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Thread poster: Last Hermit

Last Hermit
Local time: 05:02
Chinese to English
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May 30, 2004

Necessary Fictions
翻译:Last Hermit

The most pathetic in Friedrich Dürrenmatt's play The Visit is the Schoolmaster. The play tells the story of a town bribed by an enormously wealthy lady (the“visitor”of the title) to murder her former lover. That, at least, is the surface plot. The real plot is the reenactment by the townspeople of the archetypal ritual sacrifice that is the subject of Sir James Frazer's study of primitive religion, The Golden Bough , and that classical scholars such as Gilbert Murray and F. M. Cornford have found at the root of Greek tragedy. The play thus moves on two levels. On one, it is the story of a judicial murder for money, an indictment of materialism. On the other, it has nothing to do with motives in the conventional sense. It is a play about religious impulses that are independent of the ways people explain them.


Dürrenmatt's Schoolmaster is a key figure because he represents the liberal and rational heritage of Western culture. He is“Headmaster of Guellen College, and lover of the noblest Muse.”He sponsors the town's Youth Club and describes himself as“a humanist, a lover of the ancient Greeks, an admirer of Plato.”He is a true believer in all those liberal and rational values that Western culture has inherited from antiquity.


In keeping with these values, Dürrenmatt's schoolmaster is horrified by the plans of his fellow townspeople, whom he has tried to inspire with visions of nobility, to commit murder. As the climax approaches, however, he crumbles. Not only does he know of the murder plan, he knows he will become a part of it:


I know something else. I shall take part in it. I can feel myself slowly becoming a murderer. My faith in humanity is powerless to stop it.


The Schoolmaster has discovered that the apparently absolute values of “the ancient Greeks…and Plato” have limits. Other values, hidden and irrational, are at least as powerful. Are the latter true and the former nothing more than lovely and venerable fictions?


The Visit brilliantly explores one of the most ancient paradoxes in Western experience, a paradox that appears in the Old Testament in the contrast between the Gentiles who worship graven idols and the Hebrews who worship invisible truth: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth underneath, or that is in the waters under the earth.” The same paradox recurs in the conflict between pagan learning and Christian revelation in the early centuries of the Christian era, and again, in the high Middle Ages, in the debate between Thomistic rationalism, which sees the world as an intelligible and orderly expression of divine reason, and the mysticism of St. Bonaventure's The Mind's Road to God , which sees the world as a delusion and turns from it to suprarational experience. In the seventeenth century the paradox is embodied in the conflict between science and revelation, a conflict that was renewed in the nineteenth century by the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species.


It is still with us. No one could be more devoted to humane values—or more knowledgeable in the field of biology—than Jacques Monod, co-recipient of the 1965 Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology. In a much-admired essay,“On Values in the Age of Science”(1969), Monod proclaimed the end of the Age of Faith:


Modern nations…still teach and preach some more or less modernized version of traditional systems of values, blatantly incompatible with what scientific culture they have. The western, liberal-capitalist countries still pay lip service to a nauseating mixture of Judeo-Christian religiosity, “Natural” Human Rights, pedestrian utilitarianism and XIX Century progressivism…They all lie and they know it. No intelligent and cultivated person, in any of these societies can really believe in the validity of these dogma…



While a great many “intelligent and cultivated persons” undoubtedly agree with Monod, many others do not. Dü-rrenmatt is a case in point. What he shows through his Schoolmaster is that a rational and secular value system of the kind proposed by Monod is delusion that may crumble as soon as it is subjected to stress. Dürrenmatt had good reason to believe his message. The Visit was written in 1956 when memories of the Holocaust were still vivid. Since then, confidence in rational and secular values has continued to decline. In 1979, in what was almost a national paroxism of disgust, the people of Iran rejected Western rationalism and opted for a form of government that looks very much like theocracy. The diatribes of Iran's Mullahs are hardly less passionate than tirades of America's Moral Majority and the sermons of its radio and television evangelists. It is interesting and significant that the American Mullahs consistently identify “secular humanism” as the chief corruption of modern society. In fact, in 1979 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a normally moderate body, felt the pressure sufficiently to include a denunciation of “humanistic secularization” in its proceedings.


While the Schoolmasters of Western society dream of nobility, the Faithful quote the Sermon on the Mount:


No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.



Take therefore no thought of the morrow, for the morrow shall take no thought for the things of itself.



Everyone that heareth these things, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon sand.


The conflict between the graven idols of secular humanism and the invisible realities known only to the saving remnant of the devout is very much alive today. If Dürrenmatt is correct, there is little to be said for humanism. It is an illusion, a fiction, a thin coating of rationalizations covering something awesome and terrifying. The Mullahs have won.


Before abandoning humanism and all its works, however, let us consider it from another angle. For the sake of speculation, let us imagine a humanism that is a way of seeing. The things it sees are human creations or things that have special human significance. This sort of humanism will be interested in the values these things express but not in any particular set of those values.


A humanism that is a way of seeing will be committed describing what it sees. It will seek to fix the condition of the human spirit at a particular place in a particular moment of time in relation to a particular experience, and it will choose its places and times and experiences because they express the condition of the human spirit with particular clarity. They are the evidence concerning the nature of the human spirit that has accumulated throughout history. In other words, they are to humanism what the raw materials of physics, biology, and chemistry are to science.


[Edited at 2004-05-31 15:10]

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Yongmei Liu  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:02
English to Chinese
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英文看得不是太懂,感觉翻得不错 May 30, 2004


The most pathetic:最窝囊者
这里的pathetic 是inviting sympathy, not scorn,所以“令人同情”较妥

极为富有的妇人 何如?

judicial murder :以合法手段

he represents the liberal and rational heritage of Western culture/他是自由地、理性地传承西方文化的象征

In keeping with these values:就在恪守这些价值观的当儿

Dürrenmatt's schoolmaster is horrified by the plans of his fellow townspeople:不禁惶惶不可终日
horrified=repulsed 感到极度震惊、厌恶 not frightened

paradox: 悖论
paradox=contradition, antagonism 似乎可用“矛盾”“对抗”

Dürrenmatt had good reason to believe his message.杜仑马特实在有理由相信自己这样启发人是对的。

Moral Majority 美国道德多数会

Sermon on the Mount:虔诚的信徒们却在山上摘下如下训言
《登山宝训》,马太福音五章到七章 see

the mysticism of St. Bonaventure's The Mind's Road to God , which sees the world as a delusion and turns from it to suprarational experience: 圣•波拿文都拉的《朝圣之路》的神秘主义...视世界为幻象又由幻象化作超理性的体验
turns from it to suprarational experience: turns away from it and turns to suprarational experience

The last 2 paragraphs are very difficult for me to understand, but:

It will seek to fix the condition of the human spirit at a particular place in a particular moment of time in relation to a particular experience, and it will choose its places and times and experiences because they express the condition of the human spirit with particular clarity. 它必定会在与某一特定经历相关的特定地点、特定时刻,想方设法去修整人文精神的状态,所选之地点、时间、经历,必定缘于它们能特别清楚地表达人文精神的状态。
Here "fix" does not mean "修整", rather it means "place ... at a particular time or place" cf: "LA County Surgeon fixed the time of death at between 5 and 8 am on Sunday morning..."

Thoroughly enjoyable nevetheless. Merci beaucoup (pardon my french)

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Yongmei Liu  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:02
English to Chinese
+ ...
pagan learning 可以理解为世俗的知识, 即科学 May 30, 2004

as opposed to religious learning/revelation 宗教的知识

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