Friday, June 05, 2009

Some things I've been reading: Gilead, Kulkarni, Nemser, Kirsch, Merrill, and Neuhaus

Some things I've been reading recently (Warning: to follow me to all these places will require plenty of spare or work time on your part):

Amihud Gilead's essay "How Few Words Can the Shortest Story Have?", which persuasively makes the case that Ernest Hemingway's untitled six-word story "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." beats all the competition for the most complex and satisfying short short story ever written.

Two essays about the dismal performance of the BJP in the recent national elections, one by a perceptive outsider, Vir Sanghvi, called "What Is The BJP all about today?", the other a very detailed piece by an insider, Sudheendra Kulkarni, called "Hindu Divided Family".

Two excellent essays on poetry in translation (1, 2): one by Alexander Nemser on Vladimir Nabokov's stilted translations of the major Russian poets Verses and Versions ("Nabokov's versions have the paradoxical consequence of revealing how subjective even a literal translation is. [H]is baffling diction and his commitment to warped syntax produce an effect more of singularity than of accuracy. Literal translation, like any other kind, is asymptotic: it is always approaching the solution but never reaching it. And the gap between the original and the new version can be filled in only subjectively, depending on one's aesthetic sense of what to keep and what to give up. Beyond a certain level of rudimentary meaning, there is no proof in translation, there is only persuasion...")

and the other by Adam Kirsch on David Hinton's Classical Chinese Poetry ("No translator of Chinese verse attempts to follow the original in meter or rhyme, for the simple reason that, if such fidelity is difficult even in translating a kindred language such as French or German, it is utterly impossible when dealing with a language like Chinese. That is why it is so appropriate that Pound, who knew no Chinese, should be the inventor of Chinese poetry in English. When reading English versions of Chinese poems, we are getting as close as the conditions of our knowledge will allow, but no closer--we are reading the phenomenon, while the noumenon, the lyrical thing-in-itself, remains always out of reach.")

"What Is A Translator's True Calling", an essay by Christi Merrill on the stories of the Rajasthani writer Vijay Dan Detha ("At the beginning of his writing career, Detha told me, he unabashedly thought of himself as a folklorist, and made it his life mission to put into print the exceedingly varied and vibrant oral tales he grew up hearing in his native rural Rajasthan. And while he didn't state this directly, he made me understand that he began to feel frustrated with the unspoken mandate to copy down the tales exactly as he heard them. So he began to make changes — as would any storyteller in the oral tradition, I would argue — to bring out the full effect of each story. When I met him in 1988, he had already published fourteen fat volumes of tales written in Rajasthani as part of a series called Batan ri Phulwari (A Garden of Tales), and counted as his influences Russian fabulist and playwright Anton Chekhov (in Hindi translation), Hindi Progressive realist short story writer and novelist Premchand, and the German folklorist brothers Grimm (in English translation)...His work, like mine, was a different kind of translation, more in the spirit of the Hindi word anuvad, which conveys instead a 'telling in turn.' ") Merrill's translation of Detha's "translations" are forthcoming from Katha Books, and she is also the author of the recent study Riddles of Belonging: India in Translation and Other Tales of Possession.

Geoffrey O'Brien on Douglas Sirk's 1954 film Magnificent Obsessions, which cites this brilliant observation from Sirk: “The angles are the director’s thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy.” This is one of hundreds of essays film scholars on the Criterion website; just search for your own favourite movies and then settle down with a nice drink to read what you've collected.

And lastly, "A Curious Encounter with a Philosopher from Nowhere", an account by the Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus of a debate he had with the philosopher Peter Singer. Neuhaus, who passed away in January this year, was the editor of the journal First Things, which I came to during a particularly fruitful period in my reading seven or so years ago. The declared purpose of First Things was "to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society", and from it I, then a student with a typically dismissive view of religious faith, learnt many good things about what religion is and the place that religious belief has in a serious consideration of the world. This essay is part of one of Neuhaus's celebrated monthly columns, "The Public Square", and even if you were not to agree with Neuhaus's worldview, I'd say there is much to think about in his declaration that "I hope always to be religiously orthodox, culturally conservative, politically liberal, and economically pragmatic."


Anu said...

Look forward to the Merrill book, Vijay Dan Detha is one of my favourites, they are really the kind of stories you can read any number of times and find something new each time.

youprat said...

I guess you've invented a new genre in literature? Blogposts as answers to mail.

Btw, I disagree with whoever, you can either stick to original or not stick to it, or you can do whatever you want, so long as you make a good job of it.