Sometimes being a writer leads to perplexities. In RT’s case, he has several projects going at once: 1) Gilgamesh; 2) A Daughter’s Song and Dance (his mother’s childhood memoirs); 3) The Rag Tree; 4) and sundry other occasional preoccupations, at least one of which might end up being very important. Now, the logical approach to all this would be to choose one item, concentrate on finishing it, and then proceed down the list until all of the work has been done. But RT is coming to the realization that he doesn’t work like this.
RT’s modus operandi appears to be working on one of the projects (usually Gilgamesh, but sometimes one of the others) for extended periods of time, at the end of which he picks another of the projects and works on it for a while. The Rag Tree is a special case, exercising its siren call every time RT logs onto the Net–and posting regularly is the blogger’s cardinal virtue.
And then there are the gremlins that like to show up–a new biography of Van Gogh, an incomplete or prospective “quick” translation lying around, and those all-too-familiar but regular and required real-world encounters, like paying the rent.
RT’s conclusion about the unscheduled mess? He likes it. He doesn’t know how or if he can resolve his lack of a fixed agenda, but he feels that it’s wise at least to be honest about his preferences. As far as his departure from Standard Operating Practice, he will say, in our work life, don’t we have a right to pursue more than one obsession at a time? RT knows that this is hardly an efficient approach to doing things, but what is the ROI for love? Or death?
This is all by way of preamble to saying that the last week or so RT has been working on his mom’s memoirs, and he is particularly pleased with the section on the 1939 NYC World’s Fair, with its Dalecarlian Horse (not as large as the one in the photo above) and its many other sights and experiences. He has reached page 150 and thinks that the completed book will probably be around 250 pages. Life is full of surprises and unexpected beauty–and quandries. RT
Photo: Dalecarlian Horse; WikiCmns; Public Domain.
RT has finished his brisk stroll through Van Gogh: The Life, by Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, The book plunges its readers into the fine detail of Vincent Van Gogh’s life while keeping an eye on the larger issues at play in Van Gogh’s philosophy and work. It is those larger issues that have drawn RT back to the keyboard to discuss what happened to this extraordinary man.
To begin with, Naifeh and White’s book offers a different conclusion to Van Gogh’s story than many people may be familiar with: it makes a plausible case that Van Gogh may not have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Other than exonerating VG from the charge of suicide, what difference might this make in the understanding of his life?
It seems that the three things that were missing in the artist’s life are 1) acknowledgment; 2) support; and 3) protection.
Acknowledgment. Van Gogh’s artistic gift and, later, genius were never acknowledged during his life. He was a member of the unofficial Post-Impressionist group (whose members included Paul Gauguin and George Seurat), but his work was never shown at any major exhibit or salon during his lifetime. He sold just one painting before his death: The Red Vineyard (purchased in 1890, the year of VG’s death, for roughly $1,000, current value). Until near the end of his life, both the public and his family (with the exception of his brother, Theo) refused to acknowledge his status as a practicing and gifted artist (and this despite an enormous output of work–a lifetime total of 2,100 artworks, of which 860 were oil paintings). In January 1890 (VG died in July), a major (and enthusiastic) review of VG’s work did appear in the Mercure de France.
Support. Van Gogh’s financial support during his prime years as an artist was provided by his brother Theo, The stipend he received was enough to cover basic expenses and the costs of his art supplies (an expensive item). Until the year of his death, he earned no money from his art, and there were no public or charitable funds available to support his work.
Protection. Most of Van Gogh’s last ten years was spent alone (though there were significant interludes with Theo and others). He was often harassed and heckled by boys, who would shout insults, throw stones, and destroy his art supplies as he worked. Many of the communities in which he lived regarded him with suspicion and hostility. Partly, VG’s quarrelsome and abrasive nature drove people away, and his descent into self-loathing despair (signaled by his mutilation of one of his ears) resulted in his commitment to an asylum, but surely his status as a near-vagabond without official sanction or place in society contributed to the feelings behind his ostracism.
Without question, things have improved for practicing artists today. Around the world, college-level training and MFA programs have proliferated. There are many sources of funding for artists available from government at all levels and a large number of foundations. Major museums around the world display the work of the great artists throughout history (including of course Van Gogh) and help educate the public about art and the struggle that artists endure as they create their work. Success as an artist carries not only considerable monetary reward with it, but also the prestige of creating beauty in the world.
But RT has to wonder.
In many places, not least the United States, there is little practical support for artists or writers. Art is often seen as a cop-out, an excuse for failing to undertake the burdens of earning a living via a regular job and paycheck. People openly wonder if such a thing as art or even beauty exists–and point to the beginning efforts of young artists as evidence for their claims. Even older artists with decades of experience have trouble selling their work. How, after all, does one establish a standard for enduring art?
This is not true everywhere, however. RT points out the work of Art Council England, which between 2011 and 2015 will award £1.4 billion in public money and £1 billion in National Lottery funds to support working artists in England. In contrast, since its founding in 1965, the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts has awarded about $4 billion.
What needs to be done to help working artists and writers?
