Isle of Σειρήνων

Let us imagine that a life is like a journey across the seas and that these seas, in the educated mind, could be mapped out if not in particulars then in general symbols, as in the 16th and 17th century maps described here. They present a full alphabet of demonstrative monstrōrum, conveying moral warnings and oracular tripods: the pensive old man of the sea next to a mermaid next to a "grotesque sea-orc, breathing out fire." We imagine that when we see the mermaid, we might feel glad - but adjacent is a misfortune ablaze. It is a map that is not a system, but a language.
The system is defied by even beginner's drills: ὁ, τοῦ, τῷ, τόν - there is barely correlation in that, it is learned by repetition. Ambergris, aspidoceleon, atoll - symbols are assimilated through practice. One may speak of rudiments and but the suggestion, never ownership, of the system. To know of the sea-dragon is not the same as claiming the victories of Odysseus.
We ask how men have progressed in their reading, whether their intellect is drawn ever back to the whirlpools where they feel the most energy, triumphant as they sink while thinking. Few make it through the maelstrom. Perhaps to travel around it man develops some sort of criteria, κρίσις, not just judgment and the ability to distinguish but development through trial of strength, through reaching the turning point in a disease. Those are criteria, if clear only 'on paper' where beasts correspond not to life. Beasts erased by the systematic mind that thinks work ends with intellectualized definition, pleased with such out-of-body experience as if the vortex did not also have its non-physical component to trap it there, in thought or among the spirits sampled here.
If you were to give an overview of a writer of the map of words and the writer's reception via translation through time, what would you do? One might create a system, or focus on how the extant translations defy understanding, how messages get lost, how we are in essence all drowning in a sea of words.
Or, you could work as the fisherman. Carne-Ross's overview of Horace was governed by "no one principle;" "instead the net has been cast as widely as possible, bringing in a variety of fish". As to criteria: "Judging how far a translator's enlargements, his liberties with and additions to his author's poem, are a wanton intrusion of his own substance, and how far (in Dryden's words) they are 'secretly in the poet, or may be fairly deduced from him', is a delicate business best decided case by case." The question of authenticity is therefore valid in this context, yet allowances are made for deviations - which are judged according to a different set of criteria.




Authenticity may be equated with historical accuracy. Just as translations may be instead liberal transformations, the text of history may be similarly transformed. One may ask why knowing history matters. The answer may be clearer if we ask instead why it matters that a vague imitation not pass as translation. We could say that it is not learned, that it is something new - and worse, pretending to stand on the authority of precedent: its ethos is false.
But the practice flies today (no need to sail the ocean) because this is not an age that is particularly concerned with authenticity, which takes too long and raises pesky questions of ownership. We say of our Western map that all roads lead to Rome, erasing Constantinople and centuries of other legacies that exalted that which now seems like myth. We say defensively, our museums have a Byzantine Wing, but it is a double-headed bird's wing that has been clipped. And what of the Seven Years' War or the numberless other battles that might explain to us better who we are. But like the Sirens' promises in the Odyssey, the clues to our past may be obstructed by danger. Many are the types of fanatics, sea dragons.
The text of history is like translation, "never a substitute for the original but rather a parallel text that brings to the fore new aspects ... while playing down others." This means that our journey across the mapped out seas will include some deception, some not getting the right idea, especially today when we are told there is no right idea, as debate and articulation cede to apparatus. But history, like the individual life, is messy. History, in my opinion, is a better teacher to the modern man who is uncertain of how to cross the waters than the contemporary because it shows how ideas have fared in practice and which are likely to recur. The ideas are not the same, but who does not hear that familiar leitmotif - it is there, but we are warned not to listen while on autopilot as we pass by the crags beneath the Siren birds in their meadow. We would clip their wings but we do not know how to anoint our ears with silence. So it is that the demonstrating monsters stand for a past that endangers our lives if misread.



2 comments:

  1. Hello! Wishing you a bright and very happy 2014! All the best!

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  2. Thank you, and likewise; Isang Pinagpala, Payapa, Maayos at Manigong Bagong Taon!

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