Friday, December 19, 2008

Miss Piss Tiss

I intend this post to be about my "translation values" -- so what do I mean by the title, "Miss Piss Tiss"?

What I really want to hear is what you mean by that title?  Are you a 2nd-wave feminist pissed off that anyone still uses "Miss"?  Are you a Christian whose web browser blocks posts with words like "Piss" in them "to protect the kids from Internet foulness" (never reading [1] how the Christian Chaucer has men saying "Of Eua first pat for hir wikkednesse Was al mankynd broght to wrecchednesse. . . Socrates hadde with his wyues two. . . Xantippa caste pisse vpon his heed" or [2] how the Bible, Wycliffe's anyway, has 4 Kings xviii. 27 saying something about "the men that sitten on the wal, that thei ete her toordis and drynke her pisse")?  Are you Matt Le Tissier, a little in Cockney shock that anyone would confess how they are "dying for a matt le tiss"?  Are you N. T. Wrong or some other biblioblogger hiding who you really are so that you can talk without subjectivity about the one and only thing Paul must mean in any particular context when he writes (mostly in the objective genitive) the Greek word, pistis?  Oh, are you a Relevance Theory "linguist" who does not want to miss πίστις, which would be to commit sin, to "miss the mark" of the sanctified Original-word πίστις with your target-phrase made rigid now by the authorized field-test (which is also to unwittingly miss that Sappho never uses πίστις and is, moreover, to care less that field-testing among the Other, less-relevant half of the population would show more sensitivity towards co-incidental phallicized English such as target and Original and is, furthermore, to completely miss what Ms. Karen H. Jobes, Ph.D. means by simultaneous interpretation as a metaphor for better Bibles translation)?

Well now, haven't we gotten silly?

In all seriousness, Carolyn Osiek, Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament, was a most helpful member of my dissertation committee, most careful to check my English translatings of Aristotle's Greek.  At my defense, she asked me to share my translation values. 

I wish I'd read (and said to Osiek and the rest of the audience) what John Hobbins wrote today.  

But then again, Hobbins has some funny reads of what Osiek writes.  It's even more laughable and strange because this blogger friend of mine, on the one hand, calls for conversation between egalitarian and complementarian debaters but, on the other hand, regularly silences another blogger friend of ours because she's a woman, speaking her mind on the very issue he says he wants conversation about.  (Poor Hobbins.  He's taking a beating today, not for his sexism, but from Peter Kirk and from Mike Aubrey because they think he's too like women, picking and choosing what he likes so subjectively and hardly playing their game in a more manly way, a way that determines conclusively what the man's text must mean.  The former actually calls out Julia Smith, calls her translation down and out). 

What does that last paragraph have to do with my translation values?  It's personal.  Both the digressive paragraph above and my translation values are to highlight what can be very personal.

So when Hobbins entitles his post today, "You need an excellent translation to understand the Greek New Testament," then I'm going to ask personal questions!   I may ask them of him, and I may ask them as if overhearing by myself:

"How do you know what I need, sir?  Why do I need to understand the Greek New Testament?"

I'm also going to wonder something Phyllis A. Bird wonders:

How is it that our translating need be more than, quite personally, "to overhear an ancient conversation, rather than to hear [one]self addressed directly"?

"I am not certain," Bird adds, "that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard." 

Now I hear the logical protests.  Yes, I overhear you all, some of you anyway, mumbling and grumbling out there that there is either (A) understanding or there is (not A) not understanding.  And, therefore, we all must conclude (have to come to this conclusion):  

If one doesn't understand, then one must misunderstand.  

Miss Piss Tiss, I reply.  And so do Krista Ratcliffe, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and Kenneth L. Pike -- three rhetoricians whose respective work has added value to the translatings in my dissertation.

(Ratcliffe rightly notes that Aristotle has excised "listening" out of his rhetoric theory, and she rightly recovers the lost art of eavesdropping on a conversation not meant for you or me.  

