Thursday, January 16, 2003

what TV can teach you: darmok and jalad at tanagra

I have never heard about Gilgamesh before. Well, at least not till I met a colleague at work who had a machine with that name. Since another machine at the workplace was named for something out of H P Lovecraft, I filed Gilgamesh away as another example. On November 01, 2002 last year, television made sure I realised the error of my ways. TNN was running a Friday special bill of Start Trek: TNG reruns and the last episode they had was one I hadn't seen before, called Darmok. This one has the Enterprise in the El'A'Dral system meeting the Tamarians, a peaceful race with a language described as incomprehensible in past encounters. The Tamarian language uses the same words as English (predictably) but conversation is effected using metaphors from legend. As both sides try to communicate, the Tamarians beam Captain Picard onto the surface of the planet below, along with their captain. Forced to communicate under adverse circumstances, Picard manages to make a connection by using the Epic of Gilgamesh. This dates from the third millennium B.C., making it the oldest epic poem in world literature. As it turns out, the Tamarian captain sacrifices his life for the rather noble purpose of establishing communication with the other (our) race. This is a moving gesture indeed. But the best parts of the episode are the moments when the two captains attempt to get through to each other, using metaphors from their respective mythologies. And I got a free lesson in literature. Temba, at rest.
{more about Darmok} | {episode braindump} | {Discursive Dictionary} | {the Darmok Dictionary}

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