“Become what you are”

There are two broad interpretations of this imperative, originally found in Pindar, and discussed in The New Atlantis.

The existentialist view, epitomised by Nietzsche, is it means:

Become what you happen to be, not what you think you should be.

Don’t pretend to be something you aren’t or can’t be, don’t strive to be an ideal version of you, and simply go with who or what you are.

The essentialist view, more in line with Plato and Aristotle, is to:

Become such as you are, having learned what that is.

This is the opposite of Nietzsche. It suggests you find out who you really are and then work towards this, and don’t be sidetracked by your baser drives.

There is also the argument made by Josh Cohen in The Private Life: that we can’t actually ever know our own, unconscious selves. Even if we could know what our true self is, Cohen’s suggestion is that we can only ever know the bit above the surface – we can never understand, perhaps in a way a friend can, why we pursue doomed relationships or reach a self-limited plateau in our work.

I tend to fall more towards the existentialist view here. Even if I could identify what my true self was, I’m not sure I would either, first, know when I’ve reached that state, or, second, not be diverted away from reaching it by how I am.

“Constrained by the limits of your own mind”

This is about baseball:

[N]o matter how much will and determination you might muster, you will always be constrained by the limits of your own mind. Ankiel doesn’t know why he can’t pitch anymore. All he knows is that he can’t.

It is also about a lot more than baseball.

The Waste Land (04) – translating foreign language lines

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I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

In my last post I outlined my plan for approaching this project, noting there are some basics to cover. This post therefore looks at translating the foreign language lines throughout The Waste Land. We don’t here yet explore what the meaning of the lines is or the wider work from where they’re taken, nor why Eliot chose to use foreign language to express them.

A note on process: where Eliot makes specific reference to the foreign language lines in his notes, then I have allowed myself to find a relevant copy of the text online. My thinking here is that I could as easily find a copy of the given title in a library, but physically accessing a library would extend the project by several months! Where, though, there is no reference in Eliot’s notes then I have not simply searched for it. This goes back to part of my original reason for undertaking this project: “to create some space, focus and flow for myself in one tiny area of the physical and mental worlds”.

Now, to the translations.

The epigraph

I’m actually going to deal with the epigraph in a separate post. It’s in Latin and Greek, and is not alluded to in any of Eliot’s notes. Part of the challenge I’ve set myself in this project is not simply to Google an answer – there must be a process of discovery – so I am trying to find a translation of the epigraph and from where it’s taken via separate means.

 For Ezra Pound

il miglior fabbro

This Italian translates as “the better maker” and refers to the fact that Ezra Pound supported Eliot closely in how he structured the poem, and indeed gave it its title. I discovered this through reading Peter Watson’s A Terrible Beauty, which I realise now is where I first substantively came across The Waste Land.

(A note for later study is to understand better the role Ezra Pound played in the creation of The Waste Land.)

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aust Litauen, echt deutsch (12)

Not referred to in Eliot’s notes, I assume that Eliot wrote this himself and have translated this line myself to be: “I am not Russian, but Lithuanian – true German”

Frisch weht der Wind / Der Heimat zu / Mein Irisch Kind, wo weilest du? (31-34)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being lines 5-8 of Act I of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. A common translation has these lines as:

Fresh blows the Wind

towards home

My Irish Child

where are you now?

(A note for later study is to find out more about Tristan und Isolde)

Oed’ und leer das Meer

Also cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Tristan und Isolde – line 24 of Act III, translating as:

Desolate and void the sea!

Next:

“You! hypocrite lecteur!–mon semblable,–mon frere!” (76)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from the (poem) preface to Baudelaire’s Fleurs de Mal (Flowers of Evil), this translates as:

you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!

 

 

Next:

Et O ces voix d’enfants, chantant dans la coupole! (202)

I could have had a stab at this French – children’s voices singing somewhere or other. Fortunately, Eliot notes the source in his notes: Verlaine’s poem Parsifal. It translates as:

And, O these children’s voices singing in the dome!

Although we are not yet exploring the meaning of these foreign language lines, we should note here in the rest of Parsifal an explicit reference to the Holy Grail (“As priest-king and guardian of the sacred treasure / In golden robe he worships that sign of grace / The pure vessel in which shines the Holy Blood”). Parsifal is also the name of another Wagner opera (as is Tristan und Isolde) – there’s much here to get into later.

 

Datta (402), Dayadhvam (412), Damyata (419) (and again together at 433)

The translation is given by Eliot himself in his notes as:

Give, sympathise, control

 

Next:

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina (428)

Cited in Eliot’s notes as being from Dante’s Purgatory, line 148 of canto 26, and translates as:

Then, in the fire that refines, he hid

Next:              

Quando fiam uti chelidon (429)

Eliot’s notes cite this line from Pervigilium Veneris and he probably meant to refer to the translation as:

When shall I become like a swallow

Next:             

Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie (430)

Again, my secondary level French may well have sufficed for this one (a Prince, a destroyed tower), but Eliot kindly provides a note to point us in the direction of El Desdichado by Gerard de Nerval. The translation is:

The Aquitaine Prince whose tower is destroyed

Next:

Shantih shantih shantih (434)

Given by Eliot in his notes to mean “The Peace which passeth understanding”.


So we have a literal understanding of what the foreign language lines of The Waste Land mean – a good start. We’ve also begun to create a reading list of sources from which Eliot drew direct inspiration (Wagnerian opera, Dante’s Divine Comedy, some Sanskrit texts). Before we explore their specific meanings, what the meanings of the works they’re taken from is, and why they’re used in a foreign form, we’ll carry on looking at some other basics, too, continuing next with the characters referenced throughout.

