Sunday, October 04, 2009

Well done, Ireland!

Buíochas le Dia! Common sense has finally prevailed in the Republic of Ireland as the populace voted on Friday to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. I'm interested by Brian Lenihan's comments that what he calls "junk politics" (a wonderful, apt term) was coming from the far left rather from the far right.

It's intriguing how opposition to "Europe" is not necessarily a party-political matter but can manifest itself in all political corners. For instance, here in Finland, again, confusingly and somewhat nonsensically, it is the parties of the left that most vocally object to the Treaty, whereas in the UK, euroscepticism is almost exclusively part of the far-right agenda (espoused by the Tories, the odious UKIP and the even more odious BNP), while it is the Labour party that has tirelessly tried to ratify the Treaty and integrate us with the rest of Europe – which is, after all, our rightful place.

Out of a glorious sense of schadenfreude, I would have loved to have seen the looks on the faces of Cameron and his disciples as exit polls began appearing in Ireland. This article in the Guardian gives us a fairly good indication of what that look might have been. Poor Dave... Left with the prospect of becoming PM but not actually being able to do anything about the Treaty. Not only that, he's now faced with the dilemma of whether to hold a referendum on the Treaty after is has already become law. What a ridiculous idea, not to mention an utterly pointless endeavour.

It goes without saying that certain loony elements [certain...?] on the far-right of the Tory party are calling for a referendum even if the Treaty has passed. I suppose they have to do this so as not to lose face. They erroneously claim that a No vote in such a referendum would "rule the Lisbon treaty null and void in the UK and withdraw us from its provisions". This demonstrates how little they understand of the ratification process and, not surprisingly, the contempt in which they hold European law. But what if Cameron doesn't hold the long-promised referendum, fruitless though such a thing will now inevitably be? Won't he be accused of going back on his promise, of denying the British people their say? I dare say it won't go unnoticed that these are the same accusations he has been throwing at Gordon Brown since the day he took office. A tricky situation indeed... Poor Dave. Let's just hope it does put a damper on the conference, eh? At least the presence of all his new Eastern European bedfellows should cheer him up. They sound like jolly nice fellows to me.

Cameron is also facing controversy over the presence at the party conference of controversial MEPs Michal Kaminski, the Polish leader of the new Conservative group in the European parliament, and another member of the group, Roberts Zile from Latvia, who are both accused of having far-right links.

Last night it emerged that another of Cameron's European allies had been accused of holding extreme views after backing anti-gay legislation in Lithuania. Valdemar Tomasevski, an MEP and a member of the Tories' European coalition, voted for a Lithuanian law on 16 June that bans discussion of homosexuality, not only in schools but in any forum open to young people.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Last 12 Months: An Abridged Version

Hello… It’s exactly a year since the last time I posted on The Late Review, giving new heights to the word ‘late’. The reasons for this hiatus are long and various, but suffice it to say that plenty has happened in the intervening 365 days. A few of the highlights:

• On the work front, last summer I translated a very long book about the history of Raseborg (which was the primary reason I stopped blogging for a while). This 270-page epic managed to eat up most of my time until the middle of September.

• My translation of Matti Yrjänä Joensuu’s To Steal Her Love was finally published by Arcadia Books. A number of good reviews appeared, including this one in the Independent.

• In November I started working for the quarterly magazine Welcome to Finland, translating articles and correcting the (often extremely bad and funny) English of others. This job seemed to take over my life every time an issue came around (160pp each), so you can imagine I wasn’t exactly devastated when the editor informed me that they were letting me go because they’d found someone who would translate it cheaper! Apparently that’s the way people conduct their business in the cutthroat world of Finnish journalism…

• The up-shot of all this – and of being turned down for an artist’s grant by the Finnish Cultural Foundation – means still having to eke out an existence until something more interesting comes along… Oh well.

By virtue of my own sheer laziness, the renovations to my bedroom have taken over five months. The house has been in chaos and I’m still sleeping in the living room. All that remains is to give one wall a final coat of paint and to affix the skirting boards, then we’re done. Photographs will follow shortly.

On the artistic side of things, singing has rather taken over my life. In August I joined the Incanto Vocal Ensemble, conducted by my good friend Jukka Jokitalo – meaning more rehearsals and less time for blogging! I have continued taking lessons with the wonderful Kirsi Telaranta and since Christmas have been concentrating, as far as my solo voice is concerned, on developing my countertenor.