1) An increase in art funding for practicing artists and writers, generally. This strengthens local communities not only economically, but by encouraging the spread of culture and beauty in areas lacking local resources.
2) The creation of a funding mechanism/organization outside the control of Congress. The politicalization of the grants process will be diminished if grant decisions are made by local councils of artists and citizens (with appropriate financial oversight).
3) The creation of a national Independent Artists/Scholars Network. Such a network would administer tests and peer-reviews of scholars’ and artists’ work independently of government, higher education, and grant-making organizations. The IAN would aim to be self-funded by artists and writers and would be almost completely under their supervision.
From RT’s perspective, such changes are desperately needed. To his knowledge, no organization, at least in the United States, aims to acknowledge, support, and protect artists and writers throughout their careers and lives.
Painting: Bridge at Arles (Pont de Langlois); Vincent Van Gogh (March 1888). WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Translation is a collaborative enterprise. As much as each translator brings to the work–poetic sensibility, grammatical aptitude, knowledge of the original work and the era that produced it–he or she still relies on the work of others. Previous translations, dictionaries, thesauruses, and histories all help the translator enter into the spirit of the original document(s).
But, as always, there are exceptions. And the one that RT is thinking of is William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English. Far from being derivative, this translation, more than any other work except the quartos of Shakespeare, helped shape the sound and structure of Modern English. And, as with Shakespeare, Tyndale’s Bible is the achievement of a single mind.
English was in flux during Tyndale’s lifetime (c. 1494-1536). Middle English was dying out, replaced by Chancery Standard, which was being disseminated via the new printing presses. The politics of the time were also unstable: the War of Roses had ended in 1485 with the establishment of the Tudor Dynasty; Martin Luther issued his 95 Theses in 1517 and published his translation of the Bible into German vernacular in 1522; and Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in 1534. Medieval Europe was disintegrating, and one sign of this was the appearance of translations of the Bible into vernacular languages.
Neutrality in such circumstances was difficult to achieve. Tyndale was born into a family with aristocratic connections and soon proved to be linguistically gifted (over the course of his life, he learned French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish). He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oxford in 1512 and was made Master of Arts in 1515. He began to study theology but was appalled by Oxford’s approach to scriptural study, claiming that it led students away from the Bible’s spirit. He asked for help in translating the bible, applying to Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, but was politely turned down. In 1524, Tyndale traveled to Europe and began to translate the New Testament into English. His translation was published in 1526, and copies began to circulate in England, where they were banned and burnt. In January 1529, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic.
The following year, Tyndale’s English translation of the Pentateuch was published. Also in 1530, Tyndale published an argument condemning Henry VIII’s divorce from his first wife, concluding that it violated the Scripture.
In 1539, Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities and a year later convicted of heresy; tied to a stake, he was strangled and his body burnt, though it seems he survived the strangulation and was conscious during the burning, which he endured stoically.
Within four years of Tyndale’s execution, Henry VIII had authorized and published four translations of the Bible into English. All were based on Tyndale’s version.
Though Tyndale was not the first to translate the Bible into English (John Wycliffe had translated it into Middle English in the mid-1300’s), Tyndale’s version was the first to work directly from the original languages (as opposed to the Latin Vulgate) and the first to be principally the work of a single man (scholars now recognize that Wycliffe’s Bible is the work of several translators).
But what is really important with Tyndale is the quality of the text. Here is his version of the opening of Genesis:
In the begynnynge God created heaven and erth. The erth was voyde and
emptie/ ãd darcknesse was vpon the depe/ and the spirite of god moved
vpon the water.
It’s easy to dismiss this as proto-KJV, in need of the tweaking that that honorable and gifted body of translators gave it. So let’s take a look at the passage’s strengths:
1) The opening of Genesis is famously difficult to translate. For starters, it contains the single original instance of a term in classical Hebrew: tohu-bohu, which in KJV is translated “void and without form.” What characterizes Tyndale’s version is its simplicity and its emphasis on God’s power–he created the world out of nothing.
2) More than that though, Tyndale emphasizes the mystery of the process–the spirit of God “moved upon” the waters–already God is transforming the abyss, before he has created a single thing.
3) Tyndale was the first to use the word create in this passage. Create offers a wide spectrum of connotations, from founding an institution to laying a foundation to finding something, expanding significantly on made, Wycliffe’s word choice in the passage.
RT will close by noting the enormous influence of Tyndale’s Bible on the King James Version; vernacular English and the advent of the printing press, which made TB the first bible to be broadly distributed, guaranteed a large audience and very likely made the KJV committee’s reliance on it inevitable. Ninety percent of the KJV’s words come from Tyndale (though it should also be noted that poetic effect, tone, and overall meaning do not necessarily depend on word choice). More than any other man except Shakespeare, Tyndale has influenced the language we use. Here are some examples: twinkling of an eye (this apparently from Luther’s translation); the powers that be; eat, drink, and be merry; and fight the good fight. What a legacy! RT
Photo: King James Bible, Title Page (1772); WikiCmns; Public Domain.
another great BLC post…RT
(reposted from Broken Light Collective)
some facts worth considering… RT
(reposted from Under the Mountain Bunker)
folks: RT started this post a while back, and is presenting it as originally composed w/ additions.
