Mar 17, 2007

Short-Circuit. This is how it happens. You are in the booth, interpreting a lecture on high tech office buildings. You studied the terminology in the powerpoints, had a look at the architecture pages on Oxford-Duden and are expecting transoms, raised floors, HVAC systems, sustainable buildings and even gold collar workers to pop out of your speaker's mouth at any given moment.

But your speaker decides to make a long detour. You to think "how fun, we're going on a ride" as he starts to talk about the collapse of civilizations that were not wise enough to conserve their resources.

From the Mayan Empire to Easter Island and Greenland and you're easily following the track, feeling comfortable and delighted to be interpreting sentences that actually mean something to you. Not only can you understand where he is getting at, you actually have great sympathy for the political statement behind the words you are interpreting.

Suddenly, the world tour veers to Japan and things get a little murky. Maybe statiticky is a better word. You can sense there is some interference, but can't really pin it down to the fact that you're currently reading Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami.

You are still tagging along. Your speaker goes on talking about warlords, the mountainous terrain once covered by forests (your mind beeps at this word, because forests are a big thing in the book, and an image of the forest as you had imagined it while reading the book flashes by; you tense up feeling that the harmless spin around the globe is about to turn dangerous).

And then comes the word that completely short-circuits your brain. Shrine. Shinto shrines, he repeats as an overpowering image from the book impresses itself upon your mind, blocking out all else, including the correct translation for shrine, which is at the tip of your tongue.

While the audience is hanging and some part of your brain processor is looking for the translation for shrine, you remember vividly an important scene in the book. Hoshino, goaded by Colonel Sander's, goes looking for the entrance stone. They meet in a shrine, needless to say. The entrance stone Mr. Nakata wants to find is right there in the woods by the shrine and Hoshino is going to get it for him. You see the entrance stone, you see the woods, you see Hoshino and the shrine.

In the meantime, that part of your brain that is looking for the linguistic equivalent of shrine realizes that if you dwell in that image of Japan, you're screwed. The image is too powerful, too VISUAL and NARRATIVE, and has you spellbound. Trying to save your skin, the processing brain goes into Thesaurus mode, airlifting you from dangerous Japanese soil. You remember that other religions also have shrines and the expression "Are you going to temple?" leaps out of some dusty corner and there you have it.

Templo. It comes to your lips, passes through the interpreting unit and goes into the audience's receivers. In the nick of time.

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