Now Politics: the Political Opinions of Thomas Sarebbenonnato

A Friend of the People Opposing Elites; Social and Political Commentary of Thomas Sarebbenonnato; Publishing and Contributing Editor, Jay V. Ruvolo [Copyright (c) Jay Ruvolo 2018]

Archive for April 29th, 2019

SEMI LITERACY TRIUMPHANT

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ONE

Translating Shakespeare? I remember this notion having recurred time and again throughout my life, intermittently along with the mistaken idea that Shakespeare did not write his plays, or even more ignorantly, that he could not have written his plays. Even today, there are respected scholars who have taken up the cause of Thomas Middleton’s collaborations with the bard, something I will not dispute, for if I were to dispute this without examining the textual analysis and evidence as so purported, I’d be unforgivable to myself . . . bearing false witness, and all of that, you know.

Nevertheless, translating Shakespeare has been a recurring notion rooted, rooted, I must insist, in a general and pervasively degraded literacy . . . I do have no problem with there having been collaboration between him and Marlowe on the Henry VI plays; I do not wish to dispute Middleton’s contributions, not really collaborations? I do know that these collaborations and/or contributions by others do not extend to Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, MacBeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, A Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Henry the IV, Part One and Part Two, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III and Richard II . . . need I continue? A Bard-o-philiac? Of course, but then Shaespeare is Shakespeare, Middleton, Middleton and Marlowe, Marlowe, the latter who I loved when I was in my twenties, to the point of arguing his equality with Shakespeare and teching Will in his world to speak in blank verse . . . perhaps an exaggeration.

I do know that imitation is the greatest flattery, and I do not wish to underminethecertainty of contemporary textual analysis, but careers are made or broken on such ventures, and I always distrust academics in the West-west not to be sensationalist and bound up in the marketing of scholarship. This is not by way of disputation, no. I do know or feel or think that Shakespearecould have and would have immitated Marlowe to the point of becoming Marlovian in diction and style if he imagined that this would have let him convey what he knew he needed to convey in the play, especially as he built them . . . always the architect, master builder, stone cutter and mason?

Nonetheless, nevertheless, moreover, whatever, however . . . recently, I heard of a project, I think by a Portland Theater group, or was it somewhere else . . . I could continue to ask, but seems unimportant and not too relevant to the main points herein to be discussed, some contingent, some ancillary?How was this translation project imagined? I could ask. I could also wonder about the necessity as this, of course, has been imagined a necessity. I cannot concoct in my head without becoming condescending and just a bit Menippean—I have always loved satire that cuts–when I consider the lack of necessity. I do understand that there are those who want to translate Shakespeare as we do Chaucer and Beowulf.

The latter above was composed in West Saxon, at least that is the dialect of Old English in the only surviving manuscript that could be dated near the reckoned dates of first composition; the former, the author of the Canterbury Tales, wrote in the London dialect of Middle English, in the late 1300s, and is a lot more intelligible than Beowulf, being several centuries closer to Shakespeare and thus to us. A great deal more work is needed to get through Chaucer’s original than Shakespeare, though; but for the student or scholar of such, the link between Chaucer and Shakespeare is very interesting to note, and even reading Chaucer in what I have at home, and interlienear text, is compelling.

It is not entirely beyond the pale (pardon the cliche) to think there are those who could imagine Shakespeare as unintelligible as Chaucer, although I could never be one of them. The necessity for translating Shakespeare is not a matter of intelligibility, but one of intelligence and level of literacy, which does not need to be as remote from our common education as too many who have suffered from the corporate takeover of education (and the ensuing under education they have received) think. The imagined necessity for translating Shakespeare is something outside what was once common literacy, what was general in public education, for anyone who received a High School diploma. Yes, reading at a level that allowed intelligibility of Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet was a given, the expectation.

Shakespeare’s English is the beginning of our own, and possesses a link firm and binding. It is more a matter of idiom than dialect or language; those who cannot read him intelligibly are either under-educated or semi-literate or lazy—yes, lazy. An enforced laziness that masqueraded as more democratic under the guise of relevance in education became the norm, thus anything more became unnecessary.

 

TWO

I pronounced aloud, aboard a Brooklyn bound D that had been paused on the Manhattan Bridge for far longer than any normal, rational, intelligent human, that managing the trains in our metro presents a puzzle for dispatchers that their systematic under education and semi-literacy cannot handle. I stand by my outburst. Yet, a rather intelligent looking white man, from somewhere nowhere near New York City, said in rebuttal, with an inflection that might have garnered him a punch in the nose if it had been aimed at me twenty or thirty years earlier in any of the blue-collar Irish Catholic bars I mis-spent my youth in: What does literacy have to do with running the trains? Ah! Openly disputing a truth I knew be self-evident could only mean what? I needed to muster compassion fast or contempt was going to soon fill the momentary vacuum of sense and educated sensibility.

