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January 04, 2006

Comments

"It's not elitist to say that it's a different experience to stand in front of the real thing than it is to see a print or a copy on a screen."

Nobody is denying that it is a different experience. The topical question is the relative value of the experiences.

Nor is anyone saying the print is the actual painting. The question is whether the print contains enough of the information of the original to have value.

Question:Is translated literature worth reading?

Question:Is translated literature worth reading?

Good comparison. I'll have to think about that.

Edward: There's a difference between science that people object to on moral grounds and that they object to because it's too elist for them, no, Gromit?

I'm responding to a broader statement:

"The most brilliant artists working today should be encouraged to push further, dig deeper, try harder...not pull back for fear of alienating the public. Scientists would never be asked to do this."

Art can alienate the public in a lot of ways, and morality ranks pretty high in that department.

And I cringe to see Intelligent Design so easily associated in our collective culture with "science." {{shudder}}

Well, it is associated with science in the same way that Oliver Stone's "JFK" is associated with history. But if you want to talk about perceived elitism in science and alienation of the public from its findings, the debate over evolution is a pretty good example, I think.

But if you want to talk about perceived elitism in science and alienation of the public from its findings, the debate over evolution is a pretty good example, I think.

OK, I see your point better. I think I was interpreting the original charge of "elitism" to be about specialists who study the discipline, not those who feel they're above others morally speaking.

bob mcmanus: Question:Is translated literature worth reading?

Depends how good the translation. :-) But seriously, I think it impossible to try and create parallels between words and physical art.

bob mcmanus: Nobody is denying that it is a different experience. The topical question is the relative value of the experiences.

Okay, question for you: You're given the choice of owning a print reproduction of one of Rembrandt's masterpieces, price $5 from the nearest retail shop, or spending $5 to enter an art gallery and seeing twenty paintings by Rembrandt, on loan to that gallery and there for a month. (Substitute name of Your Favorite Painter, if not Rembrandt.) Assuming you have only five bucks in the world, which experience will you choose to have: to own the print, or to look at the real thing?

Gromit: But if you want to talk about perceived elitism in science and alienation of the public from its findings, the debate over evolution is a pretty good example, I think.

Not really. It's only in the US that there is any mainstream objection to evolution: to the rest of the world, it's just an accepted scientific theory, no more alienated from "the public" than Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It's the inexplicable political dominance of one particular branch of Christianity, not "perceived elitism in science" that creates this bizarre situation in the US.

while we're at it: could someone here please do something about the crap lighting in the much hailed National Gallery, thx in advance

Give me the print for life vs the head-craning few minutes with the tourists taking flash pics.

"Assuming you have only five bucks in the world, which experience will you choose to have: to own the print, or to look at the real thing?"

Pass, with explication. My behavior indicates I like my experiences somewhat muted. I do not watch movies in theatres often, for all the usual reasons, but also because of the intensity of the experience. I have a big screen with 5:1, but rarely use it. I listen to my music al level 3-4 out of 30.

The actual contact with art I have had has been a very intense experience. Dallas has a Van Gogh, small and minor, with a sculptural aspect so that from a foot away you see the that this ordinary landscape has a paint-stroke spiral on the surface. It disappears at 5 feet, and obviously in a print. I literally started shaking and shivering when I saw it. I cry. I fear for my sanity. I get panic attacks that such precious things exist. I would give my life to perserve masterpieces. Photograph them and lock them away in temperature controlled lightless environments. We are not worthy.

Holy Stendhal Syndrome, Bob!

rilkefan: Give me the print for life vs the head-craning few minutes with the tourists taking flash pics.

I've never been in a gallery where anyone was allowed to take flash pics!

"I've never been in a gallery where anyone was allowed to take flash pics!"

Been to the Uffizi? Probably not a question of allowed, but of enforcement. Hell, I took a few flash pics of minor works in my callow youth - probably wouldn't have if a good print had been available.

For that matter, I do believe that when I saw the Mona Lisa in its glass housing there were people taking flash pics of it (or rather the housing). I wasn't able to get close enough to the painting to do more than recognize it as the ML, forget examining the brushstrokes.

