Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ways of Translation: Part 2, Language as Imposition

The telling strategy assumes that people are guided by reason.... Telling often leads to resistance. The forcing strategy assumes that people are resistant and must be coerced into changing.
--Robert E. Quinn, Change the World : How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results

כִּי כְּמֹו־שָׁעַר בְּנַפְשֹׁו כֶּן־הוּא אֱכֹל וּשְׁתֵה יֹאמַר לָךְ וְלִבֹּו בַּל־עִמָּֽךְ׃
פִּתְּךָ־אָכַלְתָּ תְקִיאֶנָּה וְשִׁחַתָּ דְּבָרֶיךָ הַנְּעִימִים׃
--Solomon, Proverbs 23:7

I must have told you a thousand times. You know better than that. Since you're obviously not capable of hearing what I said, kid, let's see if you can't feel my belt. Now, bend over.
--my father

Part 1: Review

In part 1 of this series on ways of translation, I noted how many linguists follow Aristotle in conceiving of Language (or "logos") as Proposition (or as "logic," as purely defined binary categories or sets of oppositional features, as naturally-ordered statements toward conclusions). It may be Noam Chomsky's divisions of Language vs. languages, of Competence vs. Performance, of plus / minus features - or it may be Relevance Theorists' divisions of explicatures vs. implicatures with respect to propositions and divisions of types within those two different and distinct categories and divisions of the message that's delivered and processed and the message that is not. The conclusion, therefore, about translation (given Language as Proposition) is generally that there is a transfer of the relevant categories or features of the source language (especially the intended message or proposition of the speaker or writer) into the target language. The more the binary categories match, the better the transmission of the proposition. The more equal the features on both sides of the equation, the better the translation. The Language-as-Proposition Problem is that the logos falls by the wayside. The seed emitted never gets transmitted. In the bible, Mark's translation of Jesus's parable of the sower (in Mark 4) starts with this problem. Mark hearkens back to the LXX translation of the story of spilled seed, of the sin of Onan in Genesis 38. The function of language as Proposition requires that it is either a successful transmission of the message or it is not.

Part 2, Language as Imposition

In part 2, we come to the post-proposition problem. Language does not always have the effect the speaker or writer wants. Language, at that point, then, is viewed less as propositional and more as impositional.

Jesus speaks to this (as Mark translates him in Mark 4, in the parable of the sower).  After he notes the problem of sown seed falling by the way side and after he gets to the explanation of the proposition heard but lost on deaf ears and stolen from the heart, he gets to problems of force.  He says: "5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away." And the explanation speaks to other difficulties of force: "16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away."  I've given this to you in the forceful ESV translation, but I might as well have given it to you in Mark's forceful Greek translation.  The nature of force reminds us of things Gorgias wrote in original Greek when he tried to excuse Helen for leaving the men of Greece for barbarians.  He wrote, playing with language without translating:

εἴτε λόγῳ πεισθεῖσα
εἴτε βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα

either she was by proposition seduced
or else she was by imposition induced

In Genesis 38, as translated into Greek, we see something similar.

9 γνοὺς δὲ Αυναν ὅτι οὐκ αὐτῷ ἔσται τὸ σπέρμαγίνετο ὅταν εἰσήρχετο πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἐξέχεεν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τοῦ μὴ δοῦναι σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ

9 But Onan had birthed knowledge that the sperm-semen seed would not be born to him. So whenever he went in to his brother’s birthing wombman he would waste it on the ground of birth, so as not to give the sperm-semen seed to his brother.

10 πονηρὸν δὲ ἐφάνη ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐποίησεν τοῦτο,
καὶ ἐθανάτωσεν καὶ τοῦτον

10 It was wicked, in fact, appearing in the face of God, this mess that was created,
and so he put him to death and so that was that.

At this point, no one using language is thinking about making it easy. We're thinking about what happens when propositions emitted fail. There usually comes force afterwards, an imposition like a rock or heat or judgment and death. George Steiner, in his little essay "On Difficulty" in his book by the same title, gets at this some. He first talks about the information gaps in poetry first as a difficulty. When a poet uses a proposition and the reader or listener doesn't get it, there's a problem. But then there's more: Steiner mentions how the poet sometimes will make a poem difficult because of authorly decisions to slow the reader down or to force a reader's eyes one way or another on a page or to impose a particular rhyme and rhythm on the reader's ears or to put in metaphorical rootlessness or rhetorical tribulation in the mix.

