Monday, February 11, 2008

Translation: 6 or 7 "Logical" Cases


“I’ve never written a prologue before, but near as I can tell this is where an author explains a book’s shortcomings and asks the reader’s kindness,” so starts Donald Miller in his latest book, his public “reflections on growing up without a father.”

Please understand. I myself have never written a prologue (much less authored a book, although some of you have noticed my blog posts are often book length, and you may think I’m working for some record). So (unoriginally), I just want to ask anyone who reads on to show a little kindness. (My own father, who grew up without a father, just read Miller’s book and passed it on to me. Patriarchy does try to make up for its gaps.)

Now, I’m asking for your kindnesses. (Feel free to read some, all, or none of this. Feel free to object to any of it).

Special kindnesses are requested from those of you who read the Bible as God the Father’s authored word.

Special kindnesses are asked of all of you who could care less about rhetoric and would much more rather practice logic without caring so much, necessarily, about reflections on either rhetoric or logic.

Special kindnesses, please, from women.

You all may be reading this because, really, I’m aiming this equally at both you men and you women.

Two more things: First, Miller vs me. Donald Miller puts his more original, his more logical, his absolutely “male” apology this way. Hear Miller (also as a fatherless not-just-logical but-also personal-experiential writer); he writes:

“I also want to say something to the women who will attempt this book. I am delighted you have chosen to join us, and you are more than welcome, though you must kindly accept my apology for aiming the text at less agreeable creatures. It is not that I think women are less affected by the absense of a father, only that I have relied on personal experience. I think we would all agree inking a stroke toward the feminine would have been a financial move rather than a personal exploration of the issue. I might have sold more books but it would have exposed the fact I know nothing about women, save their lovely smell. So, the decision to target a male audience will explain the simple vocabulary, short chapters, and bathroom humor. I only hope when you come across the latter, you will be honored to remember I would never have been so offensive if I’d known you were in the room.” (pages 11-12)

“In the absence of a real father, . . . My first father was a black man [and Miller leaves us to assume he’s white] . . . . My mom was great, don’t get me wrong, but the only guests we ever had at our house were from the singles group at church, and none of them ever whipped out a trombone to play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ or tap-danced in the living room or recited a piece of epic prose about the underground railroad on which ‘our people’ had traversed from oppression and slavery to freedom. Our guests, rather, ate meatballs on paper plates and talked bitterly about their ex-husbands [and Miller leaves us to assume he himself doesn’t mind eating meatballs].” (pages 13-14)

Second, me vs. Miller. Today, I’m writing about Father Aristotle again. the surrogate father for far too many of us. for too many of us, that is, who would give more favor to the original text by the author than to a translator’s translation. Or to give more favor to logic than to rhetoric. Or to males than to females. Read on, please, only if you’ll attempt kindness.

Translation: 6 or 7 Logical Cases

Depending on whether we think of Donald Miller as doing anything whatsoever around “translation,” this series of blog posts reviews 6 or 7 “logical” cases of translation. The other six are these:

I. Aristotle;

II. The inquisitors of Joan of Arc;

III. The representers of Sojourner Truth;

IV. Alan Lightman (the science writer who’s a novel writer);

V. David Ker, Richard A. Rhodes, and Wayne Leman (a trio of linguists who are Bible translation guides);

VI. George A. Kennedy (the rhetorician who’s a translator of Aristotle’s Rhetoric)

Now, just to be clear, here’s my thesis statement. Here’s the scientific hypothesis to test by the cases. Here’s the resolution for debate, and I’m arguing the affirmative:

For translation, we should be suspicious of those who resort to rationalism without any willingness for their method to be unmasked as masculine-logic.

Attempts at translation by objective logic betray an elitist and masculinist project. Despite their intentions, men or women by their rationalism do not easily suppress feminine discourse. (Another way to say that is this: translators can’t get around subjectivities and must pretend pure objectivity in their attempts at it.) This is not the same thing as a man who would easily suppress a woman’s voice because she’s female (although the two kinds of suppressions might be inseparable in method and in goal).

Ready for case “number I”? Here it is.

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