29 julho 2008

Is there any purpose in translating poetry?

This question was posed last weekend in the Guardian Review by James Buchan, reviewing a new Paul Celan selection, Snowpart/Schneepart, with English translations by Ian Fairley. He adds that, after all, "a poem does not contain information of importance, like a signpost or a warning notice".

That's true enough. Modern lyric poetry, with its symbols and metaphors, its arcane allusions and teasing line breaks, is fairly bad at giving us the facts. We no longer live in an age in which the skills of beekeeping, say, are explained by the greatest verse-maker in the language, as Virgil does in The Georgics. Even those jolly mnemonics about the weather or the Greek alphabet are fading from consciousness. It's a pity, as I often think I might get the gist of assembling a new piece of flatpack furniture quicker if the instructions were wittily rhymed.

So why translate? My first answer is that poetry in translation simply adds to the sum total of human pleasure obtainable through a single language. It opens up new language worlds within our own tongues, as every good poem does. It revitalises our daily, cliche-haunted vocabulary. It disturbs our assumptions, jolts us with rhythms flatter or stronger than we're used to. It extends us in the way real travelling does, giving us new sounds, sights and smells. Every unique poetry village sharpens us to life.

Some people would disagree, saying poetry in translation is the wrong side of the tapestry - it just can't be done. But they are talking about replication, not translation. It is perfectly true that you will never get a replica of the original - nor would you wish to. The way it works, when translator and original are in tune, is that a third poem is created. It is the child of two parents and simply couldn't exist without them.

How poor modern Anglophone poetry would be without Edwin Morgan's Mayakovsky, Anne Carson's Sappho or Mark Musa's Dante; without George Szirtes's Hungarian poets or Ian and Jarmila Milner's Czechs. What a loss to the itinerary if we didn't have the journal Modern Poetry in Translation to transport our imaginations across the globe in 80 seconds.

Translation practice currently is a broad church, including what is a heresy to some - imitation. Some translators foreground their own reaction, and use the original as raw material only. Others live with a single poet for years in order to find a way of reflecting every nuance as truthfully as possible. As long as the translator is completely honest about the way in which he or she is using the original text, this is all to the good. One poem may generate all kinds of word villages.

For poets themselves, reading work in translation is an immense stimulus. It may be the means by which they find themselves. Would we have had the uniquely Keatsian Ode on a Grecian Urn if Keats had never looked into Chapman's Homer?

James Buchan's claim that readers who like The Whitsun Weddings won't like Schneepart is wide of the mark. It implies you can't admire utterly different poets (you can, and all real poetry lovers do). Besides, under Philip Larkin's lucidity and Celan's obscurity, lie two not dissimilar imaginations, both concerned with death. Larkin even has the occasional Celan-like compound-word - "almost-instinct", for example.

Buchan quotes a Celan poem he finds "extremely beautiful" - which partly answers his own question. Celan's poems are often beautiful, sometimes ugly: sometimes they pierce us like icicles. This one was translated by Michael Hamburger:

You were my death:
you I could hold
when all fell away from me.

That icicle of consolation is surely from a village not far from Larkin's?

28 julho 2008

The art of being Juliette

Juliette Binoche on her new life as a dancer, painter and a model

I’m sure that I will always be

I’m sure that I will always be
A lonely number like root three

The three is all that’s good and right,
Why must my three keep out of sight
Beneath the vicious square root sign,
I wish instead I were a nine

For nine could thwart this evil trick,
with just some quick arithmetic

I know I’ll never see the sun, as 1.7321
Such is my reality, a sad irrationality

When hark! What is this I see,
Another square root of a three

As quietly co-waltzing by,
Together now we multiply
To form a number we prefer,
Rejoicing as an integer

We break free from our mortal bonds
With the wave of magic wands

Our square root signs become unglued
Your love for me has been renewed

“The Square Root of Three” by David Feinberg

Raising Malawi and Madonna's Confessions

Já se sabia que Guy Oseary, manager de Madonna, ia lançar Confessions, um livro de fotografias sobre os bastidores da 'Confessions Tour'. Previsto para Junho, o lançamento foi avançado para Outubro, com chancela da Power House Books. Anuncia-se como uma antologia de mais de 250 imagens inéditas — as primeiras a ser divulgadas são magníficas —, registadas por alguém que, por definição, pôde circular por zonas da produção dos espectáculos de Madonna a que mais nenhum fotógrafo teve acesso. Todas as receitas provenientes dos direitos de autor de Confessions serão entregues à fundação Raising Malawi.

Sound & Vision

26 julho 2008

The Invention of Scotland

Every April, New York's proud Scottish-Americans celebrate their heritage with the Tartan Day Parade, processing up Sixth Avenue in a sea of kilts, to the noble blare of the bagpipes. If you are thinking of attending the festivities next year, however, you might want to keep quiet about having read "The Invention of Scotland" (Yale University Press, 304 pages, $30), a punchy new book by the late historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. For as Trevor-Roper points out with ill-concealed glee, tartan and kilt, those universal badges of Scottishness, are about as authentic as Disneyland. Until the 18th century, no one north of the Tweed had ever seen a kilt; nor did the clans, as legend has it, distinguish themselves by the pattern of their tartans, until they were taught to do so by an enterprising clothing manufacturer. The Scottish costume is, Trevor-Roper shows, simply the latest example of an ancient national habit: the forging of tradition.

The word forging, however, can be taken in two senses. There is the fraudulence of the forger of documents, but there is also the honest labor of the forger of steel; and while Trevor-Roper focuses on the first of these meanings, he does not exclude the second. He recognizes that the invention of Scottish history was a creative act, which helped Scotland to emerge as a cohesive and peaceful modern nation. "The creation, and re-creation, of myth requires a continuous capacity for invention," he writes, "and its formalization can be seen as a ritual adjustment, a formal accommodation of barbarism to civility." Because Trevor-Roper was a leading historian of Nazi Germany, he is especially appreciative of the benign forms that Scottish mythmaking took: "In Germany, the ancient barbarisms of the race were revived in all their savagery. ... Ritualization would have been better."

