NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (17)
November 25, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.
KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT)
But Sasha, in her mom’s Airstream, climbed a TV mountain, and taught herself Klingon with a correspondence course designed by other geeks like her.
She was—is—was—she’s lovely. She has an overbite, one which somehow suggests that she’s eternally biting her lip, trying not to think about sex. And she is so fantastically awkward that her gestures come out the other side of klutzy, a kinetic car crash you can’t take your eyes off.
I fell for her on sight, at the Constructed Languages Convention (“ConLang”) eight years ago in San Diego. I’d been working on an artificial language, and I was curious about what more serious proponents of artificial language were up to.
There were rumors that some of the native speakers of Esperanto — people actually raised with a constructed language as their first — would be there. This interested me, just having a drink with them, taking their measure. I was inventing a language, but I had my doubts about the viability of such an endeavor. Esperanto is not a success, but it is less of a failure than any other, out of hundreds of attempts across time, and I wanted to know why.
The authors of the Klingon Hamlet had not been given much podium-time. Even among conlangers, the Klingonists are considered geeks and pariahs of a whole different order of magnitude. They were on a small stage in an auditorium at the San Diego Marriott.
The room was named for its wallpaper, which depicted the Andrea Doria. Many of the people in the audience were in Star Trek costumes. The whole thing struck me as absurd, but in an amused way. I’d just popped in for a moment, out of idle — no, morbid — no, idle curiosity. I sat down next to a woman wearing a pith helmet.
The authors spoke briefly about their process, about the Klingon Shakespeare Restoration Project in general, about the years of labor the translation required.
The word “translation” caused a fuss and buzz, a fuzz, a buf; this fuzzbuf grew into murmur and thence into a groundswell — and then a kind of nasal coherence emerged from the crowd:
“In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Klingon Chancellor Gorkon says “you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”
The speakers laughed broadly, and allowed “okay, restoration, then.”
And they opened the floor to questions.
Sasha stood, twisting the straps on her handbag. I noticed the handbag first. It was the type that we meager Terrans might call “leathern,” or anyway, might’ve centuries ago. Sasha’s gestural ballet, as I’ve said, was so extreme that I thought at first she was simultaneously translating her remarks into a semaphore for others present.
That I thought this, that I called her purse “leathern” even to myself, ought to give you some idea of my own ridiculous nerdiness. People who invent languages, practitioners of “the secret vice,” as Tolkien called his own obsession with Elvish, are heroically uncool.
It’s a thing. We’re used to it.
Sasha was something else again. Sui generis — part golem, part cocktail waitress, with an ass like the great outdoors.
She had read the Klingon Hamlet. It was the only book she’d read since high school, and she’d read no Shakespeare back in Red Bank, you can be sure. She’d read it carefully, twice, with a yellow highlighter and a notebook and her Klingon dictionaries, going back to it between customers’ passes and puke-filled ashtrays, night after night.
It had taken her most of the year and she had a burning question, her hands aflurry. She stood with one foot tucked against the other thigh like a stork. In an Uhura minidress that left her legs visible up past Thursday.
She spoke for a moment or two.
Klingon has a voiceless velar fricative, and voiceless uvular and lateral affricates. It has both glottal and voiceless uvular stops. It has no velar plosives at all.
In other words, in normal words, it is impressively unearthly, especially to a native English speaker — like you’re gargling rats.
The speakers looked first dismissive, then interested — then turned-on.
And then mortified.
The taller one recovered his composure first.
“The young lady,” he spat into the mic, “wishes to know why, given that Klingon is a language of warriors” — and here the Klingons in the audience made a gesture ensemble which was obscure to me in meaning but which recalled footage I have seen of Hitler Youth —
“— a language of action, a language in which, as she put it, action itself is the secret subject of every sentence, why we chose to translate this particular epic? Wil’yam Shex’pir’s Khamlet, she says, has got to be the least Klingon person she can even imagine, and ‘to be or not to be,’ a question no Klingon in his right mind would become paralyzed by. Anyone would choose death. Khamlet, she says, is a man of inaction, unworthy of the language we have put in his lips.”
The audience sniggered. Sasha had awakened the easily stirred misogyny of a roomful of dusty old farts-in-training.
The shorter man on stage gave a sadistic smile.
“To be or not to be — taH pagh taHbe — appealed to me for that very reason, honey. Your accent is pretty good for a girl, by the way. Next question.”
“What an asshole,” muttered Pith Helmet.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Peggy Nelson | Andrew Sempere on NERDING | Blanca Rego on RAIN | Lucy Sante on PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII | Heather Cole on AMERICAN GIRL | Nicholas Rombes on OLD GEOLOGY SURVEY BOOKS WITH MAP INSERTS | Susan Roe on TIME | Mark Kingwell on SCALE MODELS | Jessamyn West on THE POST OFFICE | Josh Glenn on ARDUIN | Vanessa Berry on NEWSAGENCY AESTHETICS | Toby Ferris on BRITISH/EALING WW2 FILMS | Annie Nocenti on MOSS | Adam McGovern on JOAN SEMMEL | Gabriela Pedranti on ILLUSTRATED BOOKS | Miranda Mellis on DOUBT | Tom Nealon on PAGE EDGES | Mandy Keifetz on KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT) | Eric Weisbard on SUMMATIONS | Kio Stark on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION CODES | Charlie Mitchell on REPO MAN | James Parker on SEINFELD | Heather Kapplow on NOTHING | Russell Bennetts on VIDEO GAMES: MODE 7 | Vijay Parthasarathy on VIRTUAL TRAVEL | Marc Weidenbaum on NERD PROXIMITY.
KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2022): KUILL | CATO | RAWHIDE | VOLSTAGG | THE APOSTLE PETER & 20 other sidekicks. NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | DOUBT | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.