Saturday, January 23, 2010

Divine Dante


I'm not sure what to call wordplay of this type. It's not exactly an anagram, though the general idea is the same. Unlike an anagram, it doesn't require that all the rearranged components be full letters, nor that they be arranged linearly. The components can be rotated and can be placed anywhere. (No overlapping allowed, though; that would be cheating.) The same concept can be seen in Nagfa's One Swallow piece and (almost) in my own attempt at a Chinese anagram. In fact, come to think of it, "Chinese anagram" might be just the term I'm looking for. "Chinese" because it's the closest thing you can get to an anagram in a non-alphabetic language like Chinese; because it's basically a verbal version of the Chinese art of the tangram; and because there's a long tradition in English of just randomly calling things (checkers, auctions, fire drills) Chinese. So, until someone proposes a better term, I hereby dub this art form the Chinese anagram.

I'm reading Dante again, by the way -- Allen Mandelbaum's translation. I was so impressed with his Odyssey that I went from bookstore to bookstore until I had finally tracked down copies of his Aeneid and Commedia. He's also translated Ovid, Quasimodo, and Ungaretti, and I'll snatch those up too if I can find them. For someone who is such a virtuoso at translating poetry (and from three different languages!), Mandelbaum surprisingly turns out to be a bit of a klutz when it comes to English prose, at least if his nearly unreadable introduction to the Inferno is any indication. A typical passage:
For Dante is an Aeolus-the-Brusque, a Lord-of-Furibundus-Fuss, the Ur-Imam-of-Impetus. Or, for brutish Scrutinists, who reach for similes among the beasts and not among the gods, he is the lizard that, "when it darts from hedge/ to hedge beneath the dog days' giant lash,/ seems, if it cross one's path, a lightning flash" (Inf. XXV, 79-81)
Note how the dead, bloated language suddenly springs to life as soon as he stops speaking for himself and starts translating Dante. Like Plato's Ion, he has nothing to say except as a reciter of his favorite poets -- of which, unlike Ion, he happily has more than one.

1 comment:

  1. When i was doing a lot of Mailart, i came across a font that i thought was very interesting, and even though there were only 6 or 7 characters in the original line of text that expressed it, i created a full alphabet, which i haven't posted anywhere yet... But this has got me thinking about Rotational Anagrams! This allows you to rotate & mirror the characters, ( Not so much for stacking them though...? ) to create new words & phrases.
    In the original seed text that i saw, the e & a were the same character. Obviously p, q, b & d are the same Characters, as are A & V.
    It got me to thinking, what would be the fewest number of characters to make a full alphabet.
    Really pushing the legibility takes some of the fun out of it though, as i think it is more elegant when the characters are unmistakably what they are intended to be...
    i will put something together along these lines soon...

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