Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Words Don't Work

What do you do when words don't work?  
This is a tough one for lawyers, politicians, teachers, preachers, rabbis, professors, spouses, parents, lovers, partners, and especially for the bibliobloggers wanting to settle the issue of what Saint Paul surely must have meant when he wrote πίστεως (Ἰησοῦ) (Χριστοῦ).

When words didn't work on a horse, someone put bullets in it. 
I'm telling you the truth. I was running with my dog near the Trinity River the other day when we found the animal shot dead. It's not so unusual to see horses and riders around in this section of Cowtown [i.e., Fort Worth, Texas "Where the West Begins"]. What is strange --downright shocking even in these parts -- is to see an abandoned dead horse with oozing bullet holes in it.  Honestly, I have no idea whether whoever shot the horse said anything to the animal first.  I am sure that shooting a horse dead and leaving the corpse is not a good thing at all. (Of course, a good neighbor has now called the authorities, who will look into it and who will use words, we hope, and some force, if necessary, to make our "neighborhood" safe for beings of all kinds.)

Words and horses don't always mix.
In the context of my true story, you probably don't want to hear any of those horse proverbs. (You probably do want to hear the rest of the story, like the authorities have apprehended the horse killer). But we do share these words, which suggest words don't always work and perhaps some other force, a forcing of some sorts, might work more: 

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
--John Heywood

"Don't beat a dead horse."
--John Bright

"Females are not always able to conceive from the male (wherefore men put the horse to the mare again at intervals). Indeed, both the mare is deficient in catamenia, discharging less than any other quadruped, and the she-ass does not admit the impregnation, but ejects the semen with her urine (wherefore men follow flogging her after intercourse)."

"Not just horses, but humans too, thrive in a cooperative and safe environment and falter in a climate of fear and submission."
--Monty Roberts

What are these words of Aristotle, and what's he forcing instead of "mere words"?
The first two quotes above (from Heywood and Bright) are part of our "cultural literacy."  The second two deserve a little more explanation. First Aristotle. 

Aristotle gives the world the first purely logical science on animals, especially on horses, especially on bred female horses that don't get along with his logic of nature.  What we barbarians tend to take from all that is logical in this way:  the words father Aristotle writes he intends, and what he intends we ought to be faithful to, too, especially when we translate these words he writes into standard English.  Yeah, I know.  That's pretty abstract stuff.  Seems like it has little to do with Aristotle's sexism, his fear of females, his intention to keep woman stuff from polluting the nature of the Greek man.  Actually, what Aristotle writes about submitting females, even female horses, has a good bit to do with his logic, the logic many use to argue for meanings of words and to translate those words.

But hold on.  Aristotle is trying to deal with several word-and-force problems at once.  Sure he's using words about horses.  But to get to these words about horses, in the very same context, he uses words about "geometric proofs."  And right before he uses those words about geometric proofs, he straightens out the Greek problem of fickle, womanly language called "logos."  I kid you not.  The quote above is embedded right in all this.  (On the downside of the quote, Aristotle goes on to conclude, by logical proof, that human females [i.e., bred women] are to blame for mutated babies when and because the women fail to engage in the sex act properly.  This supports his other conclusion that females in general are mutated males.  All of this is in his book we call the Generation of Animals).

We may want to remember some of Aristotle's "cultural literacy."  What really troubles Hellene men is why their most beautiful legendary woman, Helen, would run off with the Trojan.  Historian Bettany Hughes remembers how some of the Greek men dealt with this:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
Gorgias's joke is poetry (confessed word-play of a slick sophist) and a good part of it rhymes: 

"ἢ βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα, 
ἢ λόγοις πεισθεῖσα." 

(Rosamond Kent Sprague translates these words beautifully as 

"or by force reduced 
or by words seduced" 

The words offer a couple of possible answers to Why, Oh Why would she abandon a Greek man for a barbarian?)