Language as post-proposition Imposition is beginning to sound a bit literary. And yet it's much more profound than that. Aristotle created "logic" but, for Alexander the Great, it wasn't enough. There was the move from Nature to human nature, and I want to suggest that the human condition is gendered. I'm suspecting that "logic" (for Aristotle and his students) gives way to "phallo-logic." So a little later in this post, we'll get to that suspicion with some observations from Nancy Mairs. But first, I want to go back to the beginning of the post and to the quotations there from three men, Robert E. Quinn, Solomon, and my dad.

My epigraphs to start this post get at just how deep Language as Imposition can be.

Quinn: Two Conceptions of "Language," for Change

Quinn is an expert in human change, especially in the context of businesses and organizations. After surveying the literature in his disciplines, he found that there are a very limited number of reasons adults change. Similarly, there are just a few respective strategies that CEOs and leaders of businesses use to effect corporate change. In the quotation above, only two are mentioned: the telling strategy and the forcing strategy. Does that sound familiar? We might as well call these "the propositional strategy" for change and the "impositional strategy." These two, Quinn says, are most common both in the literature of business scholarship and in the practice of business change. A CEO who employs the "telling" strategy might propose a "mission statement" or might send a directive by official memorandum. When the strategy fails, then language becomes force. The CEO will likely next engage in the "forcing" strategy. Let me include half of Figure 1.A in Quinn's book Change the World because I'd like you to see how Aristotelian the notion of "telling" and how Alexandrian the concept of "forcing." And then we can talk more about language and translation - as imposition.

In the world of business, and this is the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Western world, the telling strategy owes much to Aristotle. There's the emphasis on facts, the method of rational persuasion (i.e., logical rhetoric), and logical argumentation among other things. In addition, the forcing strategy in our day looks much like it did in the day of Alexander the Great. The bit about "controlling the context and flow of information" is what jumps out at me with respect to language.

Now, when a context and flow of information has authority, then I tend to think of discourse and of texts such as Aristotle's Organon. And I think of the Hebrew scriptures, and the Christian Bible, and the Qur'an of Islam. The purists and fundamentalists who most prize these texts resist their translation. That is, the authority who possess the texts preserve them rigidly in untranslated and original form.

For example, expert and authoritative Aristotle scholar, Thomas M. Conley, works against rhetoric students reading Aristotle's Rhetoric in anything but Aristotle's original Greek. And in a published article entitled "The Greekless Reader and Aristotle's Rhetoric," Conley disparages all rhetoric teachers and students of rhetoric who would read Aristotle in translation; and he disparages all English translations, and one in particular. The force of Aristotle, in language, is in his original, so argues the authority. Ironically, Conley must resort to making his arguments by proposition, and by proposition in English. However, if he could force such a thing, Conley might ban all English translations of Aristotle's Greek works.

One of my own rhetoric professors, Richard Leo Enos, has written a fine rebuttal to Conley's argument, calling it a "country-club mindset." (The article's entitled, “The Classical Tradition(s) of Rhetoric: A Demur to the Country Club Set.”) I think Enos is on to something, that Conley's emphasis is "authority" and by it his method is what Quinn sees as "leveraging behavior." Enos says further that "The entire point of translations . . . is to put wisdom in the hands of readers who have an expertise other than philology, so that their insights can enrich our understanding in another dimension . . . . Aristotle’s Rhetoric can continue to enrich our discipline [of rhetoric]." But I believe that not all translators have such a point of enrichment. In fact, it seems to me that most Christian Bible translation publishers tend, at times, to employ a forcing strategy. There is, in many cases, a political reality for the translation teams.

If you hang around the biblioblogosphere for any time at all, you get the sense that there are Bible translation fights over methods (i.e., formal equivalence vs. dynamic equivalence), arguments about approaches (i.e., "theological" vs. "linguistic"), vigorous disagreements about gendered language (including not only male vs. female language but also straight vs. gay language), disputes about the sort of English to be used (i.e., biblish vs. natural vs. poetic, etc.), and contentions about resources (particularly whether the English bible is getting way too much attention when the bible is not available yet in translation in many, many, many other languages). Of course, there is the telling strategy - the use of propositional language - to build the case for one's cause(s). And yet, there is the forcing strategy - the use of impositional language - to force agenda for particular translation teams and companies and the like. Many of you would be better prepared to cite specific examples than I am. The snobbish "country club" mentality that appears to me to have set in among several Bible bloggers makes me unhappy to mention anybody. (This blog of mine catches enough unhappiness from bible bloggers already, I'm afraid).

Solomon:  The "Logos," Vomitted with Force

So that brings me to the second epigraph. Whew! Some wisdom, finally. It's Solomon. His proverb is translated: "For as one that hath reckoned within himself, so is he: 'Eat and drink', saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.   The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words." If I read that well enough, Solomon at least means that proposition and imposition go hand in hand.  

