Sunday, March 21
...who have attempted to clothe the bird with English plumage
My newest set of note cards were designed using swatches of left-over upholstery fabric from my Craigslist steal a few weeks ago. I loved the combination of red, orange, yellow and green throughout the fabric design, and the birds were just the right size for the cards I've been making. So I used my finest tracing, cutting and sewing skills to finish these "In English Plumage" cards, which I plan to vend in an upcoming art show.
Often my project names are derived from poetry, but I decided to name these for a literary essay I recently came across online. I found it strangely relevant and interesting, despite the fact that it was written in the 1940s by a classical philologist named Reuben A. Brower. Brower was one of those brilliant few who find classical Greek literature entirely interesting, and he spent his career studying and analyzing it. I won't go into the entire article, partly because it's boring and partly because I don't necessarily understand it all that well. But suffice it to say that this guy is annoyed (and he uses some thick vocabulary to get that across). He criticizes other English academics because he believes that in translating Greek literature, they are draping their translations in the cultural cues and language of English culture. In other words, their interpretations of the literature were often expressed in tandem with their own worldviews and experiences, instead of a "pure" understanding of the original texts. As Brower so wonderfully puts it, these writers "attempted to clothe (the Theban eagle) with English Plumage".
As an undergraduate theology student, I encountered these issues nearly daily. In my classes we constantly debated whether any biblical translations or interpretations could be left unaltered by a theologian's own cultural lens and life experience. These issues had huge implications for students who were trying to discover the integrity of the text, while simultaneously preserving personal theologies and religious experiences. It requires a delicate balance at the very least.
While I appreciate Brower's concern, and have born witness to these struggles in my own life, I have a growing appreciation for the fact that we cannot feasibly separate our reactions from our experiences. I have come to see that everyone interprets all facets of life through the lenses of culture, personal history, religious beliefs, and everything else that constitutes the "self". What a relief! Because then we can see why human opinion and belief are so varied and unique. Perhaps in recognizing our own biases, we can be more forgiving and accepting of others.
And so, feeling strangely inspired by this archaic piece of critical analysis, I decided to name this project for that Theban eagle "in English plumage". How else could I explain seeing adorable quilted note cards in some scraps of upholstery? It must be my "quilting" lens.