Wednesday, August 27, 2008

READING BROADENS THE MIND UNTIL YOU CAN'T GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF DOORS


Oh no. I was mean to someone in the blogosphere yesterday. What came over me?

Here's the context: Chad Post meta-posted Daniel Green who, in essence, argues that you can't judge a text that's been translated because you can't judge whether the translation
adequately render[s] the original in a way that would dupicate [sic] the Russian reader's experience of Grossman's text.
(For the philosophers of mind among us: That's quite a hearty helping of the qualia problem right there.) (And is that the sound of Nabokov fainting? Is that Conrad spinning in his grave? Did someone drop twenty King James Bibles there, with a mighty thump?)

Chad smells BS here, and so did a few commenters. I posted my comment on Green, mean-spirited and red-eyed, in Chad's blog, because although I did try to post it in Green's, it never actually appeared on the blog. (Must be moderated. Heaven forbid critics get criticized.)

Here's what I wrote:

Allow me to quote another brilliant passage from Green’s blog:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on fiction written in English, even more specifically on American fiction since I feel most able to engage with texts composed in American English (and also with the cultural realities often underlying American language conventions).”

Let’s play around a bit with this, shall we?

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on paintings done in North America, even more specifically in the United States of America since I feel most able to engage with depictions of cultural realities often underlying American cultural conventions.”

Or:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on music composed in the United States of America since I feel most able to engage with sounds produced by my fellow Americans (and also with the cultural realities often underlying American muscial conventions).”

How about:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on fiction written in American English, even more specifically on fiction written by white males since I feel most able to engage with texts composed in Standard American English (and also with the cultural realities often underlying contemporary white male language conventions).”

Time, in other words, for Mr. Green to pull his lazy head out of his spastic colon and listen to some Bach and look at some Picasso and read some Bolano. Or some Shakespeare. Or perhaps some Toni Morrison.

All culture is translation, even if only from mind to mind. All of it.

Yup, I know. Mean-spirited, ad hominem, O'Reilly-worthy shouts. Oh my! -- all those things you do when you suddenly see red! All those thing I promised myself never to engage in! What happened to equanimity? To self-restraint?

So last night then I asked myself: Why do you care, hm? Really? And do you?

And, yes, I do.

I live in America. Which is sometimes said to be a melting pot. But it ain't. There's a fire under the pot alright, but ain't nothing cooking.

Which is where literature comes in. In my mind writing, and reading, is this fantastic laboratory. (This likely goes for all the arts.) In your writing and in your reading ideas percolate and whirl and evaporate, and from them you can distill the new. Literature is the true melting pot, the foundry out of which we forge... Oh well, I get too high-faluting here, and too cliched.* Knock it down a notch.

It's just that the literature I care about sings in many tongues: It can be Brits with deep new roots in Japanese society, recovering Muslims investigating the human core at the heart of religion, women examining the true awfulness of masculinity, white Americans having a long hard look at our racism past and present, Jews writing about "passing", Americans writing in French, Russians writing in English, or dying men turning back to stare unblinkingly into the void of life's true evil.

Good art has wings. Climb on its back. Art should change the world -- one person at a time. What's the use of any journey, if it makes you stay who you were all along?

Which is why I get mad when someone stares at the pyramids like a sullen adolescent, and says: They look just like the ones in Vegas. Or the other way around.


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* Yes, I know. I am too stupid to get an accent aigu out of this damn blogging machine.



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