When I say “kiss” what do you think of? Who?
A kiss. Your memory may get ignited by that smell you smell now, or the song that’s playing on the radio, or a name you hear. Maybe it’s your dog licking you. Or a movie. Or a novel. Likely it’s not El beso de la mujer araña for most of you. For even fewer of you, it’s the experience of nose-rubbed kisses of which I received many as a little boy through adolescence growing up in Viet Nam, where my nanny and her friends in the open air market would show me affection by smelling close my white face as they questioned my mother’s race and always wondered, that last decade of a war, who their friends were among the warriors. If you got that then you understand my involuntary laughter at hearing Cái hôn của giám ngục for the translated title of the twentieth chapter of J. K. Rowling’s third Harry Potter book. For a good friend of mine, there’s pain this weekend as her husband’s been caught kissing other women again. Infidelty. Many of you will associate a kiss with betrayal. Some of you will recall the story of Aristotle (in Secretum Seretorum) saving Alexander the Great from the treasonous snake-poison lips of a princess from India, the trickstress to whom the elder Greek sent a man on death row in order to kiss her first and to die in the younger Greek man’s place, in his own bed. More of history (and less of fable) is the kiss of betrayal in Gethemene before “good Friday” was good. Kisses have lots of meanings. But then kisses have limits too. Usually they mean you’re not alone, for better or for worse. Even if it’s the mantra Keep it Simple Stupid or the madness Gene Simmons created by painting his face and screaming with his pals on a stage for a buck or a favorite Lingamish blogger thing or something holy or another thing harassing or some unnamed woman once upon a time (a prostitute we’re guessing) making Jesus wet in public. Even if, even if. Still the wonder of the kiss is its uncertainty in some certainty that we’re not alone. Sometimes a bittersweetness or a sweet bitterness, says Sappho and Anne Carson.
Aristotle knew that. In his Topics, he warned of the ambiguity of φιλει̂ν: it is loving; or is it kissing? Now just to be clear, when Aristotle is writing here, he hasn’t yet formalized his formula for syllogisms. And yet, already, he doesn’t like vagueness. He is a control freak. When he uses the word, later, in his Rhetoric, he’s talking about loving friends and hating enemies (but also about avoiding ambiguities); so he gives us no uncertain kiss. When doing his first biology, as some of his early and first work, he’s counting the number of teeth in human females saying they are less than and, by his figuring, lesser than males. He wants to pigeon-hole things. So when writing about pigeons, in his History of Animals, he insists that that one species of birds in particular is singularly unique. Listen:
A singular phenomenon is observed in pigeons with regard to pairing: that is, they kiss one another just when the male is on the point of mounting the female, and without this preliminary the male would decline to perform his function. With the older males the preliminary kiss is only given to begin with, and subsequently he mounts without previously kissing; with younger males the preliminary is never omitted. Another singularity in these birds is that the hens tread one another when a cock is not forthcoming, after kissing one another just as takes place in the normal pairing. Though they do not impregnate one another they lay more eggs under these than under ordinary circumstances; no chicks, however, result therefrom, but all such eggs are wind-eggs.
Now, right away we hear the protests. Protests from the Aristotelian linguists, protests from the controlling sexists, protests from the objective logicians. The linguists say pigeons don’t “kiss” in English and in Greek they aren’t φιλει̂ν. The sexists say this nature of difference, of males over females, is not limited to pigeons. The logicians mutter something emphatic about the inability of postmodernists (who used to be “sophists”) to operate either without a minor premise, such as “male pigeons exhibit predictable mating behaviors.”
>Hence, if we’re Aristotelian linguists, we must pigeon hole the Greek word. Maybe we should turn it into something technical like phileo, and show how it’s uniquely different from eros and agape and storge. How it’s different among friends, among faithful spouses, among enemies. And publish something on that. Okay, a blog will do. And, if we have to allow for variations, then we’ll call them allos. And resort to text and to context. Do word counts too. Note the weird other extreme of Eugene Peterson’s Greek (by which, one tells us, he tells of using English emotion to empty the coffee cups of his congregation in his home to fill up his own). Otherwise, we’ll have to get into debates with “the hoi polloi” over literary translation as we try explain both how much we like Anne Carson but also how problematic it is, nonetheless, that she’s chosen to translate the word one way as Euripides uses it and another as Sappho [in her less preserved framents] does. Just like this (the male, Euripedes, first):
My tears as bridal bath.
Your father’s father welcomes Hades to the wedding feast -
Dread father of the bride!
O little ones, which of you should I take to my heart first,
Which last, or kiss, or hold?
How I wish like a bee I could gather you -
All my heartbreak for you in one teardrop.
. . .
all night long
might sing of the love between you and the bride
with violets in her lap
>Hence, if were controlling sexists, we must pigeon hole our natures, our orderly sexes. Recognize the necessity of the rank of the behavior of males (and then females), the difficulties of kissing without mounting or mounting without kissing or of females without males (whether in the oval office or in room 871 or in a marriage now strained). We must have order, and in marriage suborder. It’s what the Koran says, and the Bible (especially if we’ll ignore what William J. Webb says about how the Judeo Christian God changes things for the better over time for all of us in Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. If only he were a feminist, He’d be so much easier to ignore because the f-word, you know, is so charged. No, our “Fathers,” the priests, is not the F-word we’re talking about, for Father won’t allow priestesses because they’re only to be bloody once a moon and not bloody on demand, and given the perpetual infidelities, what a demand for blood. oh my! We all know, therefore, that priests must be males only. That little girls around the altar are for other things, cultural taboo studies and propositions and proclamations and such, because demons don’t possess Americans or anyone in a Greek Orthodox church today.)
>Hence, if we’re objective logicians, we must pigeon hole our logic,. Even if we decide to be a “rhetorician,” we’ll demand that the “enthymeme” be a subset of the “syllogism.” Now we can control religion, academics, the internet, and pigeons. Even if we decide to be a “feminist,” we’ll demand control over “feminist credentials” too by going “beyond the personal” and excluding Christians, especially the ones with Fathers and the ones who are men whose names might also have been Angela Shelton had they not been so shunned by intergenerational Elizabeth Cady Stanton wannabes saying with silence “he cannot speak for her.” (But our sympathies to all when an “equal rights” Father Gander Doug W. Larche can’t see that the antidote to phallologocentricism isn’t his vaginologocentrism and that his “Margie Wargie, peaches and cream / Hugged the boys and made them dream / When the girls came out that day / She asked them all to stay and play” is no cure for “Georgie Porgie, puddin’ and pie / Kissed the girls and made them cry” because it’s all about controlling logically every which way. Even if we decide to be a “translator,” we can forget the body, Hélène; for it doesn’t take a hen or a cow to use abstract bully rooster logic, as Aristotle puts it in his History of Animals, “when a cock is not forthcoming.”
Now believe it, or not, this post is really about something positive. I’ve got to stop blogging for a bit, to get on with this dissertation. You know where you are, and who, and what this all must and can mean to you immediately. And I just wanted to say to you all goodbye for a while. To translate something for you with feminism and rhetoric, with some humble love and / or a kiss.