Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Horse's Mouth!

It is that filter that I am wondering about. The filtering of everything! The second handness of things. The loss of first hand experience. The fear of the power of the horse's mouth! The muzzling of the horse's mouth! We love the filters! We don't read so much as we read about! Virtual reality! The most insidious of all oxymorons!

I was reading an article about the philosopher Derek Parfit. My faith in The New Yorker had previously been shaken by an article I had read earlier about the photographer Thomas Struth. In that case the author had inserted herself so far into the article that I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that the asparagus she had enjoyed at a meal with the artist had given her gas. I had the sense that Struth probably changed his cell number to be rid of her.

So what of this author? How was she inserting herself into this article on Parfit? Twisting? Distorting! Both authors seemed perfectly comfortable that every word they wrote and that every detail they included was not only necessary but gospel. I was reminded of my mother who never let the facts interfere with a good story.

I kept telling myself "just go get Parfit's book; get it from the horse's mouth!" The author definitely colored my feelings about Parfit. It is this curious thing. My wife does it. She tells me about something that happened and leaves me to connect the dots. It is the illusion of some objective experience without the subjective response. We have to supply that.

The author in this case detailed how Parfit's sister died and how he found her daughter a foster home. I was left to conclude what a son of a bitch he was for not taking her in. Instead the author moved on to a dialogue of him and his wife parsing the minutiae of some tail-chasing philosophical argument over breakfast! Something akin to debating the arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic! I was manipulated into concluding that philosophy was not just devoid of humanity, but also impotent.

Today I was reading Baudelaire's Intimate Journals(deck chairs!) and even this, as raw and unfiltered as it might seem, was translated by Christopher Isherwood! Not exactly a disinterested bystander or a neutral frame!

I found myself wondering what Isherwood was bringing to the table. Translation is far from exact science. Everything is affected! The meaning perhaps affected above all, but just as much the power, mood, texture, sound, cadence, speed, sensuousness! The everything!

Reading Baudelaire translated into english is more than just drinking a wine that does not travel well, it is like going from a fresh French farmer's cheese to something that's been processed, sliced, and sitting on the refrigerator shelf at Costco! They just aren't the same! You might as well look at the Sistine Ceiling as painted by Thomas Hart Benton or that "painter of light" guy! As interesting as that might sound, and maybe it does, it won't be Michelangelo! It won't be the real thing!

As real as Isherwood's translation sounds, I have decided that I can't trust it. What was lost? What was filtered out? What was distorted? T S Eliot in his introduction argued that the bulk of Baudelaire would get through, and that that was enough. Like the cream rising to the top. Well? Maybe? Can I buy that? OK, I can buy that. Better than no Baudelaire!

Everyday I want what little I have to be real. Real mozzarella. Real conversation. Real lemons. Real emotions. Real art. Real opinions. Without filters! My mother told us as children to make our own movies! And we did! But I also have great memories of her taking us to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Birds in a little American theater in Rome! She also argued with an Athens theater manager to get me into see Moulin Rouge even though I was under age. And I'll never forget seeing El CID in a smoke filled theater near Trastevere, where the roof slid open for ventilation, the smoke filtered into the night, and you could see the stars!

I don't buy the Globe. I don't watch the news! Well, maybe just a little sometimes, just not as a rule. I haven't the time to filter the filters. When I watch a movie I know it is fiction. Artful filter! If I watch sports I can trust my own eyes even if I can't trust the commentary! And I can read Baudelaire in french! Sort of. And learn more spanish so that I can really appreciate Love In The Time of Cholera(El amor en los tiempos del cólera) as Marquez wrote it and meant it! I can't wait! In the meantime I have an excellent translation!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

No comments: