Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is wrong with flowing prose?

Normaly, I'm a fan of words that ooze off the page like metlted butter and nestle comfortably within my subconscious but lately I'm finding great satisfaction in reading boks that are fundamentally hard to read.

By that I mean books that only tackle complex and open-ended themes which provoke many points of interest to mull over but also hard to read prose. I'm talking Dostoyevsky doing Kafka doing Cervantes.

As you can probably tell, lately I've been submerged in the worlds of Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment and Metamorphosis. The thread which ties the first two together is they've been translated from very alien languages into English.

Cervantes lived in 16th Century Spain and Dostoyevsky lived in 19th Century Russia. To try and translate an archaic form of Spanish into flowing prose is a challenging undertaking by any stretch of the imagination and to be fair the translators do a pretty good job but in the end it still remains a hard book to read.

The translators have to deal with a whole different verb structure than our own ('Lucy's in the Sky with Diamonds' becomes 'Lucy, she is in the sky with the diamonds') and you can tell the translators have tried to salvage the best out of a bad situatuion, but it still remains a challenging read nonetheless.

Dostoyevsky wrote society novels for the most part, and there is a stiltedness and formality to his writing even when ruminating of the internal thought processes of a killer, and for this reason any Dostoyevsky is hard to read for those not familiar with his style.

Yet with both remains the fact that they are totally engrossing authors with wonderful novels and need to be read by anyone who hopes to call themselves literate. Yet, you won't find the youth of today clambouring for first editions and exciting new translations but instead reaching for the modern stuff.

So, I make a point in reading hard to read novels. Sort of my statement against the intellectual laziness of today. I actively seek out books which are going to be hard to read for the mere fact that I feel there's some sort of jewell in the temple of prose and pot of gold at the end of the rainbow made up by words such as 'betwixt'.

So, I find myself with this fixation for reading ahard to read books out of some sort of intellectual protest. In an age where all meaning and prose is given to us in an eye-pleasing format why not go back to those masterpieces which are hard to penetrate? In an age where literature has become consumer product rather than adding to the lexicon of human existence, am I wrong for seeking out texts which go against this philisophy?

Or am I just mad?

'Till next time

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