Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

On the art work Closely Observed Trains

On the art work Closely Observed Trains

Seldom do artists wish to write about their work, or about a particular work. Even less do they have anything intelligent to say about the work or their work. By far and away the majority of art works do not need words. Artists work visually. If works needed words, they would be writers not visual artists in whatever form. To the greatest extent possible, words are redundant. That is why the vast majority of art books which are devoted to the analysis and discussion of what art works are about, are junk. They don’t make sense. Very few art critics, very few, can write about art. The fingers on one hand are too may to list the number of writers who could and can write about art. And this comment applies from the time of antiquity, meaning the Greeks, who started all this stuff up to the present.

In the case of Closely Observed Trains, what is said above is contradicted because, in discussing the work, there is no risk of spoiling the integrity of the work. There is no danger of devaluing its merit.

And here’s why.

Two aspects: the phrase itself “Closely Observed Trains”and the words “observed” and “watched.” Notice I said, phrase.

The phrase, “Closely Observed Trains” has a resonance for me that is apart. or. in addition to. the genious of Jiri Menzel’s film or the wonders of Hbabral’s original text. The writer is one whose work I deeply admire and “Closely Watched Trains,” its title in English, is only one of a whole set of beautiful writings, each inimicable in its own way. There is little wonder that the author is so admired within Check culture, a culture which is not short of good, and great, writers.

Few English readers will know this for the obvious reason that few bother to read translated fiction. ‘Nough said on that.

The phrase in question has a resonance with me, for me, that is truly hard to convey, even to myself. Why should the title of the film, not necessarily accurately translated into English, stick in my mind? The simple answer is the word “observed.” As with the companion work, “The Look,” there is a preoccupation within this artist of the act of looking. And, finally, the power of the eyes. And the peculiar strength that emanates from them. Let no physics spoil the fun.

The use of the word “observed” versus the word “watched” can lead to endless discussion. depending on your taste. Though, mercifully, not here you will be relefved to know.

The connotations of the verb “to watch” are lost in English over the power and weight of the word in Check or indeed in any country where dictators have held sway. In English “to watch” is benigm} there is little or no menace.

Now there will be those among you who disagree, maybe even vehmently, with me over what I have to say, but within a limited space, we cannot cover the earth.

The word “observed” has a sublity in English that “watch” does not have. “Watch, at the end of the day, in English, is passive and is not direct, confrontational act that Continentals know in the languages of the ex-Nazi conquered territorities. “Observed” in English, is quite different. “Observed” suggests being watched unseen. This is arguably more menacing than being “watched.” Now, notice, I did not say, life threatening.

And here is the core of the argument. The English do not have the experience of Nazis or Junta members, of whatever flavour, standing on railway platforms. But, more even than that, this act, this behaviour is not the English way. Not to say that the English cannot be menacing. Anyone who knows a smidgeon of English Colonial history. Anyone who had the joy and pleasure of serving under which ever queen ruled at the time, knows how the English can be. And it can be pretty frightening. The English specialise by chilling those in their presense.

With “watched” you are aware. With “observed,” you may not be.

Monday 13 August, 2018


Filed under: art, Arts, Current Events, Media, Music, poetry, songs, stories

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