Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Translation: "Logical" Case IV

IV. Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman authors both ways. That is, he’s both a very serious science writer and a world renowned artistic writer of poetry and novels. Better than that, he can write and talk about authoring both ways.

When he addressed the Honors students here at TCU at the 40th Honors Convocation, he talked. “Scientists write to name things. They want you to know things. They use their heads. Artists, in contrast, write to get your belief. That is, they really unname things so that you’ll go along with the narrative or the new categories in the poetry. They use their hearts and their stomachs.” Now, I got to hear Lightman even more. At the Q & A session, he graciously responded to a couple of my questions. (Oh the other thing to note at the Q & A is this: Professor Miller, one of our physicists, held up one of Lightman’s astrophysics textbooks used here. Other people brought their copies of his novels for his autograph. And the flyer circulating around noted that his novels have been translated into 30 different languages. Today, we know that at least one of his novels has been transposed into more than two dozen theatrical and musical productions, and has inspired much more music. Anyway.) Lightman confessed that he had known as a youth that he wanted to be a writer but that he knew making a name for himself, giving his abilities and intelligence, would be easier if he became known first as a scientist. (That was his answer to my first question. Now my second question to Professor Lightman was this:

“Professor Lightman, If you have read any of the translations of any of your novels [and he confessed he hadn’t before I finished my question], or even if you have not, then would you rather the translators be scientists, using their heads, or artists, using their hearts and stomachs?”)

Lightman didn’t flench. And his immediate answer is brilliant: “Both.”

Lightman who authors as a scientist and who authors as an artist, and who can talk and write about doing both, wants the translators of anything he writes also to do both. (In the book, The Future of Spacetime, edited with his very famous friend Stephen William Hawking and others, Lightman concludes with his own essay “The Physicist as Novelist.” Lightman does some brilliant stuff.) But instead of just doing what he does, his translators do more. That is, instead of alternating between science writing and artistic writing, or even talking or writing about the difference as he does, Lightman wants translators to translate both as scientists and also as artists at the very same time.

Lightman didn’t say this, but what he’s imagining is womanly discourse. Translators who simultaneously name and unname, who use their heads but always do so while they believably use their hearts and their stomachs and other inside parts of the body (shall we add, the womb?), those translators employ the method of believing and believability (not just the method of knowing) that we’re calling the feminist binary.

You’ve noticed that we haven’t yet mentioned Aristotle explicitly in this Case Study IV on the “Logic” of Translation. I’ll let Lightman write about Aristotle. Here’s from page 185 of his book with Hawking, from the essay by Lightman:

Scientists often wish powerfully for some theory to be true that is later proved wrong by the facts. Aristotle’s idea that the planets move in perfect circles was simple and elegant, but proved wrong by Brahe, Kepler, and Newton.

A novelist's story or characters cannot be proved wrong, but they can ring false and thus lose their power. In this way, the novelist is constantly testing her fiction against the accumulated life experience of her readers.

Now, let’s only remember this, and experience it if we will: Lightman writes here as a scientist, with his head. He’s writing a scientific book with other scientists, and he's writing the anchor-leg essay about “the scientist, as artist.” One comes first, then the other. One, in the male's mind, is primary and necessary; the other is secondary, even in his own life story. It’s the very logical "either-or" masculinist binary Aristotle used to come up with his idea, his disproven idea, his idea that wasn’t true.

So as much as Lightman would think of the novelist as “her” (in contrast to any scientist such as Aristotle and the other men), he’s still not doing what he asks his translators really to do. Do you see what Lightman is doing? He's using Aristotle's binary all over again. He (Lightman, the science writer naming the difference between science writers and artist writers), he Lightman is inviting us to prove his statement untrue. But whoever uses the feminist binary finds truth within belief only, and never truth without it.

(A) Science authors and artistic writers, neither one, can get around translation.
(B) Science authors and artistic writers both do well with the simultaneous subjectivity of feminine discourse.
(C) Lightman the man (the brilliant author in science, then in art, and now about the difference of both) is no doubt highly influenced by women. That he’d use the feminine pronoun above is some a testimony to his convictions. That he’s speak so highly of Jeanne Garretson (his mother, who translates words into dance and sounds into Braille) says more.
Are you ready for Case V? Look, the link's here.

Here's that prologue/introduction for this series.
Here's Case I, and II, and III.

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