Monday, September 6, 2010

Star Trek

Since I am soon going to the big country in the East, I kind of felt like I should write a couple of posts here first, just in case I don't get the time to do so this fall. St. Petersburg is after all St. Petersburg so it needs to be visited, we will have lots of homework and the alcohol will be practically free compared to what we're used to.

But I wanted to talk about Star Trek today.

Star Trek seems to be a rather popular way of getting some instant immersion. I know of at least two other people/bloggers who have used Star Trek to practice their understanding of their target languages. It's quite easy to understand why; there are tons and tons of episodes, each episode is 40 minutes or so and contains some sort of adventure, making them very easy to watch. Since I am on episode 23 of season one of Star Trek Enterprise dubbed in Russian I can affirm this :-) What is so great about having this amount of episodes is that you grow accustomed to the voices of the actors, to the manner of speaking and the rhythm, so the progress in understanding can be very motivating.

For Scandinavians in general, dubbing is quite close to being a mortal sin. I don't think I know anyone who can watch anything dubbed without cringing, but it only takes some breaking in, and then you're good to go. The Star Trek I am watching has kept the English voices and only added the Russian ones on top, which can be rather disturbing at first. The Russians speech is always a bit delayed, so you get the two or three first English words as well, and then there is no real illusion about the Russian voices somehow being the real voices. Dubbing in Swedish is awful. This may have something to do with Swedish being rather chopped up in the kind of movies were dubbing is used (children's movies), making it look absolutely ridiculous as the actors voices move completely out of sync with the way too perky Swedish speech. I somehow imagine this could be less of a problem with a language that has less clear boundaries, such as Danish, but I'm not sure. I also watched the Star Trek movie (I love it, I do, Spock is pure perfection), and it was done very professionally, without English voices, but I hardly even noticed that it was actually dubbed. This is a major motion picture though, and I guess the budget is somewhat bigger for those...

Has anyone else tried watching Star Trek? Any favorite series? :-)

Per Petterson and the gang.

I have always had something of a problem when it comes to keeping up with modern literature. There are just so many classics left to read, so I have never really understood when I am supposed to find time for modern prose. Especially when I started reading in multiple languages, and often quite slowly, this became an even bigger problem. Therefore I am quite proud of how much modern Norwegian literature I have been reading lately. Yesterday I started reading (and read half of) Jeg forbanner tidens elv (I curse the river of time, supposedly a line from a poem by Mao, but I don't know what the "official" translation of the phrase is) by Per Petterson. Funnily enough, this book makes me think of a couple of other brilliant Scandinavian books, and I think it embodies exactly what I like about Scandinavian literature. This particular author uses a rather simple language and some of the forms feel rather like spoken language to me, something I'm not sure I appreciated at first, but then this is Norwegian and Norwegian abides by like 10 different sets of rules. What makes it rather typically Scandinavian, at least for me, is the general sadness that prevails throughout the entire book. There's a sort of weight placed on top of every word, adding a depressing tone to even the happy recollections, but sad books don't bring me down, quite the opposite.

The topic of this book is the life of the narrator, who is now an elderly man. Throughout the book you get to follow different episodes from his life, cut up into different chapters and intertwined with each other, ranging from when he was a child to his divorce and the cancer his mother suffered from as an old woman. Absolutely everything in this book feels typical for me. Since I am very familiar with Oslo now, I recognize all the places he speaks about and I have even lived and worked in them, something that doubtlessly brings me closer to the story, but the people he describes also feel extremely real. His mother, the weird distance she keeps between herself and her son, her constant shortness, her apparent indifference and self-sacrifice do not appear strange at all, nor the weakness (male) of the main character and his father. I get the impression it could have been anyone. His wife, who is divorcing him and whom he cannot look at anymore, and who tells him to stop being so ridiculous, also feels... right.

Other books or authors this one reminds me of are Elisabeth Rynell (Till Mervas especially), Mare Kandre (Aliide, Aliide) and Herbjørg Wassmo (Tora Trilogy). These are the kind of books I enjoy studying foreign languages for. You can certainly read quite a lot of books translated, but there is always a big part of literature that never gets translated, and when it comes to Swedish literature, detective stories seems to be what gets translated and sold abroad. The good literature stays in Sweden.

Jeg forbanner tidens elv has, by the way, won the literary award of the Nordic Council and has been called the best Norwegian book of 2008. In 2003 he wrote another book that became absolutely huge, not only in Norway but abroad as well. So I think that's what I'm going to read once I get back from Russia.