"The Invention of Scotland" was left unfinished when Trevor-Roper died in 2003, but it does not read like a collection of fragments. In fact, these eight chapters, based on essays and lectures that the historian wrote in the 1970s, fall neatly into three related sections, each dealing with an important episode in the "forging" of Scottish history. The first, titled "The Political Myth," explores the way Scottish scholars of the 16th century — above all, the great Renaissance man George Buchanan — advanced a grossly erroneous version of Scotland's history, the better to serve their contemporary political purposes. The second, "The Literary Myth," is a feat of documentary detective work, in which Trevor-Roper untangles one of the most famous frauds in literary history: the invention of the ancient bard Ossian by James Macpherson. Finally, and most playfully, Trevor-Roper turns to "The Sartorial Myth," offering the surprising truth about how and why the kilt and tartan became Scottish institutions.

The Scots' continual resort to mythmaking, from medieval times down to the 19th century, seems to Trevor-Roper to demonstrate an essential truth about the Celtic mind, as opposed to the Anglo-Saxon. Drawing on an old but resilient stereotype, he contrasts English prosiness with Celtic imagination. Yes, he admits, the English "have created one of the great literatures of the world. Yet, have they a single myth that they can call their own?" Surely it is no accident that all the great mythic heroes of the British Isles, from Cymbeline to King Arthur, were invented by the Celtic peoples — the Welsh, Scots, and Irish — who inhabited the land before the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

Much of what has passed for the truth about Scottish history, Trevor-Roper suggests, is actually the product of this same mythopoetic impulse. Consider the case of Hector Boece, a 15th-century scholar and humanist from Dundee who wrote a hugely influential "History of the Scots." Boece was not content with the truth about the Scots — that they were an Irish people who migrated to western Scotland in the fifth century C.E. ("Scotus," in Latin, originally meant "Irish.") Jealous of the alleged antiquity of the English, who traced their descent to Aeneas and the Trojan Wars, Boece elaborated a rival myth, according to which the Scots were descended from an ancient Greek hero, Gaythelos, and his wife Scota, an Egyptian princess who was the daughter of the biblical pharaoh.

Because Boece alleged that their descendants — who took the names Gael and Scot in their memory — arrived in Scotland in the fourth century B.C.E., he was faced with a 900-year gap in the historical record. He filled it by inventing 40 kings, whom he not only named but provided with what Trevor-Roper calls "elaborate and detailed biographies." Among them were many wicked monarchs, "a set of human monsters, vicious, violent, and frightening" — such as Lugtacus, who "repeatedly raped his aunts, his daughters, his sisters and their daughters." As befit a moralistic historian, Boece showed these evil kings receiving due punishment, as their suffering subjects deposed and executed them.

Little did he suspect that, in inventing these fables, he was handing powerful ammunition to the real-life rebels who arose during the troubled reign of Mary Queen of Scots. Among these was George Buchanan, whose career and personality Trevor-Roper discusses in detail. Toward the end of his life, Buchanan — "by universal consent the greatest Latin writer, whether in prose or verse, in sixteenth-century Europe" — emerged as one of the chief apologists for the noble conspirators who deposed Mary in 1567. In order to convince the world, and especially Queen Elizabeth of England, that the nobles had acted legally, Buchanan wrote a pamphlet arguing that the Scottish constitution had always allowed for the removal of kings. As proof, he cited Boece's made-up tyrants, whose fictional punishments were now used as precedent for the deposition of Mary.

In this way, the myths about Scottish history invented by Hector Boece turned into a genuine historical force, making them immune to debunking. Trevor-Roper shows that when another historian, the Welshman Humphrey Lluyd, published a work proving that Boece's 40 kings had never existed — thus destroying the historical basis for Buchanan's political theory — Buchanan responded by launching a "pathological" personal attack on Lluyd. Buchanan must have known that his theory about the Scottish constitution was disproved, yet he refused to acknowledge Lluyd's evidence. Trevor-Roper issues what is, for a historian, the most damning of verdicts: "Buchanan knew that Boece was historically worthless and could not be safely followed or openly cited; but since he depended on him for his essential thesis, he secretly used his work ... The old fabrications were presented to the learned world in a more acceptable form." Protected by Buchanan's authority, the "forty kings" became an unchallengeable article of faith among the Scots for another two centuries, even as the English were discarding their old myths and embracing a scientific approach to history.

The next episode in Trevor-Roper's study, the invention of Ossian, did not have such important historical consequences. But it was deeply telling about the enduring Scottish need to believe in the antiquity and cultural superiority of their race. As Trevor-Roper writes, "when a society renounces politics, it can find other ways of expressing its identity," and after the 1707 Union of Scotland and England, Scottish nationalism took on cultural and literary expression. In 1761, when an obscure schoolmaster named James Macpherson announced that he had discovered and translated an ancient Gaelic epic called "Fingal," by a warrior-bard named Ossian, the literati of Edinburgh reacted with explosive enthusiasm. Ossian was hailed as a Scottish Homer, proof that the ancient civilization of the Scots was equal in genius to that of the Greeks.

Even better, as Trevor-Roper notes, "Fingal" conspicuously lacked all the features that the 18th century was beginning to find uncouth in the Iliad: "Here were no human sacrifices, no petty thieving, no princesses washing knickers in the river. Indeed there was nothing common, or even concrete, at all. All was high-minded humanity, sensibility, chivalry." So perfectly did Ossian reflect the taste of the age that his epic — which today, as Trevor-Roper says, seems "totally unreadable" — numbered Goethe, Napoleon, and Thomas Jefferson among its devotees.

Yet right from the start, there were critics — mainly English — who smelled a rat. How did Macpherson, who barely knew Gaelic, manage to find and translate a 1,500-year-old poem? Why did so many phrases from "Fingal" seem to echo the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton? Above all, why could Macpherson not produce the original manuscript of the poem, despite numerous requests? Samuel Johnson concluded that the works of Ossian

never existed in any other form than that which we have seen. The editor, or author, never could show the original; nor can it be shown by any others. To revenge reasonable incredulity by refusing evidence is a degree of insolence with which the world is not yet acquainted, and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt.

