Translating in the Dark

I’m working on a project with Andreas (you may know him as “Nannus”) to translate Frege’s “On the Scientific Justification of a Concept Script,” which is funny since I don’t know much about Frege—close to nothing—and I don’t speak German. Nannus, however, is a native German speaker with a strong grasp of English and logic, so I thought my work would be a simple edit of what he’d already published on his blog. I believe I told him it would be nice to move away from the original German syntax to make the writing more accessible to English readers, and I thought it would take very little work since the article’s so short. Professional translators are probably laughing at me now.

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This has been an entirely new sort of writing project for me. Normally when I write, I craft sentences to approximate the idea I have sitting in my mind, and yet, this act lends the initial idea a distinctive clarity, tethering it in specificity. I can’t say I have no idea of what I’m gonna say before it becomes formulated into words, but the idea is usually cloudy, a mere outline. It’s not controversial to say that writing clarifies thoughts, but we don’t always like to acknowledge that it can uproot an initial idea by displaying, sometimes all-too-concretely, its incoherence. Thanks to the delete button I can contradict myself without embarrassing myself, I can change my mind in private so that by the time my idea comes across to an audience, it seems as though my thoughts have always been relatively clear, as if it were only a matter of putting them on paper. In seeing my ideas so concretely, almost objectively, I can revise them, altering them to make them more logical, qualifying them to soften their rough edges, tweaking them to make finer points that otherwise
wouldn’t be available to me. This is part of Frege’s point (as I understand him)—that “external signs” make more permanent what is otherwise transient, that thoughts would not be what we think they are without written language.

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A bit of doodling from high school which I found as I was cleaning out my mom’s house. I decided to photograph this bit and then throw away the journal. No regrets. I like the photo better than the original, especially that glare in the corner.

I found that this distinctive benefit of writing—the clearing out of cobwebs in one’s own mind—gets lost in translating, which instead forces words into what feels like a jigsaw puzzle, the emerging picture being some mysterious original content, the author’s intent, somehow graspable though difficult to re-articulate. This isn’t a perfect metaphor since there’s room for some structural alteration which a jigsaw puzzle wouldn’t allow. For instance, I could break apart sentences that an English reader would find tediously long, within limits. But this breaking apart sometimes meant changing a word or two, which then required changes further down the sentence often due to seemingly trivial things like syntactical expectations in English. And after doing this sentence-level reconstruction, all this had to be looked at from a paragraph level, and the reformulations had to be altered yet again to form a coherent whole. And so on. Not to mention the odd dynamic here since I couldn’t consult with the original text myself, which felt a bit like I was playing out some inverted version of the Chinese room argument…and of course I would be the one locked in the room with nothing but vapor clouds of propositional content, wasting most of my time wondering about pizza delivery options. Plus, I wanted to make changes in places I felt there was inconsistency or superfluous detail clouding the author’s message, but that was not only not my job, but not allowed. The irony here is that Frege’s article is about the cloudiness of language and the need to create a new form of communication free from equivocation, hidden premises, and mental muck. Good luck with that, Frege. I suppose a thin crust pizza might make it under the door relatively intact, don’t you think?

Do you have experiences of translating other people’s words? Or lost in translation experiences? What did you learn?

 

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33 thoughts on “Translating in the Dark

  1. No, to either of your final questions, ’cause I’m lame and only know one spoken language. (Four years of German in high school… not a bit of it stuck.)

    I have noticed how, when communicating with people who don’t have English as a fluent language, it’s easy to slip into seeing them as less intelligent due to how they present ideas with a seeming lack of fluency. It’s good to remind oneself that they would think the same thing of me… if I actually spoke more than one language… and that’s when it strikes me how superior to me someone with more than one language actually is. It’s very humbling.

    That thing about how writing clarifies thoughts also works for serious discussion. Trying to actually explain your thoughts to someone… you suddenly realize your thinking was crap… “But it sounded so good in my head!”

