Week 3_Reproduction of Art and Translation of Literature by Cheng-Kuang Liu

Walter Benjamin makes a good point concerning the “aura” of a piece of artwork. The aura encompasses the uniqueness of the work, including its physical existence in time and space, its cultural context, its ownership, and everything it has gone through. Mass mechanical reproduction grants access of artwork to the populace, but at the same time destroys the work’s aura, its uniqueness. I personally do not have a lot of encounter with artworks or their history, so I cannot conjure up grand and lofty examples from my memory. I will just humbly share some experience from my personal venture into literature translation. I found out on the internet about a prose translation contest. Because it was summer time and I had a lot of time on my hand, I decided to give it a shot. It was not until I started did I realized how difficult the task is. Though I did not adequately appreciate the original text initially when I read it, there really is a lot to it. Besides the content of the author’s argument, the outward structure of the text is quite a piece of work in itself. There are sound techniques such as alliteration, some metaphors, some clichés, and even some French quotes. All these are subtle facets that can easily vaporize upon any probing from an imitator, like me. I attempted to transplant these features to a different language, and therefore to a different cultural context. I managed to do it, but much of the flow and the flavor were lost. In a sense, I tried reproducing the artwork, but though I was able to do it, the product simply does not bear the aura of the original, no matter how well I have done my job. Once the artwork is imitated, the aura, which is half its value, is gone.

I find it intriguing that Walter Benjamin should use the word aura. In my mother tongue, there is a phrase, “a craftsman’s aura.” This phrase actually carries a negative connotation, describing a piece of “artwork” that is produced by taught techniques or imitation. It also denotes rigidity and the lack of spontaneity. Ideally, a piece of artwork should be as if it just spontaneously emerges from nature, or from the artist’s realization of nature, not intervened by human exertion. I think this phrase quite fittingly describes all the imitations and counterfeits out there, in forms of posters, toys, front of cereal boxes, or otherwise.

Now, robotic art. Optimus surely is the Prime example!

http://www.transformers-action-figures.com/images/Transformers-Optimus-Prime-theme-682.jpg

Ah, wonderful robotic arts. First of all, you absolutely have to see these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVZ07isS-po&feature=PlayList&p=E286FF9021C1BDFA&index=11

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV3rouNbPCM&feature=PlayList&p=E286FF9021C1BDFA&index=19. They are quite short, but intensely entertaining (well, at least if you were a gizmo nut like me). I love these videos because the mechanisms are so intricate and so precise. I am just in awe for the ingenuity for the designers every time I watch them. Yet these devices serve no apparent practical purpose other than begging for a giggle, a gasp, or a “wow” from the viewer. At the same time, who can deny these are works of art, able to stir up an emotional response within?

The videos are somewhat of a side note. Now please look at this picture.

http://i32.photobucket.com/albums/d10/DozerBones/traffic-light-hell.jpg

I love this picture as well, because anyone who had been stopped by a traffic light will laugh when they see this picture. The message is so clear: it conveys so directly the frustration with traffic signals. It portrays such an intimate aspect of our daily life, yet often an aspect neglected because it is so ordinary. In this fast-paced urban age, everyone seems cold and distant from one another. Yet this outrageous portrayal of the traffic light finds common ground among all these alienated people and connects them all with a resounding echo: everyone has been stuck at traffic lights; everyone had cursed at the traffic (especially if you’ve driven in Los Angeles). This tree of traffic lights may not make a whole lot of sense 200 years from now or 200 years back, but in today’s culture, it fits perfectly. This is its cultural context. This is its niche.

5 Responses to “Week 3_Reproduction of Art and Translation of Literature by Cheng-Kuang Liu”

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