Translation, Mutation

According to Alex Hayes, “Thinking was literally distributed across the caves of Lascaux, for example. Was it distributed without translation or mutation? Of course not, but it was distributed nonetheless” (link courtesy of Stephen Downes).
Just out of curiosity, in what sense does the knowledge that the paintings entail exist in a state sufficiently distinct from the paintings, and sufficiently clearly delimited, that it makes sense to submit that the paintings constitute a translation or mutation of the (untranslated, un-mutated) knowledge? I’m not arguing that there’s no such thing as knowledge or any comparably overblown claim — but I’m wondering what stake we have in reserving a sphere of “knowledge” that’s not inflected by its representations. If we grant (as I insist) that action is a mode of meaning and interpretation, do our enacted interpretive gestures also “mutate” knowledge? If so, what do we know about un-mutated, pure knowledge — and how can we know it apart from the mutagenic effects of words, actions, and other interpretive representations? (And how does the verb “know” work in the previous sentence?)

11 thoughts on “Translation, Mutation

  1. the metaphor of translation is extremely misleading here; connected as it is to the metaphor of a “language of thought.” of course there are non-linguistic modes of thought, and of course linguistic modes often attempt to represent them. but beyond that, what distinguishes non-linguistic modes is that they are non-linguistic. to describe a linguistic description of them as a translation suggests it could be better or worse as a representation, and that makes a giant mistake already.

    since non-linguistic modes of thought are non-linguistic, the representation of them by means of language is not anything like translation, since, after all, translation is about representing one linguistic expression in a different language. modes of thought which are ineluctably and inescapably non-linguistic are thus quite different from thoughts expressed in a different language, and so the process of representing them by linguistic means is not well described as translation.

  2. All knowledge is inflected and infected by its interpretation. The “knowing” you refer to takes place outside of language. The un-sayable. The suchness. The lessness. Some might call it belief or faith for lack of a better word. That which refuses to be named.

    The closest we can get to “meaning” with words, with language or even with “gesture” may be most perfectly illustrated by two Italian words that are often mistaken for each other: traduttore and traditore. There’s no mistake here.

    Yet here we are, still dancing about architecture.

    This is where Borges, Calvino and Hölderlin enter – stage left.
    Not even mentioning the ancient and most recent tillers of this this same same ground.

  3. Except, Madame L, the illustration you cite is a verbal illustration — and I’ve succumbed to the maladjustment that regards words as a wondrous, glorious outlying data point that must not bewitch us into thinking that “notions” or “meaning” or “truth” somehow belongs uniquely to the verbal domain.
    So, as Zo suggests, I would add to your roster of luminaries Magritte, Tansey, Jerry Uelsmann, Kurt Schwitters, Diogenes, and — if I may be so bold — the innumerable saints who communicated theological insight with exemplary lives.

  4. Grant that language goes beyond the verbal, then luminous lives communicate, speak, through gesture, action. Is the life a mimeograph, an articulation, a translation, a figure, a palimpsest of these and more, or something else?

  5. I suggested nothing!

    But you know, the place of painting lives beneath the obscuring screen of babble, with its own wordless vocabulary and exacting grammar.

    The act of painting is a dialogue–with what, or whom, I am not sure–that is sheer ecstasy to participate in.

  6. the reply to Madame L is fascinating, and makes me think that for a Christian, we must resound with the echoes of the more primal knowing that is about communion. knowing, for a Christian, is primarily a matter of deep acquaintance, and only secondary about cognition of propositions or poetry.

    just as the Truth which we know is a person, the knowing by which we know the Truth is also a relational act between persons. taking this seriously, and not just as a sort of pleasant metaphor, is important.

    Plato seems to have had a contrary opinion (though only seems, I insist), and Aristotle did have a contrary opinion. That contrary view has become embedded in our culture.

  7. Gestures… Escher, Mallarmé, Gödel, Stockhausen, aleatory blogging, recursive enumeration…

    Inferred cannibalism and the caves at Zhoukoudian, christian communion, atavism, primal knowing, culture and the cave at Lascaux, clades and the drift of speciation
    * * *
    A common second meaning of the word “translation” is simply “conversion,” as in conversion of a visual image to a graphic representation. The externalities of culture promise a growing common bond of knowledge and understanding except as they are derailed by atavistic impulse, braked by power structures that accrete to influential if obsolete institutions, or degraded by community convention.
    * * *
    Perhaps a quarter of a million years ago language was born in the recursive enumeration of flaked tools for cutting and scraping. Recently it was ambushed in the forest of intentional confusion here. Fortunately, it escaped, logos triumphant.
    * * *
    Who was it that said: “Knowledge is wonderful but imagination is even better.”
    * * *
    “Being speaks always and everywhere throughout language.”

  8. I’m not responding “verbally”. I am using the words that describe “the gestures”, since sign language is not an option here. The gesture of translating is implying the gesture of traitorous action.

    I really have no right commenting here, considering that I know very little, and certainly nothing about living an “exemplary life”. My knowledge about organised religion is nil; all my communication with gods takes place in the woods.

    My contact with men of the cloth has been limited to the line at the local pâtisserie, where a couple of “pets de nonne” can be had for 2€50 and a “religieuse” goes for about 3€.

    Please forgive me, I won’t make the same mistake again. I mean, I’ll probably make the same mistake again, but just not here. I imagine, from the tone of your response, that I’m supposed to feel ashamed now, but I don’t.

    I live in a presbytère. That’s funny. Sometimes the dog digs up a 16th c Catholic femur. Really. What are the chances it may have belonged to a quiet saint?

    Tansey? You’re kidding, right? Anything Magritte may have meant has been lost on the side of a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag. I’m not sure which Diogenes you are referring to, but I assume it’s the (who let the dogs out) cynic. Let’s add Milarepa and numerous un-named Heyoka and ask “Will it blend?”.

  9. * nods *

    Madame L, I’m not criticizing or scolding (in the least) — just supplementing, since my specific interest is in gestural and visual and tonal (and other non-verbal) communication. I think we’re affirming similar cases.

  10. People use many means for communication. Verbal is definitely not the biggest. I would say textual communication is trump. The subconscious mind also communicates with others subconscious minds. That is by far the most interesting.

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