Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Translation: "Logical" Case III

III. The Representers of Sojourner Truth
Let’s let translator Karlyn Kohrs Campbell lay out some evidence.
Last post I sort of promised that this post would start how it has started. Did that startle you? Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, a translator? Let’s do label correctly please. Especially women. And she is a woman, right? And not a translator, right? At least at wikipedia today she “is” labelled this way: she “is an American academic specializing in women’s studies at the University of Minnesota.” Now, I’m not disputing the correctness or incorrectness of this label. And I’m not making anything of the point Professor Kohrs Campbell made Friday in response to a question someone asked her: “After fifty years of teaching, what can you tell us about students, and about what you’ve learned the most about teaching.” (At this point, in reply, Kohrs Campbell said she loved all students, and struggles to generalize anything common about any of them, and recalls a favorite teaching post in the Bronx where the most supposedly unlikely students were most curious and taught Kohrs Campbell many things about students—which we inferred to include that fact that students even break our stereotypes about students. Anyway, she added that wikipedia has its limits as a research tool—which I say is no small point coming from such a researcher as Kohrs Campbell.) My point about labels (correct or incorrect) is that they are not sufficient research tools. But that’s not an original point with me either. Listen!

Kohrs Campbell’s research has helped us listen to many (women) who we’d otherwise never even label.

A bit of that research includes the following article:

“Agency: Promiscuous and Protean,” Communication and Cultural/Critical Studies, 2 (March 2005): 1-18. NCA Golden Anniversary Monograph Award, 2006.

Is it an article related to “women in communication”? Yes. To “rhetorical theory and criticism”? Yes. To “presidential rhetoric”? Yes. To “political campaigns”? Yes.

Does it have anything to do with “translation”? Why are you asking me? Let’s do some research. Listen. Read. Let’s wean ourselves away from wikipedia just for a bit.

“Whatever else it may be,” Kohrs Campbell writes (on page 3), “rhetorical agency refers to the capacity to act, that is, to have the competence to speak or write in a way that will be recognized or heeded by others in one’s community.” She’s opened with the Presidents again (with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) and their speech writers, and has mentioned her early research “in which [she] attempted to show how a rhetorical theory could be derived from works in which rhetoric and rhetorical theory were not mentioned,” noting then the contemporary “struggle to produce rejoinders to claims about the ‘death of the author’ by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, among others, and to retain a sense of agency that makes sense in rhetorical terms.” She goes on to say some of the things Socrates says and Themistocles illustrates. And what Michelle Ballif “offers” as a “powerful critique of this kind of communal agency, particularly in its links to patriarchy and gendered binaries”; and she gives us some of “Judith Butler’s words.” And more. Much more.

After four propositions, and in her “fifth,” she has us listen more. This time it’s Sojourner Truth and her famous speech “A’n’t (or aren’t) I a woman?”. Listen: “Well, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin’ out o’ kilter. I tink dat ‘twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin’ ‘bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all dis here talkin’ ‘bout?”

Except we find out that that really isn’t the original “text” of Sojourner Truth. It’s the original text of Frances Dana Barker Gage. And, nonetheless, “the arguments, evidence, and metaphors that it includes are supported by contemporaneous newspaper accounts that constitute the fragmentary text that Truth ‘authored’ and that attest to her rhetorical skill.”

But can that really be the “text that Truth ‘authored’” if Truth’s “words appear in the argot of blackface minstrel shows” of Gage? And is this really Gage’s text or technique anyway? Isn’t her transposition really an unoriginal page from the originally authored “racist caricatures of writers such as Thomas Dixon and Thomas Nelson Page”?

Now Kohrs Campbell confesses translation: “When the text of Gage’s version of Truth’s speech was published in Man Cannot Speak For Her, I removed the dialect that smothers the speech with racist stereotypes.”

Kohrs Campbell continues: “I now believe that it was wrong to do so, although it could not and should not have been published as originally written without the kind of analysis done here. But agency is perverse: the stereotypes that gave rise to penning the speech in this demeaning argot ironically give the text special force. Admittedly, as Truth herself illustrates, not all former slaves spoke in such language, but the women she most represented, the experiences and history she most embodied, are rendered more perfectly in language that expresses so painfully the terrible costs of slavery—the loss of literacy, the loss of education, the loss of access to public dialogue that, even when overcome, is constrained by being rendered in language that ridicules and demeans.”

(A) Thomas Dixon and Thomas Nelson Page can’t get around the ironic power of ridiculing and demeaning translated racism to render more perfectly the original.
(B) Thomas Dixon and Thomas Nelson Page can’t get around the feminine discourse of either Frances Dana Barker Gage or Sojourner Truth.
(C) We can’t get around the positive influence of Frances Dana Barker Gage and Sojourner Truth and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell on men and women.


Ready for Case IV? It's linked here.

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