Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Translation That Breaks Your Heart

Yet the shift toward intersubjective, Self-Self relation challenges the boundaries of anthropological discourse and raises some crucial questions: Is this turn toward identification going to lead us to ever more insular forms of anthropology? Even to anthropology’s demise? On the other hand, on a less apocalyptic note, couldn’t we say that the new focus on the possibilities and limits of identification is making anthropology finally and truly possible by leading us toward greater depth of understanding, greater depth of feeling about those whom we write about?

. . . Daring to speak of his sorrow, of his loss, his rage, daring, yes, to privilege sentiments, he dares to be ‘feminine’—that is, feminine in the terms of our cultural logic and the way we ascribe genders to our writing. And immediately the sons come along to chastise him for not being macho enough.

“. . . but I say that anthropology that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore.”
And I mean it. Really mean it. Because my heart is broken. Because the one person I wish had heard me sing this lament for him isn’t here. Can’t be here.
--Ruth Behar
“Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart”
The Vulnerable Observer:
Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart

The Bible is written mostly by men, about men, for men mostly. Far and away, most translators of the Bible are men. Mostly, they want what Aristotle wants:

  • Objectivity in observation
  • A fixed original text
  • A fixed equivalence in the target language
  • Agency for the text (i.e., “And the intent of what the Word is saying here is, circumcise the foreskin of your heart Man of Judah—so come on you woman, don’t feel so excluded, since you have one too, don’t you?”)
  • Authority in the text since it, the text itself, observes that, by nature, man is over woman in marriage, in public speaking, in teaching, and in body
  • Language that is “felicitous, and that is “faithful,” to what men “describe” as “felicitous” and “faithful” language, which is what Aristotle means by objectivity in observation
  • Insider status to the text, because it’s mostly by men, about men, and for men

Most of these men translators mostly feel—or rather think—that anything other than these things is going to lead to the demise of standards. In fact, the standard is logic, dimorphic logic. If it’s not objective—because cold heady objectivity is good—then it must be bad.

Of course, like most of the Bible translators, most translators of Aristotle’s treatises are also men. They want what most of the Bible translators want. They feel—or rather they understand that they should be—close to the texts because the texts are written by a man, with that big tool of Logic and defining macho Dialectic, for men.

[What few anglo-centric and euro-centric men realize is that we really are outsiders to the texts which are written for men of another time, another exclusive race. And in Aristotle’s case, any translation, especially one that breaks your heart, is not worth doing for it puts us in appropriative flux back to the daring Heraclitus, who is not macho enough:

The theory of Forms occurred to those who enunciated it because they were convinced as to the true nature of reality by the doctrine of Heraclitus, that all sensible things are always in a state of flux; so that if there is to be any knowledge or thought about anything, there must be certain other entities, besides sensible ones, which persist. For there can be no knowledge of that which is in flux.

Now Socrates devoted his attention to the moral virtues, and was the first to seek a general definition of these [20] (for of the Physicists Democritus gained only a superficial grasp of the subject and defined, after a fashion, "the hot" and "the cold"; while the Pythagoreans at an earlier date had arrived at definitions of some few things--whose formulae they connected with numbers--e.g., what "opportunity" is, or "justice" or "marriage"); and he naturally inquired into the essence of things;

for he was trying to reason logically, and the starting-point of all logical reasoning is the essence. At that time there was as yet no such proficiency in Dialectic that men could study contraries independently of the essence, and consider whether both contraries come under the same science.There are two innovations which, may fairly be ascribed to Socrates: inductive reasoning and general definition. Both of these are associated with the starting-point of scientific knowledge.

συνέβη δ’ περ τν εδν δόξα τος εποσι δι τ πεισθναι περ τς ληθείας τος ρακλειτείοις λόγοις ς πάντων τν ασθητν ε εόντων, στ’ επερ πιστήμη τινς σται κα φρόνησις, τέρας (15) δεν τινς φύσεις εναι παρ τς ασθητς μενούσας· ο γρ εναι τν εόντων πιστήμην.

Σωκράτους δ περ τς θικς ρετς πραγματευομένου κα περ τούτων ρίζεσθαι καθόλου ζητοντος πρώτου (τν μν γρ φυσικν π μικρν Δημόκριτος ψατο μόνον κα ρίσατό πως τ θερμν κα (20) τ ψυχρόν· ο δ Πυθαγόρειοι πρότερον περί τινων λίγων, ν τος λόγους ες τος ριθμος νπτον, οον τί στι καιρς τ δίκαιον γάμος·) κενος δ’ ελόγως ζήτει τ τί στιν·

συλλογίζεσθαι γρ ζήτει, ρχ δ τν συλλογισμν τ τί στιν· διαλεκτικ γρ σχς οπω τότ’ ν στε δύνασθαι (25) κα χωρς το τί στι τναντία πισκοπεν, κα τν ναντίων ε ατ πιστήμη· δύο γάρ στιν τις ν ποδοίη Σωκράτει δικαίως, τούς τ’ πακτικος λόγους κα τ ρίζεσθαι καθόλου· τατα γάρ στιν μφω περ ρχν πιστήμης)· (30)]


eclexia said...

