Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Challenging: the Challenge


So I throw out a challenge
As Karen Parsegian throws out the first pitch.
But Vladimir Nabokov throws out interpretation first
As, he says, Margot Peters leaped to the window, flung it open
and was about to throw herself ou

But at that moment” 
[he throws out his authorial intention
as if he’s thrown out his back or something],
people were throwing things out the other windows,

and “She was so interested in the fire that
she forgot her intention
[which he’d thrown out on his readers, her accosters,
originally, in two different languages all the same]:

She had very little money left. In her distress
she went to a dance hall as abandoned
damsels do in films. Two Japanese gentlemen accosted her
and, as she had taken more cock-
tails than were good for her,
she agreed to spend the night
with them.



I’m afraid my blogger friends won’t like my poem any better than I do. There’s too much said (about sexism, necessary ambiguity, interpretation, and nasty word play) and, at the same time, not much said (about the bible, blind people like Karen Parsegian and those whose eyes were opened, the Greek and the English two-word verb with different meanings in a single passage, and how the author and translator can take advantage of a reader abandoning her own interpretation just because she’s been hurt before and abandoned and wants to numb the pain by throwing out intentions and throwing away money in some endless addictive cycle. What should I add about Nabokov and his 1932 (Russian) and 1933 (English) novel we know as Laughter in the Dark? We notice how Margot is no longer Russian, and we know his “‘Woman’ is another famous poser,” and we take note of what he wants when he says, “I want translation with copious footnotes, footnotes reaching up like skyscrapers to the top of this or that page so as to leave only the gleam of one textual line between commentary and eternity.”



Let me instead just say what Ann Nyland says Matthew says others say:

“If your right eye sets a trap for you, rip it out and throw it away!”

“The demon-gods kept begging him, ‘If you're going to throw us out, please send us into that herd of pigs!’ So he granted it, ‘Off you go!’”

“he said, ‘Get out of the way! The young girl's not dead - she's just asleep!’ They responded by poking fun at him. His response was to throw the crowd outside. Then he went inside and grabbed the young girl by the hand. This news spread all over the land.”

“When Jesus left there, two blind people followed him. They yelled out, ‘Have pity on us, David's descendant!’ . . . . ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ . . . ‘Yes!’ . . . Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘It will happen to you because of your faith!’ And their eyes were opened!”

“While they were leaving, some people brought a mute who had an evil spirit to Jesus. When the demon was thrown out the mute person spoke plainly. . . . The Pharisees’ opinion was, ‘He’s throwing out demons by the power of the demons’ ruler!’”

“But when he saw the crowds he was deeply moved with compassion, because they were stressed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said, . . . ‘On the one hand there’s a big harvest, but on the other hand there are not enough workers. So then put a request to the Harvest Master so that he will throw workers into his harvest!’”

Has she and have they met my challenge? Isn’t it all as Hebraish and Greekish and English as it can be? Or as Matthew's Jesus liked to ask those like us who are critics and are curious, How do you read it?


linguafranka said...

JK -- I've meditated on this some more, and I'm going to throw out a few comments. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark, so you have thrown me off there. I am familiar with Ann Nyland, so I'll comment on her translation of ἐκβάλλω in the Gospel of Matthew.

You asked, "Isn't it all as Hebraish and Greekish and English as it can be?" I'll tell you how I read it. Your blog prompted in me a reflection on the nature of translation.

By consistently translating ἐκβάλλω as "throw out(side)/into," Nyland both did and did not accurately draw us, her audience, into the Greek language and worldview of the original texts. She did, in the sense that her translation tries to force us into a foreign way of talking, which is presumably natural for the original texts. Where there are variants of one word in the source texts, the translation gives slight variants of one basic translation into English. The translation forces us to peer into the world of Matthew, in a different language, a different time, and a different culture.

On the other hand, presumably Matthew's use of ἐκβάλλω didn't sound as strange to him and his audience as Nylands translation sounds to us in our modern English and modern world. So in that sense, it is not a fair translation, because something sounds strange that is not supposed to sound strange. That is, presumably it didn't sound strange in the original, so if it sounds strange to us now, then the translation is distorting the original text.

My position is that "throw out" is not really an accurate translation of the Greek, because the English phrase is more specific than the Greek word seems to be. "Throw out" and "take out" are reasonable English translations, but they are more specific in meaning than ἐκβάλλω is. I personally don't know of a good way to avoid that added specificity, when translating into English. I have to admit that I am not an expert in the subtleties of meaning in Greek, and you would have better intuitions in that regard than I would.

