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7. Max Weber's "theory of values": a cultural map for the literary translator


b) The dialectic of opposite parameters

We have considered the problems that a force field oriented according to Weber’s values poses to a translator taking culture as the parameter. Now, we shall examine the opposite parameter: ‘nature’. A big separation in the way nature becomes the narrative landscape consists of the interpretation of the "Idyll" genre. In ancient times, the Idyll raised individual emotions to a universal value. After Petrarch, the main characteristic of the Idyll is its reducing the universal perspectives to within the limits of individual feeling. For a translator with a Renaissance literature background, this implies a difficulty in rendering cultures like the German, Czech, or even Russian. The process of ‘depersonalization’ typical of Greek poetic culture is effectively gathered in this fragment of Stesichorus: "The Sun set on the golden basin, and with the Ocean currents it plunged to reach the mother, wife and beloved children". If the ’mythopoetic’ aspect of this passage is not considered, the Sun could be given anthropomorphic characteristics, when Stesichorus’s intention is precisely the opposite: in narrating the return of the Sun, the son of Hyperion, to the abysses of the sea, he wants to represent this sunset as the dawn of mythical time: that time whose rule begins when times ends. The Greek universe is round and symmetrical: "So high; so low", said the Gnostics. The Greek 'eskatebaine' ("descended") contains the root of 'eschatological': for the Greeks, liberation occurred through the depths. Goethe recalled this when he makes Faust go to the Mothers, the abyss of the unconscious; a realm into which Mephistopheles did not accompany him, out of fear. The Devil is powerless against the world of the pagans. In fact, before setting out on that ‘eschatological’ journey, Faust says the magic words "Now, the Sun will be behind me".

This brings about a third rule: in Neo-Latin cultures, the point of view of natural phenomena is never in human consciousness.

In Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass a sort of neopaganism coexists with the by-products of Romantic anthropocentrism. For Whitman, everything is nature; even human consciousness. His poetry is therefore mythopoetic, but with an opposite value to that of Stesichorus. The following passage is significant: "Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes / With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright / With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air". Here, the metonymy between the sun and human recollection is clear. As the recollection of places we have visited enhances our perception of the present, so the sun "fills the air with its ardour". Every feeling is truth revealed, and manifestation; every instant fills with the entire ‘experience’ of consciousness. In this case, the metonymy rises to the dignity of metaphor, whereas in Stesichorus, it is the metaphor that becomes metonymy. However, even this ‘translation’ is also potently expansive, and mythopoetic. If the descent to the abysses is a dawn, then proceeding backwards, in the scale of figures of speech, corresponds to a widening of the poetic implications.

From this we can obtain a fourth rule: in the evolution of literary culture, metaphor increasingly takes the place of the symbol.

Hence, every poetic conception of Classicism develops in the narrative sense that which originally was a mere description of natural phenomena.