Jesurgislac: Not really. It's only in the US that there is any mainstream objection to evolution: to the rest of the world, it's just an accepted scientific theory, no more alienated from "the public" than Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

I'm not even sure what this means. By "the rest of the world" do you mean the actual global population? Are you saying that, worldwide, the average number of people who accept that evolution by natural selection as the explanation for biodiversity is higher than it is in the U.S.? Or does "the rest of the world" in this case mean Europe or the U.K.?

It's the inexplicable political dominance of one particular branch of Christianity, not "perceived elitism in science" that creates this bizarre situation in the US.

I think you are underestimating the degree to which populist anti-intellectualism plays a role in this case.

Gromit: By "the rest of the world" do you mean the actual global population? Are you saying that, worldwide, the average number of people who accept that evolution by natural selection as the explanation for biodiversity is higher than it is in the U.S.?

Yes - if we grant the global population excluding those who were never educated to a level where they would normally have heard of evolution by natural selection.

I think you are underestimating the degree to which populist anti-intellectualism plays a role in this case.

I think you are underestimating the degree to which a peculiar kind of Christianity has affected US populist anti-intellectualism. There is no particular reason why evolution has to be picked out of all the science that would have to be untrue if we were to assume that the KJV of the Bible was a literal description of how God created the universe: I know of no other country where a scientific theory as accepted, relied upon, and acceptable as evolution has been treated as if it were controversial and shocking and in need of defense. It is as if NASA was regularly attacked by some Christians because NASA's view of the cosmos is not the cosmos described in Genesis: as if it were controversial for children to be taught that the Earth is not the centre of the cosmos, that the sun does not orbit the Earth, that the stars are not in fact small lights in the sky created on the fourth day.

Oh, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity is accepted by the world at large? To accept it, they'd have to have at least a rudimentary understanding of it, which the vast majority of people do not. They only "accept" it inasmuch as they don't know enough about it to reject it. The theory itself promotes a very counterintuitive world view. Elegant, but counterintuitive.

The fundamentals of evolution through natural selection, on the other hand, aren't so hard to grasp. There's no higher math involved. You don't have to visualize space-time being distorted by massive bodies. You don't have to conceptualize time dilation, or electromagnetic waves propagated without a physical medium. Folks can understand enough of it to figure out that it doesn't jibe with our creation myths.

Been to the Uffizi?

No, sadly.

I have been past the Mona Lisa, and I agree with you that the crowds there are not likely to let anyone enjoy the painting: it's an example of how a painting ceases to be a work of art to be enjoyed and becomes something iconic that people want to say they saw...

Jesurgislac: I think you are underestimating the degree to which a peculiar kind of Christianity has affected US populist anti-intellectualism.

How so? I'm not the one positing an "A and not B" scenario here.

Gromit: Oh, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity is accepted by the world at large?

Yes, I'd say so.

It's only in the US that there is any mainstream objection to evolution: to the rest of the world, it's just an accepted scientific theory, no more alienated from "the public" than Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

I'd wager there is a nontrivial percentage of people in the Islamic world who also reject evolution on religious grounds. I'd bet my last dollar on it, in fact.

Gromit: How so? I'm not the one positing an "A and not B" scenario here.

You are positing (if I understand you correctly) that the denial of evolution by natural selection is common all over, it's not US-specific.

I am positing that indeed it is US-specific, and moreover, it is US-specific because of the political power and influence of a certain kind of Christianity that has been able to give the popular impression that evolution as just one theory among many explaining how current life on earth came to be.

"One clever UK rapper" = "The world at large"

OT,FWIW, and mainly off my chest:

Up above, I called Derek Jarman's Caravaggio "really gay." No one has yet called me on it, but it was a slip that bothered me after I posted. I could have phrased it better, "homoerotic themes" etc. I guess most everyone knew no offense was intended. I would not call Brokeback Mountain a "gay movie." I might call Barbershop a "black movie." I have for the last 24 hours, off and on, been doing my penance by thinking about the "ghettoization" of subcultures, misapproprite labeling, and whether or when "gay" (or whatever) can be used as an adjective, with adequate respect.