In February, American tenor Charles Kamm – who was visiting Finland for six months and, among other things, sang with and conducted Incanto – and I sang Purcell’s marvellous countertenor duet ‘Sound the Trumpet’ (performed here by countertenor Alfred Deller and his son Mark). Spurred on by this, we decided to have a go at Britten’s ‘Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac’. This culminated in a concert far more ambitious than either of us had imagined. In association with the Metsoforte Choir, we and the enormously talented pianist Timo Latonen put on, in May, a concert with the following programme:

• Britten: ‘I know a bank’ (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
• Tippett: Songs for Ariel
• Barber: Hermit Songs
• Britten: Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac

In July my composition Resonance for violin, strings and horns (composed last autumn, yet another reason for not blogging…) was performed at the Brinkhall soi festival by my friends from the Refugium Musicum Chamber Orchestra, and I performed an aria from Handel’s Messiah at a Sunday service in Turku Cathedral – a wonderful experience. Imagine my delight when, later that day, a woman stopped me in Stockmann’s in Turku to ask me whether it was me that had sung at the cathedral that morning! Rest assured, there will be plenty of posts about singing in the coming months.

And, not to disappoint, there will be lots of posts about politics, Finnish, British, American and otherwise. There’s certainly plenty to comment upon, what with the deplorable results of the European elections in June; the rise of the fascist Perussuomalaiset and the charges for incitement against their ‘intellectual’ henchman Jussi Halla-aho – now relieved of his duties; the Kokoomus turning a blind eye to the racist comments of their own candidates in the lead-up to the elections; the exit of the British Conservative Party from the EPP to join ranks with homophobes, racists and climate-change deniers across Europe and the looming return to neo-Thatcherist misery in Britain; the attempts to impose creationism, via the Trojan horse that is ‘intelligent design’, on pupils in certain US states; the assault of the far right on all that is good about the Obama administration; and so on (and so on).

So, apologies for the inordinate wait. I hereby promise to keep any faithful readers I may still have regularly up-to-date with any thoughts that pop into my head and seem worth sharing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

People of improbable hope

Nothing I can say could possibly make this any more inspirational. All rise.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Word Splash!

Thanks to Sean at Alone and Unobserved for the link to Wordle, a programme that creates 'word clouds' from any website. I put in the link to The Late Review and this is what it came up with:

The programme highlights words according to frequency. Interesting that the words 'Kokoomus' and 'homophobia' are right next to one another – and I didn't even put them there! And as for Kanerva, well, I'm easily provoked.

PS: Sean I'm not sure how to make the image appear larger; can you help? Thanks!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Translated Fiction at BookTrust's New Site

Over at translation blog Brave New Words I found a link to BookTrust's new website dedicated to translated fiction and thought I'd link to it here too. The site is a valuable addition to a small field, and certainly worth a look for anyone interested in literature in translation.

For years, BookTrust has been an outstanding exponent of translated fiction, regularly reviewing new titles and giving translated fiction the kind of publicity it is hard even for publishers to provide. Now it seems they have decided to concentrate their efforts on one website, so as to have everything under one roof, as it were.

The site contains articles by publishers, writers and translators alike, reviews of new works in translation and introductions to forthcoming titles. I was pleased to note that, though it – disappointingly – didn't make the shortlist Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008, my translation of Maria Peura's At the Edge of Light did however make it to BookTrust's Recommended Titles section. The review isn't bad, either.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian summer of love?

Further to my post the other day about the plight of LGBT organisations in Latvia, there was an article in today's Guardian about the first Pride parade in Delhi. Indian marchers were allowed to hold a parade, and judging by the short video clip at the link above there seemed to be quite a lot of participants. This, despite the fact that an 1861 law criminalises what it refers to as "carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal". Whatever that means...

At the end of the article is a brief rundown of other Pride marches which took place across the world last week. Latvia isn't mentioned; I wonder how they got on.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cowardice vs Bravery

I was shocked to read earlier in the week about the Heinz mayonnaise advert which the company has taken off screens after around 200 complaints about obscenity. The advert, which features two men kissing, was called 'obscene' and 'inappropriate'. Many also complained saying that the advert was detrimental to children and would put parents in the awkward position of having to explain to their children that same-sex couples exist.

An online petition has been set up asking Heinz to reinstate the advert and not to give in to bigotry. So far over 9000 people have signed the petition – far more than the two hundred or so who complained about the original advert. We're no longer living in the 19th century. I can't see how people find this brief kiss offensive. It's not as if they started rimming each other on the kitchen table (cf. Queer as Folk episode 1, about twenty minutes in).

The issue of parenthood amongst same-sex couples came up again last night in two films shown as part of the Helsinki Pride 2008 (going on this week). The first was a documentary Tuplaisät ('Double Dads') focussed on a gay couple in Helsinki who have two foster children and who are now trying to have one biological child each. How refreshing to see a documentary about 'normal' people going about their lives. The film gave a fascinating look at what life with two dads must be like. I found the following anecdote particularly endearing: the two older children were arguing and calling each other gay, when one of the fathers walks in and says, 'That's enough! If anyone's gay round here, it's me.'