    That’s why I’ve always loved teaching. Nothing helps clarify and fix your thinking as trying to teach someone else!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You speak computer! I’d call that another language.

      It’s funny you mention people who aren’t fluent in English and the impact that has on native speakers. Sometimes the reverse can happen: People are quick to assume that the language is at fault rather than the idea being expressed. I’ve seen this happen so many times since I grew up with non-native English speakers. That’s a better mistake to make, I have to admit. It’s the principle of generosity at play, the belief/trust that the speaker must be saying something true. Unfortunately it’s not always the case, and then you have a very frustrating exchange.

      So true about teaching. Once you have to break things down in simpler form, you start to see how complicated this knowledge is! I briefly taught an ESL course and found out how mind-boggling English is, especially phonetically.

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      • Heh, true, I am fluent in a variety of computer languages, but those are pretty easy compared to human languages. Syntax and semantics are fixed and very regular. (Certain such languages are even called “regular languages”.)

        Put it this way, I love learning a new computer language (I’ve even designed a few), and I find them very easy. But I still struggle with the more obscure and slippery parts of English, let alone any other human language!

        There is also the way one can intentionally misuse a human language for humor or artistic effect. That’s not possible in computer languages.

        (BTW: “computer” languages are a superset of “programming” languages. HTML, for example, is not a programming language, but it is a computer language. Programming languages can be even more constrained than computer languages.)

        Interesting point about the reverse assumption…

        I do tend to assume other people know what they’re talking about, at least until they demonstrate otherwise. Benefit of the doubt, and all that.

        (Sadly, many, many people provide ample demonstration fairly quickly.)

        I can’t even imagine trying to teach English as a second language!

        I read an article a while back about the difficulties of getting computers to make sense of English. Consider a phrase like: “The trophy doesn’t fit into the brown suitcase because it’s too small.”

        What’s too small, the suitcase or the trophy?

        My personal favorite, originally coined explicitly to illustrate the difficulties of computer parsing of English: “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

        Computer says, “Huh?” 😄

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        • Some people would find computer languages even more difficult because they are so fixed and regular. I’d raise a hand here. There’s been a movement to teach language—even dead ones—in a more natural way because this is just more effective. We’ve always known that people learn better when they’re surrounded by the language in daily life, so it makes sense to bring that into a classroom. It’s not exactly efficient (we tend to emphasize grammar) but it sticks. I often reference something stuck in my head, a phrase or saying, to figure out how to say something in French. I find it easier than working out the grammar. I mentioned the song “La Vie en Rose” in another comment here, so I’ll use that as an example. If I recall the lyrics: “Il me l’a dit…” I can just take that whole phrase and reuse it anytime I want to say, “He told me [that].” A very useful phrase. Otherwise I’d have to remember where the article goes, which is a convoluted rule in this case when you have a past tense plus an accusative. If I were speaking to someone and had to spit out something quickly, and I had nothing to reference but the grammar I’d learned, I’d be likely to make mistakes like: “Il le m’a dit.” (Although honestly, I’d probably just leave off the article: “Il m’a dit.”)

          Maybe for other people it’s easier to remember the grammatical rules? I dunno.

          Teaching ESL is tricky, but also a lot of fun. Once the students have learned basic grammar, the rest is pounding useful phrases into their heads, getting them engaged in conversation and talking to each other. Lecturing at them is deadly. Basically the number one rule as a teacher is to avoid talking too much. Really you just set up situations and puzzles for them to engage in based on their feedback on what they care about and what they want to learn (usually going to the doctor’s office, getting a driver’s license, etc.) I worked with adults from all over the world, so it wasn’t difficult to get them talking since they were interested in each other’s lives. I imagine it would be a different situation if you taught a group that spoke the same language.

          I can’t imagine teaching English to a computer. With people you can draw things on the board, point, make faces, etc., but relating meaning to a computer would be infuriatingly tedious, I would think.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, with the computer, all that’s done is feeding source text along with a good translation into the machine and, effectively, saying: Okay, YOU figure out how translation works.

