This post won’t cover old ground on George A. Kennedy’s most recent translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. In a post called “eavesdroppings,” I’ve already discussed who the aimed-for audiences are (both for Aristotle’s treatise and for Kennedy’s translation of it).
But I’m bringing up again the fact that Kennedy explicitly identifies four particular audiences for his translation. I’m bringing that up again just to relay one thing that Brad McAdon writes in a scathing review: “What is noteworthy about this taxonomy of [four] audiences is that Kennedy does not explicitly situate himself with any one of these particular groups or offer his hermeneutical or methodological approach to the text.” (Rhetoric Review, 2007, Vol. 26, No. 3, page 342). Now, to be fair to Kennedy, McAdon does not explicity situate himself anywhere either. We know he’s the reviewer and guess he’s a rhetoric scholar, (and if you read his review, you understand exactly McAdon’s various gripes with Kennedy’s second edition of the translation); but we have no certainty of McAdon’s own expertise much less his “hermeneutical or methodological approach to the text.” I google. Find his web page. And see that McAdon himself “is now working on a translation and commentary of Aristotle's Rhetoric.” He’s listed the titles of several of his publications, all on topics of classical rhetoric and most of those on Aristotle’s. He’s a teacher of various courses in communication, composition, writing, rhetoric, and theory, and holds the positions of Assistant Professor and of Coordinator of Professional Writing in the English department of a
The big point I want to make is that both Kennedy and McAdon are playing Aristotle’s game. In other words, they’re pretending objectivity. They can and do observe subjects in nature coldly. They can and do employ the “either / or” binary to develop taxonomies. And they can and do find themselves above every subject, even the human subjects, put down on their hierarchical epistemological map.
What else would you do, in the academy, as scholars, and experts, who know their stuff? Do we really have to navel gaze? Do we really have to explicitly situate ourselves everytime we want to say something about nature and truth (when fantasy and falsehood seem to rule the day)? And what does any of that have to do with translation anyway?
Thanks for asking! Such good questions!
In reality, one of Kennedy’s colleagues outed him. And so I say that if McAdon hadn’t been so busy trying to throw up every ugly thing he could find as a bad revision in Kennedy’s translation (when the latter is in the twightlight of a bright and stellar career while the former is merely beginning to pledge to translate the Rhetoric), then McAdon might have known the self-identity Kennedy had embraced. In 1992, at the Biennial Conference of the Rhetoric Society of America in St. Paul, Minnesota (while the citizens of the United States were listening to the rhetoric of the presidential candidates), Thomas B. Farrell of Northwestern made these comments about Kennedy and his then-new translation:
May I begin by agreeing entirely with my colleague Michael Leff’s assessment of this work, that “it is virtually certain to supercede all previous translations and to remain the standard version for years to come.” [This is a prediction that remains true a decade and a half later]. Where the defiant text of the Rhetoric is concerned, it has usually been the Classicists who are best equipped to wrestle with the nuances of etymology and shades of meaning. However, these are persons usually least inclined toward the discussion of larger issues raised by this text. Philosophers, more attuned to larger concerns about practical reason, action, conviction, and value, are often least intersted in finer points about the meaning of this text, or even the text itself. This leaves rhetoricians, often ill-equipped in matters of Greek grammar and etymology, not terribly interested in issues such as the above, while bound by derived wisdom on both. Add to this the observations by Richard McKeon that most previous translators of the Aristotelian corpus have been Platonists and we get an inkling of the difficulties confronting those whose theory has been based on the Rhetoric. Kennedy brings to this text a familiarity with the larger issues confronting any serious student of this work. And yet his ultimate responsibility, as translator, is not to the sweep of issues, but to the range and fidelity and freedom afforded by Rhetoric’s original Greek language. Finally, on the strength of his recent essay in Philosophy and Rhetoric, there is obviously little danger of creeping Platonism in Professor Kennedy’s translation. In the aforementioned essay, he even suggests that there is a rhetoric of plants. And of course, a simple glance at the Presidential primaries will confirm the wisdom of this institution. So I can safely aver that Professor Kennedy is not a Platonist. I mean this to be a compliment. All of these strengths (of the philosopher, classicist, and rhetorician) show themselves in the way Kennedy’s translation presents Aristotle’s “philosophical” rhetoric to the student of rhetorical theory. (page 237 of the proceedings)
To sum up: Kennedy’s no Platonist (in contrast to previous, and therefore weaker, translators of the Rhetoric). And to that, Kennedy confesses:
. . . Our friends the philosophers have begun to take more note of the Rhetoric in their study of Aristotle, not out of a willingness to approach philosophy as a rhetorical discourse but in apparent hopes of weaving material from the Rhetoric more tightly into the network of Aristotle’s philosophy. All too many students of Aristotle are, in their hearts, Platonists. I am not only content, but delighted, when Professor Farrell proclaims that I am not a Platonist. Not everyone has noticed. . .
