Cahiers Péguy


A Christmas Carol of Doctor Who: Review

Posted by Fred

"Doctor Who 'Christmas Carol': When Half-Spent Was the Night" - The 2010 Christmas episode of the Doctor Who series was based on "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens. In this Christmas Carol change is caused by a love for beauty and sorrow at one’s own pettiness

In you video below, you can hear the beautiful voice of Katherine Jenkins from this holiday special:

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Galassi’s Translation of Leopardi: Reviews

Posted by Fred

Canti by Giacomo Leopardi. Translated by Jonathan Galassi

Canti by Giacomo Leopardi. Translated by Jonathan Galassi

Reviews are out for the new English edition of Giacomo Leopardi's Canti, translated and annotated by Jonathan Galassi. When it comes to translating Leopardi, I recall that translator J.G. Nichols cited a warning from Leopardi himself: "Those foolish poets who, seeing that descriptions are pleasing in poetry, have reduced poetry to continual descriptions, have taken away the pleasure, and substituted boredom for it." Nichols noted that in English poetry is highly descriptive, so that's what readers expect and translators tend to deliver.

What do I want in a translation? Accuracy above all, but also an enrichment of English poetics. Having read Nichols's translations of Petrarch and Leopardi, I'm interested in the learning more about the relationship between the two Italian poets...

The poet Peter Campion reviews the new translation in the New York Times, acclaiming Galassi's balance between poetry and scholarship. Campion highlights Galassi's ability to communicate the beauty and originality of the original:

"The 41 poems in Leopardi’s collected 'Canti' are distinct, and beautiful, for dwelling on a threshold between feeling and thought, between the sensuous world and the mind, between presence and absence. [...] What makes Jonathan Galassi’s translation of Leopardi’s poetry so superb is that he understands, and renders, that delicate movement of thought and feeling."

The Washington Post's Michael Dirda calls Galassi's translation moving, summarizes the life and significance of Leopardi, and gives a helpful overview of the contents as an example of great publishing:

"Galassi's own rich edition of the 'Canti,' prefaced by a long introduction, Italian originals and his English translations on facing pages, an annotated timeline of Leopardi's life and a hundred pages of often-detailed textual commentary. The last is particularly valuable for its citations from Italian scholarship"

I'm especially intrigued that "Galassi underscores that Leopardi confronted and eventually transcended the overwhelming influence of Petrarch."

Helen Vendler, editor at The New Republic , highlights the pessimism of Leopardi and expresses disappointment at the plainness of the translation. Article is behind a subscriber wall, so you may find a copy at your local library (date is Dec 2, 2010).

The Wall Street Journal review finds that pessimism is not the complete story for Leopardi. Alluding to classicist D.S. Carne-Ross, Eric Ormsby finds that Leopardi goes beyond pessimism toward a tragic vision: "[Leopardi's] 'Canti' bow to the inevitable even as they sing out against it."

Like other reviews, perhaps setting the tone, the New Yorker focuses mainly on Leopardi's background and biography. An abstract of the review is online.

As many of the reviews note, a new translation of Leopardi into English is a major event, and an invitation to read this great poet. Another opportunity to deepen our appreciation for Leopardi will happen at the New York Encounter on Monday, January 17th. 10:30 am:

Giacomo Leopardi: Infinite Desire

A homage to the Italian poet on the occasion of the publication of his poems in the U.S. with speakers Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Davide Rondoni, Author and Poet; and Joseph Weiler, University Professor at NYU School of Law.

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A New Christendom, Not an Old One

Posted by Fred

In an article collected in What Counts is the Wonder, Gianni Valente makes this comment about Péguy: "He has nothing to do with the restoration-minded lobby who propose that the way out of the modern disaster is to go back to a utopian regime of Christianity" ("Péguy on the Threshold"). Valente says in another article that "it was this experience, real and physical, of the action of grace as the sole source of the Christian life [...] that made Péguy a Christian who would be foreign to the Christendom constituted by his time and ours ("Péguy, Poet of Wonder").

A Christian foreign to the Christendom of our time – this is an extraordinary position for a modern Catholic. For Protestants, however, wariness toward Christendom is more common. For example, here's a response from Peter Leithart to John Nugent, a defender of John Howard Yoder's anti-Constantinism. Christopher Dawson, in his concise book, The Historical Reality of Christian Culture quotes one of the great Protestant voices against Christendom, Kierkegaard: "Christendom has mocked God and continues to mock Him — just as if to a man who is a lover of nuts, instead of bringing him one nut with a kernel, we were to bring him tons and millions of empty nut-shells." Dawson comments that "what Kierkegard attacked with such passion, however, was not Christendom but the secularization of Christendom, and especially that particular form of secularization which he found in the Danish State Church of the mid-nineteenth century" (p 69-70). For Dawson, the student of history, Christendom was not a single historical synthesis brokered by Constantine, but instead "a historical reality which had actually come into the world and had transformed the societies with which it had come into contact" (70). In short, Christendom is not a historic relic, but in fact a dynamism of Christian existence. And it happened not only once, but as Dawson delineates it six times so far (being, as he reckons it, in the sixth age of the Church).

Christendom, as Dawson defines it, is the impact of the unique event of Jesus Christ on the totality of human culture. Such a Christendom, such a new humanity, is not satisfied with family values, Christian values, tradition, cultural victories, or brightening the patina of Christianity on once-Christian institutions. Such a Christendom looks to renew the person, the human being, and from that point the rest will follow – in whatever form it may take. For the ages of the Church demonstrate differences with regard to particular challenges, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments.

Christopher Dawson knows the formative influence that education has on society, so he does indicate some ways forward in confronting "the Leviathan" of secularism:

"The modern Leviathan is such a formidable monster that it can swallow the religious school system whole without suffering from indigestion.

But this is not the case with higher education. The only part of Leviathan that is vulnerable is its brain, which is small in comparison with its vast and armored bulk. If we could develop Christian higher education to a point at which it meets the attention of the average educated man in every field of thought and life, the situation would be radically changed" (88-89).

Well, almost. Dawson underestimated the Leviathan's ability to even swallow up higher education. The university has abandoned its pretense of forming persons toward totality. The humanities are no longer even of much scientific interest to the university, which is now concerned with driving revenue and 'vocational' training. Dawson is essentially right however, in seeing in the sleeping intelligence of modern man a chink in the scales of the secularist beast. The new humanity, the new Christendom, has no universities of its own, almost no schools of its own. For now, the new Christendom is a diaspora which can be found in any of the institutions of the old Christendom, or the aging and tired secularism. What forms it will take is not so much our concern. It could be a salesman who attends a play and judges it afterward, gets up in the dead of night to see the moon turn red, or spends his lunch studying more diligently than most college students. Or it could be an entrepreneur, a college professor, a biologist, a parent, who knows? What's essential to authentic Christendom is not power, not institutions, not formal education — but humanity, an affection generated by the gaze of One who loved us so much He came to share our condition. He's still here. Look for the green buds on the leafless trees. Or come to New York City in January.

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Filed under: Fred, culture, education 1 Comment