            Essentially, given A and B, the system works out how to get from one to the other.

            It turns out (almost magically) that given enough source text and enough translation text, the learning system develops “instinctive” pathways for translation. Apparently these systems show great potential, but as with Go playing systems, they can’t be unpacked. There’s no way to spit out an algorithm or set of rules. The entire system as a whole just “knows” how to get from source to translation.

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          • I’m not sure efficient, or not, really applies here. It’s like saying it’s inefficient to spend six years in grade school. Yeah, it’s a lot of time and effort, but that’s what it takes to train a brain. These deep learning neural nets turn out to be very similar. The only way they learn is from lots of input.

            It’s just that with computers, it can be done much faster and you can actually apply vast amounts of training data.

            And this case would be more like training a Go machine than a photo-recog machine, because you don’t have to spend so much prep time labeling the input data.

            With photos, each one needs to be correctly labeled, so the network “knows” what each training input is. That’s how you end up with recognition spaces. Go games needed to be labeled as “good” or “bad” but I’d guess that almost comes with the game data. (And these days, many photo training sets are already tagged as well.)

            To train a translation machine, all you need is the original source text and a known good translation. The labeling there would seem to be implicit.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry to have caused you so much trouble ;-). However I find our end result rather good. It is definitely much better than my original translation. In one or two instances, you noted that a sentence did not make sense, and it turned out to be a mistake in my original translation. I could not have written such a good text alone.

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    • You didn’t cause me any trouble at all! In fact, I was amazed by your ability to dig in deeper to relate the meaning to me, which I doubt would be available to non-German speakers. I thought we made a great team and I found the whole experience eye-opening. I just had no idea how difficult it is to translate someone else’s words without inserting one’s own meaning into it. Thankfully, you were there to check me on that. 🙂

      Also, finding mistakes in your translation turned out to make a sense, even if these things just aren’t said in English. I found that fascinating to think about. Remember “of ratio”? That got me thinking about the meaning of “ratio” in a totally new way by digging into the etymology and considering words I rarely hear, like “ratiocination” (which I don’t believe I’ve ever heard spoken out loud.) Not to mention the various ways we use “just,” the usage rules of which I still haven’t been able to wrap my mind around. How complicated it is, and yet native speakers somehow subconsciously know the rules, even if we can’t relate them.

      I remember a similar experience when a Japanese student studying in Oklahoma asked my friend why he kept adding “though” at the end of many sentences. My friend had no idea what this woman was talking about and insisted he hadn’t said ‘though.’ She kept asking him what it meant, so he eventually asked me, and I initially had no idea what she was asking. Then one day when we were all chatting, she stopped us and said, “There! You just said it. You said, ‘Blah blah blah, though.'” We all heard the example and realized she was right, we tacked on ‘though’ at the end of a great number of sentences, never realizing it, not really understanding why we did this. After reflecting on this strange phenomenon for several days, my friend and I decided that ‘though’ gets tacked on to the end of the sentence when we’ve forgotten to say ‘But’ at the beginning. It’s a way of indicating a sort of opposition at the last second. You won’t see ‘though’ used at the end of a sentence in writing, at least not very often, because it would seem really awkward. I started doing it in writing fiction when I want to relate a certain voice from a character’s point of view (this character speaks colloquially.)

      I’m still looking forward to that Sci-Fi short story, and I bet a lot of the readers here would appreciate that since many of them read Sci-Fi.

      I love the idea that we’re spreading the availability of these works to people who might not have access. It’s nice to think about some student out there trying to find this Frege article and seeing that there’s at least one free online translation out there, that there’s no need to spend some exorbitant amount of money just to read a few pages. Even if we did deviate from the text in ways that might not be acceptable to serious academics (I don’t know, maybe it’s all acceptable?) then at least someone will be able to read ours and get a good sense of what the article’s about, even if the minute details may not be totally accurate. The only place where those details would matter would be in an critical academic paper, I would think, and in those cases the person writing the article probably has access to the original.

