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Towards Day 26 (Mon, Apr. 28): Our Translated World

Anne Dalke's picture

can we meet outside?!? and pay attention to what difference that makes?!?

I. coursekeeping

tonight we're having dinner together in the DVRm of Haffner @ 6:30,
to discuss the story slam AND what your follow-ups will be-->
what action will you pursue, and
(what are you trying to find out/accomplish?).
How will you be carrying on the work we have done? 
What bridge can you build with others who are not in our 360°? 
In light of the discussions we’ve been having throughout the semester,
how will your action contribute to eco-literate social change?
--and what are the logistics of making this happen? (making this "concrete"!)

Wednesday, 30th, we're holding Eng class @ 12:10 in Goodhart B:
GET YOUR LUNCH AHEAD OF TIME or you won't eat! (10 minute break before Jody's
class, which David and I will attend, when we will do our shared evaluation).

I'll stop our discussion today @ 3:45 so you can fill out the college evals for this course...

Jo and Kelsey were the only posters this weekend; the rest of you owe me
some thoughts about the novel, so I can figure out where to focus that class...
by Wednesday morning, in time for me to work w/ them, figure out a lesson plan...

I also need to remind each of you to schedule a writing conference w/ me,
sometime in the next two weeks, when you are ready to come talk w/ me
about your final paper for this class....I will have your last paper read by the time we meet,
so we can begin w/ that...

instructions for filling out your checklist and portfolio for the cluster are now on-line;
look them over, bring questions either to our shared classes on Wed, or to your conference w/ me...

II. picking up from/reflecting on our rich silent-and-then vocal discussion of last Wednesday....
working our way to a pretty profound discussion of how language works:
not transparent, accessible but complex, always needing interpretation.

My friend Paul (whom you've heard about now several times) wrote about this process:
In a class session devoted to analysis of some poems...the conversation turned to the question of
differences between "languages". If indeed there were highly unambiguous "languages" (mathematics,
as well as, for example, computer programming languages), how come ordinary "language" was
invariably highly "ambiguous" in interpretation (so much so that poetry was a legitimate art form
and "literary criticism" a legitimate profession, with a method not dissimilar from "science")? What
emerged from the discussion was the idea that ordinary language is not "supposed" to be unambiguous,
because its primary function is not in fact to transmit from sender to receiver a particular, fully
defined "story". Ordinary language is instead "designed" (by biological and cultural evolution) to
perform a more sophisticated, bidirectional communication function. A story is told by the sender
not to simply transmit the story but also, and equally importantly, to elicit information from/about
the receiver, to find out what is otherwise unknowable by the sender: what ideas/thoughts/perspectives
the receiver has about the general subject of the story. An unambiguous transmission/story calls for
nothing from the receiver other than what the transmitter already knows; an ambiguous transmission/
story links teller/transmitter and audience/receiver in a conversation (and, ideally, in a dialectic from
which new things emerge).

This idea of language as "exchange," rather than as "transmission"--and about ambiguity
(= inexact, inaccurate communication) as central to this "transaction," got me thinking
some more about the usefulness (and limitations?) of economics/economic forms of thinking,
as lenses for explaining what actually happens when we talk, write, listen, read, or respond
to one another...We agreed last week (I think) that so-called language “failures” are NOT
failures, precisely because they are (or can be!) productive of further talk.

Agatha pointed out that Kanaii is in the "language business," making a profit in the translation market;
we extended that to say that every language game, all representation, is a "translation"--an inevitably
"transaction"--in which we all benefit. These are not "failures," but a means of learning and 
adding to the conversation.

So [do I have this right?] the economist's critique of "unregulated" and "inefficient" markets
(those with significant externalities, which generate prices that don't reflect the full social cost
or benefit of their transactions) doesn't really "translate well" here, where we are actually celebrating
the unregulated inefficiency of ambiguous transactions,
as generative of further discussing and thinking....?

This works outside of language too; as Kelsey wrote after class, "Even if empathy fails throughout The Hungry Tide, caring often does not....perhaps  we don't need complete understanding to connect with each other in meaningful ways." 

See also Freud's essay On Transience: "Transience value is scarcity value in time.
Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment."
(= limitation in the possibility of understanding raises the value of understanding?)

