Impossible Contrast!

May 16, 2008

Though it is a truism, it is nonetheless true that the simplest expression’s in a language are often the most untranslatable. The German lassen sich doesn’t easily bend to your will, nor, for that matter, does anything in the French language. This is because French is the language of truth and English can not hope to contain it’s brilliant post-structuralist neologisms. But, I digress, and in the interest of general bonhomie, I will restrict myself to speaking about a language near and dear to all of us: Yiddish. The reason languages are often so hard to translate is because they’re entire systems of understanding, and while the words may be carried over from one language to another, the words do not mean the same things in the same system. Take for example: lehavdl. The word is derived from Hebrew and literally means “to separate.” The word is used every week in the prayer that ends Sabbath, “l’havdil ben qodesh v’khol,” meaning: to separate between sacred and profane. Two things that want nothing to do with each other or a “binary” if you’re so inclined. From this, the word gains an attributive meaning of, roughly, “these two things have nothing to do with each-other,” or, “don’t get me wrong! I’m really not equating these things!” So Weinreich’s dictionary gives the example sentence, “a mentsh un lehavdl a malpe”: ” a man and an ape.” (For a much better discussion of this word see this mendele discussion.) I’ve never really seen a good one word translation, but the best two word translation I’ve come across is “–impossible contrast!–”

So it is that today I want to make an impossible contrast of my own between Chad Pugh’s “Science Machine” and “There Will Be Blood.”

“Science Machine” has a very unique production history. Here’s how gizmodo puts it:

“Over several months, one artist put roughly 40 hours of Illustrator drawing work into a piece called “Science Machine.” And over that time, he had his computer screencap the project every five seconds.” So, we’re basically watching one person drawing in illustrator as he’s illustrating different parts of the project. There doesn’t appear to be much of a narrative at all. The video is simply random elements being drawn and added into the image one at a time. Nor is there much of an anti-narrative.

And yet the video coheres into a wonderful whole. Time passes and the image develops, taking on fantastic proportions. The world forms. It’s almost like the world Paul Thomas Anderson built before our eyes in “There Will Be Blood,” almost like the way Anderson had that machinery rise up out of the earth. The music is almost like Greenwood’s score. Pulsing. Slightly Haunting. Then again, it also sounds like the music from “Top Chef.” “Science Machine,” as much as it is a story about one person slaving away and becoming absorbed and mastered by a technology he wants to master, is very similar to “There Will Be Blood” and its tales of obsession.

Then again, this is an impossible contrast, and the two really have nothing to do with each other.


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2 Responses to “Impossible Contrast!”

  1. rokhl Says:

    I’ve also seen ‘pardon the proximity’ for l’havdil. I don’t think it’s necessarily good… but good for when I want to do my imitation of a crusty old Yiddish speaking man with a PhD in English literature. You know the type.

  2. dailysalad Says:

    “Pardon the proximity” is kind of brilliant, although I’m not sure how it would work in literary translations. I can’t really picture one of Grade’s protagonists using such an idiom, nor can I imagine it going over well in Yehupetz. Maybe it would work well in translating Moshe Nadir or, pardon the proximity, Reb Nahman?


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