      Also, I’m a bit of a perfectionist in writing, so for me it’s an infinite process. There’s always something that can be improved. Deadlines are my best friend. 🙂

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  3. Frege writes (or rather: you write, because in the final version, this is your text):
    “The highlighted shortcomings are due to a certain softness and mutability of language. On the other hand, it is precisely this softness and mutability that gives language its versatility and its ability to develop. In this respect, language can be compared to our hands’ ability to adapt themselves to diverse tasks. However, our hands are insufficient for us, so we created artificial hands—tools for special purposes—and these allow us to do the precise and detailed work which our hands would not be able to do.”

    Frege intended his notation as a special purpose tool. Later some philosophers and linguists tried to create a formal semantics of ordinary language based on formal logic. The sometimes traced this project back to Frege, but I think this article clearly shows this was a misunderstanding. A complete formalization of language is impossible, and it was not Frege’s intention.

    Translation, I think, is not formalizable as well. That is why it is so difficult and demanding. There are lots of automatic translation programs arround now, but the results are crap. I recently saw a report in a newspaper about Skyp’s automatic translation. They used the beginning of a book of Franz Kafka and had several native speakers read translations of that in their language (English, French, Spanish, Arabian and Russian). Then Skype translated this back into German. The results are bizarre, very funny, and sometimes quite poetic. Automatically generated Dadaism.

    Personally I find translating interesting and I think I am going to do more, once I have the time. It is indeed totally different from writing your own stuff, but it is astonishingly much work if you want the end result to be good, althoug I also think one can get better and faster over time. I think the way we did it, with two native speakers of the two languages, is quite a good approach.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s possible to live in the Netherlands and only speak English but that would be a great pity as it is a fascinating language. When talking with a fellow English speaker who also speaks Dutch we often use both languages not so much out of laziness but because there are words in both languages that can’t be satisfactorily translated without resorting to a lot more words or without losing the cultural significance of what is being said. I love words and am very grateful for the chance I’ve had to think and talk in another language. Words come to us through time and when we use them they resonate on our tongue. A good translator must I think be able to taste the meaning before they reform the word. A delicious sensuous experience, which is probably why automatic translations tend to lean more towards confusion than clarity!

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    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I also love mixing languages. When I did a study abroad in France, many of the students spoke in “Franglais,” which was really fun and funny. At the center of Montpellier, there’s an egg-shaped plaza and the locals liked to sit in cafes and people watch, which they called “doing the egg.” We turned that into “fairing the oeuf,” which sounds really goofy. It became a widespread thing in the study abroad program. Before long, many of the students on that program started using that phrase as if it were an ordinary thing to say. “Hey, let’s go faire the oeuf.”

      On translation, I totally agree. I think we should take into consideration the spirit and mood the author’s trying to convey, especially since the style of the writing can easily get lost in translation. And that’s a huge part of the meaning!

      For my undergrad thesis I decided to translate excerpts of Descartes myself after hearing a French professor describe his writing as “fresh, lively, poetic.” I thought this was a very strange description of Descartes’ writing. It never came across as even remotely poetic or fresh, but antiquated, stiff, wooden. Also, I realized that when the son of my ‘host mom’ talked to me, I translated his speech in my head into what sounded like Shakespeare. He was clearly not at all intellectual or academically inclined, but French syntax is so very different from English syntax, and sticking to that French syntax makes for a really antiquated-sounding translation. I then felt it was okay to take liberties with Descartes and go for that fresh, modern sound.

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  5. I can’t say I’ve ever done a translation either, at least not between normal languages. I have ported software from one programming language to another, or from one platform to another, often across deep conceptual divides that added a lot of challenges. I imagine doing a normal language translation would have a lot of the same issues.

    I think writing definitely clarifies thought. My blog’s drafts tab is wasteland of posts where I realized somewhere in the composition that my thesis was incoherent, or that I simply didn’t believe the main points anymore. Some of those posts led to new versions that did eventually see the light of day, but there are a lot of dead end ones I really should just delete.