Royster correctly shows how “Using the subject position as a terministic screen in cross-boundary discourse permits analysis to operate kaleidoscopically, thereby permitting interpretation to be richly informed by the converging of dialectical perspectives” -- Aristotle wasn't so rich, nor is his son, that pretender, "logical Western objectivity."

Pike profoundly says that we do best when, in our translating, "person [and relation between persons] is given theoretical priority above formalism, above pure mathematics, above idealized abstractions." Why? "A person, as observer, has choice.” And any “theory [as part of the translation values of any person] is part of the observer; a different theory makes a different observer; a different observer sees different things, or sees the same things as structured differently; and the structure of the observer must, in some sense or degree, be part of the data of an adequate theory of language. A particular language, of a particular culture, in relation to a particular person with [her or] his particular history constitutes an implicit theory for that person." And "the observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.”)

To be clear, I don't remember saying any of this in answer to Osiek at my dissertation defense.   What I'm personally concerned about is that we're so steeped in the culture of Aristotle's logic that we feel that alternative voices are the demons of mis understanding.  We so desperately want to overcome our barbarisms, our babel.  

Bible bloggers and translators really want Saint Paul to overcome his babel too.  My translation values say, "Let him babel.  For his Jesus so babbled in parables, in hyperbole, in translations and transfigurations and supernatural transformations, in feminisms, in rhetorics, in dialectics, in barbarisms, in solecisms, in so many things that Aristotle would object to.  So why should we so object?  Let the great Bible tower fall, for all have fallen short."  Why do we have to understand or to misunderstand all of that?

Do we have a clue why polyglot George Steiner defines polysemy in his book After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation?  How can he define that word, that babel concept, this way? (page 35):
Polysemy, the capacity of the same word to mean different things, such difference ranging from nuance to antithesis, characterizes the language of ideology.
I imagine it's something personal, something to do with the fact that Steiner's mother tongues are not only English but also German and French and that he learned to read Homer's Illiad in Homer's Greek at six years of age.  Steiner knows, from experience, what overhearing is all about.  This starts to get even more personal when Steiner says, "even direct quotation is set alight by context (eg, when St.Paul cites Euripides)" (Grammars of Creation, page 96).

Steiner hears this too, subjectively eavesdropping as an etic outsider so personally albeit himself a Jew, like Jesus, like Paul:
Jesus' discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement--of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance--give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the "comprehendit imcomprehensible esse" celebrated in Anselm's Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources). (page 75)
Did Steiner overhear what he writes from the polysemic "second meanings" of Englishman, C. S. Lewis?  Lewis, as an outsider reflecting on the Jewish Psalms, makes this comment about the Jewish Jesus and then about the Jewish Paul:
He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the "wisecrack". He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition. (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)
Maybe Lewis had been reading another Jew, a Peter, who writes of reading his dear and loved brother's writings:
ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς [Παῦλου] λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν

Our dearly loved brother Paul, in the wisdom that has been granted to him, has also written to you all even as he speaks of these matters in all his letters; but places in them are hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort, as they do the other writings, to their own personal destruction.-- 2 Peter 3:15-16
So when men continue to argue over what Paul must singularly mean by writing πίστεως (Ἰησοῦ) (Χριστοῦ) in each singular context, then there's avarice in their logic. They're afraid to misunderstand, afraid to confess that Paul here and there might be too "hard to understand" for them. They don't want to appear unlearned or to seem unstable. They equate distortion with subjectivity, with ambiguity, with polysemic phrasing that might knock them off their high places.

