Sunday, October 27, 2013

You Can Buy Anything but Class, Dept.

This photo, courtesy of Kim Kardashian, is from that inexplicably famous woman’s sojourn to Las Vegas to celebrate her 33rd birthday.  Because time marches on no matter how many new faces she buys.

Looking at this snap, I didn’t think of Las Vegas so much as Staten Island.  Like a Sicilian bachelorette party.  But, hey, that 15-carat rock that Kanye bought her to seal the deal probably really classed up the outing.  At least more than the Daisy Mae Yokum wedding dress she’s wearing.

America: When we take out the trash, it goes on the front page™.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

In Other Words, Dept.

Translation, particularly of Ancient Literature, interests me.  The rendering into modern or archaic English of texts whose significance and resonance to their contemporary audiences we can only sketch.  The knife's-edge walk between fidelity and flair.  But more than that, the simple ability to reach back 2,500 years and hear the voices and grapple with the thoughts of those who have not walked in the sun's bright since those days.

As an example, following are the first eight lines of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, spoken by the night-watchman.  Four translations follow these, the first by Herbert Weir Smith, the classicist and author of Greek Grammar, the second by the poet and translator Richmond Lattimore, the third by poet Ted Hughes and the fourth by poet and classicist Anne Carson (all rights to the respective holders).

θεοὺς μὲν αἰτῶ τῶνδ᾽ ἀπαλλαγὴν πόνων
φρουρᾶς ἐτείας μῆκοςἣν κοιμώμενος
στέγαις Ἀτρειδῶν ἄγκαθενκυνὸς δίκην,
ἄστρων κάτοιδα νυκτέρων ὁμήγυριν,
καὶ τοὺς φέροντας χεῖμα καὶ θέρος βροτοῖς
λαμπροὺς δυνάσταςἐμπρέποντας αἰθέρι
ἀστέραςὅταν φθίνωσινἀντολάς τε τῶν.

H. Weir Smyth translation (1926):
Release from this weary task of mine has been my cry unto the gods throughout my long year's watch, wherein, couchant upon the palace roof of the Atreidae, upon my bended arm, like a hound, I have learned to know aright the conclave of the stars of night, yea those radiant potentates conspicuous in the firmament, bringers of winter and summer unto mankind, the constellations, what time they wane and rise.

Richmond Lattimore translation (1953):
I ask the gods some respite from the weariness
of this watchtime measured by years I lie awake
elbowed upon the Atreidae's roof dogwise to mark
the grand processionals of all the stars of night
burdened with winter and again with heat for men,
dynasties in their shining blazoned on the air,
these stars, upon their wane and when the rest arise.

Ted Hughes translation (1998):
You Gods in heaven -
You have watched me here on this tower
All night, every night for twelve months,
Thirteen moons -
Tethered on the roof of this palace
Like a dog.
It is time to release me.
I've stared long enough into this darkness
For what never emerges.
I'm tired of the constellations -
That glittering parade of lofty rulers
Night after night a little bit earlier
Withholding the thing I wait for -
Slow as torture.

Anne Carson translation (2009):
Gods! Free me from this grind!
It's one long year I'm lying here watching
   waiting watching waiting--
propped on the roof of Atreus, chin on my
    paws like a dog.
I've peered at the congregation of the
    nightly stars--bright powerful creatures
    blazing in air,
the ones that bring summer, the ones that
    bring winter,
the ones that die out, the ones that rise

Which, I think you'll agree, is quite a diverse set of readings.  What's the literal translation of the text?  Here's your sobsister's rough rendering of the lines:

The gods I ask deliverance from this drudgery,
my full year's watch, lying, dog-fashion,
on my arm on the roof of the Atreides,
and I contemplated the assembly of night stars,
those radiant rulers bringing summer and winter to man,
conspicuous stars in heaven,
whenever their setting or rising.

Have I mentioned that I'd make Greek and Latin compulsory through all four years of high school?  This is our cultural patrimony.  To read it, even haltingly, in the original is one way in which our species defeats Death.  As you'll have seen, translation is an art and a space where the poet and technician can meet and strike brilliant sparks.  But to hear and understand the words in one's own head, even if chipped one by one out of the text's dark walls as beginners such as myself must do, that is truly a treat.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Your circuit's dead/there's something wrong, Dept.

Poster for Gravity

Just saw this today.  Two words: IMAX 3-D.  See this on the largest screen that you can and strap on those Roy Orbison depth shades.  It is a visually amazing and utterly immersive experience.

The story is simple.  No spoiler alert is necessary to tell you that it's the story of an orbital space mission gone horribly wrong.  And the rest of the film is about survival.  There's backstory given to Bullock's character that I think is unnecessary in terms of the audience's sympathy or engagement.  Backstory that I don't think would've been given to a man in her role.

I remember reading about this film on one of the Hollywood biz blogs when it was first announced a few years ago.  A lot of questioning as to whether Sandra Bullock could hold you for 90 minutes--she's pretty much in every shot of the movie.  Well, she does, aided by the astonishing visuals and, yes, edge-of-your-seat, Perils-of-Pauline action.

I'm calling her for Best Actress and Gravity for Best Picture noms next Oscar™ season.  On the one hand, the film is at the edge of our technological abilities in the medium, and every dollar spent shows up on the screen.

But this is no mere CGI-wankfest.  The film is centrally about human survival under the most adverse conditions, and it's driven by Bullock, much of it in head-and-shoulders shots.  Her reactions to the rapidly shifting circumstances--and dangers--are ultimately what keep your ass in the seat.