    Occasionally when I do post an entry whose language I’ve worked and reworked, I’ve been dismayed when it was misinterpreted by most readers. I think Frege was definitely right about language. Words are sounds that we match with some concept, but the concept is always a little different for every person. If I say “bear”, the image of a bear that pops in your mind is almost certainly different than the one that pops in mine.

    I think this is why professional writing is often so dense. Every field has a terminology that has precise meanings within certain prescribed parameters, but to a reader not versed in that terminology, it reads like gobbledygook, whether it be a scientific paper or legal contract. I guess that’s why some philosophers try to develop their own terminology, since the common ones are often too subject to misinterpretation.

    Far too much philosophy, theology, history, and other humanistic writing actually seems to live within the ambiguity, allowing an author to be interpreted as saying something profound, but when challenged on those profound assertions, fall back to the more mundane interpretation. It often leads to a cottage industry of people interpreting what some famous historical writer actually meant. I personally find that kind of writing somewhat maddening.

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    • I totally agree with you on obscurantists. I love Nietzsche’s saying: “They muddy their waters to appear deep.” (Not sure that’s an exact quote, but whatever.) Funny, Nietzsche had a few muddy puddles himself. 🙂

      On terminology, I find a lot of philosophers recycle terms and use them their own way, which can be really confusing. It’s as if they’re trying to take back the word. For instance, in Husserl, you have the saying, “To the things themselves!” which is meant to be a comment on Kant, who thought you couldn’t access the things themselves (since they were noumena). Oddly, Husserl didn’t really mean to say we could access the things themselves, at least not in the way this phrase implies, and so this is really a much more complicated topic for him. The catchy phrase somewhat undermines his overall message, but it’s one of the very few memorable lines.

      It’s almost as if you have to know the history of philosophy to understand the way these terms are being used, because it really is almost a dialogue. But it’s true that even if you do know the history, it can still get confusing.

      I find myself slipping into using words like “epistemology” because I know most of my readers knows what that means, but I’d started out this blog with the intention of avoiding those words, or at least explaining them. This is a nice reminder to watch my terminology.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love that Nietzsche quote, and the label “obscurantist”. I’ll have to remember both.

        I actually don’t mind too much if people recycle terms, as long as they’re clear how they’re using them. For example, if someone defines “God” as the laws of physics or some other non-common definition, they need to be upfront about that, and their subsequent writing needs to make sense in that light.

        I do think any time we read writing from other than our own historical period or culture, we often have to understand the context of the words or concepts in that period. A phrase that was straightforward and clear 200 years ago might not be today. This is one reason why US constitutional law is rarely just about a straightforward reading of the text.

        I know what you mean about words like “epistemology”. I do the same thing. My usual compromise is to repeat what the word means in common language, so if I write that something is epistemic rather than ontological, I’ll usually follow up with something like “, about what we can know rather than what actually is,” or something along those lines. Definitely not perfect, but it sometimes allows me to be precise yet understandable. At least that’s what I tell myself 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Like you I have to resist the temptation to “improve” on what’s there. But when poets translate poetry from other cultures, they do this all the time and call it “translation” rather than adaptation. It’s considered acceptable, even expected, for them to put their own stamp on the work. So it depends on the genre.

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    • That’s a good point. I hadn’t considered the task of translating poetry. You’d really have to go for the mood being conveyed rather than the literal translation, I would think. The only sort of poetry I can think of in this regard right now is the song, “La vie en rose,” which has been translated into English, but the lyrics don’t match up word for word. Not even close really. Now I’m trying to imagine singing the literal translation from the French, and it wouldn’t work at all.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading, Hariod!

