Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Why do i always feel a deep need to read more than one translation of any given text? more than one translation? four, five, six translations of the same text, of the same book...i dont recommend this...i m ever dissatisfied and never feel that i ve understood enuff of whatever i happen to be reading. so here is another translation of that poem from Holderlin that we recently read in class. this one is by Richard Sieburth from his versions of Holderlin called "Hymns and Fragments."


In the Forest

Noble deer.
But man lives in huts, wrapped in the garments of his shame, and is the more inward, the more alert for it, and that he tend his spirit as the priestess tends the heavenly flame, this is his understanding. Which is why recklessness and the higher power to fail and achieve are given him, godlike creature, and language, most dangerous of possessions, is given man so that creating, destroying, perishing and returning back to her, eternal mistress and mother, so that he might bear witness to what he is, having inherited and learned from her the godliest of her attributes, all-preserving love.

Reading this version it is clear, at last, who "her" refers to in the phrase back to her, eternal mistress and mother. It is none other than language "herself" most dangerous of possessions, is given man so that creating, destroying, perishing and returning back to her, eternal mistress and mother... And she endows the human being with godlike powers to create and destroy, to perish and return to her... indeed it is language that allows us humans to bear witness to what we are, and to inherit and learn from her the godliest of her attributes, all-preserving love. Yes. The most Divine attribute of language is Love. And it is Love that language teaches us, ultimately. Is that right? what a thing to say! If Holderlin is indeed saying it. His language, that is, his German is uniquely HIS. Each word and syntax flow directly from his peculiar tongue... I mean the one in his mouth...the link between his body and soul.

Below is yet another translation. This one was made at my request by my side-kick, Scott Abbott. I wanted a translation of the poem as literal and raw and direct as is possible from someone who knows German and English. Here is the result.

you noble deer

but in huts lives man and wraps himself in the shamed garment for more inward is more attentive to and so that he tends the spirit as does the priestess the heavenly flame this is his understanding. And that is why choice and higher power to err and to bring about is given to him to the one who is like god the most dangerous of possessions language so that he creating destroying and perishing and returning back to the eternal to the mistress and mother so that he begets what he is has inherited learned from her, her most Divine the all preserving love.

Read the two above translations and then read the one from class (by Michael Hamburger). Read the German (if you can)-- I almost said "the German original" but i stopped in my tracks...Over time and many readings, i ve come to understand that the original, if ever there was or is one, is alive only in Holderlin himself...and he, Holderlin, was the first translator of the poem.


9 comments:

Newlin said...

"But man lives in huts, wrapped in the garments of his shame, and is the more inward, the more alert for it, and that he tend his spirit as the priestess tends the heavenly flame, this is his understanding."

Nietzsche and Holderlin have this in common at least, that they both seem to think there is a deep connection between shame, sex, the act of covering, and the inward-facing ability of humans to abstract in a way that other humans don't.
It is there in the readings from Genesis too, so I suppose the idea predates them even, though I think Genealogy of Morals explicates it in at least a longer if not more detailed way. In chapter three, when God, or Yahweh, or whoever, discovers that Adam and Eve have clothed themselves, he realizes that they have gained the ability to self reflect, the ability to have knowledge as I interpret it, and this is why he knows they have eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Shame leads to an act of self reflection (recognizing nakedness), which leads to knowledge (that they are naked), which leads to an act of covering. This leads me to my question - does all knowledge ultimately derive from our shame? Perhaps that we are ultimately naked in the face of Being? Is all of our seeking for knowledge just an act of covering up our shame at being naked before the Void?

Elder Roxas said...

Ah, and now I'm wondering if we have advanced language further than, say, the dolphins or elephants, out of some kind of necessity of survival...if it's a kind of defense mechanism against that "Void" ... What do you mean by the Void?

Elder Roxas said...

Or, put another way: maybe John Lennon really was on to something when he said, "God is a concept by which we measure our pain."