 

The Waste Land (03) – outline plan

i_land

I’m spending the next 6 months reading The Waste Land and exploring it, its meaning, its references, its context and its place in (modern?) culture.

After outlining my reflections from a first read – summarised into themes and dimensions – now is the time to plan on how to approach the rest of the project.

As I noted before, I would feel most comfortable getting into the dimensions of The Waste Land: considerations such as structure, rhyme, languages, perspectives etc. But form follows function, and it feels like I’d be taking the more straightforward route if I focused on these (relatively) easier dimensions rather than grapple with Eliot’s meaning. I must, therefore, start with meaning and themes and then seek to understand how the rest magnifies these.

Before this, though, there are some basics to cover. There are lines in foreign languages (the epigraph is in Latin, the dedication in Greek, passages in French and German, and a smattering of Sanskrit) to be translated. There are characters to understand (at least in the first instance; for example, who are Belladonna, Tiresias, Phlebas the Phoenician, Philomel, Cupidon) and what does Eliot mean by invoking them? And there are locations to place (Starnbergersee, the London locations, Carthage, Margate).

Some time should first be spent, therefore, building this basic knowledge.

From there, it feels most natural to work through Eliot’s own notes to further elucidate his meanings. This will particularly require reading “From Ritual to Romance” by Jessie L. Weston (cited by Eliot as the inspiration for the title, plan and much of the symbolism of The Waste Land), as well as “The Golden Bough” (a book I’ve heard of, at least, if not read or know much about).

I think we’ll be getting somewhere if we do these things, and will also generate a better idea of what to pursue in light of the results. Off we go!

Remembering “Rise of the Meritocracy” was a satire

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From the New Statesman:

But I am also a big problem. People like me, who get educated and quickly head off to London when things aren’t going our way. We invested in ourselves, sometimes at state expense, and never really thought about putting that back into the places where we grew up.

There weren’t the right opportunities back home and that still stands. But, rather than doing something about that, people like me lazily joined the gravy train for London and now we’re surprised we feel more kinship with a 20-something from Norway than we do with someone who we used to knock on for when we should have been at school.

Reading this reminded me that Michael Young intended his 1958 essay “The Rise of the Meritocracy” as satire, not as a platform for policy. As the Economist noted:

Young… conjured up an image of a society obsessed with talent. The date was 2034, and psychologists had perfected the art of IQ testing. But far from promoting social harmony, the preoccupation with talent had produced social breakdown. The losers in the talent wars were doubly unhappy, conscious not only that they were failures but that they deserved to be failures. Eventually they revolted against their masters.

The vote to leave the EU feels precisely like a revolt by the “losers in the talent wars” against their masters.

Young, at least, offered a positive vision for what it could, should be like:

“In the light of this approach [they] sought to give a new meaning to equality of opportunity.

“[It] should not mean equal opportunity  to rise up in the social scale, but equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their ‘intelligence’, to develop the virtues and talents with which they are endowed, all their capacities for appreciating the beauty and depth of human experience, all their potential for living life to the full.

“The child, every child, is a precious individual, not just a potential functionary of society. The schools should not be tied to the occupational structure, bent on turning  out people for the jobs at any particular moment considered important, but should be devoted to encouraging all human talents, whether or not these are of the kind needed in a scientific world. The arts and manual skills should be given as much prominence as science and technology.

“[All] schools should have enough good teachers so that all children should have individual care and stimulus. They could then develop at their own pace to their own particular fulfilment. The schools would not segregate the like but mingle the unlike; by promoting diversity within unity, they would teach respect for the infinite human differences which are not the least of mankind’s virtues. The schools would not regard children as shaped once and for all by Nature, but as a combination of potentials which can be cultivated by Nurture.”

 

 

Resilience is recovery

We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We imagine a Marine slogging through the mud, a boxer going one more round, or a football player picking himself up off the turf for one more play. We believe that longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be.

This from Harvard Business Review, which then goes on to note:

The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again.

I couldn’t agree more.

It’s something I’ve most explicitly learnt from running – maximum progress and improvement occurs when you push yourself at most once a week, and build in appropriate recovery runs around this, leading to strong development over time.

It’s also something I’m learning more through work. You can’t simply keep bashing away at something and wondering why it won’t give. You have to take stock, recover, reflect and “strategically stop”, in order to be able to tweak, amend and alter the intensity of your approach.

Either way, resilience is in the recovery.

Twitter: It’s not you, it’s me

TwitterDying
Image via A Gentleman’s Journal

There I was, about to write another post on why I’m not as enamoured with Twitter as I once was (I have previous on this). The latest addition would have been prompted by this post on why Twitter still isn’t a social network, and particularly this bit:

[U]nless you’re a power user, someone sharing a unique story or a chance witness to something big, Twitter is essentially a broadcast you’re viewing[.]

But then Paul Clarke wrote a characteristically insightful and honest piece about Twitter. He notes:

[I]f you wanted to keep Twitter fresh for you, you needed to work at it.

And what did we do?

[W]e didn’t.

Dagnammit, he’s right.

For the last two years, it’s me who hasn’t put in the effort I used to with Twitter. The disappointment I have when my timeline isn’t what I want it to be is reminiscent of how I feel when I only get bills through my letterbox or promotional emails in my inbox. But there’s a reason that happens, too: I don’t send letters and only get personal emails if I’ve sent one myself.

So, you see, Twitter – it isn’t you, it’s me.

The issue I now face is that the only time someone says this is when they’re about to break up.