      I clicked on the link and it took me to this abstract:

      Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? The question invites two standard replies. Some accept the demarcations of skin and skull, and say that what is outside the body is outside the mind. Others are impressed by arguments suggesting that the meaning of our words “just ain’t in the head”, and hold that this externalism about meaning carries over into an externalism about mind. We propose to pursue a third position. We advocate a very different sort of externalism: an _active externalism_, based on the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes

      If I understand the excerpt right, I can see how environment would drive meaning, especially in spoken language when the state of affairs surrounding the speaker is likely to be indicated. If I yell “Oh no!” in a room with a group of people, they’ll probably hop out of their seats and start looking around. And this doesn’t change all that much in writing. If you’re writing a philosophical paper or even a blog post about epistemology, you might get away with questioning seemingly ridiculous things, like whether or not your hand really exists as you perceive it. If you drive home these same points in a different arena, like, say, in a chit chatty conversation about the size of Donald Trump’s hands, you might get a few raised eyebrows if you’re lucky. On the other hand, this seemingly ridiculous use of skepticism could get turned into a joke or meme for all I know.

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  7. FWIW, there have been some interesting experiments using the new machine deep learning systems to translate text without there actually being any translation algorithm at all. These systems work the same way as image recognition or learning to play Go.

    Vast amounts of text are fed into the system. Both the original and its translation. Given enough data, the system “learns” to translate and apparently does a pretty incredible job compared to the best algorithm-based systems (such as Google Translate).

    Essentially, “neural pathways” are created giving the system “natural” translations for the input text, and since the system is trained with the best, most expert, translations, its output is fluent and natural.

    These machine deep learning systems really are a bit of a game changer. (But they ain’t “AI” in the Terminator or, more recently, Her or Westworld sense.)

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      • I hadn’t heard, but don’t plan to follow the link at the moment. Friday’s news about the FBI and “the damned emails” blew some sort of political fuse in my brain, and… I just can’t take it anymore. I’m tempted to not vote at all, but that would be wrong. I’m thinking I’ll “throw away” a vote on Gary Johnson in protest. I’m just furious that either politics is filthy dirty at best or, recently with the GOP, downright evil.

        How fucking stupid was it to allow that total sleezeball Weiner anywhere near politics again.

        Sorry, but I’m just beyond myself about this.

        Westworld… didn’t plan to watch it at all, but I’ve seen the first two now, and it’s holding my interest. Unfortunately, mostly because they’ve gone and set up a big mystery that will likely take seasons to resolve. I HATE that sort of thing, but everyone does it now.

        Nolan explored (sort of) some interesting topics in Person of Interest, which I ended up liking a lot (I just have to hold my nose when it comes to anything involving J.J.Abrams). He seems to be continuing that in Westworld.

        Ironically, I just decided to start re-reading Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels and short stories, which were written starting in the mid-1950s. Over quite a few works, he covered pretty much everything modern SF does, so there is some element of “nothing new under the sun” here.

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        • I know what you mean about wanting to give up, but I’ve heard the recent polls aren’t looking good for Clinton. Just saying. And the email thing might turn out to be nothing, just Republican what’s-his-face from the FBI also playing politics. I’m still with Bernie on the whole email thing. Of course Clinton’s corrupt. We knew that. But Trump is still a psycho and he could end up with dangerous powers.

          Speaking of big mystery…yeah, with Westworld, I don’t get a sense that I’ll get a payoff. And if I do, I don’t think I’ll care or remember by that point. They can’t just keep stacking up questions, not for me anyways. But I’m still watching, mostly because we don’t have anything we’re following on Netflix right now and we only have a few TV channels. I’m looking forward to seeing Obama on Bill Maher. That just seems weird. Maher can be funny, but he’s also a bit of a jerk too. I expect him to be quieter with Obama, and that’ll be a show in itself. Plus, Obama can be pretty funny when he’s not in “politics” mode, and now he should feel a bit freer to let loose.

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          • It’s more how it all signifies how shitty things have become. The FBI worked hard to overcome a bad image after 9/11 (when everyone wondered how they missed a massive terrorist plot in their midst). Now it seems their image is besmirched once again.

