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Epilogue - The Burlesque


d) Epilogue of epilogues: Alexander Luria and the ‘hope principle’

We wish to conclude this journey through language as consciousness, and literary translation as experimental self-analysis, by referring to a book by Alexander Luria, the greatest neurologist of our times. In Consciousness Lost and Found, Luria tells the story of a Russian soldier who, hit in the head by shrapnel in 1943, was still able to understand words but had completely lost the sense of context to which those words belonged in order to have meaning. For him, "shoe" was a group of four letters with no relationship to a foot, or socks. The experience described by Luria is enlightening: in fact, the brain of his patient worked like that of a mechanical translator. But still more fascinating is the way in which the scientist teaches the soldier to comprehend the world: he brings back the emotions, smells, perceptions of hot and cold, light and shadow, tenderness and anger that accompanied him as a child, in his gradual orientation between the confines of an outside world that had thus also gradually become his inner world. And the limit, or the ‘translating’ code between the worlds, was language as a ‘bringer of meaning’.

According to Luria, only emotion saves us from the senselessness of the world. Without emotion, language translates this senselessness into a chain of statements whose purpose has been removed, and that, like an atom with the nucleus removed, collapse in on themselves.

In concluding this Literary translation course, we hope it has conveyed the concept of that brazen courage without which no translator can succeed in rendering a vital and throbbing text: the courage to use the word written by another, in his language, as a mirror of one’s own unique emotions.