With Christmas just a few days away, it’s time for RT to let Santa and other powers know what he wants for Christmas: a national treatment option for people suffering from alcoholism.
There can’t be much question that alcohol is America’s (and the world’s) most insidious addiction. The use of alcohol goes back so far (to prehistoric times) that it has become deeply embedded in global culture. Prohibition demonstrated the difficulties of trying to directly outlaw the use of such a familiar (and comforting, in its way) substance.
On the other hand, these facts should sober us up:
1) 35,000 people in the United States die each year from cirrhosis and other alcohol-related deaths (excluding homicide and suicide);
2) countless families are entangled in the victim’s struggle to recover, even if only emotionally;
3) many treatment programs currently in place do not offer treatment that lasts long enough for the basic habit of drinking to be broken;
4) curing an alcoholic often means restarting his or her life, addressing other (and sometimes prior) problems along the way.
RT has known several people who have struggled long and hard to recover, and RT is beginning to suspect that part of their problem is that the necessary resources for hardened drinkers simply aren’t available, which has inspired RT to do a little brainstorming. Here is RT’s take on what’s needed to turn around long-term alcoholics:
1) a 1-month stay in an initial-treatment center that provides a) detox services, b) a full physical examination; c) daily AA sessions; d) a clean bed in an individual room, e) regular meals; f) help with obtaining I.D., and the administration of a TB test; and g) contact with next of kin. Release into long-term treatment would take place upon detoxification and satisfying other long-term treatment requirements.
2) 12-18 months in a lock-down recovery facility. This is the core of the program. Treatment includes a) the use of medications to minimize withdrawal symptoms; b) continuing AA sessions; c) twice weekly one-on-one therapy sessions; d) weekly group therapy; e) a daily work routine within the facility; f) continued participation in a patient’s outside work/job, if such is possible without exposure to alcohol, and g) supervised trips to the movies and other social venues. Release occurs when the patient has been certified alcohol-free for at least one year. Upon release, any money earned by the patient would be transferred into an account available at the end of the treatment program.
3) 6-12 months of post-treatment transition in a group house. Services include: a) obtaining work and housing for the patient; b) expanding the patient’s social and support networks; c) financial and legal counseling; and, last but not least, d) help with transportation post-release.
4) follow-up interviews 6 and 12 months after release. Upon completing these interviews, the patient will be declared alcohol-free and receive a car to signal his or her return to normal society.
Wow! RT readily acknowledges that this plan looks overly optimistic and financially prohibitive. But, honestly, RT cannot think of a less expensive plan with a chance of working (at least in the majority of cases). Alcoholism sits at the center of a complex of medical, psychological, and child-rearing problems that makes any shorter term treatment look unrealistic. And what about the experience from the point of view of the patient? An atmosphere of respect and continual signs of improvement are essential to keeping participants emotionally engaged.
Needless to say, this program would be offered on a sliding-scale fee system and the patient would be legally a ward of the government while in treatment. (And RT should also note that he is not a professional; if you are dealing with these issues, please consult a professional for advice)
Why cough up the money? 1) The long-term (and not-so-long-term) benefits to the society would be incalculable; and 2) just possibly, we might be saving the life of someone we know (RT would be).
Photo: Official with a Hang-over; Dunfemline City Chambers; author: Paul Mcllroy via geograph.org.uk; WikiCmns; CC 2.0 Generic.
Why is something beautiful? Studying the answers to this question is the domain of aesthetics, a branch of philosophy that deals with art, beauty, and taste.
Many people have tried to understand the mystery of beauty, and perhaps the most common answer to the question is, “I know beauty when I see it.” To this we can add that our sense of the beautiful seems to be tied to the culture we grew up in–for instance, French, American, Haitian, and Indian culture, all of which have differing aesthetics.
And, then again, as the photograph above reminds us, certain kinds of beauty are appreciated everywhere.
Let me suggest that this thing that is everywhere but also seemingly different from place to place is an aspect of our sense of community. Our sense of home is learned early in life–certainly before we’re 10 years old. What we are talking about here is the way that the brain incorporates its environment as it grows–and RT has a hunch that the middle brain and hindbrain are highly sensitive to their environment, processing and then imprinting such things as native language, our sense of right and wrong, and what we feel to be beautiful. We learn what is beautiful by watching how our parents and others desire or reject the things around us.
This is only one of many aesthetic theories, but for RT it more than any other explains why the study of aesthetics (including visual art and poetry) is so important: the conscious mind, by experiencing and evaluating a larger sample of beautiful art and poetic thought can enrich and, at least to some extent, alter its conception of what is beautiful, enabling the student of beauty to enter a more cosmopolitan world of experiences and ideas. Reserving judgment until we have thought through our reaction to something is only part of the process–we must be capable of feeling the particular beauty set before us.
Art helps us experience the world more fully–and enables us to recognize the beauty in other people much more easily. RT
Photo: Collection of Philippine Shells, Roberto Verzo from the Phillipines, WikiCmns, CC 2.0 Generic.