02 September 2010

Early Welsh and Old English poetry

Multilingual literary criticism is not new, although obviously not as old as multilingual literature itself.  Here is a relatively early example of how the knowledge of two languages helps a critic enter more deeply into texts:

"Between languages

the uncooperative text in early Welsh and Old English nature poetry
Front Cover
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993 - Literary Criticism - 314 pages

"Early Welsh and Old English poetry are rarely spoken of together, but when they are, they have been described as like or different from one another. Sarah Higley breaks this cycle of mutual marginalization by examining what it means to read otherness or sameness into a text, concluding that too much of our reading is 'anglo-centric' in its expectations and dictated by invisible ideological agendas. ... Higley sees the English and Welsh traditions as foils to one another rather than as template and variation, and she starts with the connection of natural image and emotion, employed differently in these two contiguous but separate traditions. She shows how the English poems, long thought to be disjointed and cryptic, are invested in explanation and disclosure to a degree that the Welsh are not. The Welsh 'omissions' might be better understood as dynamic juxtapositions wherein other poetic aspects (metrics, imagery, context) serve to link ideas, perhaps even to disrupt them. She sees difficulty, ambiguity, and dialogism as loci of power - neither accidents of our reading distance nor defects in other classical standards of wholeness. Reading the English and the Welsh together with a respect for the mutual differences helps us to get beyond some of the cliche's about what is English and 'familiar' and what is Celtic and 'other.' Her argument revolves around the plight of the lone human as he or she is depicted in these texts in a precarious state of connection with the rest of the world: caught between society and wilderness, inside and outside, sacred and secular, meaning and nonmeaning. This focus on connection informs the title as well: 'between languages' expresses our position as readers reading two different cultures together, reading ancient literature mediated through modern poetic theory, and the position of medieval scholarship in its struggle between traditional and postmodern approaches."

1 comment:

  1. I've just across a quote attributed to linguist Roman Jacobson: "Languages differ in what they MUST convey and not what they MAY convey." (caps mine). I suppose multi-lingual critics go deeper into the texts by uncovering its possible meanings. To fulfill a goal of reading classics I haven't read, I recently finished listening to a 39-hour recording of ANNA KARENINA, at the same time looking at the latest translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

    "Witless woman" reads the text at one point. "What a duffer," says the audio. Can a critic say that either is closer to Tolstoy's meaning? As a reader grateful to have access to the text I cannot read in the original, I don't really care.