Monday, 18 January 2010

Quotations that are impossible to believe

I saw this somewhere:
"We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light." - Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
The ridiculousness of this almost makes me angry. How could this possibly have been said in the 12th century? It's just not remotely credible. At best it's a highly distorted translation of something in Old High German via Heidegger, Simone de Beauvoir and any number of new age Californians.

But this is hardly unusual. The idea that Einstein said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." is insulting to Einstein, as well as to insane people. And if Mark Twain said everything that Mark Twain said, he'd never have had time to write any of his books (let alone all those short letters).

It's very convenient to adopt a famous dead person and put the words of your movement or sales pitch into their mouth. Not very respectful or honest, though.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not sure I understand your anger. von Bingen was quite the famous mystic and none of this seems terribly out of line for her. The concepts are certainly not completely alien.

Leigh Caldwell said...

I overstated the anger a bit. Really I find it more amusing that people feel the need to co-opt famous authors to give an idea some credibility.

I'm sure some of the ideas behind this quote do exist in von Bingen's work. But the way it's written is so full of 70s-era jargon that I can't believe it's a remotely faithful translation.

I don't mind being proven wrong if there is an identifiable source for it (but a couple of Google searches haven't turned one up).