Wednesday, March 19, 2008

60 Minute Commedia

Habeas corpus, bring us the body. The etymological root of translation means to move the body. Bishops, for instance, could be translated to a new bishopric. The dead, also, could be translated: the remains of Mark, patron saint of Venice, was stolen from Alexandria by Venetians, who hid the bits and scraps underneath a shipboard of pigs to fake out the locals searching for the loot. The saint was translated.

All this body snatching, Burke & Hare, makes me question the whole project of moving the body of the word from one language to another. Flaubert, via Steegmuller, says about language, “human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars”; isn’t this very much also a definition of translation? Still, how else would we get to know masterpieces of world lit, unless we all had classical “ed-jew-ka-shons,” (as Yalie George W. Bush has it). I went tonight to listen to Robert and Jean Hollander reading from their Dante. It was the sixty minute Commedia. In the newish Mulberry Branch of the NYPL, which descends below sea-level. Three beautiful smooth cast-iron columns downstairs masking the iron holding the building up. “As doves, summoned by desire, their wings/outstretched and motionless, move on the air” (Inferno, Canto V, 82-83).

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