Yet even once English opinion unanimously rejected Ossian as a fraud, the Scots continued to have faith. It was easier to believe Macpherson's fantastically complex lies, which Trevor-Roper has great fun exposing, than to accept that the Scottish Homer was an impostor.

After all this, it is hardly a surprise to learn that the kilt and tartan, too, are not quite the Scottish traditions that they seem. Sad to say, the kilt was invented by an Englishman, Thomas Rawlinson, who came to Scotland in the 1720s to manage an ironworks in the Highlands. Rawlinson observed that while the actual native costume of the Highlanders — the long belted cloak called the plaid — might have been suitable for rambling over hills and bogs, it was "a cumbrous, inconvenient habit" for men working at a furnace. So he hired the tailor of the local army regiment to make something more "handy and convenient for his workmen" by "separating the skirt from the plaid and converting into a distinct garment" — the kilt. This symbol of Highland tradition, as Trevor-Roper notes, was "bestowed ... on the Highlanders, not in order to preserve their traditional way of life, but to ease its transformation: to bring them off the heath and into the factory." As with so many of the tales Trevor-Roper has to tell, the truth may not be as romantic as the legend, but its irony makes it no less compelling.

É meu, é todo MEU / The endowment effect

Illustration by Claudio Munoz

“I AM the most offensively possessive man on earth. I do something to things. Let me pick up an ashtray from a dime-store counter, pay for it and put it in my pocket—and it becomes a special kind of ashtray, unlike any on earth, because it’s mine.” What was true of Wynand, one of the main characters in Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead”, may be true of everyone. From basketball tickets to waterfowl-hunting rights to classic albums, once someone owns something, he places a higher value on it than he did when he acquired it—an observation first called “the endowment effect” about 28 years ago by Richard Thaler, who these days works at the University of Chicago.

The endowment effect was controversial for years. The idea that a squishy, irrational bit of human behaviour could affect the cold, clean and rational world of markets was a challenge to neoclassical economists. Their assumption had always been that individuals act to maximise their welfare (the defining characteristic of economic man, or Homo economicus). The value someone puts on something should not, therefore, depend on whether he actually owns it. But the endowment effect has been seen in hundreds of experiments, the most famous of which found that students were surprisingly reluctant to trade a coffee mug they had been given for a bar of chocolate, even though they did not prefer coffee mugs to chocolate when given a straight choice between the two.

Moreover, it is now possible to see the effect in the brain. In the June 12th edition of Neuron, Brian Knutson of Stanford University describes a brain-scanning study he carried out recently. The pattern and location of the activity he observed suggests the endowment effect works by enhancing the salience of possible loss. But that still does not explain why this sense of loss should be felt. The question is whether such behaviour is truly irrational, or just “differently” rational. That might be the case if, for instance, it was a hangover from the evolutionary past that worked then, but is no longer appropriate now.

Mug’s game

The endowment effect has nothing to do with wealth (it is not as if chocolate bars and coffee mugs matter) or transaction costs (in most experiments these are zero). Not even emotional attachment, whatever that means, can really be called in as an explanation, since the effect is both instantaneous and sometimes felt even by those who buy and sell for a living. According to Pete Lunn, an economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin, professional market traders are often reluctant to sell investments they already hold, even though they could trade them for assets they would prefer to invest in if starting from scratch.

Supposedly rational economists are affected, too. Dr Thaler, who recently had some expensive bottles of wine stolen, observes that he is “now confronted with precisely one of my own experiments: these are bottles I wasn’t planning to sell and now I’m going to get a cheque from an insurance company and most of these bottles I will not buy. I’m a good enough economist to know there’s a bit of an inconsistency there.”

The effect is not, however, universally observed. Whereas coffee mugs generate an endowment effect, tokens that can be exchanged for coffee mugs do not. And despite Dr Lunn’s observations, other work suggests professional traders can, and do, overcome the effect. So what is going on?

Owen Jones, a professor of law and biology at Vanderbilt University, and Sarah Brosnan, a primatologist at Georgia State University, suspect the answer is that, in the evolutionary past, giving things up, even when an apparently fair exchange seemed to be on offer, was just too risky. These days, as they discuss in a paper just published in the William and Mary Law Review, there are contracts, rights and other ways of enforcing bargains. Animal societies have none of these mechanisms. As Adam Smith observed in the “Wealth of Nations”, “nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”

To put flesh on their idea, Dr Jones and Dr Brosnan have been trying to overcome Smith’s observation by training chimpanzees to trade. In 2006 Keith Chen of Yale University showed that capuchin monkeys could learn to do so, and also seemed to exhibit the endowment effect. Chimps, it turns out, can manage to truck too. In the chimp study, tubes of peanut butter and frozen juice bars were used. Both treats were designed to be difficult to eat quickly. This makes it possible for animals that would otherwise consume any food they were given at the first opportunity at least to consider the idea of an exchange.

When presented with a choice, 60% of the chimps preferred peanut butter to juice. However, when they were endowed with peanut butter, 80% of them chose to keep it instead of exchanging it for juice. It was as if the peanut butter became more valuable as soon as it was possessed. And an opposite endowment effect was observed when the chimps were given juice.

Observing the endowment effect in three primate species suggests it does, indeed, have deep evolutionary roots. Better still, before they started work Dr Jones and Dr Brosnan predicted that the strength of the effect would vary with the evolutionary salience of the item in question. Lo and behold, when they tried the same experiments using bone and rope toys, no endowment effect was seen. Food is vital. Toys are not.

If the endowment effect does indeed vary according to evolutionary salience, this may make sense of the disparate results of hundreds of studies on people. But it does raise the question of what is and is not evolutionarily salient. Food and mates clearly are. Tangible goods such as mugs, as opposed to abstract goods such as vouchers for mugs, probably are too. But intangible possessions, such as shareholdings, do generate some effect, so physical presence cannot be all there is to it.

Steffen Huck, an economist at University College, London, has an alternative hypothesis that is directly to do with trade. In societies with markets, customers can go elsewhere. But in a small, tribal society there may be no alternative seller. In that case, those who were reluctant to trade might get better prices. It may thus make sense for an owner to be psychologically predisposed to hold out for a high price as soon as someone else expresses interest in one of his possessions—something Dr Huck’s models predict would, indeed, be evolutionarily beneficial.

