Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"ALL IN ALL": language

[UPDATE: I wrote this post very quickly in a very short amount of time yesterday. This morning, I thought to go back through to correct the typos and to adjust the Greek marginal formatting and to help you readers out with clarity in other editorial ways. But now I'm hoping you'll just make what you can of it. Know that I have been thinking through or at least thinking on some of these things. The conversation at BBB continues, and it's a good discussion, I think, at least an important one for many of us. Perhaps for you, there's something pertinent too.]

Teacher:  A good language must have one and only one meaning for each single word!
Young pupil Kenneth Pike:  But, sir, how then could we learn language?
         --Ken Pike, recollecting to some of us, his linguistics students
The Stranger: ... ποιήσῃ τῶν στοιχείων ἕκαστον πάντων ἐν πάσαις ταῖς συλλαβαῖς τὸ μὲν ἕτερον ὡς τῶν ἄλλων ἕτερον ὄν, ...
Young Socrates:  Παντά-Πασι μὲν οὖν.
         --Plato, The Statesman
I like very much the way the philosopher Goodman has stated (1978:x) that "what emerges can perhaps be described as a radical relativism under rigorous restraints" [emphasis mine, KLP].
         --Kenneth Lee Pike, Talk, Thought, and Thing
Here I go again, starting a blog post with three epigraphs.  So you get what I'm doing by now, don't you?  I'm wanting to use language to reflect on language use.

In particular, I want to start my post by blurring the lines between poetry and prose (or so called "propositional truth language").   Let me first (1) rather rhetorically listen in on the English language dialog between two bloggers.  Then (2) let's consider other English.  We might (3) just return to some Greek.  And then (4) we'll talk about translation.

Here goes:


John Hobbins of the blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry makes a brilliant comment at Dannii Willis's Better Bibles Blog post.  He starts:

"... my inner poet rebels against the notion that it is possible to translate a phrase like 'all in all' into propositional truth language."

John goes on to show how the phrase "'all in all' is part of a "beautiful song." He's already admitted, nonetheless, and has very clearly stated that it's not just lyrical sung poetry but that "propositional truth is [indeed] communicated" in the original Greek phrase that Dannii is concerned with (i.e., παντα εν πασιν).  And yet, John draws attention away from the propositional nature of this Greek phrase and then towards what he calls "the diction of the original."  John remarks pointedly that - because of the phrase's vagueness or ambiguity ostensibly - "it could be taken" by Greek readers and listeners alike "in the wrong way."  He implies that this problem is overcome by context.

Dannii replies rather curtly that the English phrase "all in all" (i.e., to translate the Greek phrase παντα εν πασιν) is "just a nice sounding Christian catchphrase."  And Dannii adds rather syllogistically that "catchphrases have no place in our Bibles."  This is his firm conclusion, and so far John has said nothing to rebut it.

My analysis of this conversation:

What I want to draw attention to is that John uses prose or, what he calls "propositional truth language" to make his claim and to build his case.  He does not use poetry, even poetry in the limited way he himself so propositionally defines poetry in contemporary English at his prosaic blog he's named Ancient Hebrew Poetry.  John himself quotes the lines from a song, but of course he cannot sing it in his written comment.

Dannii then comes back curtly (as I said already), in quick propositions.  But notice the nice sounds in his sentence, "It’s just a nice sounding Christian catchphrase."  With all that alliteration and all of those sibilants and affricates and voiceless stops, it's almost poetry.  Maybe it's song.  And it's rather puny because "Christian catchphrase" seems to be a "catchphrase" of "Christians."  Here's propositional truth proof, some of it propositional and scientific:  Bible Read Through and Christian Catch Phrases and Scientists Warn of Shortage in Christian Catchphrases.

(2)  Now this part 2 on considering other English isn't all that clever.