Etc. It feels complicated, and not something I am able or willing to discuss at length. I am glad no one called me on it, because I might have been tempted to defend it. I don't think I am in a position to do so. In any case, the usage was thoughtless but not careless, I regret it and will try not to repeat it.

Question:Is translated literature worth reading?

I'll echo Jes on this that it depends a lot on the quality of the translation, but even then it is not the same work, but only an approximation. I'll even leave open the possibility that a translation could be a better work than the original, just as any performance of a musical work or adaptation of a work to a new medium could surpass the original in some way.

But for most written works (at least where the meaning is important) there really is no substitute for reading it in the original language.

Further question -- can a translation of a poem be both a faithful translation and a good poem?

I've thought of writing a poem entitled "Would Be Better Translated Into X" but that would assume a really sophisticated readership and greater linguistic skill on my part than available.

The fundamentals of evolution through natural selection, on the other hand, aren't so hard to grasp.

As my 7 yo stated it a few months ago: "mammy, shall I tell you how the fish made the dinosaurs?" :)

I like the real work better than a print, but I like a print better than nothing. I think the main objection against the show is not that it shows the prints, but that it pretends it is at a level with seeing the real work.

And I agree with nous athanos that translations can be better or worse than the original. But the original language often has a certain ... eh.... 'texture' of it's own, a certain style that is very hard to translate. If I read translations of asian books I recognize a similarity in how things are expressed that goes beyond the individual styles of the writers, and it makes me sorry that I don't understand the original language.

"Further question -- can a translation of a poem be both a faithful translation and a good poem?"

Depends how faithful, but yeah. I like Arrowsmith's translation of Pavese's _Lavorare Stanca_, for example. I've yet to come across a good translation of Catullus, though, which sucks as I've lost my Latin.

Easier and more likely I think for similar languages. I doubt there are lots of good faithful translations of Chinese poetry in English - anyway I've seen a fair number with no there there - obviously dense word-play and formal elements are hard or impossible to reproduce, even in different forms.

Also I suspect modern English is a usefully rich language with helpfully simple grammar, so translations into English should be more successful.

I'd guess it's easier to turn architecture into watercolor than v.v. Though here's music turned into architecture.

OT, has anyone had a druggy but encouraging conversation with hilzoy by any chance?

Question:Is translated literature worth reading?

That anyone could answer with a categorical no is simply too shocking to me to contemplate. A single lifetime is not enough to fully enjoy the Odyssey, Don Quixote, the Tao, The Trial, War and Peace, the Bible (for crying out loud) in the original.* Not if you're going to have any other life, that is. Can one watch the Seven Samurai or the Seventh Seal with subtitles, or is that too impure? I liked Anthony Burgess' subtitles in the Depardieu version of Cyrano, by the way.**

Is a translation as good an an original? Easy question, no. Is it then worthless? Only if you live is some kind of bizarre binary world. (There seem to be a lot of people living in such a world, unfortunately. They ought to read/watch my short list -- in translation -- and get back to me . . .)


* Of course, there are vast works in other languages. These in particular stuck me, off the top, as works I would not want to be without.

**I've no doubt there are people who can fully enjoy all these books and movies in their original languages. I would guess, though, that they could watch the movies together in a single theater.

guess most everyone knew no offense was intended.

I certainly took no offense...I don't refrain from calling "Field of Dreams" a "really straight" movie.

The translation thing has preoccupied me a bit. Authors have received awards for books of theirs that had been translated by someone else, making the questions of authorship and originality in the context of value a difficult parallel to draw with fine art.

I tend to agree with the Italians who insist, "Traduttore, traditore," though, when pressed to explain the difference. There is a difference, regardless of how excellent the translation may be. In fact, I've often wished I could read this or that language better while reading a translation, especially one I know has been translated more than once and by comparing various translations it becomes clear what a hatchett job one of them (at least) must be.