Keep on trucking

Because the endowment effect touches on so many areas, Dr Jones thinks it may be helpful for legislators to understand its evolutionary origins. That goods and rights such as pollution permits, radio spectrum and mobile-telephone licences do not inexorably flow towards the most efficient distribution worries the legal scholars charged with designing fair allocations. The effect also complicates the negotiation of contracts, as people demand more to give up standard provisions than they would have been willing to pay had they bargained anew.

Nor is the endowment effect alone in suggesting that Homo economicus is a rarer species than neoclassical taxonomists would like to believe. Other “irrational” phenomena include confirmation bias (searching for or interpreting information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions), the bandwagon effect (doing things because others do them) and framing problems (when the conclusion reached depends on the way the data are presented). All in all, the rational conclusion is that humans are irrational animals.

19 julho 2008

Do the Right Drugs :)

Brains + drugs = fried eggs, right? Not always. Some pills can boost your cognitive output. But we at Wired aren't doctors. Anyone who takes a bushel of drugs based on our say-so must be high.

Check the table at WIRED

The Aeneid, translated by a Woman

For more than 2,500 years, classical epic has been the province of men: written by, for, and about them, and passed down through the centuries by male translators. One could certainly describe Virgil's Aeneid as a manly poem. From its arms-and-the-man opening to its climactic blood bath on the battlefield, the Latin epic tells a tale of exile, combat, and slaughter, with a body count rivaling that of Homer's Iliad. Women figure mostly as collateral damage.

In what appears to be a first, however, a woman has finally tried her hand at bringing Virgil's dactylic hexameters to a modern, English-speaking public. This month Yale University Press publishes a blank-verse translation by the poet and classicist Sarah Ruden.

And she has plenty of company. The Aeneid has never been a forgotten work, but since the most recent millennial turn, it has enjoyed a burst of renewed popularity with translators.

Four major English-language versions have appeared in the past three years alone. They include a blockbuster 2006 translation from Viking by the late Robert Fagles, who was an emeritus professor of comparative literature at Princeton University. In 2005, Stanley Lombardo, a professor of classics at the University of Kansas, came out with a version, published by the Hackett Publishing Company, that has legions of admirers. And Frederick Ahl, a professor of classics and comparative literature at Cornell University, weighed in with a version last November, published by Oxford University Press.

At least two more editions are in the works, one by the poet and translator David Ferry, widely admired for his Horace translations, and the other by Jane Wilson Joyce, a professor of literature in the classical-studies program at Centre College, in Kentucky, who is about four-fifths of the way through her own Aeneid.

All this activity comes at a time when scholars have broken free of the constraints imposed by a tradition that stretches back to the early English translations of the 17th and 18th centuries. Bringing a sense of personal passion to the task, modern translators are reminding readers that for all the fierceness and grandeur of the events it describes, the Aeneid is also intimate, at times even tender.

It raises an urgent question — What price empire? — even as it creates a foundational myth of how a great empire came to be. In an age that has had its fill of war and foreign adventures, Virgil's epic, written 2,000 years ago, still speaks volumes.

Although the biographical details remains sketchy, we know that Virgil (70 BC-19 BC) lived through the civil wars that marked the death throes of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. He found a powerful patron, Maecenas, at the court of Augustus Caesar and probably read the Aeneid to the emperor and his sister, Octavia. We also know that the epic was unfinished at Virgil's death. Almost immediately, however, it became required reading for Roman schoolboys, for whom it was a model tale of empire building and the making of a leader.

But this war story is also a tale of piety, loyalty, sacrifice, grief, and perseverance. It describes how a family and a people survive catastrophe — the sack of Troy — and make a new home for themselves, founding what will one day become a great empire, Rome.

The first six books of the tale describe Aeneas' flight from Troy with his father, Anchises, and his young son, Iulus. Along the way, the hero encounters storms, shipwreck, and ill-fated romance. He briefly falls for Dido, queen of Carthage, who kills herself after Aeneas abandons her to fulfill his destiny.

The second, less familiar half of the epic — Books 7-12 — follows the hero as he lands in Italy and must fight what amounts to a bitter civil war to claim his empire. Aeneas wins, but not before countless warriors have slaughtered one another. The epic ends with an especially troubling moment: Aeneas denies mercy to Turnus, leader of the opposing force, and skewers him in a fit of rage on the battlefield. The moment ends the story on a discordant note, as the most faithful and pious of heroes succumbs to a dramatic loss of self-control.

It is likely that Virgil did not intend to end the book with that scene; he probably had in mind a much longer work, which would have followed Aeneas' evolution from warrior to statesman. Either way the harsh ending and the story's account of the human cost of war have kept scholars debating: Was Virgil an empire booster, or a critic who managed to question the imperial enterprise even as he celebrated it?

Our own recent, bloody history makes it easy to hear echoes in Virgil's tragedy. That has made the Aeneid even more appealing to a post-Vietnam generation of translators.

"Particularly when you get meaningless wars like World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq, the legitimacy of death gets questioned," says Richard F. Thomas, a professor of Greek and Latin and director of graduate studies in the classics department at Harvard University. "This is a poem that activates that question pretty well: Is Rome worth it?"

He points to a 1971 translation by Allen Mandelbaum as one that has been particularly popular with instructors "who wanted to get Virgil as a post-Vietnam poet." That resonance has not faded. The cover photo on Lombardo's 2005 version is a close-up of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, with the names of the fallen inscribed on black stone.

On the subject of Virgil's attitude toward war, Sarah Ruden warns against casting an ancient tragedy as some kind of modern political statement.

"People make a fundamental mistake arguing about the politics of the Aeneid," says Ruden, a visiting fellow at Yale Divinity School. "It's about things that have to be, about which people have no choice, and that means it's about submission to the divine will."

Ruden acknowledges "a lot of grappling" with that aspect of the Aeneid. "This runs up hard against my Quaker faith because Quakers are not strongly about accepting the divine will," she says. "People are bound to express their faith in God by going out and changing things for the better."

