Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Aristotle's (sub)Text for the Bible Writers' (pre)Text

To get some idea of what the New Testament (NT) writers are up to it’s helpful to see a little of what the Septuagint (or LXX) translators are up to first. Part 1 “Icky-ness: (womanly) Word Play in Bible Translation” attempted some of that. Part 2 begins like this: “The canon of the NT is an elite collection of elistists’ texts.”

In translation and in writing there are texts. But translators and interpreters of the Bible today often neglect contexts

and subtexts

and metatexts (the earliest of back-referencing hypertexts)

and pretexts.

And there are stereotexts (that enact 2-way interpretations on the spot, with a reinterpretation of the reader / listener).

Kenneth Pike enacts such in his monolingual demonstrations (as etic observer, not coldly observing but subjectively being affected by his inter-actions with the emic observed, equally affected by the transforming experience). Mikhail Epstein (who coins stereotexting) calls this interlation. Missionary kids (like me and my siblings and “cousins”) live with interlation. MKs live without choice among peoples of at least two cultures, and MKs live without any effort at all in mastering two languages at least. MKs live with hints of what’s at stake on both sides for the rhetorical adult choosers of cultures and languages and texts. In the simultaneous translation of a sermon, for instance, the preacher and the interpreter are up to things! Bilingual listeners (like the MKs) get the issue. Call it literal or dynamic equivalence or something else too. What really is most interesting, and most dangerous perhaps, is how adults in the act of translation or in the inevitable practice of interpretation insist on “text” alone, by pretending that pretext, subtext, metatext, and context are lesser if important at all. (The stereotexting deconstructs this pretense. And the deconstruction of the "text-is-everything" pretense transforms – or translates -- the speaker, the listener, the reader, the writer, the translator, or the interpreter).

My own issue (I’ll confess here) is the question (generally) about what goes into the preferences and processes and products of “better translation.” It’s writers and translators (people) who are the fly in the ointment or those who make the ointment fly. That makes this rather personal for me. I’m going to project and say that this makes it personal for each one of us. Immediately and specifically my rhetorical situation is this: we (the people who make up the cultures I live in now) are not so eager to confess how we look to texts alone to justify our theologies and / or biologies and, consequently, our behaviors. I could tell you story after story of how, by canonized texts of religion or science, people determine inequalities among the sexes and among people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. Let me just say for now that I have four close friends whose respective marriages, as I write, are in deep and deeper crisis largely as a result of the belief of both the husbands and the wives that the Bible (in English translation appropriated into a post-Christian U.S. evangelical context) is saying to them each one how the woman is to be under the man. Some people (online) are talking all about this translation-and-interpretation question rather universally, so I’ll give us a meta-textual link back to that through Metacatholic’s (aka Doug’s) recent post.

Circling back specifically to NT writers and LXX translators, though, I’d suggest we also read five works on language-and-culture appropriations: Sylvie Honigman’s The Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria: A Study in the Narrative of the Letter of Aristeas; Lydia He Liu’s Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937; Kathleen E. Welch’s The Contemporary Reception of Classical Rhetoric: Appropriations of Ancient Discourse; William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis; and Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance.

In addition, I’d recommend that we find our way (at least once) through the entirety of the LXX and the NT (and maybe through some Homer and Aristotle) before reading another English word of my post here.

When we’re ready (when we think we’re ready), here’s the link to Part 2 on More Icky-ness: (womanly) Word Play in New Testament Writing.

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