"Spiderman...."

Focusing as ever on the crucial detail: that's "Spider-Man."

(It's always most polite to know how to spell someone's name.)

You're an absolute font of information, aren't you Gary? ;-)

But for most written works (at least where the meaning is important) there really is no substitute for reading it in the original language.

Interesting -- my impression is pretty much the opposite. The more meaning-centered the work is, the more amenable it is to translation. It's the works that put a heavy emphasis on style and word play that defy translation, IME.

Note that "style and word play" are part of the meaning.

This discussion makes me remember this translation of Ubu Roi (French version is here)

via Language hat

Ken -- I see where you are coming from, but I was actually thinking more along the lines that a tale is easier to get the essence of in another language because it is more about narrative than about meaning or subjectivity. So I think we are mostly agreeing here.

ObFrostCliche: Poetry is that which is lost in translation.

ObFrostCliche: Poetry is that which is lost in translation.

That's the instinct that makes me buy facing texts of poetry even in languages I can't even sound out. Maybe the bilingual Sappho edition was a little silly...but the instinct overwhelmed me.

OT, has anyone had a druggy but encouraging conversation with hilzoy by any chance?

Other than re-reading the archives?

The Poem Itself is a survey of major Modern European poets with in-depth translations. Worth checking out if you can get your hands on it.

Phil: "One clever UK rapper" = "The world at large"

Would you like more citations of use of Einstein's Theory of Relativity in popular culture? I've got more...

Jackmormon: That's the instinct that makes me buy facing texts of poetry even in languages I can't even sound out.

Me too. (After all, there's always the chance I might someday have time to learn that language, at least to read it...)

"You're an absolute font of information, aren't you Gary?"

I spill over a lot, if that's what you're asking.

"Note that 'style and word play' are part of the meaning."

Inextricably. I bang on about this constantly, yet badly.

"Would you like more citations of use of Einstein's Theory of Relativity in popular culture? I've got more..."

It would likely be quite pointless. American society, as it happens, does not lack for references to evolution in popular culture, it turns out.

The notion that either special or general relativity are generally accepted popular notions in most of the world's population's conversation is also somewhat special.

I have an odd notion that the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contractions metaphorically apply to such notions of said conversations around the world.

But, to be sure, I'm also faintly doubtful that devout Hindus, Moslems, or animists, amongst others, en masse or individually have adopted Darwin into their mythos.

I could, to be sure, be wrong. If Jes has a reputable opinion survey from British mosques on opinions about evolution, that would certainly advance her point. I'm quite sure she wouldn't want to disregard the opinions of European Moslems as unworthy of note, any more than she'd want to draw a line underneath elites in one nation, but not in others, and thus make false, or even silly and invalid, comparisons.

But, to be sure, I'm also faintly doubtful that devout Hindus, Moslems, or animists, amongst others, en masse or individually have adopted Darwin into their mythos.

Adopted into or learned to get along with? AFAIK the only major religion get its knickers in a twist over evolution is Christianity (specifically the fundagelical branch most commonly found in the United Stated) but that could be either because none of the other major religions care or because evolution as an issue is so damn remote as to be off their effective conceptual map (as I suspect may be the case for the majority of Hindus).

Would you like more citations of use of Einstein's Theory of Relativity in popular culture? I've got more...

Just to be pedantic, "Anglospheric popular culture" also != "the world at large."

ALong with that last-dollar bet concerning Muslims and evolution, I'll bet my penultimate dollar that a vast majority of "the world at large" can't even tell you what either the general or special theory of relativity is, let alone whether they have "accepted" it.

Translators are the unsung, underpaid heroes of the book business - the sheer amount of intellectual energy and the vast breadth of knowledge it takes to translate a literary work would earn them a small fortune in a just world. They are also the people, who really get to know the books. If you're reading a book in your primary language you are often prone to skipping, not noticing or taking things for granted. If you're reading a book in a secondary language, you'll probably pay more attention and if you're translating a literary work you have have to be alert as hell. Having only dabbled in this a little in college, I still think it's the highest form of reading and understanding literature.

