Temporal Language Barrier

One thing which I find quite sad, is that nobody is in the optimal position to enjoy all of the great works of literature created throughout history. Obviously there’s the fact that literature will continue to be created for as long as there are people, so nobody will be able to consume it all, but it’s also the fact that all languages are in constant flux (and so is culture) so something which may have been entirely relatable two hundred years ago, might be a completely different experience today.

One example is Jude the Obscure – a book by Thomas Hardy which I absolutely love. This was written in 1895 and the world was a very different place back then. How many little references, phrases and sayings will I not understand, due to the fact that I do not live in that time? And if I understand them, will I be able to empathise with them quite as much, with my understanding being purely academic? If I could relate to the speech mannerisms (and so forth) as things which I encountered regularly in my day to day life, perhaps I would find this novel even more impactful! This is especially true of older pieces, where things are written in such a way that you literally need to have annotations in order to understand them.

And it’s things like this which, for me, make the idea of objectively valuing art rather silly – different works mean different things to different people at different times. Some will stand the test of time better than others, but really, the era in which you were born will have an enormous sway on how you value a piece of art. This temporal language barrier is something which can never be truly avoided and it extends beyond mere language too: three hundred years ago, somebody making the case that slavery is immoral might sound absolutely profound – today we can appreciate it as forward thinking for its time, but we can never understand how it would have felt to consume those words originally. It just goes to show how limited our perspective as mere readers truly is.

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