What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)

There is a lot to be said for the Musslemen and their religion. There are, no doubt, some sections in the writings of Mahomet that can be found objectionable, but this is the case for almost all writers. What Mahomet, or at least his followers, did that is certainly praise-worthy is forbid the translation of his work. Strictly speaking, there are no “English translations” of the Coran; there are only “English interpretations.” This helps prevent quite a number of misunderstandings.

If one has been to three English language Christian weddings, then he has heard a reading from Chapter 13 of  The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians at least twice. “Love is patient. Love is kind.” Love is… not what St. Paul was writing about. At least not love the way people commonly think about it. And certainly not the sort of love that is typified by that of a blushing bride for her bridegroom. The original Greek is “αγάπη.” Agape is a selfless love for humanity as a whole. It is not brotherly love or erotic love, but a detached, spiritual love. Earlier English translations used “Charity” since they were actually translating from the Vulgate of St. Jerome, a 4th century Latin translation which used “Caritas” for Agape. The use of “Charity” today sounds pretty funny when one gets to the third verse: “Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And…I don’t have Charity.”

For a long time, the Catholic Church held that the Bible could not be translated from Latin into the common tongue. (Of course, the fact that the Latin Bible was itself a translation of the original didn’t seem to bother anybody.) But then Martin Luther and his buddy Gutenberg came along and pumped out a whole heap of German language Bibles. No doubt there are subtle problems in the German version, but what can you do? Such is the price one pays for not reading every written work in its original language. The problem is simply unavoidable and one must either suffer through it or become fluent in every language that has interesting authors.

Beer of the Week: Löwenbräu Original – There are a few beers that I love for their taste, their history and the memories they invoke. This beer is one of them. The reader can determine for himself what sort of love can exist between man and beer. Löwenbräu is a nice example of the Munich Helles Lager. It is golden and has some of the spicy hops character of a pilsner, but is maltier and not quite as bitter. Löwenbräu has a pleasant but somewhat weak aroma which has some nice earthy tones. The flavor is light and malty, but the crisp hops are present throughout. This is just a really good beer.

Reading of the week: The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 – Paul names Agape, Faith and Hope as the three most important things to have, and Agape, the most important of all. Not only does he outline the importance of Agape, he makes a bold and inspiring statement: “When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Question of the week:  Although more evident in poetry, are the difficulties of translation more important in spiritual/philosophical texts?


Fashionable Reading

Koreans enjoy a rice liquor called soju. It it somewhat similar to vodka, but sweeter and somewhat syrupy. It is primarily consumed neat. Like kimchi, Korea’s famous fermented cabbage, soju is an acquired taste. But how does one acquire a taste? Or, for that matter, other opinions?

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy gives a glance into the tastes of Stepan Arkadyevitch. Why, for example does he wear a certain style of coat or hat? Why does he listen to certain music? Why does he have certain political beliefs? Because these are the fashions of his time and circle. People love to assert their individuality and to “think for themselves,” but it is not that simple. One thinks that he likes or believes one thing because he has carefully considered the options and has cultivated his tastes, but in general, it is habit rather than contemplation that creates tastes.

To be sure, there is something in natural disposition that lends weight to certain tastes. Stepan preferred “liberal to conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle… not from his considering liberalism more rational, but from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life.” But still, it is not really thought or consideration that leads to most views, only a sort of intangible natural proclivity. (As Montaigne claimed that he did not hunt, not because he reasoned it to be immoral to harm animals, but only because his own temperament found it distasteful.)

Many people will object to Stepan’s approach to such questions. They may indict him as a follower and as shallow for basing his opinions on what is popular. Or, to speak more accurately, for not basing his tastes on anything at all, and letting them simply come to him by way of popular opinion. But “having finished the paper… and, squaring his broad chest, he smiled joyously: not because there was anything particularly agreeable in his mind—the joyous smile was evoked by a good digestion.” And if joy can be achieved without straining to think up and defend one’s “own” opinions against the rabble, why should anybody put in the effort?

Beer of the Week: TESCO Strong Lager – In many people, it is not only political opinions and fashion that are determined by the crowd in which one runs, but also taste in beer. If young people in England are anything like young people in the United States, then they probably develop a taste for cheap beer with high alcohol content. TESCO supermarket stocks a store brand that is 7.5% alcohol and can be had for a very low price. It is not a good beer, but for the price, it gives a bit of a kick. (Of course, when the beer is shipped halfway around the world, the over-all value diminishes significantly.) TESCO Strong Lager smells slightly of alcohol and malt and has a rather flat taste with a hint of alcohol at the end. Not unlike a Natural Ice, although perhaps not as crisp. No doubt, many Brits have found as they mature that their tastes have shifted slowly away from store brand beer and toward more refined tastes. Maybe, over time, they will develop a taste for something less riot-inducing.

Reading of the week: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Part One, Chapter 3, Excerpt – In this short passage near the beginning of the novel, the reader joins Stepan Arkadyevitch for breakfast. Stepan’s political leanings are explained along with his general temperament.

Question of the week: Can deep intellectual pursuit ever have the same pleasant effect as a political newspaper or after-dinner cigar, a “slight fog diffused in the brain”?