"AFAIK the only major religion get its knickers in a twist over evolution is Christianity...."

Religions that don't have centrality duck better under the radar. I tend to think there's not a lot of reporting in American newspapers and magazines about Hindu thinking, as well. There's not even much coverage of the RSS, after all. Though I have no doubt at least as many pro-evolution Hindus can be found as pro-evolution Jews. Ditto Moslems, and, obviously, Christians. A bit beside the point, though. Anyone who adheres to a fundamentalist storyline can't and doesn't admit to biological evolution, and there's no shortage of such folks, and anyone who thinks they're all Christian is unlikely to have taken a proper world survey, I suggest.

Phil: I'll bet my penultimate dollar that a vast majority of "the world at large" can't even tell you what either the general or special theory of relativity is, let alone whether they have "accepted" it.

Practically speaking, Phil, a person who does not know what the theory of relativity is cannot be said to have either accepted or rejected it: they are in a mu state, neither accepting nor rejecting, and therefore cannot be counted with either group. Equally so with the theory of evolution: if you have never heard of it, you cannot be said to have either accepted or rejected it.

If I were you,I wouldn't dig that hole any deeper Jes: I seriously doubt that anybody on this blog really understands the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics, well, maybe the one or two who got a degree in physics. Defending the theory of evolution against religion, otoh, would be a piece of cake.

"...I seriously doubt that anybody on this blog really understands...."

We'd have to first define "understands," of course. Do the equations? Grasp the concepts? Etc.

Whoa. A whole new Typepad error page. At least they seem to be approaching grasping the problem.

"Translators are the unsung, underpaid heroes of the book business - the sheer amount of intellectual energy and the vast breadth of knowledge it takes to translate a literary work would earn them a small fortune in a just world."

Having only worked with a number of translators, I just need to second that emotion. It's an impossible and awesome job, at least if one is translating good fiction; nonfiction, less so, but still impressive. Gregory Rabassa I tended to want to bow to on the phone, though he never knew, no matter how many times we talked (wouldn't be professional, y'know).

novakant: If I were you,I wouldn't dig that hole any deeper Jes: I seriously doubt that anybody on this blog really understands the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics, well, maybe the one or two who got a degree in physics.

First define "really". :-)

Defending the theory of evolution against religion, otoh, would be a piece of cake.

And yet, somehow, so many Americans believe that the theory of evolution is just one competing theory among many. Which is, as I recall, where I started out: that the political power of a particular type of Christian is unusually strong in the US, which is why opposition to evolution has become so mainstream in the US, but not especially elsewhere.

"...which is why opposition to evolution has become so mainstream in the US...."

Though not enough to actually be legally taught in science class in public school. That's not worth noting, of course.

Of course, we don't even have an established religion in this country, or even an Upper House to our legislature where lords and ladies sit. It's almost as if we elect folks, instead.

Pretty damn oppressive, if you ask me. Other folks do it better, and are in a position to say so. Hereditary positions and a state Church are clearly the way to go.

Alternatively, all of our democracies have flaws. But some of us are a tad less snotty about sneering at others. Glass houses. Glass houses. But, no matter. Tell us about the superiority of an unwritten Bill of Rights, why don't you?

Jesurgislac: You are positing (if I understand you correctly) that the denial of evolution by natural selection is common all over, it's not US-specific.

Looks like you are not understanding me correctly. I'm saying that the objection to Darwin's theories among some populations in the U.S. is in no small part cultural and political in addition to being theological. Also, I should point out that there are folks who do not understand those theories who still reject them. Your quarrel on that point, I suppose, is with them.

Religions that don't have centrality duck better under the radar.

I'm not convinced that the fraction of ultra-Orthodox Jews whose interpretations of the Torah expressly conflict with evolution is a significant one, but you're right that I didn't make the relevant genuflection towards the small proportion of loonies present in any meaningful demographic.

Edward et al., check out the comments here, in particular this comment about art.

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