Translator’s note: This is only part of the material that we worked on over the course of the week, but it’s representative of the way we approached the text (and of how much fun we had). We owe apologies to our charming and endlessly tolerant author, Martin Page, because we have reduced chunks of his finely polished text to raw dialogue. There was a reason for this: the group was extremely able, quickly and unanimously “hearing” the slightly arch, poised narrative voice, and reproducing it well in English, as I hope the narrator’s passages in our extract demonstrate. I encouraged them to push the boundaries that this imposed on their translation, and to hear other voices by domesticating the text as exaggeratedly English (version two) or exaggeratedly American (version three). By doing this, the groups identified and brought out the rivalry and character differences between the Museum Director and the Biologist. These differences are very small in the original text, and a less attentive reading might have left this extra seam of humour unexcavated.
When he was told he was an endangered species, Tristan was somewhat surprised. Nothing in his life so far would have led him to suspect such a thing. He was thirty years old and worked at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, making sketches of the staging and details of the set. His one-bedroom apartment looked out onto the Parc Montsouris. He had a trumpet lesson once a week, and every Sunday morning, as soon as the pool opened, he would swim twenty lengths. Love had been known to come his way, but it was a while since a woman had shared his bed. Some evenings he wished this was not the case, but most of the time he was philosophical, telling himself he would eventually fall in love again. He rather liked the idea of starting a family, not that he had ever done anything about it. No rush.
One Monday morning in spring (it had been a long hard winter, and leaves were just starting to appear), as he was making breakfast (an apron over his suit), there was a knock at the door. The water was percolating through the brimming coffee filter. Tristan looked up. Who on earth could it be at this time? He went and opened the door. Two men were standing there. The shorter one was wearing a white coat, like a doctor or a butcher. The other wore a tweed jacket. There was something very serious about them, but also a sense of anticipation.
BIOLOGIST: “May we come in?”
NARRATOR: …asked the man in the white coat.
Tristan assumed they were from the residents’ committee, or maybe one of his neighbours hoping he would look after their cat for the holidays.
The two men advanced. They glanced around the apartment, staying oddly close to one another, as if afraid of disturbing anything.
BIOLOGIST: “I work at the university.”
NARRATOR: Tristan thought he knew why they had come. A few months earlier, he had submitted an application to teach a course, “drawing birds in flight”. Surely that was why these gentlemen were here. They had come to him. That was a good sign.
TRISTAN: “Pleased to meet you”
NARRATOR: …said Tristan, reaching out to shake hands with his unexpected visitors. The two men took a step back and exchanged embarrassed glances. They refused his outstretched hand.
BIOLOGIST: “I run the biology laboratory,”
DIRECTOR: “I’m the director of the natural history museum”
TRISTAN: “Is there a problem?”
BIOLOGIST: “No, not at all. Your doctor ran some blood tests a month ago.”
TRISTAN: “I was tired, I was worried I might be anaemic. But everything is fine”.
BIOLOGIST: “Actually, the laboratory detected a slight anomaly in your phenotype.”
TRISTAN: “A genetic anomaly?”
BIOLOGIST: “An anomaly for homo sapiens, yes, but not an anomaly in the strictest sense.”
TRISTAN: “I don’t understand. Do I have a genetic disease?”
BIOLOGIST: “No not at all. Let me explain. After discovering this irregularity, the laboratory notified the ministry of health who passed your blood sample on to us.”
DIRECTOR: “It’s standard procedure.”
BIOLOGIST: “After a great deal of cross-checking we’ve found the explanation for this anomaly. You are not a homo sapiens.”
TRISTAN: “I beg your pardon?”
BIOLOGIST: “You belong to a different sub-species.”
TRISTAN: “Do you mean to say I’m not human?”
BIOLOGIST: “You are human, but a close relative of present-day man. You belong to the group homo sapiens insularis, a sub-species which lived on the islands between England and France. We thought it had completely died out.”
DIRECTOR: “The last known specimen dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. We have one of his arms in a jar at the museum.”
TRISTAN: “Bloody hell!”
DIRECTOR: “As you have no living relatives…”
NARRATOR: (Tristan’s parents had died shortly after his birth and he had no aunts or uncles)
DIRECTOR: “…you are almost certainly the last individual of this sub-species of hominid.”
TRISTAN: “Are you telling me I’m some kind of ape?”
DIRECTOR: “No, you are a sub-species of human, which itself is a species of ape.”
TRISTAN: “But I’m normal. I’m not physically different from anyone else.”
BIOLOGIST: “The difference is minimal. You have a slightly broader forehead and your ears are a little more pointed.”
TRISTAN: “Does this mean I won’t be able to have children?”
BIOLOGIST: “No, it will have no bearing on your capacity to reproduce. Although your children will have lost any links with your sub-species, because this genetic profile is passed down through the mother. Your children will be like any other homo sapiens.”
DIRECTOR: “Which means that you are an endangered species.”
TRISTAN: “But I’m just like everyone else.”
