Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Thoughts on translation, Part 4: Many works of art benefit from translation

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

I'm a lieder fan, and I even know a little
German, but I still wouldn't know
exactly what is going on if I didn't
study up before and after a concert like
this one by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  

Translation is not unique to words that you see.  Singers face this issue when they perform lieder, solo art songs mainly from the 19th century.  Singing in the original German words will leave average listeners mystified, no matter how eloquently the very best singers mime the ideas with face and gesture; or they can sing in English, irritating the purists in the audience but clarifying the text for their listeners.  Opera buffs can expect to view supertitles in English at American performances; but lieder audiences have to make do with printed translations they can consult before the lights go dim.

You can enjoy looking at this but unless you are fluent
in Latin you won't have much clue what it is about.*

People who like the purely visual experience of "reading" calligraphy in languages they don't know will miss the extra pleasure that comes from knowing what the text says.  

Words matter but ideas matter more.  Like a singer, a calligrapher's purpose is to add clarity and depth to words. 

*  This text  bridges the transition from Ecclesiastes to Song of Songs, adding some opinions from the scribe as to what it is all about.  You can see the translation here.

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