Astoundingly enough, I am actually working on the book about Gerhard's music – a project he first handed me nearly fifteen years ago.
I have managed to make this such a neurotic knot of impossibility and failure, a symbol of everything I am not focused or efficient enough to finish, or indeed to do at all... it's ridiculous really, it consists of a group of relatively short essays in English, another group of somewhat longer ones translated from the German, and a beginning and ending that I have to write. I mean, how hard is that, really?
And it's going rather smoothly; for the past two weeks, with Conrad nagging me, I've been working for several hours every day – often in the city library; the top floor has light, big windows and comfortable tables, and is relatively quiet (most of the time, anyway). Less claustrophobic than the university library, which has lower ceilings and more crowds; Alfred works here whenever he's in Newcastle, and I think I should have noticed sooner how pleasant it can be.
There are however points where I remember exactly why this project has driven me crazy – aside from the obvious, that is (i.e. aside from the ways that plug into the sillier things I've failed to do in my life, things where there seems to be almost no reason to fail). That is a simple but not unfamiliar problem, which can be stated as a question: when do you really know that a translation is good enough?
I keep slogging away, but there are points where I'll look over a sentence, or a paragraph – even a short phrase, where I understand just what it means in German but can't seem to explain it in any naturally coherent English sense – and simply despair at the impossibility of it all. Why can't these texts make exact or complete sense, seem casually idiomatic, remain sophisticated, and refer to all the complicated German ideas that are in the originals?...
This is the kind of thing that's driven me nuts in the past. For – well, about fifteen years, in fact.
But at least now I can just blow off steam and get back to it, plug away, a bit too slowly of course (how can a six-page article take me four or five days to translate??), and keep moving, no matter how uncertain, muddy and garbage-strewn the road may seem at times....