I just remember reading Sir Philip Sidney's piece "The Defense of Posey [i.e., Poetry]" and thinking, Hey, he is using prose here to defend poetry.  I think Mary Sidney's one of the best translators of the Bible ever -- just thought I'd through that in to see if you were paying attention.  Thank you, then!  And click on this link if I've gotten too propositional for you (and if you want an image of something cool).  And I also remember watching Dr. Ken Pike do a monolingual demonstration, give a follow up lecture with a bit of Q & A, and then recite poetry.

He told poems
as if
they could not
told otherwise

Now, I'm thinking I've just made a capital E out of a bad poem.  Don't know what that means, really.  Maybe you'll make something of it.

(3) Now Greek.  No, not Aristotle's this time.  I'm going to show you Plato's Greek (which had some impact on the young Aristotle, I must add).  Plato's got this Young Socrates character learning from a Stranger (and neither is the real Socrates, who taught Plato, or the Socrates who shows up as the real Socrates in most of Plato's dialogs).  The stranger is teaching his student the Young Socrates about Politics and being a Statesman (and they are all men, you know).  His using examples to explain examples to get to the politics stuff.  So he starts with the alphabet.  Yes, Greek.  And he says this:

Ἀνάγειν πρῶτον ἐπ’ ἐκεῖνα ἐν οἷς ταὐτὰ ταῦτα
ὀρθῶς ἐδόξαζον, ἀναγαγόντας δὲ τιθέναι παρὰ τὰ μήπω
γιγνωσκόμενα, καὶ παραβάλλοντας ἐνδεικνύναι τὴν αὐτὴν 
ὁμοιότητα καὶ φύσιν ἐν ἀμφοτέραις οὖσαν ταῖς συμπλοκαῖς, 
μέχριπερ ἂν πᾶσι τοῖς ἀγνοουμένοις τὰ δοξαζόμενα ἀληθῶς
παρατιθέμενα δειχθῇ, δειχθέντα δέ, παραδείγματα οὕτω γιγ‑ 
νόμενα, ποιήσῃ τῶν στοιχείων ἕκαστον πάντων ἐν πάσαις 
ταῖς συλλαβαῖς τὸ μὲν ἕτερον ὡς τῶν ἄλλων ἕτερον ὄν, τὸ
δὲ ταὐτὸν ὡς ταὐτὸν ἀεὶ κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἑαυτῷ προσαγορεύεσθαι.

Yes, I hear the It's All Greek to Me catchphrase.  What you might see, nonetheless, is how Plato's Stranger is using a favorite Greek catchphrase of the Greek-writing Roman-citizen Christian-Jew Saul-Paul.  It's not exactly poetry, but it's not exactly propositional truth, not just yet.  This is Plato, remember, not yet Aristotle.  So did you see it, right there in the dialog?  Or at least in the monolog bit of the Stranger?  πάντων ἐν πάσαις

All in all.  He's talking (as Plato's writing) about the each and every correspondences of letters to syllables and such.  As an example of something like this example and like politics.  It's a nice way to learn.  Take something similar but different.  Stack it up next to something similar but different.  See what you can make of that.

And what do you make of the Young Socrates's response.  Oh that's right, you need to see it.  He "says":

Παντά-Πασι μὲν οὖν.

Now, I'll bet you a few pennies that most English translators have completely missed the Greek wordplay here.  You, however, can see it can't you?  All those π's and Π's and παν's and πασ's.  What's that mean?  Well, on the propositional level, the Young Socrates says "Certainly" or "That's altogether so."  At least that's what translator Benjamin Jowett and translator Seth Benardete have respectively said he said.  What if they'd said something more poetic?  More playful?  More punny (or is it punier?)?

Truth be told, and all in all, I really haven't seen this Greek catchphrase or the wordplayful response anywhere much at all between Plato and Paul.

(4)  Okay.  Let's talk.  About translation I mean.  What do you think?


Bob MacDonald said...

I think I do not have the lightness of joy that Mary Herbert has. How much I have enjoyed her words - full, playful, delighted, and yet compact. Her English acrostic of Psalm 111 is like fine bone china combining much of the psalm into rhyming couplets without a hint of doggerel. Each one of her psalms has a unique verse form.

