Thursday, 12 May 2016

"Dialogue on the Greater Harmonies" by Tommaso Landolfi

Two quotes from "Dialogue on the Greater Harmonies" by Tommaso Landolfi, a story relevant to this blog:

“A language reconstructed on the basis of meager inscriptions does not acquire substance until one proves that, on the basis of those inscriptions, that language and only that language could be reconstructed. But in our case, on the basis of so fragile a collection of data, it might be possible to construct or reconstruct not one but a hundred languages. Thus one would be confronted by the amusing case of a piece of poetry which could have been written in any one of a hundred languages, each dissimilar from the others and from the first…”

“Of course, an artist is free to put together his words even before attributing a meaning to them, free even to expect from those words, or from a single word, the whole significance and meaning of his composition. Provided that this composition is art. That is what matters. On the other hand  I wouldn't want you to forget that significance and meaning are not at all indispensable. A poem, gentlemen, can also not have meaning. It must only, I repeat, be a work of art.” 

- Translated by Raymond Rosenthal

Sypnosis of the story:
In "Dialogue on the Greater Harmonies," published in 1937, an unsettled student and poet, Y., tells the narrator how he was taught Persian by an English sea captain. After studying the language and composing three poems in it, Y. realizes he's been conned: the "Persian" he has painstakingly learned is nothing but an imaginary language. Worse still, when confronted, the sailor cannot remember having instructed him. Y. hastily torches his notes and, desperate to discover whether his verses have any artistic worth, goes with the narrator to visit a "great" critic. Their dialogue quickly turns to a deconstruction of creative identity: to the critic, art is relative to the whims of the artist; the narrator and Y. argue that it is an anthropological confluence of history, scholarship, and geography. "Do you mean to say," Y. asks, "that a poem can be a work of art even if there is only one person in the world, only its author, competent to judge it?"
"Precisely," the great critic replies.
—Michael Peck

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