Monday, May 02, 2016

Translating up to Cacciaguida

The figure and voice of Cacciaguida holds forth for three cantos at the center of the Paradiso. He is an ancestor/father who call himself the radice, i.e., root, of Dante's bloodline. He'll have a good deal to say about blood as he describes old Florence and its early families in cantos 15 through 17.

Before Cacciaguida speaks, the poet modulates from the sublime thunder of Paradiso 14 to a hushed arena where the pilgrim is given the attention of a vast audience of souls, who grow quiet to help him acquire that which he needs to learn from his forebear.

Dante manages this transition to a pregnant calm as only he can. There is the remarkable moment, in 14, as he's already moving from the Sun to Mars, when he speaks within himself in a kind of universal tongue:
Con tutto 'l core e con quella favella
ch'è una in tutti, a Dio feci olocausto,
qual conveniesi a la grazia novella.
With all my heart, and in that dialect
Which is the same in all, such holocaust
To God I made as the new grace beseemed; (14.88-90)
It's a passing moment, but it's also a kind of exquisite play on the act of translation. Dante says he used "that speech that is one in all" to make his holocaust, and as Hollander notes, this harks back to the old idea that humans share a kind of universal vernacular:
Dante is evidently referring to mental constructions, pre-verbal thoughts, which match one another perfectly until they are put into expression in various languages, when they may have small resemblance to one another. See John of Serravalle (comm. to vv. 88-90): “Conceptus mentis sunt idem in omnibus hominibus, loquela vero non sic” (Mental constructs are identical in all humans, but not the words [that are used to express them]). Dante is perhaps suggesting that there exists an ideal universal vernacular innate in all of us.
In another formulation, Noam Chomsky's theory of grammar rests on the notion that we share a "deep structure" that is generative of and common to all languages, however superficially different they may seem. Another way of putting this is, at this moment of transition, or translation,* as Dante chooses to put it, the distinction between lexis and logos comes to the fore:
Quindi ripreser li occhi miei virtute
a rilevarsi; e vidimi translato
sol con mia donna in più alta salute. (14.82-84)
Lexis of course concerns the specific linguistic vesture that clothes the idea or meaning (the logos). Lexis is the entire complex of linguistic features -- the particular language, the choice of words, their specific phonemes, rhythm, pitch, tone, aural and even visual articulation -- that carries the ideational content intended by the speaker.

That is to say, the very thing that gets in the way of perfect translation -- the lexical features of any specific utterance -- is here consumed, just as the lexical features of Dante's Italian verses are sacrificed in order to present their sense to speakers of Longfellow's tongue. The possibility of any translation whatsoever from one speaker to another in fact relies on our positing a third "tongue," a deep core of structure and meaning that is the shared basis and interface between any two sets of linguistic vestments. Any act of translation, after all is said and done, is an act of faith.

At the very moment of leaving the visual, circumscribed world of the Sun for something new and unknown, as a third circle begins to flicker and flash around Beatrice and Dante, the poet speaks of a third tongue that enables translation to occur. Without such a common "speech" -- invisible, inaudible, and unwriteable -- subtending all human languages, how else could translation occur? Remove the Logos and what's left is Babel.

The clothing metaphor I used a moment ago ("linguistic vesture") is traditional -- John of Serravalle resorts several times to it in his commentary on this tercet -- but here it also echoes another significant moment of this canto -- Solomon's remarkable account of the souls' condition -- first in the now, prior to the final resurrection, and then, when they will be reunited with their glorified bodies:
            “Quanto fia lunga la festa
di paradiso, tanto il nostro amore
si raggerà dintorno cotal vesta.

La sua chiarezza séguita l'ardore;
l'ardor la visïone, e quella è tanta,
quant' ha di grazia sovra suo valore.

Come la carne glorïosa e santa
fia rivestita, la nostra persona
più grata fia per esser tutta quanta;
                   "As long as the festivity
  Of Paradise shall be, so long our love
  Shall radiate round about us such a vesture. 
Its brightness is proportioned to the ardour,
  The ardour to the vision; and the vision
  Equals what grace it has above its worth. 
When, glorious and sanctified, our flesh
  Is reassumed, then shall our persons be
  More pleasing by their being all complete;  (14. 37-45)
The souls will radiate light as long as Paradise lasts; this light radiates from the love they have within -- it is the vesta, the garment that is the expression of each soul's love, which in turn is proportioned to its vision, itself an expression of grace. Grace is external, from above, and it sets in motion vision, love, and radiance in a generative chain. Put another way, each is a figure, a translation of each other -- in a sense, to be in Paradise is to be translated to a condition of always translating.

And this process -- the opposite of Babel -- doesn't end with the resurrection of the body, for the soul, which now wears light, will be covered -- rivestita -- with the body that is now covered by earth. But since the radiance will remain, we cannot see the glorified body as opaque, as another outside of mere flesh. It has at least to be translucent, a further fold in the series of vestments, or translations.

Obsessive types (guilty as charged) might ask at this point how the glorified persons (persona) will be "all complete." That is, the body that once held that soul is brought up and put on, like a new suit, and allows the light to come through, such that grace, vision, ardor and radiance are now complemented by glorified flesh. But since each is already a translation of the others, is there a sense in which we can find it meaningful to say the entities are now "all complete" (tutta quanta)?

The reunited body is yet another translation, no? It might be the perfect conclusion of the itinerary of the soul, from conception to resurrection, all rooted in the Annunciation and Resurrection of Christ, but it's still another outside, another covering, or expression. When something is a translation, what can it mean to say it's "all complete," given that the original of which it is the embodiment is precisely what is not present -- at least, not directly.

Somehow, Dante wants to have it both ways -- the souls reflect, emanate, translate grace which comes from God; yet once they have bodies, they will be "all complete." Translations as totalities, or as, in some sense, embodiments of what is not body, not soul, not measurable, not finite. There's a tension between the metaphor of dress, of translation, and the assertion of a total completeness in the phrase per esser tutta quanta.

Dante is treating of all this with concepts and images we can understand -- but the tools of his vocabulary might be approaching a critical moment, a breaking point. It's here that Cacciaguida -- the "guide of the chase" -- enters, and for three cantos inserts Dante, who still has his body, into the living context of history.

*Hollander notes that this is the sole instance of the word translato in the Commedia, and that it appears twice in the Pauline epistles, once in reference to Enoch (Hebrews 11.5), the other time in Colossians 1.13:
13 qui eripuit nos de potestate tenebrarum et transtulit in regnum Filii dilectionis suae
13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

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