Emily Wilson on translating Homer (and more)

From this Twitter thread full of curiosities and opportunities for shared frustration:

There is no common English word of four syllables or fewer connoting "person particularly favored by Zeus due to high social status, and by the way this is a very normal ordinary word which is not drawing any special attention to itself whatsoever, beyond generic heroizing".

And more: a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Emily Wilson on translations, language, the value of the classics, Odysseus as leader, and much else besides.

Jeeves and Lucretius

From Wodehouse’s Much Obliged, Jeeves

'And Spode has got a black eye, which one hopes is painful. In short, on every side one sees happy endings popping up out of traps. A pity that Bingley is flourishing like a green what-is-it, but one can't have everything.'

'No, sir. Medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid in ipsis floribus angat.'

'I don't think I quite followed you there, Jeeves.'

'I was quoting from the Roman poet Lucretius, sir. A rough translation would be "From the heart of this fountain of delights wells up some bitter taste to choke them even among the flowers".'

'Who did you say wrote that?'

'Lucretius, sir, 99-55 B.C.'

'Gloomy sort of bird.'

'His outlook was perhaps somewhat sombre, sir.'

Slavoj Zizek on the new subversiveness in art

From a recent interview commemorating the philosopher’s 70th birthday:

This is a problem with the avant-garde. From the very beginning, one hundred years ago, the radical avant-garde — and this was all theorized by Theodor Adorno — distrusted beauty. Beauty became ideological, a conformist idea. The idea is that the work of art should not reflect reality — you know, in a realist-socialist way — but somehow render or present the truth about our predicament, and that you can only do it in a non-aesthetic way, in the sense of avoiding beauty. It must be: in music, atonality, dissonance. Painting must not be beautiful, and so on and so on.

I think that maybe today this logic is coming to an end. And why? Because this very subversive model of dissonant music, ugly paintings — it’s fully appropriated! Go to some galleries today, big commercial galleries, and you know what you find there? All those scandals, you remember: A statue of Christ in a bottle of urine or whatever, dead cows exposed there, and so on. All of this type of subversion has already been fully integrated. What I think we should rehabilitate today is — it will sound horrible, almost proto-fascist — not beauty, but good craftsmanship; that fascinates me. You know, it’s not just: you have an idea, you put down the body of a dead cow in urine — “oh my god, subversive!”.

No. Art is hard work. You have to study it, learn how to do it, and so on and so on. Craftsmanship. That’s what I admire today. That’s maybe even the truly subversive thing. Not these “instinctual geniuses”. Maybe the most subversive thing today is to be truly disciplined and do your hard work.

Young Farmers (August Sander, 1914)


From Christian Weikop’s essay: “The three young farmers are perhaps aping poses they may have seen in adverts or in the silent movies shown in storefront cinemas in small towns and cities. With its mock-urban, dandy-like poses set against an out-of-focus marshy barren landscape, Young Farmers certainly has a strange cinematographic quality, and captures what cultural historian Michael Jennings has described as the ‘momentum of the transition away from the land and into the cities’.”

Paul Auster on the act of writing

The Believer, 2005: “ Writing is physical for me. I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind. I write in longhand, and the pen is scratching the words onto the page. I can even hear the words being written. So much of the effort that goes into writing prose for me is about making sentences that capture the music that I’m hearing in my head. It takes a lot of work, writing, writing, and rewriting to get the music exactly the way you want it to be. That music is a physical force. Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well. There’s something about the rhythms of language that correspond to the rhythms of our own bodies. An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body. I think this is what so many people don’t understand about fiction. Poetry is supposed to be musical. But people don’t understand prose. They’re so used to reading journalism—clunky, functional sentences that convey factual information—facts, more than just the surfaces of things.”

Eva Brann on teaching freshmen

…”I do love teaching freshmen. The reason I love it is because the difference between September and May is huge. For those who have read their readings, attended regularly, spoken in seminar … the difference in articulateness is tremendous. [There's a] difference in thoughtfulness, or even in knowing that you’re supposed to think about things in a certain way and not just say the words, and the ability to do something with the reading. You know, freshmen don’t usually know how you get a lot out of a page that is really thick with meaning, and that’s what they learn—that reading doesn’t always apply to books, it applies to human beings and to the whole world. The freshmen that come in are of course somewhat influenced by what the world is talking about, but before long, they lose that. They talk about the Program.”