Born in 1962 in Bowling Green, Ohio, and raised in the countryside, Ruden grew up Methodist and became a Quaker late in her graduate training at Harvard University. She had already studied and translated Virgil as a classics major at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where she wrote her senior thesis on the poet's Eclogues.

"It was all about stylistic hotdogging and emotional grandstanding," she says. "I'd had enough Latin by that time that I could see what an amazing writer he was."

She did her doctoral work in classics at Harvard. There, she recalls, "somebody told me, 'Don't work on Ovid. All of these women work on Ovid.'" Rather than study a writer known for his love elegies as well as the Metamorphoses, she chose the harder-edged satirist Petronius instead.

Scholars, she believes, should be careful not to wall themselves off. "Several generations of women have been trained in classical languages and literature just the same as men. But you still see many, many women working on love poetry — a tiny portion of the works that survive — and talking and writing endlessly about 'gender' in prescribed terms. It's like a seraglio."

Throughout her career, Ruden has not let gender determine which texts she works with or how she approaches them. She has published translations of Petronius' Satyricon, Aristophanes' Lysistrata, and the Homeric Hymns. Last year she arrived at Yale to work on her current project, which she describes as "an exploration of the letters of Paul against the background of Greco-Roman literature."

Ruden intends her translations for popular and classroom audiences rather than for fellow scholars. Like many of Virgil's translators, she is a published poet in her own right. She holds a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars.

Even in her own work, Ruden has never been drawn to free-form verse. "I haven't published any nonmetrical poetry," she says. "I think my personal inclinations can be justified in terms of ancient poetry, which is very strictly metrical, very intricately metrical."

That predilection matches up well with Virgil's hexameter scheme. The trick for Ruden, as for every translator, is how to render Virgil's economical Latin compelling in English, which is a far baggier language.

Like many other translators, including Robert Fitzgerald and David Ferry, Ruden opted to work in iambic pentameter. More unusual was her decision to translate roughly line for line, so that her Aeneid is about the same length as the original. Most English versions run longer. The risk of her approach, she says, "is too much compression. I could even be accused of translating in a way that's inappropriate to English."

But she did not approach the epic for the poetic challenge of it, or to be a feminist trailblazer. She signed on for practical reasons.

"I had to do it to stay in translation," she explains. "I had to do a major work. I had to do one that's taught very often."

She continues, "But I got caught up. This was something that came to mean a lot to me."

Here her personal history guided her. After completing her doctorate, Ruden found her first teaching job at the University of Cape Town. Living in South Africa, a country still gripped by turmoil at the end of apartheid, she says she came to understand how Virgil felt about the brutality of civil war.

"How imperial conflict works itself out isn't an academic matter for me," she explains. "The Aeneid isn't a stiff antiquarian pageant. It's immediate and primal. 'They're taking our stuff! They want all of it! They're killing us for it! Let's kill them first!'"

"I don't believe I put the slightest strain on the Latin in trying to echo Virgil's defensiveness and helpless grief," she says, "but first I had to understand it, and Africa gave me that gift."

Although most scholars agree that women have, until now, mostly steered clear of Greek and Latin epic, they have more than one theory about why.

Stephen Harrison, a professor of classical languages and literature at the University of Oxford, believes that the phenomenon dates back to the time when the works themselves took shape.

"Epic was perceived in antiquity as a male prestige genre," he wrote in an e-mail message to The Chronicle, "and the fact that anyone who knows any classical languages will have a view on a translation of Homer or Virgil makes it a tough thing to do, especially for women in prefeminist days when it was wrongly thought that women could not learn classical languages to the levels of men."

Another scholar, Barbara Weiden Boyd, thinks that the combination of language and genre has not been very hospitable to women. A professor of classics at Bowdoin College, she has published a textbook of selections from the Aeneid.

"There's something about Latin, but there's also something about epic, because that's also so implicated and embedded in Western literary hierarchy," Boyd says. "The subject matter is about the world of men, but it's also poetry that forms men and that educates men and that's for a male readership, and somehow that all works together, it seems to me."

For Stanley Lombardo, the tradition of English translation hasn't helped. "Pope's Iliad and Odyssey established this standard for epic decorum, and it's all grand and high diction. What woman would want to touch that?"

Lombardo has made a name for himself not only as a translator but also as a performer of Homer and Virgil. He is emblematic of the new breed of Virgil translator, for whom the Aeneid is anything but stuffy and highfalutin.

"This is living literature, and that's how it should be rendered," he says. "The immediacy of Greek and Latin literature is astonishing when you read it that way." To do justice to the the Aeneid, Lombardo says, "it's got to pulse with life."

Richard Thomas, of Harvard, points to a phrase in Lombardo's edition that illustrates that turn in translation. "Without very much justification on the level of Virgil's Latin but a great deal of justification from what's going on in the poem," he says, "Lombardo writes 'shock and awe,' which immediately takes one to more-recent events and sets one asking the question, Are we Rome?"

Jane Wilson Joyce, well into her own translation of the Aeneid, has, like Ruden, opted for a line-for-line approach. "I try, at least in general, to keep a vaguely dactylic rhythm going, but it's amazing how often it wants to turn around into anapests," she says. The economy of Latin compared to English is "so unfair," she adds. "It's just a joy."

Like Ruden, she sees beyond the story's martial themes: "I find Virgil a tender presence. So even when horrible things are happening on the battlefield, there is a tenderness, and his feel for human relationships, his feel for landscape, and his pity for humans is something that I find intensely appealing."

Joyce laughs. "I don't know — I'm in love with the guy."

Such a sense of personal connection, Sarah Ruden believes, gives female translators an edge over their male counterparts. "I'm going to get killed for voicing this, but I believe women have the right attitude," she says. "Women get more involved. The authors are more real to us. We develop relationships with them."

Not long ago, she heard a talk at Yale given by Edith Grossman, who translates Gabriel García Márquez's works into English and has done an English-language version of Don Quixote. "I came away convinced that women, not men, are the natural translators for the great books," Ruden says.

But she cautions that women who translate "must follow the Edith Grossman line" and keep a certain scholarly distance and balance. "The danger of emotional engagement is to impose the self on this alien author," she says.