I then knew, as an immediate and emotional response to his rhetorical posture he was sure would make an impression on me and others, that we as a populus in this city were lost in a morass of confused, confusing and confounded thinking, more akin to rapidly passing images in the mind than anything organized, articulate, intelligent (or educated) could be. Literacy has everything to do with the advances made in civilization, and no, not the advances in colonialism or the greater savageries of imperialism.

I do understand that we sometimes have education without intelligence, as this White man showed–this White-white Protestant man from somewhere nowhere near NewYork City, as I have insisted, although here to gentrify black neighborhoods, was looking at me the way White people are imagined to look at others not of their paleness or Protestant-ness.

The maladies I see and hear in our thinking are the product of the very systematic under eduction and stunted literacy I had said was the cause of repeated delays in service that happen too often to be just about the alleged betterment of the subway. It surely is all-out men and women unable to handle the complexities of their job due to the fact that they are stunted in their ability to think. This collective stupidity we suffer is irrespective of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, creed. Stpid is as stupid does with some few exceptions is everywhere pervasive.

But then the subway in New York City is run, a man in a bar I was in the other day said, “by simians, all of them just three steps short of beating a baby baboon to death against a tree, something their cousins, the chimps, do without psychological disturbance, just as a matter of course, asserting one’s place in the social hierarchy of chimpanzees.”

Now, the latter, these chimpanzees, are 98% identical with all of us Homo Sapiens, what we remain more starkly the less often we choose the Human, which is never what it is without the humane or the civilized, or what we could call literate, whether through actual literacy or orality; the later being something we have severed our connections to, having allowed the Power and Monied Elites to attack the Folk, the People as themselves in a tradition of folk learning, folk knowledge transmitted through folk telling, folk stories, tales, wisdom. The People, with a capital ‘P,’ are a political institution; the Folk, are themselves, themselves culturally, socially. (After having first attacked the old Ecclesiastic order, the next line of attack of the Aristocracy, after which the attack was to come at the Folk, which waste be followed by a usurpation of the role of the People, politically, for the more docile state-serving Public.)

Now, this thing civilization, from which we order our civilized behavior, is an arrangement of society and culture along the lines and forms of a variety of metaphysical systems, but certainly begins to wane in the absence of all or any metaphysics; at least as far as an understanding and a consciousness of metaphysical systems and their elemental role in the ordering of what all of us would like to call civilized behavior, civilized organization, civilized management of social services . . . and don’t go talking stupid because it was a matter of the accepted anthropology of my days as an undergraduate that the Bedouin tent and the Lakota TeePee are manifestations of civilization, the word ‘civilization’ having been expanded from its etymology in the Latin Civis, which was a term for city, along with Urbs (the origin of ‘urban.’).

Now, unless the design is to dispense with civilization as an organizing term because it has been too loosely associated with colonialisms and various forms of imperialism, which not every colonialism represents (and there have been colonialisms without racism or slavery, as there had been slavery for thousands of years before the Atlantic/African Slave Trade, which did come after the African slave trade run by Arab Muslims for more than a thousand years since the fall of Rome and Roman control of North Africa . . . et cetera, et cetera); the term ‘civilization’ should remain as a definitive label for collective behavior.

The fact that there is a project in Oregon set to translate all of Shakespeare into contemporary English only shows me that my laments about the state of literacy over the last several decades has been valid–yet I do not object entirely to modernizations. I do object, though, that we pretend that Shakespeare is unintelligible without translation, which is grossly untrue. Only a glossary was ever necessary for anyone who had been standardly literate, at least at a time when the average High School graduate could read on grade and not at the seventh (which it seems most of those who are now running our city read at, if I am allowed a tangent–you do know that the fact we have undermined literacy and opted for a baser form of alphabetism, separating the advances of higher literacy from civilization and what it means to be civilized, has left us with mismanagement after grotesque mismanagement of our civil orders, as well as where we are at politically . . .).

The need for translation, as some call it, is not a necessity born of distance and mutual unintelligibility, but a product of our debased sense of literacy and what it means to be a literate person–and I am not talking about a university graduate or undergraduate level reading, but what used to be high school when persons needed to read at the 12th grade to graduate High School, more specifically at time when what was a 12th grade reading level had not been debased, devalued, inflated (in its economic connotation) in order to adjust reading scores by students who could no longer perform well enough.

I had noted this while teaching in the City University of New York when the University decided to move from the WAT test to the ACT test for admissions writing requirements. The latter called for a much different kind of essay. A much easier format was instituted, geared toward looser construction, lesser or limited complexity; and was graded through a series of recurring norming sessions designed to re-adjust the passing levels, thus requiring even lesser and lesser literacy . . . all in the name of a misguided attempt to democratize education.

The only problem is that all of this backfired and has only resulted in greater and greater elitism and more power for Power and more money for Monied elites. I noticed this while teaching for over a decade in a very well known ESOL program in Brooklyn, where language and literacy or what students needed to learn, and how, were as far from the supervisors comprehension as neuroscience is to the token booth clerk’s mind, not to disparage the token booth clerk or job she or he does.

 

Written by jvr

April 29, 2019 at 10:28 am

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