Aristotle, aware of the seduction of words (λόγοις πεισθεῖσα /lógois peistheísa/), prefers the force of abstract logic.  Just before writing those horse words as quoted above, and just before the stuff about the geometric proof, Aristotle uses the following words as if to force his point:
Perhaps an abstract proof [λογικήlogic”] might appear to be more plausible than those already given; I call it abstract [λογικήlogic”] because the more general it is the further is it removed from the special principles involved. It runs somewhat as follows. From male and female of the same species there are born in course of nature male and female of the same species as the parents, e.g. male and female puppies from male and female dog. From parents of different species is born a young one different in species; thus if a dog is different from a lion, the offspring of male dog and lioness or of lion and bitch will be different from both parents. If this is so, then since (1) mules are produced of both sexes and are not different in species from one another, and (2) a mule is born of horse and ass and these are different in species from mules, it is impossible that anything should be produced from mules. For (1) another kind cannot be, because the product of male and female of the same species is also of the same species, and (2) a mule cannot be, because that is the product of horse and ass which are different in form, and it was laid down that from parents different in form is born a different animal. Now this theory [λόγοςlogos”] is too general and empty. For all theories [λόγοιlogoi”, plural for “logos”] not based on the special principles involved are empty; they only appear to be connected with the facts without being so really. (Generation of Animals; emphases added; page 747b)
Translator Arthur Platt attempts here to be faithful to the nature of Aristotle’s original Greek words.  Methodologically, he's following Aristotle, who attempts to be faithful to the nature of animals.  Platt makes his “an abstract proof” dynamically equal to Aristotle's “logic”; he makes his "theory" the dynamic equivalent to Aristotle's “logos.”  Platt’s rendering is not an entirely bad translation except that the relationship between the old “logos” and Aristotle’s new “logic” is lost.  And the translator fails to recognize the sexual / sexist issues for Aristotle.  Platt downplays Aristotle’s misogyny as developed by his logic.  He does not bring across into English the fact that Aristotle is both arguing for logic and also arguing by logic so that he can denigrate the female.  Platt also ignores: (A) the misogyny of Aristotle's Greek male culture in which boundaries mean control and by which logical, separational binaries keep females in their place below men; (B) Aristotle’s own gynophobia in his other texts; (C) the denigration of females throughout this text, his Generation of Animals; (D) his male only audience for his texts including this one; and (E) the technical sexist suffix in “logic” that puts the word in binary, oppositional contrast with “logos.”  To be sure, Platt is not the only man that has translated this passage who follows Aristotle's logic but who misses so much anyway.

Aristotle is trying to force with words, without seducing, the way men have to force a bred mare when she isn't cooperating.  He calls that logic, which it is.

Hélène Cixous and Clarice Lispector call it phallogocentricism, which it is.  Likewise, Nancy Mairs, as I've said before, recognizes how rigidly masculinist the separational binary is (in contrast to afrafeminism and womanism, for example, with implications for your words and how they force when you feel like you've got to get your reader to submit).

Who is Monty Roberts, this one who treats horses and humans with such care?
Monty Roberts is the real life "horse whisperer."  He was made famous by the Queen Elizabeth II for whom he trained horses.  She urged him to write his story, which he has.  He has revolutionized "horse breaking" -- rather, he has eliminated the "breaking" of wild horses by force.  I know because my father-in-law, a horseman, has seen Roberts and other such horse "gentlers" right here in Cowtown -- and "nobody breaks horses anymore the old fashioned way."  The traditional way of breaking a horse was perfected by Monty Roberts's father and other men.  They'd take a wild horse, rope it, tie it up, tie it down, whip it, and beat it into submission.  The process took around 6 weeks before a human could saddle the animal and ride it.  In contrast, Monty Roberts's technique is to love on the wild horse, to listen to it, to gentle it, to join up with it, to "hook on," and so forth.  In just half an hour, the horse trusts the human enough to allow a saddle, a bit and bridle, and a mutually-agreed upon ride.

Little Monty, when a boy, not only saw how his father brutalized horses to break their bodies and eventually their spirits but the youth also experienced his own abuse at the hand of his daddy.  When the words of Monty's father didn't work, then there was force, beatings.  Today, in contrast to such brutal "parenting," Monty Roberts and his wife have been foster parents to numerous children from abusive homes.  Perhaps Roberts will revolutionize parenting just as he's revolutionized horse "breaking."

