Posted by: patenttranslator | October 25, 2010

Supply and Demand of Translation Work – A Perverse Mutation Of Carl Jung’s Concept of Synchronicity

“A particularly beautiful woman is a source of terror. As a rule, a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment.”

Carl Gustav Jung

I will not be writing about the terror that men experience in the presence of a beautiful woman, although I could go on and on forever, of course. Maybe some other time. I just the love the quote, especially the second part. There are many other terrifying experiences in the life of a patent translator, although perhaps not as terrifying as the one identified in the quote above.

What I am interested in today is the application of Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity to the ebb and flow of the translation business. As we know, Carl Jung developed a theory called synchronicity, which purports to explain the unexplainable, namely how everything is interconnected so that there are really no coincidences in our life at all. Or if they are coincidences, these are “meaningful coincidences” and self-absorbed as we are, we don’t see the connection.

For example, you are driving in your car and all of a sudden you are thinking of a word, a concept, a place …. for example “Biarritz”. You have never been to Biarritz, you barely know that it is a resort town by the sea in France, or maybe Spain, but twenty years ago you saw a black and white movie that was filmed in Biarritz by some famous film director whose name you have long forgotten and for some reason, you just happen to think of that strange name of that place. In that moment, you turn on the car radio and you find yourself listening to a song about Biarritz. The only song about Biarritz there is, really, is being played on your radio station which never plays this kind of music precisely in this moment. This is what Jung calls synchronicity.

The supply of translation work and the demand for translators is a somewhat perverse mutation of Carl Jung’s idea of synchronicity – everything happens in parallel and at the same time, or synchronously, but mostly to your disadvantage. It is also called the feast or famine syndrome. You either have no work for days, you sit by the phone, keep checking your e-mail …. and there’s nothing. Then, all of a sudden, the floodgates open wide and you have five, make that six, projects on your desk, which you can finish in 10 days as you promised, but only if you keep translating 3,750 words a day for the next 10 days including Saturdays and Sundays. It is humanly possible, although just barely, and you have done it before. But since you’ve had no work for more than a week, you really have no choice but to do it because there are bills to pay. What makes it even more scary is that you know that you will need about a day to proofread those translations, and you can’t really proofread when you are tired because too many typos will remain undiscovered if you do that.

But because you are now riding the crest of the wave called synchronicity, unlike last week, the meaningful coincidences are now working for you rather than against you. You find that under pressure, you can actually translate more than four thousand words a day so that there will be some time left for proofreading. You discover that the one patent that was in a field that you really don’t know that well is really simple. The title says that the invention is about thoracoscopic surgery, which sounds kind of scary, but it really involves mostly simple concepts from mechanical engineering, which is what you have been doing for 20 years. Again, what is happening now is that you are riding high the crest of the wave of synchronicity. It works for you again, at least for the moment. When the last project is finished, you have a sense of accomplishment not unlike what you used to feel a long time ago after a particularly difficult examination at the university.

And in a completely synchronized fashion, the world forgets about you again. There are no e-mails, nobody calls, nobody needs you anymore. After the thrill of riding the crest of the wave of synchronicity, you are now resting in the deep, dark valley again, waiting like the big octopus from Victor Hugo’s Les Travailleur de la Mer for the next wave that will bring you the next prey that must be vanquished and crushed so that it could be devoured for nourishment.

The monster of the deep in Victor Hugo’s book dies.

But you live to fight another day.

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