Masochistic Translation

Painful Differance

I recently had a taste of a truly alienating translation: a translation that made me cry from lack of comprehension, and said comprehension was intentional in the author’s method and theory as well as the translator’s. This text, if you haven’t guessed, is Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

I am told that Of Grammatology is forever deferred both in fact and meaning. Nobody gets it enough to fully summarize, but individual chunks might be worked through, as can be terms such as ‘trace,’ ‘sous rature,’ ‘differance’ et cetera. Writing exists in a particular relationship to language and to speech, and this relationship is opposite to that believed by the formalists, structuralists and logocentrists. We cannot get to meaning and the signified; we can only slide around in trace relationships between various signifiers in one time, place, language: one moment. What can be made present is only a partial presence, the trace; what is lost, the arche-trace, can be slide back and around, but never regained.

Spivak furthers this theoretical endeavor by sliding around in her translation, by making a 90 page translator’s preface that forces particular readings of the following 300 pages and challenges the relationship of original and translation through such placement. The preface, which comes after Derrida’s de la Grammatologie, is placed before Of Grammatology and thereby becomes first. Derrida’s text is not signfied to her translation’s signifier, rather there are only signifiers of signifiers, translations of translations, versions of versions. Spivak notes how related all of this is to translation in passing implications on lxxvii then straight out on lxxxv-lxxxvii.

All of this taken as is, reading Of Grammatology is a painful experience of slippery wordplay and neverending deferral of understanding. Reading Spivak’s translation is just that much more painful.

The Derridian (and de Man and Spivak) translational project would lead to very unpleasant translations: Spivak’s case is a prime example. However, she got away with it as she is not writing for entertainment and pleasure. Only for the masochistically inclined is Derrida fun.


Speaking of mascochism, there are such things as masocore games (a term coming from Anna Anthropy’s blog entry on Auntie Pixelante). Not everybody likes or plays them, but they do exist. Said simply, masocore are games that revel in mistreating the player.

Giantbomb  notes masocore is “a postmodern indie game genre in which the designer intentionally frustrates the player. This frustration is typically accomplished by restructuring a preexisting game genre to place it in in one of three categories of frustration.”

“Trial and Error” is the necessity of following an exact path and figuring out that path. This is easily seen in platformers that necessitate exact jumps, or adventure games that require an exact path where alteration of such leads to the inability to complete the game (such as an item that you needed to pick up in the opening scenes without which the game cannot be completed)

“Confusion” is where generic conventions are broken (often resulting in the player having to relearn generic boundaries through Trial and Error). An example of this from Auntie Pixelante is “you jump over the apple, and the apple falls up and kills you. the apple falls up and kills you.” Auntie Pixelante goes on to reject the “merely super-hard” moniker and sides with the belief that masocore games are those that “[play] with the player’s expectations, the conventions of the genre that the player thinks she knows. they’re mindfucks.”

“Play,” Giantbomb’s third category, is the removal of play motivation (end, death, etc) in order to force the player to focus on (uncomfortable) play mechanics.

As Anna Anthropy states in the conclusion of her piece, masocore is visible now because of the intersections of independent gaming and free and easy distribution methods. She writes: “most of these games are simply unmarketable. which is why the masocore game, twenty years later, is starting to come into its own: now there are avenues for freeware games to reach wide audiences. these games have no need to sell themselves to the player, which allows them to be among the most interesting game experiences being crafted right now.”

Key to her statement in my mind is the how the gaming aesthetic of masochism has been enabled by the early 21st century game industry that has expanded beyond the generic as marketable to the niche as marketable.


Masocore, is certainly a recently dubbed generic name, but it has persistent links to previous forms of the past decades. While the third form of masocore frustration (Play) might be unique, the other two forms can be seen in earlier methods of differentiated difficulties (and in general it can be traced back much further to such “games” as gladiatorial combat, martial arts, war, et cetera).

Game difficulty exists for multiple reasons, only one of which is enjoyment. (The relationship between difficulty and profit where arcade games necessitated difficulty to garner maximal profit, but video/computer games necessitated ease to enable the completion and further purchase of another game are ignored here.)

