13 March 2009

Lost in Translation, part 1

When Shri Rama asked Valmiki as to where should he reside as he had abandoned Ayodhya, Valmiki specified about 14 types of residences which were fit for him to reside and these 14 residences covered all the ways and paths of devotion.

Valmiki said:-

1) you should reside along with Sita and Lakshman where people are not tired of listening to your biographical narrative. [source]

I think it's safe to say that literal translations are pretty useless in the realm of spirituality/religion/mysticism/anything that's not literal in the first place.

I was actually just saying this to Andrew the other night, when I was trying to find the full Holi story online so I could tell it to him without missing important details and then having to jump around in the narrative to patch things together.

I've noticed that English tellings of Hindu stories tend to tell either only the literal (see: 1), and therefore miss the spiritual, or only the spiritual, but in a really colonial reductionist/positivist way, and therefore miss the point of its being a story. The former mistakes the model for the phenomenon, as Priya would say (though in this case I might suggest that, more precisely, it's mistaking the vehicle for the tenor). The latter disabuses the notion that the tenor and vehicle have anything to do with each other--it's inconceivable that a cup might be the best way to hold water for drinking, because the focus is on drinking the water.

I'm a big fan of the way Hinduism has been recorded. A word is a symbol that represents the meaning of an abstract concept in order to communicate it outside the self; similarly, a story encapsulates and communicates a more complex concept or idea, or set of them in relation to each other.

And if they hadn't specifically intended to communicate Hinduism that way--subliming conceptions of divinity, life, everything, and universal connectedness into the plot and characters in a story--those old yogis would have just written out some commandments and essays and been done with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to live somewhere where people have not tired of my biographical narrative. But then again, don't we all?

This is an awesome post, thanks very much. I had not made the connection between the model-phenomenon thing and spiritual/religious stories, or at least not this explicitly (in a notebook I have written the phrase "construct agnosticism"). Did you see my latest blog? It's also about this, kind of.

PS Be careful with semiotics. Like deconstruction and alcohol, a little bit is a good solvent and too much will make you crazy.