Saturday, October 31, 2009

Barnstone: Language as...

I've been reading Aristotle and the Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World by Lewis Hanke, thanks to my blogger friend Sue. And Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs, thanks to endorser/ writer Donald Miller endorsed by writer Anne Lamott. And The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by Robert Crumb, thanks to translator / recommender Robert Alter. And The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas, by Willis Barnstone, thanks to Theophrastus.

If you've peeked around at this blog, then you know how I appreciate Barnstone for his look at language, for his careful study of lots of languages and texts, many Greek, for his translations that render rich idiom across traditions in conversation.

Would you say Barnstone approaches Language more as Proposition, as Imposition, as Transposition, as A(p)position? Would you hear what Jorge Luis Borges says about him and then what Barnstone says about his own translation?
"The four best things in America are Walt Whitman's Leaves, Herman Melville's Whales, and the sonnets of Barnstone's The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets, and my daily cornflakes--that rough poetry of morning"
--Jorge Luis Borges, book jacket of the Restored NT

A Restoration of Openness
Reformations in religion and politics bring change and historically have been resisted by or imposed by a sword.  We are smart enough to pace the moon but not the earth.  The moon has an open transparent society for her rare visitors.  Her vast sun-mirror casts light freely and aimlessly on seas and lovers.  But on earth where religions everywhere evolve, evolutions still dye streets and paths of all the continents with blood, and eternally in the divisive names of sect, ethnicity, and politic.  More than ever we need to tear up all lists of new and old infidels to be slaughtered.  It is time to restore or invent a guiltless Eden to a noisy planet.
     The reformation in this bible is a return to the old word and idea.  Through restoration we can test new truths without fear.  Truth is never fixed and has a small "t."  Its companion is Heart, with a big "H" so no truth will ever kill.  A reformation of openness uses peace to mediate the stranger.  Openness roams us into love, stronger than hate.  But be careful even of the good.  There is no absolute good or truth, no Platonic unchanging idea we can tame down on earth.  We are imperfect beings, which opens us to ramble, to lose and find new ways.  Such is the wondrous nature of openness.  Imperfection in our one long day keeps us looking.  But patrons of perfection and the incorruptible kill like Maximilien Robespierre, who beheaded the straggling doubters of the cause, or Oliver Cromwell's "Ironsides," who slaughtered the Irish for being papal Irish, as Jonathan Swift informs his "Modest Proposal."
      Hurray for imperfect stumbling stragglers like Walt Whitman who invent and cheer.  Illumination may be anywhere.  The blind see.  Blind Jorge Luis Borges taught his century dissent and fresh restorations of a multitude of pasts.  Picasso made the new by remembering the old.  The artist sees many worlds.  The biblical artist sees the outside world as a puzzle and narrates or chants ways and salvations, and sees the inner world of spirit as a blur waiting to be filled with changing light.  Scriptures often fill that blur.  Good open-minded reader--who may have already closed the book after a few of these random banalities--here is one translator's way to find the past of a book that may bring you light.
Now, I'm pouring myself a bowl of "cornflakes--that rough poetry of morning."

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