[This is the third of a three-part posting on BETWEEN-ness in recipes and their translation. For the first two parts, see here and here.]
The following is a translation of our long-translated Manchu medical recipe in dialogue form, to explore the between-ness of the recipe through a conversation among materials: fluid, powder, and flesh. In this dialogue-shaped translation of the recipe, the major characters are the major materials interacting in the story. There are three of them – Oil, Flour, Flesh – with an early cameo by Spoon. Here, the medium of the conversation is not sound, but instead touch and movement. When speech is touch rather than sound – when voicing is touching and enabling your conversation partner to be touched, moving and enabling your partner to be moved – then the conversation works somewhat differently from what we tend to expect. Here, a single instance of touching functions as a single unit of this touch-speech. The conversation becomes a dialogue in gestures and movements over, across, with, etc. The problem that animates the dialogue is the event that stimulates and initiates movement; resolution is the circumstance in which movement eases. It is a critical issue that must be resolved: a body has been poisoned.
Between: A Dialogue in Touch
Flour: (pillowed powder pile, then a smooth arc planes the surface as a small spoon cuts through to measure out a portion)
Spoon: (smoothes a concavity in the powder before cradling it away to a bowl and releasing it to its next home)
Flour: (bids farewell, dissolving into liquid and becoming something new)
Flesh: (suffering from a relationship with a substance that does not wish it well; welcomes flour in its new liquid form, into its throatspace and down and down)
Flour: (meets flesh, tries to soothe its suffering as it passes through the throat and down, roils the unkind substance poisoning the flesh and tries to bring it back up and out again)
Flesh: (pulses after ejecting the flour from itself)
Oil: (pours from container to handflesh)
Flesh: (flesh slides on flesh to warm the oil; hands slide oil over belly)
Oil: (warms and slides and soaks into belly and hands)
Flesh: (bucks and roils, breaks and bleeds, angry and unplacated)
Oil: (keeps trying; drops into meat broth – or drops into buttered milk – and mixes and swirls)
Flesh: (takes the oil back into its throatspace and down and down and retches and roils and drinks…and again…and again…)
Oil: (pours from container to handflesh)
Flesh: (still roiling; flesh slides on flesh to warm the oil; hands slide oil over belly)
Oil: (warms and slides and soaks into belly and hands…and again…and again…)
Flesh: (roiling and retching…but less…and less…and on like that more and more gently…)
Oil: (sliding and dropping…now more faintly…and gently…and more gently)
[This is the second of a three-part posting on BETWEEN-ness in recipes and their translation. For the first part, see here.]
Happy new year, readers of the Translating Recipes series! When last we met, I was telling you about the latest exploration of “Recipes in Time and Space” with some early thoughts on between-ness in recipes and beyond. We left off by considering the characteristics of the dialogue, a storytelling genre that embodies the spirit of between. You might want to take a moment to revisit that post, which addressed the importance of some basic components of the dialogue form: character, speech, and problem. Briefly put, in translating our Manchu medicinal recipe we would expect to see characters that are involved in some sort of a relationship speaking to one another about a central problem that animates the conversation.
For your reference and reminding, here is a straightforward rendering of the Manchu recipe that has been the focus of this series of translations:
A medicinal oil eliminating (harmful) poison.
One kind [of oil] used if a person has just been poisoned.
Before eliminating the poison, after taking a flour-based drug in accordance with the 30th prescription, and after that drug causes the poison to be vomited up, spread this oil on the navel part of the stomach.
If the person has consumed so much poison that a lot of internal things are going wrong and the condition has become very serious, after taking 15 – 20 drops of the oil and combining it with either the fatty broth from boiled meat, or butter combined with milk, drink it. Having already smeared this oil on the navel part of the stomach again after 2 erin periods, the following day smear it again two times.
If this has still not eliminated the poison, after taking one or more drops of this medicinal oil again according to the prescription, if you smear it according to the prescription all will be well.
When I think of translation as rendering, my thoughts now turn to the work of STS scholar and anthropologist Natasha Myers. We recently had a chance to talk about her new book, which explores many different senses of “rendering” – separating, surrendering, modeling, deciphering, and more – in a study that emphasizes the importance of movement and kinesthetics in making knowledge. That linking of rendering, movement, and materiality has inspired how I approach translation here, and specifically how I think about translating relationships and between-ness.
With that in mind, the translation that follows – a translation of our Manchu medical recipe in a spirit that emphasizes the between-ness inherent in the text – is going to take us back to the materiality of the recipe, letting us linger over the physical matter of the story and thus helping us understand the ways that between-ness creates material experience. This is a world where speech happens not with words, but in patterns of materials. What does the voice of a powder sound like? Is sound even the right medium for understanding the voicing of a powder? Can we hear it at all, or do we instead feel this voice via touch? What does the voice of a liquid sound (or feel) like? How do these voices communicate with each other in telling a larger story?
