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Translation Tuesday: The Employees / Los empleados (Olga Ravn)

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Translation Tuesday is an on-going series of translations focused on contemporary Scandinavian literature. In this edition of Translation Tuesday, Sheri and Neus have translated an excerpt from Olga Ravn’s recent novel, De Ansatte  (2018), into English and Spanish.

“A workplace novel from the 22nd century,” De Ansatte is Olga Ravn’s science fiction debut. The novel threads together brief accounts of the employees — some human, some humanoid— on The Spaceship Six Thousand after the ship has taken on a number of mysterious objects from another planet. Told through a collection of testimonies, this compact novel throws into question the fragile boundaries between what we consider human and object, flesh and matter, living and reuploading.

Olga Ravn (1986) is a graduate of Forfatterskolen (The Danish Writers’ School). She made her debut in 2012 with the poetry collection Jeg æder mig selv som lyng (I Eat Myself Like Heather), and has since published the chapbook, Mean Girl (2014), the novel, Celestine (2015), a second poetry collection, Den hvide rose (The White Rose) (2016), and most recently, De Ansatte. As a writer, editor, translator, and co-founder of the creative writing school, Hekseskolen (The Witches School), Ravn is one of the leading feminist voices in contemporary Danish literature.

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REPORT 037

I could never understand why my father used the word phenomenological incorrectly. But I didn’t have the heart to correct him. We sat there eating our lunch. Maybe this isn’t relevant for you. He said: humans will always need three things: food, transportation, and a funeral. That’s why I became an undertaker. I’m also the one in charge of getting rid of any terminated employees and, in a few cases, bodies that have been left behind after they’ve been sick or reuploaded. We’ve come up with our own little ceremony here, since cremation is the only option, and the mourners don’t have anywhere else to go. Or mourners, I don’t know whether you mourn a colleague but, out of respect, we perform this ceremony, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of relationships between crew members. But maybe that’s not what you’re here to investigate? I’m basically invisible to the others, they have no desire to talk to me. There are, after all, a number of the crew members who will never die, and I couldn’t say how this affects them psychologically. If one can even use the word psychological about them. But maybe that’s what you’re here to investigate? Psyche or not, there’s still matter to be dealt with, and I’m the one in charge of that. I don’t find it uncomfortable or unpleasant. I don’t have any problem with death. I don’t have any problem with decay. For me, what’s terrifying are the ones that will never die and will never change shape. That’s also why I’m proud to be human, and I bear the certainty of my own death with honor. That’s what makes me different from some of the others here. But what was it you wanted me to talk about? The first thing I did when I arrived was to systematically get rid of my accent. The next thing was to check whether the ventilation systems were functioning properly, and whether the oven worked. And I can tell you that both worked quite excellently. Unfortunately, I don’t get to use the oven as often as I’d like. There aren’t that many of us here, after all. Why do I like the oven? It’s that smell of burned matter, it reminds me of eating at home, it smells like flesh and earth and blood, it smells like my daughter’s birth, it smells like the planet Earth. It’s not that I’m not happy to be here. My job here means everything to me. I was the best in my class, which is also why I’m here today. My father has been dead for many years now. I don’t know why I thought of him. He belongs to another world.

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TESTIMONIO 037

Nunca pude entender por qué mi padre usaba la palabra fenomenológico de manera equivocada. Pero no tenía el valor de corregirle. Nos sentábamos juntos durante el almuerzo, pero quizá no os interesa escuchar esta historia. Solía decir que las personas siempre necesitarán tres cosas: comida, transporte y un funeral, por eso me hice enterradora, y ahora soy yo la encargada de deshacerme de los despedidos, y en algunos casos de eliminar los cuerpos que se quedan atrás después de estar enfermos o al recargarse. Hemos creado nuestro propio ritual, ya que la incineración es la única opción y los dolientes no tienen ningún sitio a donde ir. Dolientes… no estoy segura si se puede estar dolida por lo ocurrido a un compañero de trabajo, pero lo hacemos por respeto, y no puedo negar la existencia de relaciones entre los miembros de la tripulación. Pero quizá no es esto lo que estáis investigando. Soy casi invisible para el resto, no quieren hablar conmigo. Hay miembros de la tripulación que nunca morirán y no puedo explicar cómo les afecta psicológicamente, si es que podemos hablar de psique en estos casos. ¿Quizá es eso lo que estáis investigando? Con o sin psique, hay materia de la que encargarse y soy yo la que lo hace. No se me hace ni incómodo ni desagradable, no tengo nada en contra de la muerte. No tengo nada en contra de la descomposición. Para mi, lo aterrador es aquello que nunca muere, que nunca cambia de forma. Por eso estoy orgullosa de ser humana, y llevo la certeza de mi propia muerte con honor. Es precisamente eso lo que me separa de algunos en este lugar. ¿Pero de qué queréis que hable? Lo primero que hice al llegar aquí fue deshacerme de mi acento al hablar. Lo siguiente que hice fue asegurarme que los sistemas de ventilación funcionaban correctamente y que el horno funcionase, y debo admitir que los dos lo hacían excepcionalmente bien. Desafortunadamente, no uso el horno tanto como me gustaría, al fin y al cabo no somos demasiados. ¿Por qué me gusta el horno? El olor a materia quemada me recuerda a comer en casa. Huele a carne y tierra y sangre, huele al nacimiento de mi hija, huele a planeta tierra. No es que no esté satisfecha de estar aquí. Mi trabajo aquí lo significa todo para mi. Una de las razones por las que hoy estoy en este sitio es porque fui la mejor de mi promoción. Mi padre murió ya hace años. No sé por qué me he puesto a pensar en él, pertenece a otro mundo.

This excerpt from The Ansatte is published by permission of Gyldendal and © Olga Ravn. Translation copyright © 2018 by Sherilyn Hellberg and Neus Casanova Vico.

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