            To me it signifies how incompetent and useless people have become. I’ve been complaining about “the death of a Liberal Arts education” for, like, 50 years now, and we’re seeing people “educated” in a defective system now in positions of power. And the world is turning to shit because of it. We’ve raised a nation of useless idiots who know fuck all and can’t think..

            I feel like an alien from a much smarter species who’s been trapped on a planet of “ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

            Or to update Mr. Adams, “who still think cell phones are a pretty neat idea.”

            [longer rant deleted for everyone’s sake]

            Westworld: Just binge watched all five eps Monday night. I’d seen the first two, but it’d been long enough that I wanted to re-watch them.

            I’m finding it fairly intriguing. I agree with the idea there are two timelines being shown and that they’re deliberately not making that clear. One seems to take place 30 years ago and may be the robot uprising or whatever is being referred to in the “modern” timeline.

            I also very much agree with the idea that William (white hat guy) goes through things that make him the Man in Black (Ed Harris).

            Yet, it does seem to me like Delores is having flash-forwards. The 30-years-ago Delores seems to be flashing on the MiB and the maze, so there’s room for doubt.

            I do enjoy some of the questions being posed about AI and consciousness, and the underlying themes are interesting. There is some very, very intelligent writing going on there, all sorts of symbolism and references to things. (It may require a decent background in certain kinds of SF to really appreciate. Or at least a strong SF sensibility.)

            That said, it’s not perfect and not “blowing me away.” There’s a lot of what I call iconic storytelling. Basic, known symbols intended to communicate in visual short-hand certain ideas. I find them annoying because they’re often kinda dumb upon close examination.

            But they’re there for their purpose. Real science fiction would be fairly inaccessible to most people. (Actually, so is real storytelling. Most people need the icons to find their way.)

            Bill Maher. I hate that guy. I tried to watch him again recently (because I have so many friends who like him, so I keep trying), but had to turn it off. I find him smug and stupid. A classic knee-jerk liberal. Everything on the right (or religious) is automatically bad in his eyes. He’s firmly filed in my “Fucking Moron” category.

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          • Gotta make this quick since I have to run off to my class…

            Love the deleted rant. 🙂 Nice way to handle that.

            In WW, I know what you mean about iconic storytelling, I think (the maze itself looks a bit like the Tohono O’odham symbol). Which, of course represents a sort of odyssey. I like that use of symbols. I like the mystery even. I just want more payoffs so that I feel like it will come together in an interesting way. Also, I feel like they give us rules and then break them intentionally, and we’re supposed to make sense of that. Kind of a lot to ask for a TV show. Thus far I sense trickery, but I could be wrong. As I said, I’m still watching, so I guess I expect something interesting to come of it all.

            I totally know what you mean by Bill Maher. I hate the way he interrupts people and shuts down anyone who doesn’t agree with him. He’s at his best when he’s talking into the camera and doing a solo act, following a script. He’s definitely a knee jerk liberal and probably fueling the conservative fire. He lacks the nuance that would be necessary to take his ideas seriously, but he can be pretty funny (when doing that solo stuff). Still, Obama’s gonna be on tomorrow night I believe, and I’m eager to see how Maher deals with him. Maher’s so pushy and arrogant, and I’m really surprised Obama decided to go on the show. I imagine Maher will finally shut up and listen for once in his life.

            There’s a British guy I like and I’m blanking on his name right now. This guy doesn’t interview people (as far as I know) and just talks into the camera. He can get a little goofy sometimes, but I find it much better than a fake conversation.

            Oh boy gotta run.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I do use the term, iconic, in a very specific way (because I haven’t found a better term, yet), but WW is “iconic” in the more traditional sense of using symbols and references. In fact, it’s one of those shows with so much packed into it you really do need annotations and support material analyzing it.

            The deal with that robot bird, for instance. There’s a wealth of stuff going on there (including a sly reference to the original Jurassic Park). Even the music is chosen with a great deal of thought.

            Or the prominence of the player piano (both in the title sequence and in the saloon), a crude form of early robot.

