Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why do English speakers like Chinese Tattoos, Latin Masses, and Italian Operas?

Anson Cameron writes a very funny column in The Age on how it comes to be that everything seems to be more profound when it appears in a language we can't understand. The conclusion of this article isn't right and nor is the argumentation but it is asks the right questions, or, at least, observes an important phenomenon.

Why emblazon yourself with signs you can't read? Why wed in a lingo you don't speak? Why do things sound so good in another language? Why does gobbledegook like a Latin Mass or a Gregorian chant speak to a congregation with a resonance not even Shakespeare can match? Indeed, as we drift further and further from the linguistic idiom in which Shakespeare wrote, and each generation finds him murkier and murkier, might it be that he becomes a greater playwright still?

My own view of the liturgical issue is informed by Pickstock's After Writing: the understanding we seek is of a kind that requires communication beyond mere cognition; it requires access to transcendent meaning, and, here, our vernacular can only get in the way.