But suppose Aristotle had, as Plato did, explored the philosophical issues of rhetoric and inserted some such discussion into the text [of the Rhetoric]. We can reconstruct, either in his language or in postmodern language, what he might have said about political and ethical functions of rhetoric. If he had done so, I would suggest, some of us at least would now be engaged in deconstructing his remarks along the lines of Derrida’s deconstruction of Plato’s Phaedrus. That is to say, we would be exploring the slippages between a logocentrist position that gives some fundamental moral meaning to rhetoric in society and what Aristotle actually does in the text [of the Rhetoric] as a whole. Virtually every category and strategy discussed can be used for opposed moral purposes, and the only criterion we are offered is the parenthetical remark that we should not seek to persuade what is “base.” It is perhaps not too much to say that the central problem with the Rhetoric for those who approach it philosophically is that it comes to us already “deconstructed,” filled with différance, supplements, and “traces.” Ethical meaning is constantly differed, and key terms such as topos constantly repeat themselves both as the same and as different. . . .
My suggestion to the philosophers. . . is that instead of reading the Rhetoric as a work of philosophy they should try reading Aristotle’s major treatises on other subjects as rhetorical constructs. They might, for example, begin to observe the system of imagery prevailing in the Nicomachean Ethics, which is filled with teleological, emotionally based metaphors. What appear on the surface to be rational arguments are at the most usually enthymemes, not syllogisms, and their persuasive quality is often derived from ethos and pathos. They should explore also the concept of audience in each of the treatises, seen for example in the patterns in which Aristotle shifts from use of the first person singular to the first person plural. (pages 244-46 of the proceedings)
To sum up that: Kennedy says he’s no Platonist.
Enthymematically (not syllogistically), Kennedy also argues that too many of Aristotle’s students shouldn’t be the Platonists that they are. The bigger argument that we should follow is Kennedy’s contention that Plato’s student Aristotle is no Platonist. He’s not even syllogistically Aristotlelian. No, Aristotle’s already slipping from his “logocentric position” into what he’s “actually do[ing] in the text [of the Rhetoric] as a whole.” If Aristotle the rhetorician had even pretended to be Aristotle the philosopher, then he would have self-deconstructed long ago.
A very interesting perspective Professor Kennedy the rhetorician!
Are you going to be Professor Kennedy the rhetorical translator?
Might you even be Professor Kennedy the feminist rhetorical translator (admitting that that “a logocentrist position” is rather phallologocentric and downright sexist)?
Or will we find you, in the end, to be Professor Kennedy the Aristotelian philosopher (defining and classifying the nature of such subjects as “the Platonist” and even better “not the Platonist” and even better than all of that NOT a learner NOT a barbarian NOT a translator NOT ever a woman)?
Of course, there’s always hope. Perhaps Aristotle can listen (as Pericles and Socrates seem to have listened to Aspasia). Perhaps rhetoric (and even the Rhetoric) is a refreshing run from Plato and from Platonism and even from Aristotelian philosophy. Perhaps Aristotle hears Sappho and Eros and her appropriations of him. (“RhEros,” I hear Scooby Doo saying in Greek). Perhaps Professor Kennedy will translate that into English.
Here’s the Promise from Professor Kennedy:
Two features of my translation may be worth pointing out in advance. A major doctrine of On Rhetoric [Kennedy’s name for Aristotle’s treatise] is the use of the enthymeme, or rhetorical syllogism. In Aristotle’s own writing enthymemes often take the form of a statement followed by a clause introduced by the Greek particle gar, which gives a supporting reason. These occur on every page but are often obscured by other translators. I have kept them, using a semicolon and the English particle “for” as a way of drawing the attention of the reader and making the device familiar.
A second feature is the avoidance of some of the sexist language seen in older translations, which often speak of “men” when Aristotle uses a more general plural. I have used man or men only in those few instances in which the word anthrōpos or anēr appears in the Greek; otherwise I use someone, people, or they. On the other hand, to alter Aristotle’s many uses of he, his, or him in reference to speakers or members of a Greek assembly or jury would be unhistorical and would involve an actual change to the text. Aristotle usually envisions only males as speaking in public, but he clearly did not think that rhetoric was a phenomenon limited to males, for he draws examples of rhetoric from Sappho (a woman poet of the early sixth century B.C.E.) and fom female characters in epic and drama. In 1.5.6 he remaks that “happiness” is only half present in states where the condition of woman is poor.
