Archive for the 'translation' Category

Harmony and distinction

July 27, 2014

In law school students are trained “to think like a lawyer.”  It involves the ability to make distinctions and it also involves a skill in finding a way to “harmonize” prior precedents seemingly at odds with each other.

It’s, to my way of thinking, a language.  And its relationship to spiritual insight is that it gives a person a way of putting into rational linear thought an insight perceived as a concept without words.  It is not itself, I don’t think, a path to non-dual thinking, but nor does it inhibit non-dual thinking — I think it supports it.  And it doesn’t just deal with splitting things from each other, it provides patterns for seeing compatibility among things that might superficially seem not to fit together.

Now, as for getting to the point of seeing things non-linearly, I am not sure intellectual training is relevant (except insofar, as I said, for providing a language for communicating to others about it), any kind of intellectual training — philosophical, theological, mathematical, etc.  Training in any of them may well provide a fluidity of thought that helps in translating, but how to break out of Kansas and into the Land of Oz, well, that, I think, takes something else and involves a different part of our mental processes.

More on mosaics

July 23, 2014

When I was watching the co-owner of the mosaic studio begin to cut the broken cup pieces in preparation for reconfiguring them (see previous post), one of the things she showed me was how by cutting a curved piece, she could in effect flatten it.  (I think it was that by cutting the curved piece along one plane and making it smaller, the contrast producing the curve became reduced in each of the smaller pieces, and so they were flatter.)

Now that suggests to me a spiritual parallel, because I think we human beings are faced with trying to perceive more dimensions of the universe than our everyday world deals with.  So when we perceive something from another realm, maybe we hear it as music, maybe we channel it into poetry or a visual art;  but some of us plug into a small fragment of the much larger thing with many dimensions and try to translate it into linear rational thought and language.  When we try to do that, I think it’s only by limiting the attempt to bringing only a small piece of it into this world that we are able to bring it into this world at all.  It can feel as if we are flattening the idea in breaking it into smaller pieces while we are still remaining consistent with the curves of the original idea as a whole.

The blind men feeling the elephant in the traditional telling of the tale generalize from their personal understanding, and my usual understanding of the tale is that we all need to communicate and share our understandings in order to get at a more profound understanding and peaceful relations with each other.  But today I got to thinking more along the lines of the difficulty of bringing the whole (understanding) into the world at all, no matter the method employed.  With the arts, something of the multidimensional experience I think is being reproduced, but it doesn’t usually become understood in rational thought and integrated into our mundane activities.  So it seems to me there is a trade-off even there, and that it is difficult if not impossible to bring the curved surface completely intact into a realm of flatness:  the universe is curved but our material world is in a sense flat.  When we as inhabitants of this material world poke our perception into, or permit our perception to take in, other realms, we perceive the curves of things.  Bringing them back into this world to share with others here is a whole other project.

The definite article

December 23, 2013

I really do mean the word “the” in English.

I used it in a comment about the deficiencies, in my experience, of a secular approach to life and its issues.  This was in response to the Ross Douthat column “Ideas From a Manger” in Sunday’s Times.

I referred to “the horizontal relationships” because I was distinguishing them from “the vertical ones.”  But by using the definite article and not just referring to “horizontal relationships,” I may have made possible the interpretation that I was referring to my own relationships happening to be inadequate to the task of helping me deal with a situation adequately, not to the more general phenomenon of human relations being inapt for some issues, period.  (I wrote, in part, “In my experience, the secular approach has nothing to offer when the horizontal relationships are inadequate. And there really are some situations in which the horizontal relationships are inadequate to the task — again, in my experience.”)

Sometimes a little misprision can have a big impact, for better or for worse.  In my context, it probably doesn’t much matter, given how limited the reach of my comment, but I was interested in it as a opportunity to understand how misunderstandings can get started, including in religious texts.  Just a little change in emphasis in translating from the concept into language at all, or the translation of the idea and words from one human language to another, can get it started.  Some languages have demonstrative adjectives but no definite articles.  That’ll make a difference in emphasis and thinking.  And to give another example of how emphasis can get transformed, as I recall it, Latin does something very different from what English does when it expresses the report of something negative — the negative goes with the reporting verb, not the thing reported.  It looks like “I deny that X happened,” where in English we would say that “I say that X didn’t happen.”  That can make a difference in emphasis, too.