III. your postings help to lead us all from here....
[though first: who's read how far? what's the last event that's happened,
in your reading? have you gotten yet to p. 250/through the killing of the tiger?
can we walk about the ending ??]

called our attention to the role of the German Romantic poet Rilke in the text,
whom Nirmal uses to explain the tide can that be? (not place-specific/indigenous)
and for functions as a religious guide, a spiritual seer, for Nirmal, who is usually so logical

Jo also asked: how do we understand the difference between prose and poetry
(= everyday change and heady revolution? Kolkuta and the tide country?)

picked up on this thread, both using a beautiful poem by Rilke,
beautifully translated (!), to call our attention to the fact that
"we don't love without context...history continually informs who and when and how we love...

AND to comment on the frustration of "being at the mercy of translators"...
[though aren't we all, all the time?...we decided, last week (when you were sick!)
that cross-language translation might be just a more concrete
of the whole process of inexact communication that we just reviewed....]

IV. questions for writing-to:
1) what's the role of Rilke specifically, of poetry generally, in this prose?
2) how are we understanding the relationship between religious and scientific ways of knowing in this novel?
3) how might these distinctions help us to make sense of the humanist/environmentalist debates going on here?
(cf. pp. pp. 216-217; pp. 248-249; see also Ghosh below...)

V. my quotes and questions
Nirmal's curriculum
for teaching the children to dream, by linking "old myths" and geology (p. 143 f)

what's the role of Rilke, translated, throughout? (animals know/
"we're not comfortably at home/in our translated world," p. 172)

the humanist/environmentalist debates running throughout:

"These people are squatters...what will become of the forest, the environment?" (p. 177)
"Just imagine that! They were provoiding water for tigers! In a place where no one
thinks twice about human beings going thirsty!" (Nilima, p. 200)
"'This island has to be saved for its trees, it has to be saved for its anmals, it is part of a reserve forest, it belongs to a project to save tigers, which is paid for by people from all around the world....Who are these people, who love animals so much that they are willing to kill us for them?...this whole world has become a place of animals, and our fault, our crime, was that we were just human beings, trying to live as human beings always have, from the water and the soil. No one could think this a crime...'" (Kusum, pp. 216-217).
"aren't we a part of the horror?...Isn't that a horror...that we can feel the suffering of an animal, but not of human beings? was people like you who made a push to protect the wildlife here, without regard for the human's not you who's paying the price in lost lives" (Kanai, pp. 248-249).

"torn ...between the quiet persistence of everyday change and the heady excitement of revolution
--between prose and poetry" (p 180).

"in the tide country, transformation is the rule of life...the very rhythms of the earth were quickened here...nothing escapes the maw of the tides" (p. 186).

"the mudbanks of the tide country are rivers of language....the tide country's
faith is...a roundabout people can use to pass in many directions...."(pp. 205-6).

"'We are the dispossessed...' where else could you belong, except in the place you refused to leave" (p. 211).

"Words are just air...the real river lies beneath, unseen and unheard" (p. 214).

"Piya was...watching the water with a closeness of attention that reminded Kanai of a textual scholar poring over a yet undeciphered manuscript...puzzling over a codex that had been authored by the earth itself. He had almost forgotten what it meant to look at something so ardenty...pure desire had quickened his mind" (pp. 222-223).

"Nirmal was a historical materialist...For him it meant that everything which existed was interconnected...He hunted down facts in the way a magpie collects shiny things...when he strung them all together, somehow they became stories" (p. 233).

"it wasn't even my own story--only a script we were all doomed to live out" (p. 259)

"serving as some hapless traveler's window on an unfamiliar world...tempted to heighten the inscrutability of the surroundings through subtly slanted glosses...a way of underscoring the insider's indispensability...there were times when a translator's bluff had to be called" (p. 265).

"His anger came welling up with an atavistic explosiveness, rising from sources whose very existence he would have denied: the master's suspicion of the menial; the pride of caste; the townsman's mistrust of the rustic; the city's antagonism toward the village...literally beside himself...a proxy for the inscrutableness of life" (p. 269).