Due to the belief that difficulty is good for some reason (Flow, or any other theory), games have had various levels of difficulty and different methods of implementing said difficulty. Some games were simply really, really hard such as Donkey Kong and Ghost’n Goblins, some included the use of continues to enable the completion of a game (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter), some offered different difficulty levels (Atari’s difficulty switch; The standardized Easy, Normal, Hard; Doom‘s I’m too Young to Die, Hey, Not too Rough, Hurt Me Plenty, Ultra-Violence, Nightmare!; Marathon‘s Kindergarten, Easy, Normal, Major Damage, Total Carnage; Halo‘s Easy, Normal, Heroic, Legendary; etc), some went the full opposite direction and made it impossible to lose by re-spawning the player at one point or another through some diegetic method (Prey, Bioshock). All of these are based around the idea that there is some benefit in difficulty, but just what that benefit is, and what level of difficulty is good, is unsure.

One new variation is the use of achievements to create a masocore element to an otherwise reasonable game. For instance, one of Mega Man 10‘s 12 achievements is Mr. Perfect, which requires the player “Clear the game without getting damaged.” In a Megaman style platformer this is nearly impossible and both a new proof of hardcore’ness and an implementation of masocore’ness.

Difficulty changes (as do implementations), but the tendency is neither to bow down to the masocores nor the casuals. Instead, the game industry has increasingly attempted to provide access to both. Difficulty, even masochistic pleasure in the extremely difficult, is increasingly deemed acceptable. The inclusion of the masochistic Mr. Perfect achievement between Mega Man 9 (2008) and Mega Man 10 (2010) and its correspondence to Anna Anthropy’s post in 2008 and the present 2010 point to this process of incorporation. Translation should learn a lesson from this, especially when localization’s main defense for its problematic translational method is that games need to be fun, to be entertainment. Some people like masocore games; some people like Derridian translations. Let’s start having masochistic translations.


Anthropy, Anna. “Masocore Games.” Auntie Pixelante. Posted: April 6, 2008. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <>

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak trans. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Mega Man 10 Achievement List. X-Box 360 Achievements. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <>

TheDustin. “Masocore: Mr. Gimmick: The Best NES Platformer You Haven’t Heard Of (and Sadly Haven’t Played).” Play This Thing. Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010. Accessed: Sunday, February 14, 2010. <>

Various Authors. “Masocore (video game concept).” Giant Bomb. Accessed: February 14, 2010. <>.

What Type of World is it Again?

I’m sure the above is not something you need to question if you’ve sat through Disneyland’s Small World ride in either its new or old forms. We all know it’s a small world; we all know that all the people in the world are represented; we all know that everybody’s cute, singing oh so happy. What you/we might not know are some of these interesting particulars.

Like that in each of the rooms there exist Disney characters: Lilo and Stitch in the island/Hawaiian area, Aladdin in the Arabian world and so on and so forth. Is the world Disney or is Disney the world? And just what is the relationship between the Orientalist fantasy of Aladdin and whatever we may claim Disney(land) is?

And again, what of the happy warnings in the beginning that rotate between English to French to Spanish to English to Japanese to Spanish to English to German to Spanish and on ad infinum. Obviously that says something about the French, Japanese and German visitors, dying to hear the message about keeping their arms and legs inside the tram as well as those visitors that don’t get a personalized message. But it also says so much about the relationship between English and Spanish in a park, and corner of the country, that is indebted to Spanish speaking workers.

So what type of world are we in again? This time let’s not just call it small, or fun, or even troubled, but perhaps complicated.

thoughts from the plane

On my way to London (and just before) I watched two rather striking movies. Well, they weren’t particularly striking, but they had something that sparked my interest. Nigerians.

Both District 9 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have rather negative depictions of Nigerians. The former makes them arms, flesh and drug dealers in the alien district in South Africa and the latter turns them into the initial, random group of ‘baddies’ that Wolverine’s team faces off against and in the process display their mutant abilities. Both show Nigerians as black market dealers, as against the main law, as bad guys, but also interesting, as sub bad guys. In both movies they are not the main adversary, they’re represented as the fly that gets in the way, but not the bad bads (who are, in both movies, governmental agencies and the good guys are the rebels).

