quarta-feira, 24 de dezembro de 2008

Archaeology and Poetry

Archaeology and Poetry:
Questions of translation and of the particular versus the universal


Vítor Oliveira Jorge (UP) and Daniela Kato (Tokyo Institute of Technology)

Archaeology and poetry are markedly different fields of creation. Archaeology is (or purports to be) a branch of the social sciences, whereas poetry is a form of literary art. Nevertheless, we are interested in their interrelations at a theoretical and general level. This approach may be useful indeed for reasoning about both activities, which compel so many of us as readers and/or as professionals.

But let us begin by defining the terms in which we think those links may not be particularly fruitful. First of all, we would rather not focus on two fairly obvious points: the fact that many archaeologists were/are also poets, and vice-versa; or the fact that many poets refer to archaeological matters in their works. Focusing on such topics would constitute a mere inventory or archive.
On the other hand, we do not wish to be trapped within superficial or formal metaphors, such as representing archaeology and poetry as different forms of textual production (in that they both express their results in written media), or as different ways of “digging deep into the matter”, unveiling some hidden meaning, truth or origin under the surface of appearances. This “import-export transaction” from one field to another may lead to a pointless and mistaken kind of common sense.

Instead, we would like to locate our reflection at a more theoretical level, even though we concede that any contribution to this goal may and should be “demonstrated” by real experience or “case studies”. Archaeological practice and poetical practice are the creative products of a need, of a desire felt by the archaeologist and/or the poet. In other words, they stem from a strong motivation. Such motivation, however, is not ahistorical nor attached to a supposed “human nature”; on the contrary, it is nurtured within a specific cultural context.

Poetry, whether it is oral or written, associated or not with music and song, is virtually a universal mode of human expression. Yet, its specific modes of realisation are historical, culturally specific, and raise thereby the crucial question of translation. This configures, indeed, a whole range of well-known questions: is it possible to translate a poetic piece of art into another language and context? How can a particular piece of art, using a specific language, reach the other, and therefore reach a universal audience, if by definition it is something that in reality tells nothing and has no content except itself? How is presentation turned into representation?

Translation is always a re-creation, but this recreation is a mode of creation, a way of enlarging aesthetic experience, of entering into an infinite series of interpretations, of unlimited works. Translation corresponds thus to a need and to a theoretical option: that nothing is this world has an essence in itself, that everything is constantly being translated into something else, in an unstoppable movement of recreation, improvisation, performance.

It is precisely at this juncture that we would like to link up to archaeology what has been said about poetry. Archaeology too is an act of interpretation, an intention of making sense, of finding an explanation for the traces that surround us and that come from an absence: the so called past (whether it refers to a one-million year span or to yesterday). How can we translate, or represent, the absence into a presence - that strange Lack into our ontic experience, our desire to make sense, to “explain” our own historicity and contingence?

Although born in the West, archaeology is today a universal practice, active all over the world, and in a permanent state of re-lation through the media and through personal inter-communication. As it is, if poetry, in a sense, has always been universal, archaeology, in turn, a Western invention, has become universal too, raising political problems in the present, for it deals with, and implies, the very definition of the identity of each person, of a people, of a nation-state, or of mankind in general.

It is therefore at this level of representation - of interpretation, of translation - that both poetry and archaeology encounter each other. Particularly if we are dealing with an archaeology that, being mature enough not to be content with general “laws” or regularities of “human behaviour”or sweeping explanations taken for granted, gradually becomes aware of the different ways of defining basic problems such as what to be human and non-human is (a rather contingent frontier). To raise this kind of question is not to cross the limits of archaeology, to invade philosophy or any other field of creation; it is simply to expand into its limits - and at its very core - the motivations of archaeology.

It is on this borderline that archaeology and poetry meet. Both seek to contribute to an understanding of what is common and what is radically unique in each thing or being, in a act of resistance to commonsensical generalities and ready-made assumptions. Hence, poetry and archaeology (as art or science in general) ultimately deal with questions that are of mutual interest, but not in the sense of making a poetical archaeology or an archaeological poetry - that would not make make much sense, we believe. Yet, as two different fields of creative production, poetry and archaeology may mutually cross-fertilize - in the same way that those at once interested in poetry and in archaeology may come to realise that, after all, the two fields are not as separate as it seems at first glance, or that their affinities are not as superficial as some seem to envisage or propose.


photo above: Rolf Horn
site (author. rep.): http://www.f45.com/html/mainfram.html

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