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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Zen quote.

Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, 'Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.' After I got insight into the truth of Zen through the instructions of a good master, I said, 'Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.' But now, having attained the abode of final rest, (that is, Enlightenment) I say, 'Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.'

I was reminded about this quote durring our discussion today. It is as if we are trying to understand and study a higher form of language than most of us have previously done. However it seems that the level of understanding which we are seeking is higher than we will be able to reach unless a knowing along with a being happens. We are looking at these ideas and concepts in ways that we can describe which is limiting, because many of them ARE without words. (Our words at least.) Would a high form of language include connecting with, understanding, feeling, being, seeing, and knowing, everything that exists? How would we go about getting there? Is it possible that we already are THERE but are just unaware of it?

Language and Technology

As we become a more and more advanced civilization, relying more heavily on computers can be both an aid and a detriment. In some cases they can do things much faster and better than we can, but when does the line occur where intuition takes over? How can we convey that idea of experimentation?

In this link provided a computer was able to decipher an ancient language called Ugaritic in a significantly shorter period of time than it was translated by a human, but only because it has a base line to model. What are your thoughts?

Tao Te Ching

Chapter 1 -What is the Tao?
The "Tao" is too great to be described by the name "Tao".
If it could be named so simply, it would not be the eternal Tao.
Heaven and Earth began from the nameless (Tao),
but the multitudes of things around us were created by names.
We desire to understand the world by giving names to the things we see,
but these things are only the effects of something subtle.
When we see beyond the desire to use names,
we can sense the nameless cause of these effects.
The cause and the effects are aspects of the same, one thing.
They are both mysterious and profound.
At their most mysterious and profound point lies the "Gate of the Great Truth".
[this translation from this site]


The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.


When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.


If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.


The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.


The Tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the center.


The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.


The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.

The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.


The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.


Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.
[this translation from this site]

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Language Transcending Time

After class on Friday I was thinking about language and its relation to time. I concluded that language, either spoken or written, has the power to transcend time. It is only upon the death of a language that time overpowers language.

A good example of this was the Rosetta Stone discovered in 1799. Before its discovery Egyptian Hieroglyphics were a complete mystery and without ability to read the hieroglyphics the entire ancient civilization was also a mystery for thousands of years. It wasn't until this stone was discovered that we could read Egyptian. Once we were able to read ancient Egyptian the entire history and civilization of ancient Egypt was alive once again and all because of language.

Language can bring us to any place in time solely through communication of ideas, emotions, and concepts. Think of all the times we read or say something and it makes and impact on us. We can all remember something mean or hurtful someone said to us and we can relive the hurt just by remembering what was said; it may have been years prior but we still remember as if it were yesterday. Written/recorded communication is one of the most immortal forms of language. It could have been something written hundreds, even thousands of years ago and yet it still carries an enormous impact. Religious texts are prime examples, The Bible, The Qur'an, The Torah, and many others are all ancient writings but still manage to impact human life thousands and thousands of years later - all because of language.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Whorf's Theory

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

Horacio Salinas for The New York Times

At first glance, there seemed little about the article to augur its subsequent celebrity. Neither the title, “Science and Linguistics,” nor the magazine, M.I.T.’s Technology Review, was most people’s idea of glamour. And the author, a chemical engineer who worked for an insurance company and moonlighted as an anthropology lecturer at Yale University, was an unlikely candidate for international superstardom. And yet Benjamin Lee Whorf let loose an alluring idea about language’s power over the mind, and his stirring prose seduced a whole generation into believing that our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think.

Horacio Salinas for The New York Times

In particular, Whorf announced, Native American languages impose on their speakers a picture of reality that is totally different from ours, so their speakers would simply not be able to understand some of our most basic concepts, like the flow of time or the distinction between objects (like “stone”) and actions (like “fall”). For decades, Whorf’s theory dazzled both academics and the general public alike. In his shadow, others made a whole range of imaginative claims about the supposed power of language, from the assertion that Native American languages instill in their speakers an intuitive understanding of Einstein’s concept of time as a fourth dimension to the theory that the nature of the Jewish religion was determined by the tense system of ancient Hebrew.

Eventually, Whorf’s theory crash-landed on hard facts and solid common sense, when it transpired that there had never actually been any evidence to support his fantastic claims. The reaction was so severe that for decades, any attempts to explore the influence of the mother tongue on our thoughts were relegated to the loony fringes of disrepute. But 70 years on, it is surely time to put the trauma of Whorf behind us. And in the last few years, new research has revealed that when we learn our mother tongue, we do after all acquire certain habits of thought that shape our experience in significant and often surprising ways.

[for the rest of the article, click HERE]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ode to be thought in the context of Hölderlin's poem


by Anne CarsonAUGUST 16, 2010

Many terribly quiet customers exist but none more

terribly quiet than Man:

his footsteps pass so perilously soft across the sea

in marble winter,

up the stiff blue waves and every Tuesday

down he grinds the unastonishable earth

with horse and shatter.

Shatters too the cheeks of birds and traps them in his forest headlights,

salty silvers roll into his net, he weaves it just for that,

this terribly quiet customer.

He dooms

animals and mountains technically,

by yoke he makes the bull bend, the horse to its knees.

And utterance and thought as clear as complicated air and

moods that make a city moral, these he taught himself.

The snowy cold he knows to flee

and every human exigency crackles as he plugs it in:

every outlet works but


Death stays dark.

Death he cannot doom.

Fabrications notwithstanding.





honest oath taking notwithstanding.

Hilarious in his high city

you see him cantering just as he please,

the lava up to here.

Originally published in "The New Yorker": HERE

Language of Angels

1 Corinthians 13 (King James Version)

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Joseph Smith and Language

For thoughts on truth and revelation, including Joseph Smith's desire to know things beyond the prisonhouse of language, see this essay, especially pages 18-20.

For a "harmony" of the several accounts of the first vision, click HERE

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lavater Longing to Be Beyond Language, Longing for a "Natural" Language

Lavater on a possible language in heaven: click here

Read pages 177-178.

Also, click here for more, reading pages 91-93.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WORDS -- by Radiolab

So I've been listening to this great radio show/podcast for about six months now and I've obsessively listened to their whole back catalogue of shows now. Now I have to be content listening to the new episodes as they come out, which is more slowly than I'd like. It is that good. Anyway, everyone should check the show out (http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/), or download the podcast on iTunes... To the point: the newest episode is called "WORDS" and it really blew my mind. Many of their episodes are appropriate for this forum. The show essentially takes a seemingly very simple question, concept, or idea, and tries to explore it in depth in a number of ways (through the sciences, math, philosophy, art, etc.). It hasn't failed to fascinate me yet. So go check out the latest episode and then I think you'll be hooked.