The second is something that has annoyed me for a long time, but was brought out in different way on the plane. Americans leave the movie early. By early, I mean before the credits finish rolling. This is not true of all Americans, I’m told, as Los Angelinos stay to the end to see their fellows. However, it’s quite different from Japanese where the movie does not end until the lights rise at the end of the credits and people do not leave until that point.

This observation has a few minor asides:
a) certain movies use gag clips or extra info during the credits to keep people in the audience (one such is Austin Powers), but the question then is whether people pay a whit of attention to the names as they are paying attention to the continued movie.
b) what about the difference between movies with the information at the beginning and the information at the end?

But the plane brought out something even stranger. X-Men Origin: Wolverine’s credits were fast forwarded through. The credit roll went up fast and it was unreadable, but it did go. Why? Is that adding insult to injury, just satisfying legal obligations? Or is it something else?


An idea that I have been muling over in my head for a while is a reaction to the birthright policy of Israel. I have never been comfortable with the way that policy betweenZionist law of return, Israel and the United States have operated in relationship to my own person. It has never been a strong revolt, but a deep seated distrust. Ironically, it is the same distrust that I place on simple nationalism and its essential, exclusionary principles: you can’t have a nation without marking ideological/subjective borders; you can’t have a state without marking territorial borders. As such, it makes perfect sense that the process of defining Israel as a nation-state necessitates both the marking of boundaries on the land and with/in individuals. While I can deal with such markings in theory, I have a problem when the practice of territoriality then attempts to bring me into its rhetoric, essentially  pushing accountability onto me.

The law of return, as I understand it, claims that all Jewish people (loosely defined and used) have the ability to become full Israeli citizens as a process of ‘homecoming.’ There are a few purposes to the law: it provides a path to citizenship (necessary in any nation-state), it also purportedly solves fears of anti-semitism through the creation of a safe state and ends the diaspora/search for the land of Israel.

While problems exist on most levels of the its conception and implementation most problematic in my understanding is the relationship between expanding definition of those qualified to make the return and the inability of a Palestinian return. Through expanding who could return well beyond its original definition fromJew to child, spouse, grandchild et cetera there is initiated an infinite expansion that does not allow for a solution to the problem of Palestinian exile.

Part of the inability to solve the Palestinian return is thus placed not on the Israel’s own actions and policy, but on the potential citizens around the world. The placeholders of citizenship that exist for each of the 8 million non-Israelijews makes it impossible to deal with the actual people seeking to settle on that ground. The law of return makes it possible to foreclose the possibility of one person to obtain citizenship in order for another to have said citizenship in potentiality.

Such placeholder citizenship, as stated previously, places accountability on the ‘Jew’ who has no desire to ‘return,’ who has no intention to ‘return.’ However, there is no means of abandoning this placeholder granted by the census bureau. If there is a way to claim such a law of return, there needs to be an ability to deny, to revoke the so called ‘birthright.’


Today I had a long conversation about the differences between and qualities of the prefixes post and neo. Obviously, on the simple root level one implies after and the other implies new. Unfortunately, the usage of the terms is hardly regulated, far from understandable, and often used for the same formation: post-colonial, neo-colonial, post-Fordist, neo-Fordist, et cetera.

Thus, the question turns to what they each imply, what are the particularities of the terms. Post-colonial implies after the colonial moment, there are no more empires or colonies, so the idea of post-colonial focuses on the temporal switch from one era/epoch/period/moment to the next. It highlights chronoogical time as hte basic structure of intelligibility.

In contrast, there are those who adamantly refuse to use the term post-colonialism on teh grounds that formations of domination and exploitation exist despite the lack of colonies perse (American imperialism of the mid/late 20th century and its relationship to Israel and Japan are the standard objections). This is generally resultant in the use of neo-colonialism, which highlights not the temporally specific formation of empire and colonies, but the structural paradicgm and its 20th century revision into a new, but related paradigm. Neo thus implies a progression and revision of structure and ideas.

To here, it is possible to understand the nomenculture as a matter of individual emphasis. The problem is that it goes beyond a simple linguistic turn. History is structured after the fact by discourse: the emphasis of political structure or ethical paradigm restructures the historical field of knowledge.

So, which is better, neo or post? Is time the best way to structure knowledge or is theme? And how do each of these translate between contexts?