The next film, another documentary called The Marching Season, focussed on the differences between Pride marches in London and Riga in 2007. Gay rights hasn't been a political issue in the UK for years; young gay men in particular don't seem very interested in the politics of the movement, nor of the struggles that went on through the 70s and 80s. It was heart-warming to see the brave young members of Mozaīka, the Latvian LGBT rights organisation, determinedly planning their Pride march despite widespread hostility – a counter parade entitled NoPride was to be held at an adjacent park; the event attracted thousands of people who flocked to sign petitions against the Pride march. At the 2006 march, Mozaīka members were pelted with stones and excrement. How brave they are to carry on their work, regardless of the fact that their lives are constantly at risk.

We've come a long way in the last forty years. Equality has increased in many areas of life and gay people don't need to feel threatened in the street. This is largely because, in most western countries, it has become wholly unacceptable to hold such flagrantly homophobic opinions. Sadly, this is not the case in Latvia, where it seems that the neo-Nazi activities of NoPride and other homophobic factions are not universally frowned upon. Mozaīka has the right to hold a march, but the police cannot guarantee participants' personal safety.

In Britain, such attitudes would be, in the words the Heinz complainants, 'offensive and inappropriate'. This is why, although the Heinz debacle is a million miles from the problems in Latvia, the advertisement must be reinstated. Homophobic attitudes are to be condemned unequivocally. After all that people have fought for, it is absurd that something as trivial as two men sharing a kiss can cause such great offence. Reinstating the advert will be a powerful signal that such bigotry will not be tolerated. As things are now, the removal of the advert has caused far more offence than the kiss itself. Heinz: do the right thing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Finnish Eton Boys

Let me return, for a moment, to one of my favourite subjects: rife corruption in the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus). Clearly, the dismissal of Ilkka Kanerva, the lecherous former foreign minister, is only the beginning of a long process of ridding the country these people...

Kokoomus MPs clearly hold the general public in contempt if they really think we're so gullible that nobody will notice that there's a connection between who donated money to their (widely derided) "retro" election campaign, and the people who are now up for top jobs and promotions. This is the Finnish equivalent of the "cash for peerages" scandal in the UK and let's hope it exposes them for what they are: a bunch of self-sufficient, back-slapping Eton boys (if such a thing could exist in Finland). Speaking of which, don't even get me started on Boris Johnson. His election defies belief.

For those with Finnish, here's an eye-opening article from Uutislehti 100 on 21.5.2008:

Tää on ihan kakkosesta (Ville Soininen, Uutislehti 100, 21.5.2008)

Iltalehti kertoi eilen, että poliitikot hakevat vaalirahoituskohun keksipisteessä olevalle Tokmanni Oy:n konserninjohtajalle Kyösti Kakkoselle vuorineuvoksen arvonimeä. Asialla on muum muassa kokoomuksen Sauli Niinistö, Jyri Häkämies, Marja Tiura ja Ilkka Kanerva ja keskustan Paula Lehtomäki sekä Hannes Manninen, jotka kaikki sivat tukea Kakkosen ja Toivo Sukarin avokätisesti rahoittamalta vaalirahayhdistykseltä.

Kakkonen luonnehti vaalirahoituksen ja vuorineuvoksen tittelin yhdistämistä eilen Iltalehe nettisivuilla "kananaivojournalismiksi ja julkeaksi vihjailuksi", mutta minusta on hienoa, että talvisodan henki elää edelleen suomalaisissa poliitikoissa. Ei kaveria silloinkaan jätetty. Tosin nykymuodossa talvisodan meininki menisi seuraavasti: "Paljonkos maksat, että kannan sut takaisin omille linjoille, kun näyttää tuo vasen koipesi irronneen."

[...] Suomi on toistuvasti arvioitu maailman vähiten korruptoituneeksi maaksi, eikä tavisten välillä rahalahjuksia annetakaan. Kuitenkin vuosi vuodelta suurempi osa hyvinkin erilaisissa ammateissa työskentelevistä tuttavistani on saanut töitä suhteilla. Olennaisinta ei enää pitkään ole ollut se, mitä osaat, vaan kenet tunnet. Hyvä veli - ja yhä useammin myös hyvä sisar -verkostot elävät ja voivat hyvin, mutta onko se korruptiota tai modernia nepotismia? Nämä käsitteet tuntuvat usein hämärtyvän, kun ne osuvat omalle kohdalle.

Friday, May 09, 2008

"we live / the opposite / daring"

A strange news item came to my attention last week: on 1st May, the BBC ran a story about a motion in the Greek parliament to restrict the use of the word 'lesbian' to natives of the Greek island, Lesbos. The modern meaning of the word stems, of course, from the fact that Sappho, who wrote extensively about her love of women, was herself a native of the island. The title of this post is from Sappho's fragment 24C, translated by Anne Carson. In the original: ζ]ώο[μεν ... ]εναντ[ ... τ]όλμαν[

The parliamentary motion sounds far-fetched, to say the least. The Guardian offers a more detailed insight into Lesbian and lesbian life on the island. From these snippets of interviews with the natives, the problems stem largely from Greek tourists from the mainland, while the islanders themselves largely welcome lesbian tourists with open arms. I particularly liked the comment: "So long as they leave our women alone, they are welcome".