J. K. Gayle said...

Now you've really made me think this through again. I love how you put this:

"The translation forces us to peer into the world of Matthew, in a different language, a different time, and a different culture.On the other hand, presumably Matthew's use of ἐκβάλλω didn't sound as strange to him and his audience as Nylands translation sounds to us in our modern English and modern world."

I'm following, I think. Here's where you're making my mind go:

>Willis Barnstone thinks Jesus is a poet with a distinct voice and that Matthew is putting that into Aramaic-Hebraic Greek.

>But maybe there's nothing foreign or strange to Matthew. Maybe Jesus and Matthew and all in their audiences, in their contexts, spoke this way that only now sounds peculiar to us as we read the Greek.

>It's certainly a distinctive Greek, in contrast to the ancient poets, in contrast definitely to Plato's Socrates and to Aristotle himself, in contrast to the LXX perhaps, in contrast to the other gospel writers and to the other NT writer/translators too.

>Should Nyland not use strange English? Does this really depend on the presumed possible strangeness of Matthew's Greek to his earliest readers?

>I'm interested in what outsiders (i.e., honest translators) must do with respect to a text. Particularly if the author of the text distances the translator even more than he does others. For example, when "the Bible says" that wives or men's women cannot speak in church, what's a woman translator to do? Technically, the text (i.e., Paul's text to certain early churches) does not prohibit translation by a woman unless "speak" is a metaphorical translation.

>Pike is rather clever with his etic-outsider position. C.S. Lewis is too in his Reflections on the Psalms, declaring himself an outsider, inexpert, and novice. I think there are definite advantages not being an addressee of the text. Pike used to muse whether IPA and even tagmemics was a kind of emics, even though inherently "etic." Feminist translation scholars like Phyllis Bird talk about "overhearing" a text; feminist rhetoricians like Krista Ratcliffe speak of "eavesdropping" in a positive way. New Testament scholar Richard Hays says we're reading someone else's mail when reading the letters to the people at Corinth. All of this is inherently "foreign." Is is an arrogance to presume the text addresses me, and to render it without foreignness to my own kind (perhaps different from the audiences of Jesus and of Matthew)? Lots of questions, Lingafranka. Thanks for prompting and talking.

linguafranka said...

My comments on the translation of ἐκβάλλω are based on the assumption that Matthew's use of it didn't sound strange and foreign to his audience. This is just an assumption, because I don't have good intuitions on Greek and I haven't read anything that comments on the foreignness or naturalness of his use of that word in his gospel. I'm assuming that if one consistently translated ἐκβάλλω into English as "throw out," the translation would sound more strange to us in English than the original gospel sounded to its original audience. If, following Ann Nyland, we report Jesus as saying that he was throwing laborers out into the harvest, that sounds strange to us. I am assuming that in the original Greek, which in turn is a translation from Aramaic, the meaning of those words was something more like "send out." I am open to having my assumptions challenged.

Going back to the deictic issue, in normal English we "take" a foreign body out of our eye, not "send" or "throw" it out. Again, not having finely-tuned intuitions about Greek, I would assume that the original language of Matthew 7:4 doesn't sound as strange in Greek as "send/throw the speck out of your eye" sounds in English.

J. K. Gayle said...

I certainly didn't mean to say, or to suggest, that ἐκβάλλω was strange to Matthew's audience. It's more common than koine Greek but is also a central term of Mediterranean 1st century Hellene, I'm quite sure. Is "throw out" in 21st century American English less common to us? I can't say. When I read Nyland's Jesus saying to pray the Harvest Master will throw workers into his harvest, I do make the connection back to the other uses of "throw out." She's rightly omitted the "out" part of the verbal phrase. And, I think, she's rightly made me sense that there's an urgency and some violent action needed to get the lazy workers working. "Send out" just doesn't have the same effect, does it? Is the violence what Matthew in Greek or Jesus in Aramaic intended? Even if we could know, then would accuracy to either or both of them matter? (Is accuracy critical in a Pikean sense?)

As for the deictic issue you raise in 7:4 and other sentences in Mt, I completely follow and agree with your reasoning. There's less likely Greek word play that any reader could see there. Less word play than for the same but different ἐκβάλλω-S in chapter 9.