The translation takes the form of a dialogue, and this dialogue becomes a conversation among materials: flour, oil, flesh. Each material will have its own voice. (Though we are accustomed to associating speech and voice with the sonic, here voicing is something that happens through touch, not through sound.) The conversation will allow us to explore the conversational aspects of material experience itself. Thinking about the voices of powders and liquids and flesh in this way will help us to understand materials as individuals that engage in relationships with one another, that grow and develop and change as a result of those relationships. Tune in to Thursday’s post to read the full translation!
“Terrorist Novel Writing,” an anonymous essay that appeared in The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797 (Volume 1), closes with the following recipe for creating a gothic novel in the style of popular author Ann Radcliffe, “should any of [the journal’s] female readers be desirous of catching the season of terrors, she may compose two or three pretty volumes”:
Take – An old castle, half of it ruinous.
A long gallery, with a great many doors, some secret ones.
Three murdered bodies, quite fresh.
As many skeletons, in chests and presses.
An old woman hanging by the neck; with her throat cut;
Assassins and desperados quant. suff.
Noises, whispers and groans, three-score at least.
Mix them together, in the form of three volumes, to be taken at any of the watering-places before going to bed. PROBATUM EST.
This satirical piece plays with generic expectation to amuse readers. The recipe, a familiar domestic literary genre, has its own conventions: “Take–“; “Mix…”; “[T]o be taken.” The genre requires specificity: here, the castle is not just old, but must be also half ruined. The old woman is not only hanging, but her throat must also have been cut. Smaller words from the recipe lexicon appear to describe the precise arrangement of ingredients needed for this three-volume novel. The murdered bodies are not only meticulously quantified, but also specified as to quality, “quite fresh.” As the recipe continues, features of the Gothic novel that might normally be considered exceptional or unquantifiable are multiplied and quantified: assassins, desperados, noises, whispers and groans. When enumerated thus, such features become mundane… and funny.
The recipe formula exposes the formulaic quality of gothic novels, and such gothic recipes appeared regularly in journals in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Mixing these ingredients together, as gruesome as they are, always produces the same result, a fact attested to by the Latin postscript PROBATUM EST, a testimony that the recipe has been tested, and will work the same each time. The three volumes of the novel produced are objects for consumption, not artistic works. They are untitled and interchangeable.
The first wave of gothic novels published in Great Britain in the late eighteenth century introduced eager readers—most often young ladies—to a long list of terror-inducing conventions: ruined castles, haunted monasteries, incestuous abductions, demonic pacts, tortured corpses, and horrible secrets. The first gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), lent the genre its name and featured a unique story line with alarming mysterious events such as death by giant helmet crushing. In the preface to The Old English Baron (1778), another early gothic novel that features a plot with a stolen inheritance, a rightful heir, and a ruinous castle, author Clara Reeve acknowledges her debt to Walpole. She sets out to “fix” Walpole’s errors, creating a new work, yet still describing her novel as “the literary offspring of The Castle of Otranto.” As this example demonstrates, a growing genre is naturally imitative.
Somov’s “Plan” and the anonymous recipe above rely on the same methods for producing humor through mundanely quantifying atmospheric pieces. The ubiquity of the gothic genre’s typical props, settings, and tropes meant that critics considered them formulaic and unoriginal. These recipes suggest that creating novels in this vein is a matter of following a basic plan, implying that Radcliffe’s novels are imitative and easily reproduced.
However, while critics complained, the novels with their improbable plots and excessive horrors were widely popular, demonstrating that literary merit and public taste are not necessarily the same. Ann Radcliffe’s novels, in particular, were reprinted in multiple new editions each year; less than a decade after its original publication, by 1803, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), her most famous, had already been printed in five new editions in Britain. In early nineteenth-century Russia, her name on a cover was enough to make a best seller, and a number of books she did not write were attributed to her, including translations of Matthew Lewis’s novel The Monk (1796) and original novels written by Russian translators, who could produce new gothic novels faster than they could translate them.
Radcliffe was the most-read writer in late eighteenth-century Britain, and exercised influence, even abroad, years after her death. In the 1860s, Fyodor Dostoevsky, for example, recalls his childhood love for Radcliffe’s novels: “I used to spend the long winter hours before bed listening (for I could not yet read), agape with ecstasy and terror, as my parents read aloud to me from the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Then I would rave deliriously about them in my sleep.” This quote and others like it make me wonder: Are the critics right when they say that gothic novels are all basically the same? How can a repeated reading experience produce such a powerful effect? Even if gothic novels are formulaic, to have such an impact on a reader years afterward demonstrates their influence, so why were critics so reluctant to take them seriously? Can genre fiction ever be considered great literature?