In the extremely unlikely event that this act passes through the Greek parliament (it would make them a laughing stock), it's hard to imagine its having any effect on the international use of the word. Languages develop as they will, and it's impossible to rein them in after the fact. Not to mention the fact that, around the world, people who identify themselves as lesbians significantly outnumber the inhabitants of the island.

Besides, this isn't the first time the Greeks have given us a synonym for the unmentionable. In the 19th century, the term 'uranian' was a common euphemism for all manner of sexual deviances, and derives from the word 'Uranus' / Οὐρανός (with its highly unfortunate English pronunciation). According to one version of the story, Aphrodite was born of Uranus (a birth in which "the female has no part") and later came to be associated with "a noble love for male youths". The word 'dyke' is also of Greek origin, and comes from Dika / Δίκα, one of Sappho's most favoured pupils. And if I remember correctly, Forster's Maurice (and, doubtless, Hall's The Well of Loneliness, too) also makes mention of the fact that the characters are "like the Greeks". Hmmm... By all accounts, they've been getting up to all sorts for over two millennia!

To finish with, I loved this comment from one of the women interviewed in the Guardian:
"Thank God Sappho was born on Lesbos, not Rhodes," says Sandra, on holiday from Leeds with a group of friends to celebrate her 60th birthday. "Or we would be stuck being known as Rhodesians."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

European Fantasy in Paperback

In 2005 I translated an extensive anthology of Finnish fantasy literature, edited by Johanna Sinisalo, one of the the foremost SF writers in Finland. Some time later I was approached by Sinisalo to translate another of her short stories for an American anthology, the SFWA European Hall of Fame (2007), which features "sixteen contemporary masterpieces of science fiction from the continent". Edited by James and Kathryn Morrow, the anthology gives an overview of contemporary European fantasy writing, presenting it as both similar and distinct from the North American tradition of SF writing (Gaiman et al.) James Morrow's opening essay, 'Extrapolations of Things Past: A Barbarously Brief Account of European Science from Micromégas to Microchips', is informed and insightful, and serves as an excellent introduction to the collection.

The SFWA European Hall of Fame has recently been released in paperback, and in honour of this a video has been posted on YouTube (link below), featuring an interview with the editors about the process of putting the book together and with one of the authors on his feelings about having his work translated.

It's always fascinating listening to people – authors, translators, editors – talk about how they view the translation process. It's clear that most authors welcome the opportunity to have their works translated by professional native speakers (a certain Finnish playwright notwithstanding). However, working with editors, who are outside the initial creative process due to not speaking the source language, can be problematic, as their priority is the translation, while the role of the original is often seen as secondary. Not so with this collection.

As they point out in the interview, rather than normativise the text for an American readership, the Morrows actively encouraged all translators to retain as much of the feel of the original as possible. That being said, adherence to the original versus normativisation is always subject to the context and topos of the text; it is impossible to suggest that a given solution is necessarily desirable in every instance (as a certain Finnish playwright seems incapable of understanding). In the case of Sinisalo's 'Baby Doll' (the text featured in this collection), we all agreed that the language needed to be as accessible to an American readership as possible. After all, the subject matter – the over-sexualisation of pre-teenagers – is by no means a specifically Finnish problem.

This translation process differed considerably from previous ones in that, for the first time, I was working for an American publisher. I speak and translate into British English, so the Morrows agreed to Americanise my initial translation. This was an eye-opening experience; I realised that, though I have no difficulty understanding American English, the differences between our two variants of the language run far deeper than that we say "tomahto", they say "tomayto".

Thankfully, there was no need to call the whole thing off – I had to get that in somehow! It was like going through an additional level of editing. The Morrows sent me a revised version of the text, I then went through it and said whether they had strayed too far from the Finnish, or whether a certain phrase might better suit the feel of the original, until we reached a version all parties were happy with. There was much to think about: apart from vocabulary, word order and syntax is often markedly different; verb declension differs; people swear differently...

Actually having to engage with this on a textual level made me understand the full extent of the chasm between our modes of expression. Just as non-natives cannot translate into a target language that is not their native language, I will never be able to translate into American English, as I'll always need a native speaker to go through the text for me, and vice versa. Of course, real translators, being humble people, will be the first to acknowledge this; we have the conviction to know when we are right, but we also know where our expertise comes to an end. It is depressing that, in my experience, non-native translators have such an aggrandised image of their own abilities that they lack a default setting that says, "Sorry, I'm not qualified to translate that". What a shame that a certain Finnish playwright also falls into that category...