In English, the traditional propositional understanding has been from the KJV - "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" - focusing on the first part of the first verse (and ignoring the last part of the previous verse and anything else following here).  Whatever is rational is part of the agency of power of a human.

In Hellene, the Jews translating in Alexander the Great's great city of Alexandria rendered the proverb with force, especially toward the end of the last verse - ἐξεμέσει γὰρ αὐτὸν καὶ λυμανεῖται -- τοὺς λόγους σου τοὺς καλούς, which means something like "It will, in fact, be vomited out and rottenness imposed on -- that proposition of yours, that sweet emission."

In either language, there's a profound connection between Language as Proposition and Language as Imposition.  Kenneth L. Pike's Tagmemics, with his emphasis on Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior - about which I may say more in another post sometime because Pike knew and published in both rhetoric and composition, where the force of language is important - and John R. Searle's "Speech Acts" theorizing are examples of Language as Imposition. (And Language as Imposition is part of the human condition, and the human condition is gendered.)

Dad:  Language as Imposition

If you've read some of my blog before, then you've heard me talk some about my birth father.  He's a changed and changing man.  But when I was younger, he was more abusive, with language as proposition and as power (as imposition).  Sometimes the difference blurred for me between what he did and what he said.  He was, I must clarify, a very logical man (and boasted that his mark in a college "logic" course was slightly higher than mine -- three decades apart, we'd had the very same professor of logic as undergraduate students).  He was also a very forceful man.  The change began for my father, in part, when he realized what his language and his behavior was like for my mother and for their children.  The first time I ever heard him apologize to her was when I was home from college my first year; he'd just come home too from a conference for evangelical Christian pastors (which he was) in which there was a look on the inside and not just at words and actions on the outside.  The proverb I heard him repeating all week, the week I was home, was this:  "We practice daily what we believe.  All the rest is religious talk."

Now, here's a turn, a change, for me.  When I was doing a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition a couple of decades after getting an M.A. in linguistics, I was most startled by Nancy Mairs.  My formal language background hadn't prepared me for her.  However, my life with Dad had.  I read one of Mairs's books for a course my very first semester:  Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer.

I'd already read lots of Aristotle, had already read lots of Paul (because my reading of him was imposed by my father).  We read Cheryl Glenn's Rhetoric Retold first, and I was unprepared for the things she heard Aristotle and Paul say in their silences that I'd never listened to.  Then we read Mairs.

I'd like to read some of Mairs's sentences right here at the blog.  And yet I have to warn you, you might not be ready.  It's not just that there's sexual language, metaphorical stuff.  (Which reminds me when, a few courses later in the program, I began giving an oral presentation on Helene Cixous for the required Literary Criticism course.  The professor, a male, interrupted me by saying, "No dick jokes," and everyone laughed.  So please let's continue, if you will look and listen only).  There's language here that betrays the impositions of the propositions.  After reading "dominate" and "force" and "imposition" and "phallus" and "father" and the "male human", -- here's a father's proposition and imposition, from page 41:
. . . . What is hers by right he [the father] must take [from the mother] by force, through law, by giving it [Jacques] Lacan's Name-of-the-Father: "the patronym, patriarchal law, patriarchal identity, language as our inscription into patriarchy. The Name-of-the-Father is the fact of the attribution of paternity by law, by language." With his own tongue the father has named the baby. Now it is his. . . .
Once he gets her settled into domesticity, however, and gets a baby, the baby seems to belong to her, not him. They are forever together, nuzzling each other, rocking and humming and babbling. This doesn't much matter if it's a girl baby, since some stranger will one day get his own baby out of her; but if it's a boy baby, it's of his line, and he must wrest it away from its tricky mother and insert it into the chain of immortality he is forging. "No," he bellows, louder than Rumpelstiltskin, at the cowering child behind her skirts. "You can't have this one. This one is mine. He is my son." And named by the father, the child becomes a man.
In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites.
Reading Mairs is a bit different from reading Quinn only in the fact that the former suggests, like Solomon and Jesus and their translators do, that proposition does not need necessarily to come before imposition.  In fact, for many men, Language as Proposition IS Language as Imposition.  Alexander is a good, rational student of Aristotle, who is just as forceful.

If I ever have time for blogging again, we just might look together at Language as Transposition and Language as Ap(p)osition.  In other words, we might think together about ways Language and Translation might be differently conceived, different from how Aristotle tells us it is and would force it to be.


Jay Seidler said...

Thanks for your writing. I am enjoying the education.

J. K. Gayle said...

Jay, Thanks for commenting, for enjoying. My apologies for the late reply to you now after I've stopped blogging. Perhaps, it'd be a good thing to have links here to Part 3 & Part 4 of this series you were reading here.