Friday, 25 February 2011

lost in translation?

I read the other day on the BBC website a piece written by Oliver Miles, a former ambassador to Libya, called "How Gaddafi's words get lost in translation" where he wrote "Oratory is out of fashion with us - no longer do our statesmen hold the House of Commons in thrall for eight hours at a go" and it got me thinking how very unfortunate it is that we've fallen this far as a civilization.

As someone who believes in education and the power of thought behind the well-chosen and cultivated words and ideas I'm greatly concerned about this dismissive attitude that has crept in and mired us in "political correctness" (being polite, I dare not say "mediocrity") to such a degree that we believe unquestioningly when we are told that mathematical ideas are boring, that oratory and rhetoric are stale, that literature (whether oral tradition or text-based) is dead.

As a lover of the literary arts (which I include political discourse along with the traditional forms of literature), I find the ready acceptance of this sorry state of affairs unpalatable. I believe that the art of well-crafted oratory/rhetoric/turn of phrase is key to learning and engaging in critical thinking.

It is the beautiful that draws us in and keeps us there long enough to really contemplate why and how we respond and react so. This is the onset of critical thought, is it not? Beauty makes the intellectual challenge seem undaunting and makes thinking fun and productive. GH Hardy, the great English mathematician (yes, there were such people too) wrote and is often quoted:

"The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colors or the words must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics".

I subscribe to the general notion that there is no permanent place in human thought for ugly and shoddy ideas and concepts. Great art and story-telling from any and all cultures tend to last, and they last precisely because they're crafted and build-upon and built to be beautiful. Even the simple stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." hold and enthrall us for many generations.

Education is not possible without art for art is the beginning of productive speculation and dialogue on who we are, how we define ourselves and where we want to go as humans being.


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