Good evening, Grammarians!
I was reading Pound’s Literary Essays today on the 1 train downtown to 42nd street. Then I walked to the NYPL at Bryant Park to spend a couple hours in the palatial reading room there to write poems and read the Iliad. Anyway, Pound talks about literature in translation: after offering his list of required reading for the beginning student of letters, a list almost entirely of non-English writers–Homer, Ovid, Dante, Stendhal, Rimbaud, and others–he writes:
Some of the best books in English are translations. This is important for two reasons. First, the reader who has been appalled by the preceding parts and said, ‘Oh, but I can’t learn all these languages’, may in some measure be comforted. He can learn the art of writing precisely where so many great local lights learned it; if not from the definite poems I have listed, at least from the men who learned it from those poems in the first place. (“How To Read.” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1968. p. 34)
Pound’s essays are really fun to read, so far (I’ve only read two). From reading them, you can see something of where Longenbach gets a great deal of his, how shall I say, pedantic aesthetic. His style (JL’s) is largely borrowed, you know. Not that there’s a thing wrong with borrowing.
I feel that I must learn Spanish. (or, or even and, French and Italian, but Bolaño’s got my desire to learn Spanish elevated to necessity.) I have two bilingual books of poetry in Spanish (one Bolaño and one Neruda) and I’ve been puzzling through them, looking more at the Spanish side than the English. It’s amazingly hard work but doing so I feel like I CAN read Spanish. I almost bought a Spanish dictionary today.
Why must I learn Spanish? As I said to Sam today, at the moment I feel like I would be happy becoming a Bolaño expert. She asked what I meant by “expert.” We discussed what that means or doesn’t mean and I revised myself: I could explore Bolaño’s work to the fullest possible extent, and Spanish is a major roadblock there. Still a good five or six of Bolaño’s books are waiting to be translated. Not that I hope to translate them, but it would be nice not to have to wait around for translations. Besides, it feels like a crime against my own literary well-being that I don’t study a second language. And look! Pound agrees, that brilliant old bastard:
I don’t in the least admit or imply that any man in our time can think with only one language. He may be able to invent a new carburettor, or even work effectively in a biological laboratory, but he probably won’t even try to do the latter without study of at least one foreign tongue. Modern science has always been multilingual. A good scientist simply would not be bothered to limit himself to one language and be held up for news of discoveries. The writer or reader who is content with such ignorance simply admits that his particular mind is of less importance than his kidneys or his automobile. (“How To Read,” p. 36)
I don’t know what Pound knew about “modern science” in 1929 when this essay was published, and I don’t know much about the state of modern science today; for example, I know a lot of bio students who take a language but I wouldn’t have thought that studying natural sciences implies a need for a second language. Still, the point is sound. Someone in the science world is translating those discoveries, and they are a step ahead of those like (me as per my boy Bolaño) waiting for the translations to come out.
Why can’t I just cut my brain down the middle and SHOVE everything in? Save a damn lot of time. Could be done before lunch. Speaking of which, what is for lunch?
Tomorrow at work I’ll scour the office for every bilingual book of poetry in Spanish I can find–I know we publish some Paz, Lorca, Parra, a couple more of Neruda’s, and probably others. (Think it’ll work? Learning Spanish from bilingual poetry books?)
A question for my readers: How would YOU define “expert” or “expertise?” In the O.E.D., things get complicated because the definition of expert (n.) uses the word expert (a.).
“One who is expert or has gained skill from experience.”
two adjective definitions:
“Experienced (in), having experience (of)”
“destitute or devoid of, free from” (obsolete). You have to see the quotations on that one.
I LOVE the O.E.D.!
Before I lose all sense of direction, goodnight.