"the act of interpretation had given him the momentary sensation of being transported...into another...the instrument of langauge had metamorphosed--instead of being a barrier, a curtain that divided, it had become a transparent film, a prism that allowed him to look through another set of eyes, to filter the world through a mind other than his own...his own vision refracted through opaque, unreadable eyes...seeing...a vision of human beings in which a man such as Fokir counted for nothing...Fokir wanted him to be judged" (p. 270).

"his mind, in its panic, had emptied itself of language....the sluices betwen his mind and his senses had collapsed...swamped by a flood of pure seneation...words...euphemisms...replaced by the thing itself, except that without words it could not be apprehended or understood. It was an artifact of pure intuition, so real that the thing itself could not have dreamed of existing so intensely" (p. 272)

"there it was, directly ahead, a few hundred feet away...watching him with its tawny, flickering eyes"...."there was nothing there..if it had been there, you wouldn't be here now" (pp. 272-273)

"inside us we have...loved/a fermenting tribe.../all this came before you" (p. 298).

"no words to chafe upon our senses" (p. 301).

"my sympathies had a narrower focus. I am not capable of dealing with the whole world's problems...the dreamers have everyone to speak for them. But those who're patient, those who try to be strong, who try to build things--no one ever sees any poetry in that, do they?" (pp. 318-319).

"It's just social service--not revolution" (p. 320).

"I don't want to do the kind of work that places the burden of conservation on those who can least afford it" (p. 327).

"...home is" (p. 329).

VI. Ghosh's commentary
in the essay “Wild Fictions”….he argues that fiction is the necessary first step that enables responsible decisions….”if nature is to be re-imagined in such a way as to restore the human presence with it…as partner…then this too must first be told as a story”….new imaginings of nature must be “as varied as the natural world itself”…fiction is the only “canvas broad enough to address this relationship in all its dimensions”….

In “The March of the Novel Through History,” Ghosh argues that ….”Even to perceive one’s immediate environment, one must somehow distance oneself from it;… locate oneself in prose, one must begin with an act of  dislocation…. The novel encourages a type of distance overseeing, a posture characteristic of impersonal observers rather than local inhabitants….calling attention to the geo-historical and embodied position of the observer that zero point epistemology erases, Ghosh engages in...epistemic disobedience…disrupting the illusion that the novel transparently represents a disinterested picture of the world…

Ghosh in "Wild Fictions": science cannot be the final arbiter in the matter of our relationship with Nature, for the very good reason that its procedures and methods cannot acknowledge or address questions of meaning, intention and lived history. The seriousness of this limitation does not become obvious until we consider the field of public policy. Since the conditions of scientific inquiry are such as to require a radical separation between the inquirer and the field of study, it is surely no coincidence that the scientific experts' responses to conservation challenges so often consists of attempts to recreate these conditions on the ground – primarily through the expulsion of people. It is as though they were seeking to create the conditions of a laboratory within inhabited landscapes, an endeavour that can only be futile and in the end, self-defeating….the limitation of the sciences in relation to the natural world is that they cannot address its single most important determinant, which is human action and subjectivity. These last are properly and necessarily the domain of politics. But the limitation of political action, in turn, is that it cannot generate the imaginative resources that are necessary to a re-thinking of the human relationship with nature. And yet, the truth is that new policies will be impossible without such a re-thinking.

The relationship between human beings and their surroundings constitutes as vast a spectrum of experience as the human mind is capable of conceiving… It is my belief that only fiction can provide a canvas broad enough to address this relationship in all its dimensions; only in fiction can a reconciliation be affected ... between the quest of a scientist determined to prevent the disappearance of a species and the needs of a fisherman who must hunt in order to live. It follows then that if nature is to be re-imagined in such a way as to restore the human presence within it – not as predator but partner – then this too must first be told as a story. In India we are fortunate in that our literary traditions, powerfully influenced though they are by the West, have never wholly succumbed to the romantic imagining of Nature as a 'pristine', uninhabited temple.

VII. 3:45: evals--unhappy: haven't have dinner, or final picnic,
or final conference, or read your last paper, or...
and because i think real (ecological) evaluation happens years later....
but! whatever! write it to me, okay?
(since i am the real audience, the other subsidiary/nonexistent...)