That sentence, ". . . but I say that anthropology that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore" has stuck with me all day today.

I wonder if that is true of any vocation, if we are to really put ourselves, our whole selves, into it. At least inasmuch as those vocations involve relationships in the realities of a fallen world.

J. K. Gayle said...

I wonder too! Thanks Eclexia. Ruth Behar, and her science, is pretty incredible! The most honest academic I know perhaps.

(All day long I've had this Annie Ward song in my head, really I have!

Listen how she puts what we wonder:

I've Got A Break In My Heart

Love comes and it goes
Never stays inside me
Where it can grow
'Cause I've got a break in my heart
If you could sing a broken hearted song
You know that I'd sing along
'Cause I've got a break In my heart

And everything I try to do
Just falls along the wayside
It turns to dust
It never blooms it never lives
It only dies

Where is the mender of broken dreams
Has he given up on me
'Cause I've got a break in my heart
Who can sing a song of love
And make it stay inside of me
'Cause I've got a break in my heart

And everything I try to do
Just falls along the wayside
It turns to dust
It never blooms it never lives
It only dies

Love sang me this song
Now he flows forever through every song
'Cause I've got a break in my heart
Love is the mender of broken dreams
Now he's able to live through me
'Cause I've got a break in my heart

Now everything I try to do
Just turn to hope when you sing through
The song is love it never hides
It always lives - it never dies

Love comes and it goes

eclexia said...

Oh, J.K. Thank you for sharing that wonderful song. I love Second Chapter of Acts (have you read Matthew Ward's biography? He has such a feeler's faith, which, as a strong feeler myself, was beautiful to see and read about.) I just went and listened to the clip on Amazon. This is a very relevant song to some things I'm walking through right now and healing the Lord is doing in my heart. His ways of healing are not mine, but better if I can wait and keep trusting...

This song puts words to that hope/wait (I love the semantic combination of those two into one Hebrew word) and affirms my choice to keep trusting.

J. K. Gayle said...

Eclexia, yes, "hope/wait," what a tough and affirming combination. I'll confess a boyish crush on Annie once upon a time--does she have a brother? :)

eclexia said...

Yes, Annie, Nellie and Matthew of 2nd Chapter of Acts were brother and sisters. Their story is amazing. Here's a link to an online version of it (it's long):

I read Matthew's biography, which isn't a profoundly written book, but which moved me in so many ways because of seeing first hand in another person's life what it looks like to be a strong feeler and a person of faith. To say nothing of seeing the faithfulness of God in such unique ways (which is why I love biographies of all sorts, well, at least of all HONEST sorts :) )

Last night I ended up downloading their CD, Mansion Builder, from Amazon. I used to listen to their music almost 20 years ago (when their cassettes, at that time, were themselves almost 20 years old). It has the song you quoted above, and a few other of my favorites, especially "He is My Source". Several songs on that CD pack a real punch when I listen to them.

A couple of years ago a friend sent me the DVD First Love, which is of when Annie, Matthew and Nellie got back together with most of their other friends from the early Jesus movement and spent three days together, singing their songs and talking about that time period as well as their lives since then.

I remember when I first started listening to Jamie Owens Collins (a friend of the Wards). She had written and performed a lot of music by the time she was 19. I wondered then how she could write of things with such a depth that she seemed to young to have experienced personally, and yet she wrote as if she had. On the DVD that is one of the things she talks about, how as teenagers they were writing and singing things in faith, but now all these years later, when they sing the same songs, they know experientially that what they believed all along is true.

Annie, Matthew and Nellie's CD, The Roar of Love, based on the Chronicles of Narnia (long before the movie popularized it) is incredible music. Matthew sings a song called Turkish Delight and it brings alive the feel of temptation in musical form in an unbelievably amazing way. Someday I want to write a post on it. I listen to that CD so much it just about drives my kids nuts.

Their style is so distinctive, this morning when I was listening to Mansion Builder, my five year old walks in and immediately knew it was "those people who sing about Narnia" even though she'd never heard these particular songs before :)

Well, I didn't mean to write a book here, but I tend to get carried away when I get excited. And I was definitely excited to rediscover the song you quoted here and then, as a bonus, the other songs as well from that CD!

eclexia said...

Ok, I feel silly now. I missed your smiley the first time I read your comment, and thought you were being serious asking if she had a brother... I tend to be overly literal, and not quick to catch on to people joking. Oops and my apologies again for the "book" I got carried away and wrote up there.

J. K. Gayle said...

:) :)

If the group was on tour, I'd think you were their great manager! Thanks always for reading and for commenting. Your passion is contagious stuff.