Scott Abbott said...

or does self-consciousness, knowledge, lead to shame?

doesn't it seem likely that language/knowledge is the means or the tool with which we create the cultures or civilizations that bring on shame?

that is Freud's take on it, at least.

Scott Abbott said...

the second translation ties several of the important ideas of the poem to language. it makes sense of some of what is ambiguous, and i very much like the sense it makes.

at the same time, i'm wary of the ambiguities that are lost. it's a step of interpretation -- a good one, perhaps -- to assume that language is the "she" referred to in the text.

finally: besides getting a cellphone recently, alex has now posted on a blog! this calls for celebration and/or a wake.

Scott Abbott said...

the second translation ties several of the important ideas of the poem to language. it makes sense of some of what is ambiguous, and i very much like the sense it makes.

at the same time, i'm wary of the ambiguities that are lost. it's a step of interpretation -- a good one, perhaps -- to assume that language is the "she" referred to in the text.

finally: besides getting a cellphone recently, alex has now posted on a blog! this calls for celebration and/or a wake.

Newlin said...

Yeah, I am stretching a bit. By Void I mean to simply say Being in another way. And I guess I mean it to allude to the sort of surface level understanding of Badiou that I have, where Void is the unpresentable multiple, the infinity which cannot be named except by "nothing" or "void" and whose naming is only a means of forcing it to fit into a system of presentation whereby we are able to deal with the problem of Being, or that the one is not.

In other words, I think, naming the Void "void" is the originary act of intervention by humans onto Being, so that we are no longer just within it, but actually able to understand it, interact with it, manipulate it. Or something. Like I said: Surface level understanding.

Nietzsche I think would say that we have advance beyond the language of animals whose communication is purely for physical survival, into a kind of language whose purpose is mental/psychological survival. Like, the reason we speak and know and reason is in order to atain a state of "mental hygiene," A term I steal from Pierre. So maybe survival of another kind? And I think that fits with what you were saying about John Lennon's quote about god - a way to measure our mental hygiene.

Newlin said...

Scott, I think there is something to what you say, and it just has to be true that culture plays a huge role in what counts as shameful and what doesn't.
But I still think I am sticking to my position from before. Isn't the thing that makes us human, deeply human, the ability to fail and sin and be shameful and all the rest? Back to the Holderlin poem, "And that is why choice and higher power to err and to bring about is given to him to the one who is like god the most dangerous of possessions language so that he creating destroying and perishing and returning back to the eternal..."

I think that section of the poem means that our godlike power derives from our power to err, to fail, and that language is a reflection of that and dangerous because of that, and not the other way around. an unfailing creature shouldn't have a dangerous language right? No matter what they say, what they communicate, it is still a success, inherently positive. But language is dangerous for us godlike creatures for whom perfection is impossible. Perhaps language reflects the deep recognition of a shameful, failed nature, and is only later colored by the myriad ways in which culture/self-consciousness/knowledge can present itself as shameful.

Carmell said...

What a fantastic discussion.

I see that we behold ourselves as superior to other animals because we have the ability to view and reflect upon our language across time. Yet, as Alex said, the original poem remains in Holderlin himself, and the moments that belong to his experiencing it in the writing. Moments like the Noble Deer lives always without the ability to reflect upon what it was or might be, perhaps. Without such a species-ist prejudice, what understanding could there be in the perpetual Now?

Read in the context of the Tao, I see Holderlin as quite happy in his words. He could be read as feeling and holding within himself the dichotomies found in every perception of "particulars" or names while at the same moment acknowledging (read: sensing) "that he tend his spirit as the priestess tends the heavenly flame"--the mystery or darkness or Receptive Force from which the 10,000 things derive.

I find this different from the ambivalent emotions of European Romanticism focused on expressing true feeling into art(?) Intent upon the paradoxes themselves for the spaces between in which we feel most alive, and which give us so much enjoyment of debate. Whence they come and how seem less the question here than the fact that they DO come. That they have come. That we must confront the truths that this language and its dualistic nature force upon us, and do it now.

But not the Now of the Noble Deer who simply recoils, without God, when he encounters pain.