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CELTIC-L  February 2008

CELTIC-L February 2008

Subject:

Re: More on Celtic A & B

From:

John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Fri, 29 Feb 2008 11:05:35 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (80 lines)

Hi James,

> But then what are we left with to determine modern 'Celticity'? In my
> opinion language is the clearest mark of culture, ethnicity or what
> have you. With each language comes a particular way of thinking that
> is difficult to classify, but - it seems to me - manifests in that
> particular culture's impact on history (here I suggest my
> disagreement with the idea that 'Caesar and History' interrupted some
> sort of natural Celtic existence - perhaps a further point of
> discussion?). I would be very interested in discussing how to
> ascertain this elusive character of each language - my first
> impression of Gaelic and Latin is that the former excels in systems
> of independent, aesthetic association - leading to a culture of
> scholarship and poetry but schismatic and violent politics - while
> the latter excels in conceptual organization - leading to social
> unity and logistical achievement (empire and architecture).

When I had my idea of Celtic A & B, I felt that there could be no other basis for
Celtic A than language. It is the only common stratum that can be found wherever one
decides to look. Having said that, I think that there is more to it than the exact
vocabulary and grammar of the language. What first led to me to wondering about this
was a line from the Dylan Thomas poem "In the white Giant's thigh". I gave this
before but in case you missed it here it is again:

And heard the lewd, wooed field flow to the coming frost

There are other such fragments in Thomas' poetry that exhibit a similar structure
and they all reminded me of the structures that can be found in La Tène art. In
particular, one of the Bann scabbards I thought to be a very string parallel. I
discussed these things nearly eight years ago on this list:

http://tinyurl.com/37g57y

If my perception of Thomas' poetry is correct, then it remains to be answered how
this comes to be expressed in English. Did Thomas study early Welsh poetry, in
Welsh, and then translate the structure into English? I can find no evidence for
this and Thomas was raised in a house where Welsh was forbidden to be spoken. It is
possible that one of his many associates (who were other poets, artists and
musicians) gave him the needed information -- and this could have been as slight as
a couple of very pointed sentences. The only clue I have been able to find is a
comment by his boyhood friend Charlie Fisher who said that when Thomas was Grammar
school he used "to enjoy verbal games with other youngsters, taking a delight in the
sound of nonsense words and phrases he had invented." He certainly included Celtic
imagery into his poetry, but so did Yeats -- without using similar structures to
Thomas. Perhaps it was because Welsh had been forbidden that he developed this style
as a compensation as he thought of himself as very Welsh and claimed that he could
not write poetry outside of Wales.

The part of Charlie Fisher's clue that I think is most important is the word
"sound". As a poet, Thomas would have paid close attention to what he heard and even
if Welsh was not being spoken around him, the accents, intonations, stresses, and
figures of speech would have survived the translation from Welsh to English to a
very great degree.

Now, the Bann scabbard is part of the evidence I give for the existence of Celtic B.
The problem here is that the people who created such masterpieces of La Tène art and
who used these compositional structures that can be seen in early Welsh poetry and
in the much later English language poetry of Dylan Thomas did speak a Celtic
language, but not much earlier were producing decorative art forms that lacked this
structure completely. Hallstatt decoration is repetitive without variation and
"colour".

One of the characteristics of any art style is that it can often become "tired" from
a long period of use. You see this in Greek art after the classical period -- it
just deteriorates. The face of a god that once displays a quiet and aloof dignity,
eventually devolves into a face with a vacuous stare, a mere caricature of what went
before. Good art is the expression of good ideas that are new, vibrant and
"different". After the decline of Greek Classical art, a new "movement" arose which
emphasized the individual -- Hellenistic art, and eventually this, too, declined
when the ideas began to dry up and repetition ruled.

It seems to me that a paradigm shift or even a renaissance of some sort is always
needed in order to bring the very nature of language to the creative foreground.

Cheers,

John

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