore, I know firsthand that I can get distracted all over the place without a mobile device. Even in the most boring place in the universe, I’ll distract myself with daydreams. I only feel bored when I’m compelled to do something tedious which doesn’t allow me to daydream.
“Smartphones are a BANE PLAGUING SOCIETY, oh no the kids” articles leave me nonplussed because, from the outside, smartphones don’t seem that powerful. When these articles are written by tech insiders, I assume they want to exaggerate their own influence. They’d rather believe they are ruining the world than believe that they don’t matter. Seeing someone as well-informed as Nir Eyal confirm with research that “OH NO SMARTPHONES RUIN HUMANITY” articles are overblown or even outright wrong is refreshing.
The purpose of fiction genres is to help readers to find the stories they want. For example, I like space operas more than murder mysteries. When I’m given a choice between a space opera and a murder mystery, I will choose the space opera without hesitation. If a story is both a murder mystery and a space opera, such as Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold, um, maybe. But if the ‘space opera’ turns out to be a murder mystery set in Virginia in 1965, I’m going to be pissed.
Fictional genres have expectations that are well known to their readers, such as the ‘central love story’ and ‘happily ever after/happily for now’ criteria for ‘romance’ stories. If a ‘romance’ story has a tragic ending, and it’s not a subgenre like ‘tragic romance,’ readers will feel cheated. By contrast, a ‘soap opera’ can put a romantic relationship at the center of the story without an expectation of a happy ending. The key genre expectation of ‘memoirs’ is that the story is true, the key genre expectation of political satire is that it will make fun of politics in a dry way, etc.
Back when this blog started talking about wuxia, the term ‘wuxia’ was pretty much only used by English speakers who had some familiarity with the wuxia classics and thus at least a vague sense of the genre expectations. In intervening years, the term ‘wuxia’ has sprouted among English-speakers in a bad game of telephone where the original understanding of the genre has been garbled.
“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told me when we met near her home in Leiden. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”
There, Janice Deul said that she does not have a general problem with white people translating black people’s works. She just thinks that this is an exceptional case.
While researching these blog posts, I found hundreds of comments about how horrible it is to claim that a white person can never translate a black person’s works, yet I found no one arguing that white people should never translate black people’s works. All of those arguments against having white people translate black people’s work (including editorials in respectable newspapers) are fighting a straw man. Meanwhile, I rarely find anyone arguing against Deul’s actual position: that this poem/poet is a special case. Making a good faith argument that even in this case the race of the translator should not matter is possible, especially if the poet herself takes that position. Yet those arguments are far less common than outrage over ‘a translator was forced to quit because bad people on social media will never let a white person translate a black person’ (never mind that the translator was not forced).
Good faith arguments like that would be boring. Provocative statements such as ‘ZOMYGOSH THE WOKE PEOPLE WANT TO CANCEL WHITE TRANSLATORS!!!!’ are more exciting.
On a podcast, I heard a translator talk about translating from a ‘post-colonialist/de-colonised’ stance. He said:
To readers who question whether that sort of thing is important… well, it actually is. As folks probably remember, it’s a big deal when Homer is translated for the first time by a woman translator into English… it’s a big deal, because depending on the political approach, and the stance as an interpreter which the translator brings to the text, lots of things which seem to be unquestionable or assumed to be true – are changed.
You’re a woman who has read Homer in Ancient Greek. Surely this makes you feel included?
Ten years ago, if you had asked, “Will you still be into wuxia ten years from now?” I would have blanked at trying to imagine anything about myself ten years in the future said “probably not.”
Nowadays my taste for wuxia has expanded into a taste for xuanhuan and other Chinese-themed fantasy (personally I don’t consider wuxia to be ‘fantasy’, but it’s a trivial hairsplitting of genre definitions, I will not argue with people who say that wuxia is a subset of ‘fantasy’). I don’t spend nearly as much time reading traditional wuxia as I did, say, eight years ago. Yet it’s still clear that, even today, I am much more excited about reading/watching wuxia/xuanhuan/etc. than European-inspired fantasy.
I don’t think there is One True Answer… but a partial answer is ‘I’m Jewish’. Or more precisely, ‘my specific experience of being Jewish, which is not necessarily the experience of other Jews.’ Continue reading →