Translators and their skulls

skulls_shopHallowe’en is upon us. Merrily, we deck the halls with cobwebs and skellies! Inevitably, faced with shop windows full of skulls – the perfect foil to next month’s Christmas baubles – a translator’s mind turns to thoughts of our patron saint, in the Western world at least: Jerome, the 4th-century Dalmatian (Croatian) translator of the Bible into Latin, a man whose every image is a poignant reminder of the fundamentals of our working lives down the centuries. The contorted posture of desk-bound exhaustion, the piles of books, the frequent feline companion, the home-worker’s casual attire (dress-down Friday has nothing on this), and almost always, that macabre paper-weight, place-marker and source of inspiration, the skull…

How little things have changed. Why, here’s the view, right now, from where I sit, hunched over my keyboard. It’s all there: the weary expression of intense thought (OK, I’ll spare you that), the piles of books and, yes, perched atop my bookshelf, my skull. Well, it’s not my officeskull, obviously. And it’s not really a skull at all, in the traditional sense. No empty eye sockets and lipless, toothsome grin here. In fact, it’s a plaster cast of the smooth-shaven head of my friend, French contemporary artist Véronique Lamare, an offshoot of a performance she enacted a few years ago.  Not so much the skull beneath the skin as the skin itself, complete with muscle and bone. Not a memento mori, then, but an open, living receptacle. And in that sense, a terrific source of inspiration: the perfect bookshelf accessory for the practitioners of a discipline and industry that depend on and promote communication, receptivity and openness to other people, ideas and things. It’s a lovely object to ponder as I sit procrastinating preparing to get down to some work on a chilly autumn day. Happy Hallowe’en!

 

 

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