And Steiner adds:
[V]erbal discourse. . . is handcuffed to the avarice of logic, with its ordinance of causality, with its (probably crass) segmentation of time and perception into past, present, and future. Identity principles, the end-stopping of sentences (mathematical proofs can be of infinite length), axioms of continuity, render speech and writing, however polysemic our words, however subtle and animate with fantastication our phrasing of the imaginary, despotic. We speak in (rich) monotones. Our poetry is haunted by the music it has left behind. Orpheus shrinks to a poet when he looks back, with the impatience of reason, on a music stronger than death. (Errata, page 73)
And Hobbins adds [with -- Miss Piss Tiss -- me]:
An excellent translation of the Bible will be intelligible on its own [because personal outsiders are listening in and are making meanings that are quite meaningful].   [And since Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and English are all polysemic, human translators may always -- whether wittingly or unwittingly--] stretch the resources of the English language beyond the bounds of [so-called] “normal, idiomatic English” in the interests of bridging the distance separating one cultural context from another, and, in the process, draw attention back to the [ostensibly logical] argument, [the always discernible] structure, and [the polysemic] language of the source [guest] text [of the Jew who has written, a text that is politely, and personally now, hosted into English by later Jews or Hellenes or other goyim].

10 comments:

mike said...

Now, Kirk, let's be clear. I'm not picking on John (or beating as you say).

Thus far, I've always agreed with John and his thoughts on translation. The challenge is that it always takes questioning of his words on my part before I come to that. I question for clarity so that I can give affirmation.

John Hobbins said...

Hi Kurk,

So then, are you a doctor now? If so, congratulations!

For the rest, it's true that I ban people from my blog who use it as a platform for slander. Among the banned are both men and women.

Perhaps you think a woman can do no wrong. She is in your eyes ipso facto right.

I have a contrary opinion.

But really, you tempt me to put up another Carolyn Osiek post, and go at it with you. Last time around, if I remember, you chose to direct attention to other aspects of her opus, rather than deal with the fact that Osiek is an egal who does not make Paul and Peter into egals after her image.

As you know, I share with Osiek the unforgivable sin of not making Paul into a modern-day egalitarian. So-called "biblical" as well as "my way or the highway" egals, of course, require that Paul be on their side, or at least unavailable to the other side.

But you don't fall into either category, I believe. So your position on these matters remains unclear.

Sue said...

For the rest, it's true that I ban people from my blog who use it as a platform for slander.

slander - In law, defamation (also called calumny, libel, slander, and vilification) is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressively stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government or nation a negative image. ...

I would be curious to know what slander the banned persons are guilty of. If you now say that the banned person(s) were banned for slander, you slander her/them - unless you produce their slander.

State openly exactly what false claim was made, and who made it and for what that person was banned -

Or remove the word slander from your blog and quit slandering the banned person. Admit that she was not banned for slander, but was banned in order to be slandered - which is another thing altogether.

J. K. Gayle said...

>Mike, Yes - I hear you now. Initial intentions can't always square with beginning beliefs and behavior, no?

>John, Yes - today is commencement. It's another day in which I'm stepping forward with absolutely no ipso facto conviction.

>Sue, Thanks always for speaking truth in love.

mike said...

So Kurk...what kind of oil do you use in your lawn mower?

J. K. Gayle said...

So...what kind of oil do you use in your lawn mower?

Funny Mike. Funny, Mike: the commencement speaker at graduation yesterday kept addressing "the boys," and once in that context mentioned we should pretend to like conversing about our lawn mowers and children, now that we're likely to have both some day, post bachelor's degree. Of course, he is a male, that commencement speaker. And the rest of us in the audience were mildly amused because we sometimes pretend to smile at such jokes. See a Ph.D. doesn't inevitably help reactions. Thank you sincerely for coming over here anyway to lighten the mood. Happiest of holidays to you and your family, Mike! -- J. K. Gayle

David Ker said...

Thanks for reminding me of a word Rich Rhodes used that I've been trying to remember: pish-tosh

J. K. Gayle said...

David, I was trying to make you forget. Are "pink elephants" pink hippos?

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Hobbins said...

If anyone would like to know why, in specific cases, I have banned people from commenting on my blog, I will be happy to supply motivations via offline correspondence.

Thanks, Kurk, for interacting with my Carolyn Osiek posts.