Bob MacDonald said...

Now - to the other subject. Unfortunately your Greek is a bit too hard for me to read. Quite apart from the Greek, though, I think the real subjects here are the way we express God's power in the context of the eschaton.

Just what is the all-in-all that God lacks at the moment? What is the way in which God exercises power at the coming of Christ Jesus? How should this be rendered in English? And is Paul clear in the Greek? And clear about what? I find it interesting that my 1962 Jerusalem Bible uses all in all without a note and without a worry. It is not a catchphrase. It is a submission - something we do well to imitate. It is good for me that God should be my all and all in me.

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob, Your Psalm 111 post is beautiful! I absolutely love the interlation, the Hebrew, your translating, and your highlighting the translating of the Countess of Pembroke. Fascinating, and, I should say again, just beautiful.

Some of your second comment here, I confess, comes across to me as I suppose Plato's Greek is coming across to you. But that's the fun for learning, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by again and again.

Bob MacDonald said...

Deal then - I will translate my English from Theology to healing - when you give your personal translation of Plato's Paragraph and the Socratic response. All for all - no holds barred.

Dannii said...

As confusing as your posts always are Kurk, I do enjoy them.

By contrast, my posts are rarely so thought through. I usually just grab onto something which I alone find interesting or weird. Do you think they're good for the BBB?

Bob MacDonald said...

See my teasing out of this here. In a word, it's about love. "'He/she is my all in all' is a phrase that lovers use of each other. This is how I understand the all in all in this passage. It is the act of ultimate love that comes when the distracting and rebellious principalities that have some sway in this (my) life are brought to heel. "

Judy Redman said...

What I want to know is why "catchphrase" is a derogatory term? Catchphrases are perfectly respectable mechanisms that enable those entrusted with the task of trasmitting oral history or poetry to remember the order in which their stories fit together. Poetry is a mechanism whereby oral historians can ensure that they transmit their material faithfully. Cliches are a sign that someone hasn't bothered to think very hard about how to express something, but catchphrases are part of the glue that keeps our story together.

Dannii said...

Indeed. Catchphrase was not quite the right word. Cliche is much closer to what I meant.

Judy Redman said...

Fair enough. Always happy to supply words when other people need them. :-)

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for all your helpful comments!

Bob - I'll see what I can do with Plato but more look forward to your keeping your part of the bargain.

Dannii - Yes, many of us think your posts are good for BBB. As far as mine being confusing, I believe others have called the posts difficult (unless they were referring to me :) ).

Bob (again) - thanks for the link to your thoughts on all in all in love. At your post, you link to the wikipedia entry on "all in all," where there's idiomatic(?) "translations" in Dutch ("al met al") and in French ("l'un dans l'autre"et "tout compte fait") - Would these phrases work in Dutch or French bibles? I don't find the former in Het Boek, which has "alles en iedereen" (literally "everything and everyone" at 1 Corinthians 15:28. And neither of the latter French idioms(?) appear in either the Louis Segund or La Bible du Semeur, both of which have "tout en tous."

Judy - I like what you tell us about the importance of catchphrases! I think about Homer and the Iliad and Odyssey and all of the phrases therein. If they'd not employed them, then what would we have of those epics?

You remind me of what Anne Carson (speaking of Homer and of translation) says about the trouble with cliche. Carson says:

"Every translator knows the point where one language cannot be translated into another. Take the word cliché. Cliché is a French borrowing, past participle of the verb clicher, a term from printing meaning 'to make a stereotype from a relief printing surface.' It has been assumed into English unchanged, partly because using French words makes English-speakers feel more intelligent and partly because the word has imitative origins (it is supposed to mimic the sound of the printer's die striking the metal) that make it untranslatable. English has different sounds. English falls silent."

Carson astutely speaks of Homer's silence, of his "anthropomorphic clichés," and of Joan of Arc's and Greek translating Friedrich Hölderlin's "rage against cliché."