I chose Catch-22 as my text to translate because it was a book that truly inspired me. Reading it for the first time made me physically want to do something, not only in literature, but in life in general. Originally I had chosen (or rather been given via a ‘lucky’ dip) a six hundred page opus about a hermaphrodite and loathed it, so it was a relief to be given a book to read of both style and substance, and it’s something I’m extremely thankful for.
My translations were a doctors note masquerading as a suicide note, and a recipe. Both were relatively simple and basic translations, but that was a key for me as I felt that the book itself was darkly complicated in itself, and I wanted to write something that was far away from the claustrophobic nature of the book. Whilst on first glance the two pieces may be seen as not as worthy, or as skilled as other more complex options for translations, I find that there is an innate beauty in the simplicity of certain writing styles, rather than adhering to more stringent policies.
The doctors note was based on the character of Doc. Daneeka, the squadron physician who hates everyone and everyone, except the books main protagonist Yoassarian. Daneeka goes through the book in a perpetual state of miserableness, save only for a brief personality change towards the end of the book. Part of the books abstract and absurd theme comes directly from his character, specifically his ‘death’ at the tail-end of the book. The death being ironic, due to him not actually being dead. With this information in mind, I sought to make the note darkly comic, yet with some genuine emotional credence, which Daneeka occasionally showed.
The opening maxim I used, “Someone once joked to me that I should fake my death to catch up on work”, was used to symbolise the comic nature of the book, and also the confusion at times. Literally faking your death to catch up on work would result in your life being in limbo, which is exactly what fate fell on Daneeka. His ‘work’ in this instance, was not being a doctor, or even a friend, but actually being human. In my translation, it takes death to make Daneeka realise that he’s actually somebody “still with a beating heart, still with a brain”, rather than the robot that the war, and life in general had made him.
Doing a doctors note seemed relevant considering Daneeka himself was in the health practise. To stop the translation from getting particularly dull, I decided to add the added intrigue of it also being a suicide note – but one that reads when the person is still alive, as Daneeka is. My repetition of the word ‘was’ symbolises the past, but repetition of questions, such as “why me?”, and “can you imagine that?”, are to show that despite the desperation and the anguish, Daneeka is actually stuck in a balance between life and death, and thus he cannot distinguish in his language what he should use. The indecision and the confusion are related to his angst in the book, wherein he blames everybody for his ill fortune except for himself – until he realises that perhaps he only has himself to blame. Hence he refrain of ‘why me’, turns into ‘why them’, a sign that his entire outlook on life has changed.
By using short sentences frequently, I intended to replicate the concise form of doctors reports, interspersed with longer and compound sentences to stop the piece from becoming too snappy. Exact and correct terminology and facts, such as “96.8 degrees”, are there to symbolise that he actually is a doctor, and whilst he is a broken up shell of a man, he (and indeed all of us), never quite lose the person we actually are, even in times of extreme hardship.
One of the more interesting aspects of Daneeka in the book, is his relationship with Yoassarion. It is essentially a one way friendship – Yoassarion offering a metaphorical shoulder to cry on, whereas Daneeka offers no sympathy to Yoassarions plight. The whole ideal of Catch-22 is first mentioned in the book by Daneeka when explaining why Yossarion and the rest of his crew cannot be excused from flight duty. Another irony here, in that what ‘killed’ Daneeka was apparently him being in a plane that crashed, which he had pretended he was in. In essence – he had killed himself.
Daneeka, like all the other major and peripheral characters in the book have their own chapters dedicated to them in the book. In this case it was chapter four for Daneeka, and thus I had a plethora of information that could be garnered from there. Part of the beauty of the book was that I was able to use my own imagination, as the book is deliberately obtuse at times, which enables the reader to put the pieces together as they see fit, rather than having everything spelt out for them. I tried to make the report a little bit spiritual and haunting. One man having a lonesome conversation with himself is one of the staples of classic literature – think Holden Caulfields constant monologues to himself in ‘The Catcher In The Rye’, to Hamlet’s constant malaise in Hamlet. Whilst I’m not comparing my work to any of the greats, I felt that there was comparisons to be made, and I took (perhaps too liberally) from those two, and others.
The recipe translation on the other hand, was perhaps a course too many, pun intended. I had struggled to come up with an idea for my second translation, which was always intended to support the Daneeka doctors report, rather than be the central point of my coursework. After discarding some frankly terrible ideas – the Chaplain doing a hip hop sermon for example, I settled on Milo, the insane mess hall officer come corrupt businessman writing a recipe explaining exactly how to become as successful, but ultimately soulless as he became.
Following the template of an internet recipe I pilfered on Rhubarb Crumble, I attempted to replicate the fruity undercurrent and golden topping usually found on the popular after dinner treat, but sadly ended up with a botched idea that never implemented itself properly. It could be said that I ended up with my just desserts.
I thought that the idea was sound, but I found myself struggling to give it substance due to the limitations found in a recipe. Whereas in the doctors note I had some room and scope to write fairly freely, I felt more chained writing the faux recipe. If the first translation had been a delicious mouth watering quiche, the latter turned out to be a stale digestive biscuit. Looking back, the shotgun approach I used on the recipe was inspired by my study of magnesium iron silicate hydroxide. Whilst science and English have never had the best of relationships, I found it fascinating that the metamorphic amphibole grew from humble beginnings into a decidedly ugly brute, rather like Milo.
I decided to induce some comedy into the proceedings, to get away from the rather earnest tone of the doctors report. Using Milo’s initially captivating but ultimately chilling catchphrase of ‘everybody gets a share’ as a starting point, I was able to weave that into the recipe, and it subsequently became the catalyst of it. Using a list enabled me to keep faith in the translation. With an end in sight I was able to follow it through. Although I struggled, I hope some semblance of fun came across, along with a slight eerie undertone of greed and ultimately, shattered dreams. I suppose the proof is in the pudding on that one.
Ultimately, looking back on both translations, I attempted to utilise my talents, rather than trying anything too experimental. All joking aside, I hope that I showed some signs of poise and understanding. Initially, during the struggle I was going to treat everything with jokes and basically be a miscreant about the entire thing, but as soon as I started writing the Daneeka report, I actually felt an emotional resonance with what I was doing, which is extremely rare for me and thus was doubly special. Despite having not used an abundance of techniques and traditional style, I wrote from the heart – and as long as I can stand up and be proud of myself, I can live with anything – even bad marks.