I'm bringing up Roberts and horse whispering in the context of words and force beyond words for several reasons.  

First, his gesturing reminds me of the kind of very kind language learning of Kenneth L. Pike.  Pike's method of translation has been called the "monolingual demonstration" because in around 30 minutes he learns the language of another with whom he's never spoken before -- and he learns it in her language alone, not in his.  He learns by listening, by gesturing, very much like Roberts's method for learning from the wild horse.  Very different from Aristotle's own imposition of precise logic.  In fact, Pike's sister Eunice V. Pike has said:
Impressive, but not perfect, some people say. . . . Ken has been doing the demonstration once almost every year for more than thirty years.  Therefore some of the student who take the second year course saw the deomnstration the previous summer.  I am told that a second year student may advise those in the first year, "Be sure you go to the monolingual demonstration; it is good for your morale.  You may end up feeling that you are smarter than Pike."  That is, if they sit up front and listen carefully, they may disagree with the way he records a sound or two.  Their conclusion:  they heard better than Pike.  Wow!  ("Language Learning by Gesture" in Ken Pike; pages 132-33)
One demonstration I saw Pike give was with a guy who speaks one of the languages I speak (a language Pike had never heard). From the beginning, Pike warned the audience in English that the demonstration was subject to errors.  And sure enough, the very first interaction Pike mistakenly thought was the other person's greeting. "hello" or something, when it was his telling Pike his name.  At the end of the demonstration, Pike did take questions from those who would be "logical" and more precise with words. But then he'd startle everyone with one of his own poems.  Aristotle would have hated such imprecise, ambiguous, and playful language. Seems that linguists who once looked to Pike (and compositionists and rhetoricians too) have abandoned such rich methodology, as Aristotle would.  Likewise, Bible translators today in the organization Pike was once a part of have turned back to "logic," to the Aristotelian logic of Relevance Theory and precision techniques such as "field testing" of ideal English words to purify the Word from Biblish and Englishes of the marginalized.

Second, I mention Monty Roberts because he goes beyond either "seducing words" or "reducing force" as the only options to Aristotle's phallic-centric-logic.  This "logic" is hardly an option since it has, from its beginnings, been a "reducing-seducing word-with-precise-force"

Gorgias joked that Helen had two other alternatives to being 
(1) "by words seduced" or 
(2) "by force reduced." 

She might actually have been 
(3) by luck (or gods) possessed, or 
(4) by love well-blessed. 

Of course, Gorgias's Greek word for "love" -- i.e., "erotic" -- rhymes with the Greek word for "rhetoric" -- which makes the forth possibility particularly womanly.  (Funny to Gorgias because "anathema" to men).

In blogging, I've tried to suggest that this stuff all the way from Gorgias to Monty Roberts is so very old and so very new.  Two other examples should do it:

>>Mark's Jesus of long ago suggests that his key parable covers four possibilities:

(1) a seed/word may fall by the wayside (beside the point precisely where it must fall to "get words right.")
(2) a seed/word may be forced to stop growing, "never freed" from hard rock or the Sun's heat.
(3) a seed/word may try to negotiate for a win-win by "ever submitting to that more dominate other" of thorny, flowerless plants.
(4) a seed/word may join with the fertile Mother-earth soil in a transforming pregnancy that gives birth to more than the father solely intended or could envision.

>>Cultural / social anthropologists recently have claimed that our human cultures tend to be cohesive around
(1) guilt - the rule of Law (both the letter and the spirit, secular or religious)
(2) fear - the force of punishment
(3) shame - the private-public inter-actions of the ego with the collective
(4) love - rare stuff indeed, a self-transforming wanting of the best for the other and a self-changing doing of all possible to see that the other gets the best (actually, I've never seen an academic in anthropology talk about this)

What do we do when we think we've got all the Truth there is to know?  
We can (1) tell, (2) force, and (3) negotiate, or we can (4) listen, learn, and humbly change with love.  That last alternative gets pretty subjective.  It may be what your mother, your sister, and even you have chosen to do.  More.


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