The movie “Lost in translation” pits Bill Murray against Scarlett Johansson, as two lost souls in Japan, struggling with translation into a foreign language.
The film has been criticised for orientalist attitudes to Japanese culture, but the country really functions as a backdrop for the premise of the picture.
This is to plumb the depths of human estrangement and isolation, the difficulties of translation into anyone’s personal experience.
Paradoxically, the hurdle of a foreign language proves to be a window for eventual understanding; untranslatability points to the necessity for translation. In profound opposition to Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous pedestrian evocation of ‘unknown unknowns’, we are invited from the merely unknown to explore the regions of the unknowable.
Confronted with the unfathomable we are enticed through a doorway of mystery into an endless adventure.
Rather than simply a failure to understand, this implies a structural limitation in the nature of reality, that it always intends and portends the ‘something more’.
If we thus experience a nostalgia in the heart of our psyche, it may not be for the past, but for the future. Incongruously, we may then miss what we have never had.
Therapy can therefore never uncover this trauma because it is founded not on what was, but what will be, or may be – on possibility.
A set of sculptures has been created by the artist, Mark Quinn, based on his own and his wife’s bodies in repeated embraces.
Fascinated with the “idea of the fragment”, he writes: “The museum is an unfinished total artwork”. Intuited by his creativity is the insight that life also is unfinished, incomplete.
I saw his pieces in Sir John Soanes’ house in London. Soanes himself was a collector of ephemera, historical relics and plaster casts. Arranged in his basement without regard for periodisation, his collection is a mad juxtaposition of exuberance and superabundance: maximalism not minimalism.
Implicitly challenging our contemporary concentration on design simplicity, his psycho-spiritual orientation helped the emergence of the Gothic in nineteenth century England.
Quinn’s cutesy imperfection of the fragment could, however, express merely a stereotyped clichéd postmodern trope.
In contrast, however, we could accept the challenge to pursue completion; the longing, yearning for fulfilment, of vision, pushing us forwards.
Dreams are thus goal-oriented, teleological. If not, then our very lives would be absurd: a desire for closure, which could never be achieved.
We aspire to be fully clothed, to be fully known even as we are fully known. This fullness is an integral aspiration of our earthly experience. To suggest that our experiences require a fulfilment beyond themselves does not, however, imply a devaluation of quotidian happenings.
On the contrary, their very insufficiency reveals their status as signs, pointers toward the possibility of ultimate meaning.
They are what philosopher, Jean Luc Marion, calls “saturated phenomena”; human cultural constructs that point beyond themselves for their final actualisation.
Some events are so full, overflowing with content that they cannot but lead us on to the transcendent they participate in; untranslatability necessitating translation.