Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Monday, January 18, 2016
Rome Journal X: A Glass of Water
photograph of Roman glass of water by Hallie Cohen
Languages are literally interpretable, but in some ways
they’re not. Certainly vernacular is a mountain to climb when it comes to
communicating double entendres and subtleties of meaning. That's why, for
instance, when a play is translated, say a play by Chekhov, there will be a
literal rendering and then one by another playwright whose talents are conscripted for their understanding
of the language of theater. True translation is a little like the kind of deencryption
that Alan Turing practiced during the second world war. All this is said to
point out that language is really a way of being. You can say “I want a glass
of water” in English and it means the same as “voglio un bicchiere di acqua”
in Italian, but there's an enormous difference between the subtext andhistory communicated by the English and
Italian and there is a world of difference between asking for a glass of water
in Milan, Bologna, Rome or Palermo.Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers(1960) and Alberto Lattuada’sMafioso (1962) are both masterpieces of Italian cinema which describe migrations
from south to north, from Sicily to Milan. But the real change relates to the
unconscious neural substrates of language. In this regard, the disintegration of the Parondi
family in Rocco and His Brothers is a little like the fall of the Tower of
Babel. Once held together by strong family ties, the brothers are now living in
their separate worlds. Rome is not just a city, but a way of being that’s
expressed by the way in which language is iterated and one of the best ways to
really see Rome is to listen as you travel back and forth between antiquity and
the present. And luxuriate in that “bicchiere di aqua” you ask for in Rome. It’s
going to not only sound but taste different from the one that will be brought
to you when you get to Milan.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.