Monday, May 3, 2010

Show and Tell: Powder Blue and Red Macaw

Show: The Childers

This is a classic version of "The Childers", a salmon fly invented around 1850 by one Colonel Childers. In its original version, the Childers is made up of what appears to be a mixture of LL Bean sweater colors and the short stories of JD Salinger:

"Tag: Silver twist and light blue silk.
Tail: A topping, strands of red and powder blue macaw, and pintail on top.
Butt: Black ostrich herl.
Body: Two turns of light yellow silk followed by light yellow seal's fur and three turns of scarlet seal's fur at the throat.
Ribs: Silver lace and silver oval tinsel.
Hackle: White furnace hackle dyed light yellow.
Throat: Scarlet hackle and widgeon.
Wing: Strands of tippet and tail of golden pheasant: brown mottled turkey, Amherst pheasant, pintail, bustard, summer duck (wood duck), green parrot, powder blue and red macaw, gallina (guinea fowl), mallard roof and a topping.
Horns: Blue macaw.
Cheeks: Chatterer.
Head: Black ostrich herl."

(source: the Classic Salmon Fly website)

Many other versions of the Childers have been developed over the years, including ones by Rizah Trokic:

and Martin Bach:

Is Bach's rashly neon body a legitimate advance? Is Trokic's innovative hackle arrangement a discovery, or only avant-garde posturing? "Even the masters of old tied flies with the same name in many different ways and who are we to say which way is best", say the legitimate enthusiasts.

Tell: Translation's Audience

Translation is, in some ways, the clearest and simplest version of literary mimesis: you are trying to write something that "looks like" something else that someone else has already written. In order to do this, it's important to consider constantly the conditions and predilections of your audience; but even a super-fastidious observance of these quantities is no guarantee of success. The fish either bites or it doesn't: there may be a certain amount of whimsy involved in its decision, even luck...though here, as usual, any superstition we allow ourselves must be true superstition, meaning highly pragmatic. You may not know why wearing your wife's bra around your neck lets you catch on average two more fish a day. But your knowing why is not the point. Or rather, "why" is a luxury that can be maintained only so long as it remains intimately connected to "how".

Translation is not a science, though it is filled with sciences. It is impressionistic and therefore vulnerable, circumstantial, ridiculous. At the same time, it is almost completely unrenumerative, meaning the closest thing to street ball that literature has right now. In its own unique, and I think endearingly naive way, it believes in what anyone with half a brain knows is impossible: the miraculous/mundane transubstantiation of foreign into native. Parasitic as a pilot fish, its poetics must therefore be deduced, as the sun deduces salt from seawater, which is slow of course, but which earns for the translator, after long effort, the paradoxical combination of crystalline hardness and a generous capacity to dissolve instantly in water or saliva.

Translation has not, surprisingly enough, been "figured out". There are memoirs, but no adequate manuals. Like China, travel writing, and certain types of concrete poetry, it is an art of perpetual arrival whose moment in the sun is always "on the horizon".