Thinking about these gothic recipes, there’s more to them than just a demonstration of the formulaic nature of the genre. Recipes may produce the same result each time, but a recipe is repeated when the results are delicious. And when a novel is good, we devour it… or savor it, like a tasty meal. As even the “Terrorist Novel Writing” author acknowledges, three-volume novels of terror taken before bed in a leisurely way can be very pleasant indeed.
Katherine Bowers is an Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies at the University of British Columbia. She specializes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russian literature and culture. Currently she is working on a book about the influence of gothic fiction on Russian realism.
 Cited and translated in: Alessandra Tosi, Waiting for Pushkin: Russian Fiction in the Reign of Alexander I (1801-1825) (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006), 84-85.
 Fedor Dostoevskii, Zimnie zametki o letnikh vpechetleniiakh, in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 30 tomakh (Moscow: Nauka, 1972-1990), Volume 5, 46. Translated by David Patterson, in Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1997), 1-2.
(This is part of an ongoing series of posts exploring prepositional attitudes and their translation in recipe literature. For the previous posts, check out this link.)
In the most recent posts of the “Translating Recipes” series, we have been exploring various ways that recipe literature creates relationships among bodies in space and time. (The premise undergirding this experiment is that material experience emerges from these relationships.) We have been looking specifically at the ways that prepositions and related kinds of terms function as grammatical and linguistic technologies that create proximities among bodies in time and space: with-ness, if-ness, after–ness, etc. Today we’ll consider another of these tools: between-ness. Returning to the spirit from which the “Translating Recipes” project initially emerged – considering the literary form of the recipe as a vehicle for storytelling – this entry and the next will explore the way between works by looking at a storytelling genre that embodies the spirit of interaction, conversation, and between: the dialogue.
The dialogue format integrates a number of key elements. Typically, a dialogue is understood to be a conversation, an oral or written rendering of speech among characters. The dialogue might center on a problem and take the shape of an argument or debate: we can see this in some classic examples of the form that are familiar to many historians of science and medicine, including Plato’s dialogues and Galileo’s Dialogue upon the Two Main Systems of the World. This exceptionally brief description of dialogue makes reference to some important basic components of the form: character, speech, and problem. Let’s consider what these might look like in the context of a medicinal recipe.
Character. There are several ways to think about the centrality of character in the context of a recipe. We might imagine the drugs, patients, and other material actors in a recipe as they are embroiled in a drama, for example, or consider them more allegorically as characters in a fairy tale. In the context of a dialogue, the interaction of the characters is of paramount importance, and so they should explicitly be involved in some sort of a relationship. There are clear relationships in an anti-poison recipe: between poison and the drug used to treat it, poison and the patient’s body, the body and the drug. And so a translation of the recipe in this spirit would need to reflect at least one of these character relationships. (Ideally, in order to maximally explore the importance of relationships, more than one would be reflected in the translation: in that way. the relationships themselves become characters and we would be able to explore a dialogue among the relationships themselves.)
Speech. Fundamental to the nature of a written dialogue is its ability to embody and convey speech in some form: the text itself becomes a kind of vocalization, and – importantly – we as readers can imagine that the characters are not just interacting with one another, but are also performing their speech for the benefit of the audience of readers. As a result, in our translated recipe it would be important to convey this aspect of textual oratory. The form of the text would be crucial to this: each of our characters, as they explore their relationships and the problems emergent therein, would be given an opportunity to take the page and have the floor.
Problem. In many textualized dialogues, the speakers are not merely speaking, but are speaking with each other in an effort to debate or resolve something: a problem, an argument, a disagreement. There should be a sense, by the conclusion of the text, that some issue has been resolved. Our translation would need to convey this sense of dramatic conflict and ultimate resolution. In the case of the Manchu recipe that we’ve been focusing on for the “Recipes in Time and Space” series, this is a natural fit with the conditions from the which the recipe emerges: a crisis wherein a body has been poisoned and demands an immediate remedy (or as close to it as can be managed). At the successive stages of the recipe there are multiple points of possible resolution or the marked absence thereof, and these points of resolution (or not) motivate further action on the part of the readers/users of the text.
In the next post, we’ll continue these reflections and look closely at a new translation of our Manchu medical recipe that embodies a spirit of between in its form and mode of storytelling, in light of the reflections above. Tune in next time!