Monday, April 13, 2009

feminine helicopters, sons, and men

- Regarde, c'est une hélicoptère.
- Non, non, c'est un hélicoptère.
- Mais, comment est-ce que tu vois ça?
~ a joke, HT Suzanne

In Mark's Greek
[Ἀληθῶς {ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος / οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος} υἱὸς {ἦν θεοῦ / θεοῦ ἦν}]
the centurion does not use an article before the word son [υἱὸς] (neither a son nor the son),
and Mark has still never told us what sense Jesus is that son.
~ Three Gospels, page 57, by Reynolds Price

all men are created equal
all men and women are created equal
~Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson
~Declaration of Sentiments, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The epigraphs to begin this post illustrate what Aristotle despised in the lack of logic and, therefore, in bad language, especially the slyness of female-gendered language.

Aristotle taught that good Greek logic was never ambiguous. And good Greek language ought never to confuse categories, especially the masculine with the feminine. (In many of his writings Aristotle purported to show, in nature, the biological difference between males and females. He also seemed to want to teach how ostensibly, by the cold objective tool of logic, the observer could see females as mutilated males - as necessary freaks of nature that could dangerously pollute and further mutilate the superior sex of men.)

In his book called Rhetoric, Aristotle gives instruction on the logic of good Greek grammar, even with respect to agreement by the category of gender. He writes the following (in what we know as Book III, Chapter 5, sentences 5 and 6, on Bekker page 1407b). There are other examples, but here's one (and I'm giving you three different English translations of it):
A fourth rule is to observe Protagoras' classification of nouns into male, female, and inanimate; for these distinctions also must be correctly given. "Upon her arrival she said her say and departed (e d elthousa kai dialechtheisa ocheto)."
--translated by William Rhys Roberts

The fourth [rule is to observe] Protagoras’ classification of the gender of nouns: masculine, feminine, and neuter. There should be correct grammatical agreement: "Having come and having spoken, she departed."
--translated by George Alexander Kennedy

The fourth rule consists in keeping the genders distinct--masculine, feminine, and neuter, as laid down by Protagoras; these also must be properly introduced: "She, having come (fem.) and having conversed (fem.) with me, went away."
--translated by John Henry Freese
Now, before going further into Aristotle's argument, let me quickly just note with you how the three translators have followed Aristotle's argument (as if what Aristotle as the original author of this original text writes is all that counts). Notice how the translators are afraid to depart from Aristotle's categories.

Yes, they may be respecting us their English language audience; and they may not want to be unclear or unambiguous about what Aristotle wrote; . . . but however nonetheless . . . each of the translators misses the misogyny and gynophobia in Aristotle's writings. As if showing the phallogocentric bias of Aristotle will somehow make the translation a hardship on either Aristotle or his readers. (Do we not know that Aristotle never intended that any of us barbarians, or females, would ever read or hear what he wrote? He did not write for you. He considered you less than the elite male Greek student who may some day conquer the world.)

Translator Roberts is so careful, he actually transliterates the Greek for us. We can hear, perhaps, how Aristotle or one of his students might have read it aloud. We can be his audience.

Translator Kennedy gives us readers his 63rd footnote to explain exactly what Aristotle must mean: "In Greek, the participles modifying 'she' have distinct feminine forms."

Translator Freese marks the English translated text for us with his "(fem.)" twice. And he also gives a footnote to explain his translation of Aristotle's word σκεύη as our neuter, noting: "'inanimate things,' the classification probably being male, female, and inanimate, not the grammatical one of masculine, feminine, and neuter."

Roberts, Kennedy, and Freese participate in Aristotle's logic. And much gets lost in their phallogocentric translations. None seems to want to recognize Aristotle’s blatant sexism, his logical absolutism, and his elitist centrism in his writings in general and in this Greek grammar lesson here in particular. Each seems to insist on clear and unambiguous categories. "Either / or" logic works fine.

So let's look ourselves a little closer at Aristotle's language. Let's listen in (as Krista Ratcliffe suggests) with intent but not necessarily and only to his intent. Remember, his intent is to exclude you and me. His intent is to use logic that would classify any female as not a male and any barbarian as not a Greek, with females inferior to males and non-Greeks below Greeks. His review of the categories - the "canons" - of rhetoric was to exclude listening (notes Ratcliffe).

First, let's look at the supposedly troublesome issues in the language of the epigraphs above. Second, we'll return to what's going on in Aristotle's Greek-language lesson.

First, then, the categories in the three excerpts of language above are not so closed. Aristotle, however, wants categories in "nature" and in "logic" and in "language" to be purely one thing while absolutely not the other thing.

Women and females are troubling to Aristotle, in that regard; they are not men and are not males, not pure human beings. Likewise, as in the joke that Suzanne shares, French is troubling for many English speakers and readers (with the joke being clearly ambiguous for the French: not purely feminine-or-masculine and not the same spoken-vs-written).