Women now have far greater liberties and a much greater sense of their historical oppression than the women of 2,000 years ago did, but that doesn't mean that a 21st-century translator should, say, portray Dido as a victim of male chauvinism.

"You shouldn't take that to an author like Virgil," Ruden argues. "You're not being true to his context if you're thinking in those terms. You have to go back to tragedy."

"Everybody in here is a person, an individual, and they get annihilated in these big events. You have these injured or abandoned women; you have these men who are cannon fodder."

That sense of poignant fatalism touches translators male and female. David Ferry, an emeritus professor of English at Wellesley College, is in the first stages of translation, at work on Book 3 of the Aeneid. But even in the grand early passages, in which Aeneas and his family flee Troy, Ferry sees "so much else going on besides the epic" — for example, the way that Aeneas' boy, Iulus, "is trying to keep up, matching his father's footsteps" as the city burns behind them (see the excerpts on Page B11).

Richard Thomas, who taught Ruden at Harvard, puts it this way: "Epic poetry is the title we give it, but look onto any page and you're looking at human voices, male and female, you're looking at the human condition, you're looking at worlds gone wrong, you're looking at power and victory and defeat."

Translators take up a text like the Aeneid for an army of reasons. For Sarah Ruden, it began as a practical decision. For Stanley Lombardo, Virgil represented the logical next step in retracing the literary journey from Homer to Dante. (The Inferno is Lombardo's current project.) For publishers, however, the decision to take on the Aeneid is more and more perilous. How many additional versions does the world need?

"It's fair to say that it gets more difficult to do this the more translations are published," says Brian Rak, Lombardo's editor at Hackett. Most Aeneid translations are intended to work their way into the undergraduate curriculum, but, like Aeneas, they have to fight to earn their place.

In Rak's experience, an edition becomes entrenched for a while as the classroom favorite, "and it's difficult to even think of another translation that could compete with it," he says. "But along comes a new translation, and people want to have a look at it."

Every new translation offers the tantalizing possibility that it will strike closer to the thrill and beauty of the original than any has before. "The sorrow with any translation," Lombardo says, "is that you're never really quite there. You may be someplace almost as good."

Behind the hope is a never-ending struggle to crack the code of language. "I know the Latin of a particular passage once I've worked on it," says Ferry. "Then I start my whole life over again."

"Great works of literature do come from God," Ruden says. "They are so miraculous, you can't figure out how a human being could have pulled off something like this."

A translator must strive to see the work in its own terms, she believes, while knowing that such a goal will always be just out of reach. "But it's something that you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, until you pass out from exhaustion. You have to keep up hope for an impossible thing. Again, it comes back to religion."

No wonder the ancient poets always began their work with an invocation of the muse.

wordS perfect ;)

Thwart. Yes, thwart is a good word. Thwarted. Athwart. A kind of satisfaction lives in such words--a unity, a completion. Teach them to a child, and you'll see what I mean: skirt, scalp, drab, buckle, sneaker, twist, jumble. Squeamish, for that matter. They taste good in the mouth, and they seem to resound with their own verbal truthfulness.

More like proper nouns than mere words, they match the objects they describe. Pickle, gloomy, portly, curmudgeon--sounds that loop back on themselves to close the circle of meaning. They're perfect, in their way. They're what all language wants to be when it grows up.

Admittedly, some of this comes from onomatopoeia: words that echo the sound of what they name. Hiccup, for instance, and zip. The animal cries of quack and oink and howl. The mechanical noises of click and clack and clank. Chickadees, cuckoos, and whip-poor-wills all get their names this way. Whooping cranes, as well, and when I was little, I pictured them as sickly birds, somehow akin to whooping cough.

And yet, that word akin--that's a good word, too, though it lacks even the near-onomatopoeia of percussion and lullaby, or the ideophonic picture-drawing of clickety-clack and gobble. The words I'm thinking of are, rather, the ones that feel right when we say them: accurate expressions, somehow, for themselves. Apple, for instance, has always seemed to me the perfect name--a crisp and tanged and ruddy word.

Grammarians may have a technical term for these words that sound true, though I've never come across quite what I'm looking for. Homological, maybe? Autological? Ipsoverific? In a logical sense, of course, some words are literally true or false when applied to themselves. Words about words, typically: Noun is a noun, though verb is not a verb. Poly- syllabic is self-true, and monosyllabic is not. And this logical notion of autology can be extended. If short seems a short word, true of itself, then the shorter long must be false of itself.

But what about jab or fluffy or sneer, each of them true in a way that goes beyond logic? Verbose has always struck me as a strangely verbose word. Peppy has that perky, energetic, spry sound it needs. And was there ever a more supercilious word than supercilious? Or one more lethargic than lethargic?

Let's coin a term for this kind of poetic, extralogical accuracy. Let's call it agenbite. That's a word Michael of Northgate cobbled up for his 1340 Remorse of Conscience--or Agenbite of Inwit, as he actually titled the book. English would later settle on the French-born word "remorse" to carry the sense of the Latin re-mordere, "to bite again." But Michael didn't know that at the time, and so he simply translated the word's parts: again-bite or (in the muddle of early English spelling) agenbite.

Anyway, these words that sound true need some kind of name. And since they do bite back on themselves, like a snake swallowing its tail, Michael's term will do as well as any other. Ethereal is an agenbite, isn't it? All ethereal and airy. Rapier, swashbuckler, erstwhile, obfuscate, spume--agenbites, every one. Reverberation reverberates, and jingle jingles. A friend insists that machination is a word that tells you all about its Machiavellian self, and surely sporadic is a clean agenbite, with something patchy and intermittent in the taste as you say it.

Sheer sound won't make one of these agenbites, however pleasurable the word feels on the tongue. Perspicacious is a succulent thing, I suppose, but who ever heard its perspicacity? Pragmatic seems closer, but in the end it's not quite hardnosed enough to get the job done. Pertussis, the scientific name for whooping cough, is one of those bad Latin terms that doctors used to invent, back in the days before they settled on the odd convention of naming diseases after doctors. And, as far as the sound goes, you can't ask for a better word to pronounce than pertussis--but where's the whoop?

Odd. Now there's a word that says just what it means. Dwindle wants to fade away even while you're saying it. And surely splendiferous is a solid agenbite, expressing its own hollow pomposity. For that matter, isn't hollow a little hollow, with the sound of a hole at its center? Maybe not, but you always know where you are with words like dreary and gossip and gut and bludgeon. Or with onomatopoeics like flap and slurp and splash and gurgle. Or with the whole set of English -umbles: fumble and mumble and bumble.

Gargoyle sounds like a word that knows just what it is. Snake and swoop and spew all reach back to gnaw on themselves--agenbites of speech. They're part of what makes poetry work. They're what all language wants to be, when it grows up.

18 julho 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

In the digital era, we transform our memories into photos, videos, and blog posts that can be stored, catalogued and summoned at the click of a mouse. James Poulos explores the effect on the individual and on society when the power of remembrance is replaced by the capacity to retrieve.

The Technology of Memory, by The New Atlantis

17 julho 2008

Born to Nap

Click to enlarge

RIP Harriet McBryde Johnson

He insists he doesn't want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.

Whenever I try to wrap my head around his tight string of syllogisms, my brain gets so fried it's . . . almost fun. Mercy! It's like ''Alice in Wonderland.''

It is a chilly Monday in late March, just less than a year ago. I am at Princeton University. My host is Prof. Peter Singer, often called -- and not just by his book publicist -- the most influential philosopher of our time. He is the man who wants me dead. No, that's not at all fair. He wants to legalize the killing of certain babies who might come to be like me if allowed to live. He also says he believes that it should be lawful under some circumstances to kill, at any age, individuals with cognitive impairments so severe that he doesn't consider them ''persons.'' What does it take to be a person? Awareness of your own existence in time. The capacity to harbor preferences as to the future, including the preference for continuing to live.

Unspeakable Conversations, The Disability Gulag and Stairway to Justice, all written for the NY Times

A Life Worth Living from the WSJ

Faulks, Sebastian Faulks

To honor Ian Fleming’s centenary, one of Britain’s top novelists has accepted espionage fiction’s ultimate challenge: reviving James Bond. In an exclusive excerpt from Devil May Care, Agent 007 takes on perhaps his most dangerous opponent yet, pharmaceutical tycoon Dr. Julius Gorner. As Bond and Gorner hit the tennis court, the distractingly leggy Scarlett Papava referees.

The New Yorker

11 julho 2008

From Page to Screen: «The Golden Compass»

In the words of Cinematical:

Fantasy may have the most rabid and obsessive fans, but it also has the staunchest detractors of any mainstream genre. We all know people who simply refuse to watch fantasy films or read fantasy books of their own volition. They may have sat through The Fellowship of the Ring grudgingly, but didn't bother with the rest of the series. They probably associate the genre with asocial nerds, fan conventions, and Dungeons & Dragons. They can only shrug at the exuberance of the devotees. Fantasy is "not their thing."

Why are fantasy movies (and the genre in general) so polarizing? I've long thought it has something to do with viewers' relative affinity for cinematic worlds. Some people go to the movies to see something that directly relates to their own lives, something that takes place in the universe they live in and know. Others – myself among them, if you haven't figured it out – flip for new, self-contained worlds that could exist independently of the movie; wonderful and strange places we feel like it's possible to actually inhabit. This might explain why those who like good fantasy also tend to enjoy good science-fiction.

It also explains why Chris Weitz's adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass – the first part of a magical trilogy called His Dark Materials – doesn't work. The novel's fantasy world is one of the most painstaking, unique and enchanting I've had the pleasure of visiting. It gives a nod to genre archetypes – the Chosen Child, the Coveted Magical Trinket – but after that it wanders off on its own: elemental "dust," parallel universes, "the Church" as a villain, talking polar bear royalty, and most memorably, a physical representation of the soul of every human being in the form of a different "daemon" animal. Pullman created a coherent, logical universe with its own rules and order – and the books became huge, lasting bestsellers. Rightfully so.

How, then, did last year's Weitz adaptation come to look and feel like every kiddie fantasy movie Hollywood has ever made? Why do the characters seem to inhabit not a different world, but a plastic Hollywood soundstage? Why are the daemons such harmless, nondescript CGI beasties – talking stuffed animals – instead of integral characters with their own personalities and as much emotional pull as the human protagonists? Why is Nicole Kidman's version of Ms. Coulter such an ordinary conniving villainess instead of the steely, fearsome, beguiling presence that she was on the page? The outlines of Pullman's story are here – but what happened to its heart?

Much was made of the fact that, in a bid to stave off opposition from religious groups, The Golden Compass was scrubbed clean of any reference to "the Church," and the truth-suppressing bad guys were referred to solely as "the Magisterium" (a word that did also occasionally appear in the books). It was an artistically disgraceful move, turning a frightening, monolithic, nearly omnipotent villain into a bunch of mean-looking old people conferencing in a darkened room. But it was a symptom rather than the disease.

The problem is bigger than the religious angle: the entire movie feels sterilized, robbed of any shred of distinctiveness. The novel has some genuinely wrenching moments once Lyra discovers Ms. Coulter's nefarious plan to separate children from their daemons, culminating in the tragic death of her best friend Roger – but all of them are either blips on the radar in the film or gone altogether. The strange beauty of Pullman's imagery is replaced by gleaming, generic CGI deployed without imagination. There's no world to enter here – just the realm of expensive, Disney-fied blockbusters. This even though Disney had nothing to do with The Golden Compass.

The movie was meant to kick off a new franchise for the now-defunct New Line, something that might replicate the success of The Lord of the Rings. The Golden Compass' box office performance was tepid, at least in the US, and so the fate of the sequel (The Subtle Knife) is unclear. As far as I'm concerned, it's just as well. I love fantasy because the best of it – like Phillip Pullman's novels -- takes me somewhere new, and shows me things I've never seen. Except for parts of the third act, the movie is faithful to Pullman's plot, but not to the novel, not in any way that matters. It puts the story on the screen, but in the process turns it harmless, boring and blandly inoffensive -- presumably the better to sell it to a mass audience. And then it turned out they couldn't even do that. Bah humbug.