            And I’ve wondered if all the milk being drunk in various scenes is a reference back to the white magic fluid they dip the robots in. And what is milk, anyway, but a life-giving fluid.

            What I mean by “iconic” is the use of simplified ideas, scenes, or images, that are meant as a short-hand, and I mean it in a negative way as a kind of cheating in storytelling. It’s a borrowing of references intended to say “like that” rather then find an original way to communicate an idea.

            (I always find this hard to explain… I really need to write down some specific examples. I can never remember specifics when I need to.)

            “There’s a British guy I like and I’m blanking on his name right now.”

            John Oliver? Yeah, I like him, too, although, as you say, he can be a bit goofy at times. I wish he’d stop acting out every other joke. I don’t find most of his little skits funny, and they go on way too long.

            I really do like the in-depth analysis the show does on its primary topic each week. Very educational.

            But Sam Bee is the new Jon Stewart. She rocks!

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          • On WW, I like the way they use the player piano to evoke a sense of the past’s technology. The music is a reflection of that. I missed a few songs, but I could hear Black Hole Sun, Paint it Black, and another one by Radiohead (I can’t remember the title.)

            There’s also the weird wind up machine gun. I didn’t know that was a real thing. My husband told me the name of that gun, but I forgot.

            I guess the milk represents birth, life-giving substance. They made a big deal of that at the beginning, but I haven’t noticed much since then, except in the robot factory.

            John Oliver’s the guy! I love that he goes in-depth on subjects that aren’t necessarily hot at the moment. There was an episode on investments that could have been so boring in someone else’s hands. I agree, very educational.

            I have no idea who Sam Bee is. What station?

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          • Yeah, modern tunes redone on a player piano is a deliberate choice they’re proud of. I believe you can now download those tunes.

            Sam(antha) Bee used to be on The Daily Show. She’s married to Jason Jones, also a former The Daily Show alumni. She really should have gotten Jon’s chair, but they didn’t even offer it to her.

            Now she has a weekly show on TBS, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It’s excellent!

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          • Okay, here are some “iconic” (in the negative sense I mean) bits from Westworld:

            The deactivated robots standing in a ragged group, all facing the same way, down in that “cold storage” area. It’s meant to communicate a sense of eerie body horror and vague menace. But it makes no sense. Deactivated robots would be easily knocked over. Storing them that way makes no sense.

            Nor does the dripping water or the little flood of water into the elevator when they first went down there.

            They seem to suggest the robots are of no account, but then why re-use them at all? Delores is the “oldest robot in the park” and it seems all the main characters we know to be robots have long histories. So are they valuable and hard to make or easy? WW seems to want it both ways.

            Likewise that scene Maeve saw where they were hosing off and dumping robots in that glass cubical. Again, the body horror icon, but the process makes no sense. They just wouldn’t do it that way.

            And, of course, that orgy scene was just plain silly. Again, it’s an icon (plus HBO’s requirement for gratuitous, pointless sex). It’s meant to communicate a mood or idea (depravity), but makes no sense if you think about it.

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          • I think I see what you mean by iconic. I’d say it’s not so much the iconic-ness (I’m making up words at this point) that’s the problem, but that the method of conveying a certain mood hasn’t been well thought out. Unless you mean that icons are hidden references to relatively new symbolic meanings stolen from hit movies or TV shows rather than universal images? (Stolen rather than referenced, I guess I should say…a reference would be fine, but if you just steal an idea from a whole genre, it just feels like shoddy, lazy work.)

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          • No, not hidden at all, but blatant. Not stolen, really, either, so much as just used to convey a certain mood. And while the mood may (or may not) be appropriate, the icon itself often isn’t (per the examples I cited).

            I really do have in mind the metaphor of the desktop icon that symbolizes in crude form the app it invokes when clicked (or, these days, pressed). Often such icons have little real connection with the app — they just “stand for” that app. Over time, the associate becomes fixed.

            They offer a visual short-hand but often their use is lazy or inappropriate given closer analysis.

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