Nothing, or a Useful Pot?

Hariod Brawn has asked me to write my take on “nothing happening” and “nothingness”. So it is my every privilege to respond with something on nothing. For all and each, with sheer gratitude for simply being in the company of my readers.

Hello in there. Hello.

hello-in-there

Critics of composer John Cage are legion. His best known work 4′ 33″ is a quite quiet piece. Audiences chime in with coughs, traffic noise, sound absent upon the stage. Movements end with a drop of the piano-key lid, they begin upon opening the lid.

 

The most common objection to 4′ 33″:

“Why, anyone can do that.”

Cage’s reply:

“No one had before I did.”

Nothing doing, or doing nothing.

cage-against-the-machine

 

You may know of the Zen koan on the cup full and the cup empty. Some good nothing there.

That reminds me of something. Reading literature in original language is a way to avoid the lie of translation. All translations are variations on untruth. Poetry is highly susceptible to mistranslation. Reading Rilke in the original German is worth the effort.

Languages are subtle windows into culture. Deliberate mistranslation is a bludgeoning tool for propagandists.

Perhaps I digress.

“Yes.”

Oh well.

“Death to America” is a deliberate mistranslation from Farsi, inexcusable ignorance of ancient and marvelous Persian culture. The proper translation is “Down with America,” but the word “death” suggests “jihad” and feeds Islamophobia. Bomb ’em. 

Now, back to nothing.

Well, almost.

Die Unendliche Geschichte by Michael Ende quite accurately tells the universal tale of a nihilist threat: das Nicht (The Nothing). This tale is nothing like that empty cup or the useful pot. Milne wrote about a wonderful birthday present that Piglet gifted Eeyore: “The Useful Pot.”

useful-pot

Emptiness can be wonderful. It can be horrible. Another fantasy by Ende: Momo. A tale of time thieves who deviously steal hours at a time from unsuspecting, innocent hardworking people.  Give us the time of your life and we will invest it for you. Momo is a homeless waif who lends her time freely and with gratitude. A most rare quality.

michael-ende-momo-copy1

I proclaim that we are all existential, and by “all” I mean all sentient beings. We all exist, but some of us are exploited. To the victors go the history books — sometimes those victors also build expedient death camps for tasty or despised fellow sentients. Truth is not something generated by majority rule.

Do I again digress?

“Yes.”

Oh Well.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Thinking about Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Gießen and Savak

The culture where I live does not seem particularly interested in learning foreign languages. But the written, the spoken, and the audible become a part of the soul and a blessing to humanity when civilized thought can gain a foothold.
Nelson-Mandela-on-Language

My interest in German language led to an opportunity for study in Giessen, at that time West Germany, from 1971 to 1973. Upon arriving at Justus Liebig Universität I learned German as a second language with fellow students from Iran, Japan, Egypt among others. German was the tongue we shared, so that we could talk to the brain. Then we could join the citIzenry and talk to the heart.

Abteilung der Uni
Just be natural! It’s important when learning languages

Some people take on an alternate identity to ward off conversation. It was common for Americans traveling in Europe in the early 1970’s to attach a Canadian maple leaf to their person. This to avoid conversations about Vietnam. It was convenient to merge into the background. But such maneuvers may lead to a false sense of comfort: ease and convenience have long-term consequences. It is just as convenient to avoid discussions on long festering Middle East issues today. Are the sound bites you hear from a source without an agenda? Unfortunately, the truth can be hidden, often deliberately by perpetuating lies that simply make life more convenient or comfortable for the liar.

Under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Shah from 1941 to 1979) many Iranians studied at German universities such as Justus Liebig. Our Iranian fellows shared an ability to converse in German about Savak and the Persian experience. Neither Farsi nor English was necessary to bridge a gulf separating us from each other. Who knew that Pahlavi was complicit in dark matters. The Iranian people knew.

Farsi Keyboard
Farsi script is so similar to Arabic!

Guy Wallace explains Savak.

Imagine a monarchy that is 2500 years old, that began with Cyrus the Great and ended with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s deposition. Might a civilization both ancient and modern have evolved a complex history and culture In 2.5 millenia? Might Farsi hint at subtleties in the Persian soul? What about the country name itself: Persia, Iran? Does its religion suggest potential geopolitical significance? Can we question the translation of the colloquial Farsi into English of the conveniently repeated  Death to America (More accurately translated as Down with America).

Farsi speakers use this invocation to express transitory frustration, perhaps at stubbing a toe. In a future post I want to discuss the nature of curse words in Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew. Stay tuned.