Ancient biblical Greek - yes, Mark's Greek (a translation of a Latin speaker and maybe of the disciple Peter's Hebrew Aramaic remembering) is barbaric. It's barbaric because what the reader reads is not clearly a specific indefinite son (not necessary "a son"). But worse: it's barbaric because "sons" often refers to "daughters" in Mark's writings and also in the Jews' Hellene translations and writings of their scriptures. Mark's Greek uses a "both / and" logic.

And American English speakers (of the USA variety) want so badly for Thomas Jefferson, the original author of the extant Declaration of Independence, to be clear. The Declaration says one thing, and is not to be watered down into just anything. But "all men" must surely mean to Jefferson more than all men - because all men surely means more than blackslave-and-blackfemaleslave-owning males, who are irked at the King of England for not, among other things, helping them fight "the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Is the English phrase "all men" inclusive of "women" and of "black men and women" and of "red women and men" and so forth?

Second, now, how about Aristotle and his would-be un-ambiguous Greek? What we may need to know is that Aristotle's notes on rhetoric are for his male-only, elite Greek students (being trained, among other things, for politics and world conquest).

Aristotle uses an example for these young men from the language of Protagoras. This is downright strange. Protagoras is a sophist, a slippery rhetorician, someone whose language and logic is about as polluted as a woman's, according to Aristotle. Historian Edward Schiappa says that "Protagoras used a both/and logic. . . . To him experience was rich and variable enough to be capable of multiple—and even inconsistent—accounts" (Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric, page 193). Aristotle, in contrast, taught directly against "Protagorean relativism"; Aristotle taught that one must "argue from an either/or logic" of dominant singularity so that "if two parties disagree about what-is and what-is-not, one of the parties must be mistaken ([Metaphysics] 1063a)" (page 191). On the very principle of non-contradiction, it is strange that Aristotle uses a quotation from Protagoras (who has bad writing and bad logos) to demonstrate the logic of grammatical gender agreement in Aristotle's own lessons of Good Greek by Good Logic.

What is not immediately clear is whether Aristotle is attempting irony when he says that Protagoras sets the good-Greek rules about grammatical agreement with respect to gender. Or perhaps his quotation is from Protagoras but the rule is Aristotle’s applied to the sentence. And maybe Protagoras creates the rule, which his sophism renders meaningless in its contradiction of Aristotle’s logic.


So, what if we translated a bit to show how Aristotle fails to be air-tight with his categories and with his logic?

Here's what Aristotle writes below what I've rendered into English language. Both the English and what Aristotle writes are playful (despite Aristotle's attempts to control and to eliminate the play - what he considers undesirable illogical barbarism and feminism):

Four, as Protagoras does:
the birth-family of the
naming-words by sex:

male and female and thing.

One ought, in fact, to give this out straight:

"having femininely arrived

having womanishly talked
so loquaciously

she left . ."

τέταρτον, ὡς Πρωταγόρας:
τὰ γένη τῶν ὀνομάτων διῄρει:

ἄρρενα καὶ θήλεα καὶ σκεύη

δεῖ γὰρ ἀποδιδόναι καὶ ταῦτα ὀρθῶς:

"ἡ δ' ἐλθοῦσα

καὶ διαλεχθεῖσα


To be clear, all speakers and readers of Greek would not view Aristotle’s grammar problem to be any real problem at all. Very obviously the feminine parts (i.e., the suffixes) on each of the verbals imply a feminine subject so that the three verbals agree in gender. By Aristotle’s anti-Protagorean implication, the feminine gender cannot be both feminine and not feminine (i.e., either masculine or neuter). Thus, this sentence by Protagoras is hardly Aristotle's argument for good Greek grammar as much as it is Aristotle’s own rhetoric for non-contradictory logic. It's an unwittingly sly argument against being sly in language. Whoops, it's an aristotelian contradiction. Whoops.

In addition, since Aristotle is naming Protagoras to argue against the sophist's messy relativism, then Aristotle is doing something else. He seems to be arguing against Plato, Socrates, Pericles, and the woman Aspasia as well. Without too much of a stretch, the reader can see how the feminine verbal διαλεχθει̂σα (transliterated "dialechtheisa"), in Protagoras's sentence, falls within the same semantic range as the feminine nominal διαλεκτική (transliterated "dialektike"). And Aristotle parts ways with his teacher Plato on the point of dialectic, the very loquacious feminine method that Aspasia herself uses and teaches as good uses of logos and Hellene language, to men such as Socrates and Pericles and Protagoras. Aristotle's language plays with dialectic by (perhaps unwittingly and punningly) invoking dialectic--his intention presumably (and the intention of most of his logical English translators too) is to avoid feminine categories unless he can determine what they must be. Aristotle doesn't want listening and interactive talking. He wants no gendered play on words. No feminine helicopters, no feminine sons, no feminine men.

No comments: