Ars Longa

When I chose the title of this blog, I thought “Vita Brevis Ars Longa” meant life is short and art is long – i.e. takes a long time and lasts a long time. The whole motto is:





Life is short, Professionalism takes long, Occasion arises unexpectedly, Trusting experience is perilous, Good judgement remains difficult. (The famous Latin version of the first lines of the book on medicine by the Greek physician Hippocrates, 460 - 377 B.C.)

According to Phrase finder.

"This can be rendered into English as 'life is short, the art (craft/skill) long, opportunity fleeting, experiment treacherous, judgment difficult'.

That would lead us to interpret the meaning as 'it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one's expertise (in, say, medicine) and one has but a short time in which to do it'."

How did the phrase get turned round, which is the “true” version, Vita Brevis Ars Longa or Ars Longa Vita Brevis? We know it originally comes from Greek, but it is known to us in Latin. Did the original translator switch the order? What else did they switch?

So much of what we are adamantly certain about is in fact steeped in à peu près,

approximation: an inexact result adequate for a given purpose.

To be able to translate you have to make split second choices about what a source text means and how it would best be rendered in the target language. Working slowly does not always improve quality because on a leisurely stroll through the garden you can stumble onto forking paths that will open up avenues but take you too far from the case in point. To make a living, speed is an important parameter. In a rough draft I often accept a translation I am not happy with, or even transpose the French literally, to be able to make progress, but when I re-read the final version I find it is not so bad... the trap is that the mind is influenced by the written word. As a translator, I have to like what I write, or I wouldn't be able to do the job, but I also have to be willing to improve, to evolve along with the language which is living.

I know that how I feel about my translation is not always a true reflection of its value, just as, on a wider level, my force of conviction is not always a true reflection of my state of enlightenment. Sometimes I am so convinced of something I succeed in convincing other people, to everyone’s detriment when it turns out I was wrong all along… Ubending intent somehow got configured into my survival strategy. The trick would be to make it more flexible!

Translation is certainly grist for my mill. The following quotation reminded me how great it is to have role models and people we can admire:

“Handel is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be were I not Bach.”

Johann Sebastian Bach

In the same text, I found Ad libitum” Latin ad libitum (freely, as desired). I noticed a French “À volonté” floating around which unfortunately is linked in my mind to a Bistro Romain restaurant chain I once went to with work colleagues in Paris which offers unlimited amounts of salmon carpaccio and/or chocolate mousse.

As I read it, I was aware that the “freely, as desired” doesn’t mean fay ce que voudras.

Musical improvisation is not arbitrary, absolute freedom, but relative freedom of one parameter in relation to others that must be obeyed - but what of John Cage's silence?

Libitum takes me via liberty to libido and Lacan’s “ne pas céder sur son désir” - “do not give up on your desire”. Unbending desire.

Talking about libido, I was struck by this nice description of jouissance from Zizek:

"Although jouissance can be translated as "enjoyment," translators of Lacan often leave it in French in order to render palpable its excessive, properly traumatic character: we are not dealing with simple pleasures, but with a violent intrusion that brings more pain than pleasure. This is how we usually perceive the Freudian superego, the cruel and sadistic ethical agency which bombards us with impossible demands and then gleefully observes our failure to meet them. No wonder, then, that Lacan posited an equation between jouissance and superego: to enjoy is not a matter of following one's spontaneous tendencies; it is rather something we do as a kind of weird and twisted ethical duty."

Like playing the fiddle as the Titanic sinks. Quoted by Laura Gonzalez :
“Analysis is like the Titanic and all the analyst can do is arrange deck chairs to get a better view of the iceberg. A beautiful twist on a deja-vu metaphor.”

I enjoyed Laura’s latest post on the gaze, and had never heard of Cranach the Elder before.

And from deck chairs to peer reviews via Pier culture

3 commentaires:

Patricia said...

You know, to me "à volonté" in the meaning of Bistro Romain (whose menus I translated into German for several years - which shows again that the lines of our paths through the world keep touching each other), anyway, to me it means "more than we actually want". Because I know nobody who will have just as much mousse au chocolat as they want. In my experience, the words "à volonté" prompt everyone to go further than only their "volonté" and to have just that little bit more than what they want. And, sometimes, "ad lib" turns into "ad nauseam"... Is it human to always want more than what you really want?

Vita Brevis said...

I assumed for the Bistro that it must average out, that some people wouldn't eat much at all... but who are these people if we don't know any of them? :) But maybe they charge more for some other item to cover the excess.

Is it because it's free? I remember thinking I'd had enough, but would just take a bit more because I wouldn't be in that situation again for a while... and ending up nauseated.

I had lunch with friends on Friday and the portion of fish (saumonette) was about one centimeter thick and most of that was cartiledge. But in the end, with the salad starter and the bread, wine and pudding, I was completely satisfied at the end of the meal.

The whole question of limits is a huge one!

Laura Gonzalez said...

I love the Derridian aspect of this post. Hopping on signifiers is greatly liberating... I am about to write something for, against and around interpretation of art and psychoanalysis with my supervisor, whose artwork involves translation. It is playful, infurating, difficult, and very very alive.