The content of the interpretation I did not intend in my Douthat comment is also not wrong in itself, I think, anyway — vertical relationships are available to people whose human ones happen to be inadequate, even if others have human (horizontal) relationships that would be adequate to the situation, I think.  But that wasn’t really what I intended to say, in part because secularists tend to take that to mean we should all only focus on our human relationships and improving them.  Telling that to child born into a family of narcissists is like telling the child to get water from a stone, although many children will eventually, when they can choose their own relationships, find substitute ones that will fill in for deficits in family relationships, at least to some extent.

So I actually think there are two dynamics:  one in which one finds oneself in a situation in which one’s needs exceed what other human beings can help with, and the other in which one happens to find oneself short of what one needs, like being short of change when buying a pack of gum, because of weaknesses in one’s own human relationships (for whatever reason or reasons).  In both cases there is, I believe, help available through vertical relationships.  I don’t think God or the universe invokes the lawyer’s concept of needing to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, I think grace is available on a much more generous basis.  I don’t think God is like a clever lawyer any more than I think God is like a cranky parent (and I don’t think God is like a cranky parent).


September 3, 2013

Reading a NYTimes post about women in philosophy, I got to thinking about an old spiritual story.

The Times piece starts off with the author’s difficulty fielding responses to her self-description as a philosopher when people ask her what she does.

In this spiritual story I’m thinking about, a young girl is questioned by some men from another culture what she is.  I suspect they meant whether she’s a servant, a princess, a weaver, etc.  She answers something like “Energy worker.”  She is a shaman, I guess we might say.

They end up pressing her into prostitution.  She at some point blames herself for her easily misconstrued answer; maybe if she had not thought to present herself as accomplished they would have let her alone.

Nowadays we would say she was trafficked and we wouldn’t see her as the cause of her misfortune.


January 7, 2013

I think I’m one of those.  Actually, I think we all are, whether we’re effective at being one or not.  I think we are conduits for forces we are only dimly aware of.  Sometimes the forces mix with us and what comes out is, for example, art, sometimes it is addictive behavior or even psychosis, sometimes theoretical physics, sometimes a combination of things, including a combination of useful and destructive things.

What I have thought vaguely for a while is that I can hear some interesting things that I could never have thought of, and that I can translate them into words and try to communicate them to other people.  I want to let those interesting things come through into the world — they are more helpful than what I could come up with through my intellect.

What I think I’ve spent years doing is cleaning out my apparatus, the conduit apparatus within me.  I think someone had used it for relationships and acquiring stuff and influencing people according to what that someone wanted.  I think it had been developed well enough to do that, and that it was kind of like this person finding someone else’s fully loaded laptop and using it to pick up girls and pay off lobbyists.  It got kind of corroded and bent by being used for personal gain and attachments.  So it took awhile to get the junk and dirt out of it, retrieve some missing pieces, and get the thing up and running as it is intended to be used.

It takes a fair amount of effort for me to hear what I hear, and it often comes best as a reaction to reading or hearing what somebody else is saying.  I focus on the hearing part, including maintaining a good connection, and I tend to give shorter shrift to the translation and presentation part.  If I lose the connection, then the whole point is lost, so that’s why I put my energy there.

I have wished for a collaborator who would focus on the writing and translation part, but Gita has steered me away from that configuration — she thinks I should be doing the whole undertaking.  I struggle with the writing.  I think in parentheses and footnotes and gerunds — how to get those curlicued and nested thoughts into linear form, into short, declarative sentences, and into something that others can follow is a challenge for me.  And taking the time and having the patience to explain it all and not leave too much to be gleaned from between the lines — that’s a challenge for me, too.  Willy used to talk about how programmers get bored after figuring out the gist of a programming problem, and often are impatient with subsequent steps, including the debugging stage.  I’m probably like that.  Once I feel satisfied myself, I have to discipline myself to go further with the project after that — I either don’t hear a call to communicate it well or I override that call with some nonsense of my own (including residue from having a number of people tell me I don’t write well).

I feel somewhat better about the process of learning to communicate when I think of it as finding my voice.  That, in turn, leads me to recollecting the intentional misreading (by a friend of a friend) of the Latin phrase “cave canem” (beware of dog) into “cave caneam,” beware lest I sing.  (The friend of the friend is Debbie Roberts, who I think is a professor at Haverford College.)  I like the idea that somewhere inside of me I have a powerful voice, if I can only find it.  Again, to get back to where I started, I think we all do, it’s a matter of realizing our potential.