(Greek nouns have grammatical gende, and as a result of the conventions of Greek word formation most rhetorical terms in Greek are feminine, as the glossary at the end of this volume reveals. The Greek words for city, political assembly, and law court are also feminine. It is not clear, however, whether the ancient [male?] Greeks were conscious of rhetoric as operating in feminine space.) (page xii of the translation’s Prooemion)
So we have to ask, does Professor Kennedy’s translation deliver what is pledged? Before we answer, we quickly say this: that promise doen’t matter at all. Our thesis is that neither Kennedy nor Aristotle gets around (A) translation or around (B) feminine discourse or around (C) the positive influence of women on men (despite Kennedy’s or Aristotle’s spoken or unspoken intentions to do so or not).
We do sadly say that Kennedy’s translation is inconsistent with regard to its intended “features.” There’s inconsistency wiith regard to that “second feature,” which is “the avoidance of some of the sexist language seen in older translations.” For instance, Aristotle writes this:
 καὶ ἐφ' ὅσοις τὰ ἀ̂θλα τιμή, καλά . καὶ ἐφ' ὅσοις τιμὴ μα̂λλον ἢ χρήματα. καὶ ὅσα μὴ αὑτου̂ ἕνεκα πράττει τις τω̂ν αἱρετω̂ν,  καὶ τὰ ἁπλω̂ς ἀγαθά , ὅσα τε ὑπὲρ πατρίδος τις ἐποίησεν παριδὼν τὸ αὑτου̂, καὶ τὰ τῃ̂ φύσει ἀγαθά , καὶ ἃ μὴ αὐτῳ̂ ἀγαθά: αὑτου̂ γὰρ ἕνεκα τὰ τοιαυ̂τα.  καὶ ὅσα τεθνεω̂τι ἐνδέχεται ὑπάρχειν μα̂λλον ἢ ζω̂ντι: τὸ γὰρ αὑτου̂ ἕνεκα μα̂λλον ἔχει τὰ ζω̂ντι.  καὶ ὅσα ἔργα τω̂ν ἄλλων ἕνεκα: ἡ̂ττον γὰρ αὑτου̂. καὶ ὅσαι εὐπραγίαι περὶ ἄλλους ἀλλὰ μὴ περὶ αὑτόν, καὶ περὶ τοὺς εὐ̂ ποιήσαντας: δίκαιον γάρ. καὶ τὰ εὐεργετήματα : οὐ γὰρ εἰς αὑτόν.
But Kennedy translates that this way, adding initial bracketed words to supply clarity, but also adding the genderless “someone” and “person” and “others” and “self” and “oneself” all of which contradict Kennedy’s intentions on the singular masculine words, his “his” (all of which I’ve bolded here to emphasize as male-gendered English pronouns with no good antecedents in the translation):
 [The following things are all honorable] things for which the rewards are a kala, especially those that bring honor rather than money; and whatever someone has done not for his own sake;  and things absolutely good and whatever someone has been done for his country, overlooking his own interest; and things good by nature and that are benefits to him, for such things are done for their own sake;  and whatever can belong to a person when dead more than when alive (for what belongs to a person in his lifetime has more the quality of being to his own advantage);  and whatever works are done for the sake of others (for they have less of the self); and good deeds done for others but not for the self and acts of kindness (for they are not directed to oneself);
So we might read Aristotle here and conclude he’s ambigously writing about men only or more inclusively about people, men and women. But we read Kennedy, and at first we think Aristotle is writing generically about women and men, and then it’s clear he’s referring to men only, and then it’s not clear again. A feminist translation would insist on the ambiguity in the English translation, or at least consistent reference to men only, if the writer’s made either clear in the text.
Now, with respect to the first of the two “features” of Kennedy’s translation, there are also problems. These problems center around (1) Kennedy’s precise understanding of “enthymeme” whether he applies that as he promises or not; and (2) Aristotle’s inadvertant, rhetorical, feministic indetermination of this frequent and central term, and other keys terms including what we transliterate “rhetoric.” On (1) I’m just going to refer interested readers to research I’ve done on the imprecision of “enthymeme” and the problem of making this a technical term; see the little essay linked called “heart,” which is my translation of what’s been transliterated “enthymeme.” On (2), let me just refer you to Not Exactly the Dictionary a series of acknowledgement by Aristotle Rhetoric experts that he fails to define his terms.
So why should translator Kennedy?