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Preliminary definitions

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b. Literary language as foreshortening

Everyday language differs from the language of letters in the nature of the "vision" it conveys. In everyday language, the vision is objective, and in literary language, subjective ¾ which means that in literature, greater importance attaches to the implications and suggestions of the words than to what actually is said. Intention has precedence over expression. The desire to be challenged, so to speak, is stronger than the search for clarity. Effectiveness is achieved in redundancy, in the aura created around the text. In literature, sense is significance.

What is foreshortening?

Going into a gothic cathedral, the profusion of side chapels, arches, columns and windows give the impression of plurality, creating as many cathedrals ¾ identical in design, though differing in structure ¾ as the standpoints taken up by the observer. The gothic cathedral seeks to transform time into space. To suggest an escape from the temporal, even as human life is destined ultimately to enter the serene uniformity of the City of God. The essential purpose of foreshortening, therefore, is that it should stylize the fundamental elements of the subject matter so that they can be freely recombined and juxtaposed. If we consider our individual and collective memory as the space encompassed by a cathedral, we will at once be in the dimension that best reflects an ideal psychology for the translator.


In effect, this is a process that underlies any creative enterprise in literature.

The most emblematic example is that gothic cathedral of words erected by Proust in his Recherche, where the selfsame objects described ¾ bell-towers, seascapes, curtains, faces, discourses ¾ all take on new meanings according to the connections in space that the memory establishes between them, starting from two initial points of view: du cote de chez Swann, du cote de chez Guermantes. Two roads, one leading to the home of the Swanns, the other to the home of the Guermantes. But it is around the divergence between these two areas of thought that the different points of view in the narrative are articulated. "Of our body, where incessant pleasures and many pains come together, we do not have a precise vision like that of a tree or of a house or of a passer-by";, writes Proust, who makes a theatre of the body, a stage on which to project events, like the Chinese shadows of Li Po.

Thus, the first quality of the foreshortened view is its density. The second is reversibility, whereby a detail formerly unremarkable in character can take on a revelatory significance. Thinking of The Pit and the Pendulum, by Edgar Allan Poe, the ticking that strikes the consciousness of the protagonist ¾ the only sound perceived ¾ has no significance at first on reawakening. Everything is in darkness. The fact that the ticking denotes the inexorable descent of a chopper is understood only as the character becomes conscious of the situation. In retrospect, accordingly, we come to see that Death is the sound of time, and the ticking takes on the expressive and deceptive force of a metaphysical symbol, though without in any way losing its graphic and sensory impact. In Poe's tale, we discover the external space from within the conscious of the protagonist.

The third quality of foreshortening is that it is related to a point of view.


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