Tennis and melodrama

January 27, 2012

I was thinking about a friend of mine who loves tennis and who also sees things very dramatically.  She tells a good story about the politics at her office.  Listening to her is like being on an emotional roller coaster, and there are good guys  and cowboys and evil people lurking in the shadows populating the tales.  She also serves you wine and exotic cheeses while you listen.

I am thinking about her because I am encountering yet another iteration of the pattern in which I turn out to have a rarer situation than someone is surmising and hence that someone is giving me inapt advice.  My sense is that this occurs when I am being confused with someone else or when the would-be listener is just generally calibrated for someone who is not me.

It also happens, I’m beginning to think, when I try unsuccessfully to translate a spiritual issue into the language that people who don’t perceive things in that way might understand — I am suspecting that what I say sounds distorted, like trying to collapse three dimensions into two, to translate poetry into prose, to speak a melody.  I think the listener may attribute the oddness of what I’m saying to me and not to the situation I am describing or to the effects of translation.

Maybe the resolution is for me to learn to tolerate better being thought to exaggerate or to be a little odd.  I can also try to learn to accept more graciously people’s other sorts of reactions that I don’t find helpful.

Renconciling with science

December 21, 2011

I think a lot about how to resolve what many people experience as a divide between viewing the world through science and viewing it through a spiritual lens.  I’ve had people in my life terrified I would succumb to the family pressure to become a scientist, and others who campaigned to dissuade me from the liberal arts, or at least from my teachers there who clearly wanted my participation in their magisterium, if not their lives.

So, it amused me to remember this picture, which Willy kept in his office:

I was visiting my sister, who was working in Washington, D.C. at the time, and my cousin Gail was visiting at the same time, as I recall.  I’m pretty sure Gail took the picture.  I’m not entirely sure what the picture meant to Willy, who hadn’t come with me on that trip.  I think he seemed to get a kick out of it as something I had done when I had gone off “on a frolic and a detour” without him.

The way I would like to interpret the picture is as illustrating part of the on-going “ping-pong match,” or mirroring back and forth, between spiritual partners:  I am reading someone else’s understanding of the universe, in their own, scientific language, and I will sing back that understanding as accurately as possible in my own language.  How I have been able to understand what I am “reading” in that language I suspect has something to do with Willy as some sort of interpreter, whose understanding I could absorb through some other means; he certainly had the physics and math for the scientific understanding, and I suspect, in retrospect, he had other kinds of understandings in other languages, as well.


Church Latin translations

November 28, 2011

I am wondering whether the current contretemps over the new Vatican translation of the Catholic mass needs a wider context to be understood better.

My last paying job was to edit somebody’s translation, from the Latin, of medieval church court records in marriage cases for a book on medieval marriage.  And one of my frequent reactions was, “Yes, but is this English?  colloquial English? English that is not too distracting in its usage?”  And some of the time Charlie changed the wording and sometimes he decided to keep it the way he had translated it originally (which he attributed to his “stubbornness”).  I didn’t much care which way he decided, it was his book, I only felt obliged to bring up this stuff that I found jarring (we agreed pretty easily on the other stuff, the stuff that was less stylistic and more objectively in need of a little editing), and I think he enjoyed both using what I thought were anachronisms and uncommon phrasings, and my reaction to his usage.  But he also said since I was one of the twenty-five or so people who would possibly be interested in the book, he wanted to know what I thought, and he knew I came to it through classical Latin, not a Church context (much to his disappointment).  It seemed to be a friendly enough exchange, and his acknowledgments I think reflect that, even if they don’t accurately reflect the structure of my assistance to him (an issue which is unfortunately in keeping with my previous experience of our relationship, although I can thank Charlie for by his behavior leaving me open to other callings).

Anyway, this Latin mass translation situation indicates to me that Charlie’s translation style may not have been idiosyncratic to him, that there may be a proud tradition within certain circles of the Church of using what sound to outsiders like peculiar translation fashions (there’s a wonderful essay somewhere on fashion and idiosyncrasy in scholarship).  Maybe indeed a taste for these fashions is an important currency for belonging, within the Church, a kind factor for separating out groups of members within the larger group.  I don’t know.  But my experience is too close a parallel not to be relevant, I think, to understanding the current, wider issue of controversy regarding the mass translation.