Do check their take on Into the Wild, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Road, and a few others :)

03 julho 2008

Metropolis Redux

Last Tuesday Paula Félix-Didier travelled on a secret mission to Berlin in order to meet with three film experts and editors from ZEITmagazin. The museum director from Buenos Aires had something special in her luggage: a copy of a long version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, including scenes believed lost for almost 80 years. After examining the film the three experts are certain: The find from Buenos Aires is a real treasure, a worldwide sensation. Metropolis, the most important silent film in German history, can from this day on be considered to have been rediscovered.

Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the worker’s underworld – the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 – from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: “More than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever.”

ZEITmagazin has now reconstructed the story of how the film nevertheless managed to survive. Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of “Metropolis” to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there. Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel Peña Rodríguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s Peña Rodríguez sold the film reels to Argentina’s National Art Fund – clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels. A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula Félix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken. Together, Paula Félix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive – and discovered the missing scenes.

Paula Félix-Didier remembered having dinner with the German journalist Karen Naundorf and confided the secret to her. Félix-Didier wanted the news to be announced in Germany where Fritz Lang had worked – and she hoped that it would attract a greater level of attention in Germany than in Argentina. The author Karen Naundorf has worked for DIE ZEIT for five years - and let the editorial office of ZEITmagazin in on her knowledge.

Among the footage that has now been discovered, according to the unanimous opinion of the three experts that ZEITmagazin asked to appraise the pictures, there are several scenes which are essential in order to understand the film: The role played by the actor Fritz Rasp in the film for instance, can finally be understood. Other scenes, such as for instance the saving of the children from the worker’s underworld, are considerably more dramatic. In brief: “Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s most famous film, can be seen through new eyes.”, as stated by Rainer Rother, Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum and head of the series of retrospectives at the Berlinale.

Helmut Possmann, director of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, the holder of the rights to “Metropolis”, said to ZEITmagazin: “The material believed to be lost leads to a new understanding of the Fritz Lang masterpiece.” The Murnau Foundation now sees itself as “responsible, along with the archive in Buenos Aires and our partners for making the material available to the public.”

The rediscovered material is in need of restoration after 80 years; the pictures are scratched, but clearly recognizable. Martin Koerber, the restorer of the hitherto longest known version of “Metropolis”, who also examined the footage, said to ZEITmagazin: “No matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of the film, including all of its minor characters and subplots, is now once again tangible for the normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored.”

And perhaps the scratches, which will probably remain even after restoration, will have an added advantage: The cinemagoer will be reminded of what an exciting history this great film has had.

Peter Greenaway's Last Supper

With a glint of a dagger and a blaze of celestial light, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper burst into new life on Monday night after Peter Greenaway finally secured permission to reinvent the crumbling, 510-year-old masterpiece as a sound and light show.

In a remarkable coup for the British film director, the Italian authorities allowed Greenaway to wheel a battery of projectors, computers and speakers into the usually hushed and air-sealed refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the image of Christ telling the apostles one of them will betray him decorates an end wall. Inside, Greenaway unveiled a provocative vision of one of Christianity's most sacred and fragile paintings, reimagined "for the laptop generation".

To the strains of modern opera, he used cutting-edge technical trickery to make Leonardo's Christ appear like a three-dimensional hologram while a radiant sun rose and fell over his head. He turned the original colourful image red, grey and black before the artist's gentle brush strokes were replaced with a chalk outline of the 13 figures, as if Leonardo had drawn a crime scene. Dawn broke, dusk fell and by the end the disciples had been dramatically cast into the shadow of prison-like bars.

To at least one of the world's experts on Da Vinci, Greenaway's work amounted to cultural vandalism. But to others it may have saved The Last Supper's reputation from The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's blockbuster novel, which frustrated many experts by reducing the painting's hidden meanings to a plot device.

"It has reconsecrated the painting after Dan Brown deconsecrated it," said Vittorio Sgarbi, a leading art critic and former head of arts for the Milan local government.

Monday's one-off performance almost did not happen. For 18 months there was such controversy over possible damage to the painting and fears that Greenaway would blaspheme that the authorities refused permission. Pietro Marani, one of the world's leading Leonardo scholars who spent 17 years on the painting's latest restoration, said he would not attend. "I don't think it is appropriate to use the painting as a projection screen for a performance of contemporary art," he said. "We did not conserve this so that it would become an artist's material. Peter Greenaway uses Leonardo because it will grab the world's attention."

Permission was finally granted late last month by the national government in Rome. Greenaway was only allowed to stage the show for one night and to a select group of Milanese dignitaries, art experts and a few of the friary's monks.

But despite the small audience, there was a feeling that Greenaway's show could become a pivotal moment in the painting's history, briefly restoring what some say was lost from the original during the latest restoration.

"If Leonardo was alive now he wouldn't just be interested in film-making, he would be handling high-definition cameras and would be right up against the cutting edge experimenting with holograms," said Greenaway. "He would be fascinated by the post-digital age. I am sure that he would support entirely what we are doing, which isn't true of a series of academics who believe that this painting belongs to them and not to the world at large. This painting belongs to the laptop generation as much as it does to academia and we want to demonstrate that."

He was forced to drop plans to show the apostles' cups overflowing with blood and to project Christ's genitals on the refectory walls. But he said his goal was never to shock, but to help people look again at a work of art that has been devalued by superficial familiarity "on chocolate boxes and on T-shirts".

After the performance, the audience responded with enthusiasm.

"I saw things that I have never seen before," said Francesca Fiore, 41, a manager with Vodafone Italia. "I saw details and the backdrop which usually you don't notice at all - details that you tend not to see because you only focus on the main scene." "It was incredible," said Pierre Demarani, a publisher. "There is a new light, a new colour and a new vision. It is absolutely in line with the painting. It is a performance that adds value and shows the painting with another point of view."

Greenaway's production team said they are now keen to find an art gallery in Britain that could stage The Last Supper show on a full-size replica. Meanwhile, Greenaway plans to repeat the trick on Las Meninas by Velázquez, Picasso's Guernica, Monet's Waterlilies and a Jackson Pollock in New York.

His ultimate ambition is to take on Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, and talks have begun with its gatekeepers at the Vatican.