NARRATOR: (in fact, this was one of the reasons his ex-girlfriend had given for breaking up with him)
BIOLOGIST: “You may well think so. We are seldom aware of what we really are. And this is the sort of data that we can only ascertain through scientific analysis. We need to study you.”
BIOLOGIST: “You ain’t like one of us homo sapiens, see.”
TRISTAN: “Do what?! Leave it out, will ya?”
BIOLOGIST: “You’re not quite up to it, mate. Different sub-species, innit.”
TRISTAN: “You trynna tell me I ain’t hooman, guvnor?”
BIOLOGIST: “Course you’re a bloke. But we’re more like Hugh Grant to your Carey Grant, know what I mean? You are what is known as an homo sapiens insularis wot lived on them islands between Blighty and Frogland. We had thought that your lot were brown bread.”
DIRECTOR: “We ain’t seen one of you since eighteen hundred and frozen stiff. We’ve got his arm, in a bottle.”
TRISTAN: “Bloody hell!”
DIRECTOR: “As you ain’t got no family, you are abso-bleedin-lutely the last of these apes.”
TRISTAN: “‘Ere, you callin’ me a monkey?”
DIRECTOR: “Nah, mate, keep your hair on, you’re a geezer, which is like a chimp: chimpangeezer.”
TRISTAN: “But I’m norrrrrrmal. I don’t look no different from no-one else, do I…?”
DIRECTOR: “The difference is tiny [hand gesture] Head like a klingon, couple of Mr Spocks.”
TRISTAN: “So… zat mean like… I can’t ‘ave no kids?”
BIOLOGIST: “No mate, it don’t mean you’re gonna be firing blanks. It’s like, your kids won’t ave nuffink in common wiv your lot. It’s passed down through ‘er indoors, innit. Your kids will be real men just like all the uvvers”
DIRECTOR: “Meaning, you’re the end of the line, mister!”
TRISTAN: “I ain’t nuffin special, you just ask my ex-girlfriend.”
BIOLOGIST: “That’s what you think. It’s a funny old world, but leave it up to us boffins. We’re gonna give you a right MOT, mate.”
TRISTAN: “Say what?”
BIOLOGIST: “Technically you’re classificated in a separate subspecies.”
TRISTAN: “Whoooooooooooooo…..You tryin’ to tell me I’m some kinda alien?”
BIOLOGIST: “You are indeed a man. But a man on a different branch of the human family tree. You, my friend, are homo sapiens insularis. This subspecies…uh…proliferated on some…uh…some I, uh…islands between England and France, and we were under the impression it was no longer extant.”
DIRECTOR: “Last one a y’all we‘er caught was runnin’ around back in the eighteen hunderts. Museum still got one a his arms… … in a jar!”
BIOLOGIST: “Now, in consideration of the fact that you no longer have any living relatives, you are definitively and conclusively the last specimen of this particular hominid subspecies.”
TRISTAN: “Wai, wai, wai, wai, wait. Are you sayin’ I’m a monkey?”
BIOLOGIST: “No, you are a species of human, which in and of itself is a species of ape.”
TRISTAN: “Hoooooooooooold up, boss…I ain’t no freak. I’m a regular guy!”
BIOLOGIST: “The contra-distinctions are infinitisimal. Your super-orbital ridge is slightly more pronounced and your ears are kinda pointy.”
TRISTAN: “Well, no shit…You sayin’ I can’t have no kids?”
BIOLOGIST: “No, it’s got nothing to do with your reproductatory capacitencacity. However, your progeny will no longer be, uh… comprised in this uh… group. It’s a particulararity transmitted matralinearly. Your progeny will be classified homo sapiens like everyone else.”
DIRECTOR: “Basically you’re a goner!”
TRISTAN: “Well hold up, hold up now…I’ont look no different from nobody else.”
BIOLOGIST: “That may be your intro-perspective of the situation. We are rarely cognizant of our actuality. These are all details only extensive verificatory analysizing will allow us to validate.”
DIRECTOR: “We’re gonna study you, boy!”
Tristan (who voted in every election, diligently completed his tax return and took care never to break the law) agreed to help science. He rang work to say he would not be coming in, and followed the two scientists to the hospital. They took all sorts of tissue and fluid samples, subjected him to fitness tests, x-rays and scans. They studied his eyes, his teeth and his reflexes. Tristan made a docile and mildly amused specimen. All this scrutiny made him rather proud. They measured things. They weighed him. Nothing could be overlooked. He answered a series of verbal questions (with electrodes placed on his head), and filled in dozens of pages of questionnaires. When it was over and he was dressed again, the two scientists thanked him and shook him warmly by the hand. Tristan thought he would never see them again. He left the hospital with a spring in his step.
Group translation from the BCLT summer school, 2012
Produced by Ruth Clarke, Moira Eagling, Marion Fairweather, Joe Fallowell, Roland Glasser, Selin Kocagoz, Jennifer Machlachlan, Andrea Pakieser, Chris Rose and Tom Russell.
Group leader: Adriana Hunter.
In the presence of and in consultation with the author.
With thanks to the Institut Français for their support.