Sunday, January 31, 2010

more translating Peter

Is it too much of stretch to note similarities between what Helen says of Odysseus and what Peter says of Jesus?  Below are three lines from the Odyssey and three from Matthew's gospel (Od. 4:252-54 and Mt. 16:16,20).  In both passages, both Helen and Peter speak Greek.  In the former passage, Helen is the narrator of the story of when she discovers the true identity of Odysseus.  In the latter passage, Peter is the one identifying who Jesus truly is.  Helen has Zeus in the heavens as her ostensible father.  Jesus is the son of his father, God, in the heavens.  Both have human mothers.  Helen bathes Odysseus.  Jesus has already been baptized and a voice has called down from the skies declaring him his loved son (Mt. 3).  Both Helen and Jesus are concerned that the true identities be concealed.  The anointing is significant.

Here's Homer's text and then Matthew's.  I've translated the passages into English below the Greek.

ἀλλ' ὅτε δή μιν ἐγὼ λόεον καὶ χρῖον ἐλαίῳ,
ἀμφὶ δὲ εἵματα ἕσσα καὶ ὤμοσα καρτερὸν ὅρκον
μὴ μὲν πρὶν Ὀδυσῆα μετὰ Τρώεσσ' ἀναφῆναι,

Σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος....
Τότε διεστείλατο τοῖς μαθηταῖς [αὐτοῦ]
ἵνα μηδενὶ εἴπωσιν ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν [Ἰησοῦς] ὁ χριστός.

Yet when finally I bathed and anointed him in oil,
then I wrapped around him a sheet and solemnly swore an oath
not to give him up - not to give Odysseus up - to the Trojans.

You, sir, are Anointed, Son, of God, of Life....
Then he warned those apprentices [of his]
that they should not ever say that he is [Y'Shua] Anointed.

Euripides Reads Torah, Paul Does the Classics

.... Now I’m no scholar of the Christian Scriptures (although I have taught courses on them a time or two), but when obvious parallels exist it is incumbent upon modern readers to pay attention. The parallels of Dionysus and Jesus were evident to early Christians, so what I noticed was nothing new. When the followers of Dionysus, however, strike a rock with their sticks and water flows out, I wondered if Euripides had read his Torah!

translating Phyllis Wheatley

And Phillis Wheatley, the first African American poet, switched languages, from Fulani to English, under duress, after being abducted from West Africa and sold to Boston merchant at about the age of seven.
--Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on their Craft, Steven G. Kellman

Though she managed to write important poetry in English rather than her native Fulani, Phyllis Wheatley did not choose to be transported from Africa to America, as a slave.
--The Translingual Imagination, Steven G. Kellman

Phyllis Wheatley, ... among many others, developed commanding voices in languages in which their mothers did not sing them lullabies.
--American Babel: Literatures of the United States from Abnaki to Zuni, Marc Shell

The eighteenth-century author Phillis Wheatley... is not known for an abiding concern with the implications of slavery in the wider American hemisphere.  But when we examine the French translations of her poetry that appear in a journal produced by a group of nineteenth-century Caribbean "hommes de couleur," we find surprising alterations to her text that argue for Wheatley's political engagement in an international colonial arena.
--Transamerican Literary Relations and the Nineteenth-Century Public Sphere, Anna Brickhouse

On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their colour is a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin'd and join th'angelic train.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

translating Peter

Here שִׁימוֺן gets his new name "Rock" from יְהוֹשׁוּעַ.  It's in the 16th chapter of the gospel by "Matthew," who's heard it presumably as "כיפא" and who, transposing it from something spoken to something written, has also translated it into Greek as "Πέτρος."  And of course you, my English readers, know I'm translating also:

15 his statement to them:
So you all: What sure statement are you making about me?
16 the spoken retort of  Simon "Rock":
You, sir, surely are "Anointed" "Son""of God" "of Life."
17 the spoken retort of J'Shua to him:
You are surely fortunate, Jonah's son Simon:  Flesh and blood did not decode this for you; that daddy of mine in the skies did.

18 So here's my statement to you, sir:  You, sir, surely are "Rock."

On her, on this sheer rock I'll construct my household:  that summoned assembly of mine.  "Grave's Gates" won't have strength on her...

15 Λέγει αὐτοῖς
Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι
16 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Σίμων [Simon] (שִׁימוֺן, [Shimon]) Πέτρος [Pétros] (כיפא, [Kēfā]) εἶπεν
Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός [CHristós] (משיחא, [Mašíaḥ]) ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος
17 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς [Iēsoũs] (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ,[Yehoshua]) εἶπεν αὐτῷ
Μακάριος [makarios] (אשֶׁר, ['sher]) εἶ Σίμων [Simon] (שִׁימוֺן, [Shimon]) Βαριωνᾶ [bar-Jonah] (בר, [bar]) (יוֹנָה, [Jonah])
ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα οὐκ ἀπεκάλυψέν σοι
ἀλλ’ ὁ πατήρ [patḗr] (אבא, [abba]) μου ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς

18 Κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω
ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος [Pétros] (כיפא, [Kēfā])

καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ [pétrạ] (צוּר, [ts'wr]) οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν [ẻkklesían] (קָהֵל, [qahal]) (כנישחא, [knistā])
καὶ πύλαι ᾍδου [hẠdes] (שְׁאוֺל, [Sh'ol]) οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς

The above is a sheer mix of the following:
  • Greek rhetorical language in Greek dialogical format
  • dialog in narrative 
  • speaking in writing
  • Matthew's voice with Peter's voice with Jesus's voice
  • Matthew as the writer, the narrator, translator, and the character
  • the writer as the outside narrator with the writer as an insider
  • the readers as audience with the audience as readers 
  • the writer as translator
  • his translation with some "accuracy," "clarity," "naturalness," and "acceptability" 
  • his translation rendering "accuracy," "clarity," "naturalness," and "acceptability"
  • his translation making outsiders of us all
  • our reading(s) taking us in
  • the original language(s) as shadows not reality 
  • the Greek language as shadow not reality 
  • proper names with sound-alike common nouns
  • masculine nouns with sound-alike feminine nouns
  • feminine nouns as the bedrock 
  • names having clear meanings and names with meanings obscured
  • Greek names translating Aramaic names
  • Greek letters transliterating Hebrew Aramaic names and Hebrew names
  • Greek words with Greek-transliterated Hebrew and Hebrew Aramaic words
  • wordplay as playfulness and as hermeneutic openness
  • the consequences of a name that changes 
  • proposition with imposition with transposition with ap(p)osition
  • informing with performing with reforming with transforming 
  • Matthew's Greek grappling with the spoken Aramaic and the written Hebrew and Greek-translated Hebrew of the Jewish scriptures 
  • my English (not Matthew's or J'Shua's or Rock's) grappling with Matthew's Greek 
  • most importantly:  (y)our grappling with the story next to (y)our own experiences
There is so much here that I've posted a preface, an introduction, and some commentary.  Most importantly, there's (y)our grappling with the story next to (y)our own experiences.

commentary: translating Peter

How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language...?

A preface to this post is here and an introduction here.  (I think I'll post next, after this one, an entirely new post I'm finally naming "translating Peter."  There, we'll look together at "Matthew 16:15-19.")  Now, here are more comments as we eventually come to that text in which Matthew writes some dialogue in which Jesus names (or renames) Peter.  We might name his bit of text "commentary."  But the text that we come to is already a "translation."  It's "already infected by the multiplicity of language," but we need to think some about "how to translate" that.

Yes, I know Matthew writes in Greek.  Yes, I understand he's partly translating from another language or two.  But that's just the problem.  Because he's writing in Hellene, Matthew is participating in something bigger than himself.  Greek is either very serious business or it's a game.  Either way, that's big.  What I mean by that is this:  Matthew is either mainly communicating (like Plato's Socrates or like Aristotle or Alexander the Great) or he is doing something more than that (like Aspasia or like Sappho or like Gorgias did, as we know them from Plato's communication and read their own writings).

Plato and his teacher Socrates were after reform in Greek communication.  Plato (in his Republic) rails against the Greek of the poets of old and presses toward the truth, the reality behind the shadows (in his parable of the "cave").  Socrates (in Plato's Gorgias) has the sophist Gorgias confess that he's a "speakeretta" who speaks "speakeristically" (or, in other words, he's a rhetorician who makes up rhetorical speeches).  Moreover, Socrates (in Plato's Phaedrus) warns his student about communication using "written words":  "you might think they [i.e., words that are written] spoke as though they made sense, but if you ask them anything about what they are saying, if you wish an explanation, they go on telling you the same thing, over and over forever."  Thus, the back-and-forth in communication, the "dialectic" of Socrates, gets at the ideal behind the poets' words, at the truth about the sophist's speakeristic tricks, and at the best explanation of any written word.  The need is reform.  Socrates and Plato are trying to ease a modal difficulty in communication, George Steiner might explain.  (It's the very difficulty that David Frank is trying to overcome in Bible translation when he turns to "relevance theory" to distinguish "weak" and "strong communication" and to achieve the ideal goals of "accuracy," "clarity," "naturalness," and "acceptability."  The mode of English clarity is a translator's difficulty, Joel M. Hoffman seems to respond, when there's not clarity in the mode we understand as "the original Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic)."  For Frank, the communique, the message, is the ideal that the translator needs to bring across in the new language.  For Hoffman, the ordinariness or complexity or opacity or awkwardness of the old original languages is the ideal that the translator also needs to bring across in the new languages.  Frank and Hoffman are like Plato and Socrates in their goal of reforming translation.  It appears to me that Willis Barnstone, with his "Restored New Testament," and Ann Nyland, with her "Source New Testament," may be after reform as well; the former seems after the Hebrew (Aramaic) lost in English translation of the Greek, and the latter seems after the classical Greek senses behind the Greek of the New Testament.)   At first glance, it appears that Matthew might be after reforming as well.  In fact, Matthew has "Jesus" and "the disciples" and especially "Peter" in dialog, communicating, moving in accuracy and clarity toward some message or truth behind or in the words.  There are hints of Hebrew and Hebrew Aramaic in the Hellene; there is spoken Greek now within the written; but the goal of the author is to use various modes of communication ideally to communicate as clear and as accurate and as natural and as acceptable a message to his reader(s) as possible.  It appears, at first glance, that Matthew's goal might be basically the same as Plato's and Socrates's (and Frank's and Hoffman's and perhaps Barnstone's and Nyland's).  Their question tends to be "why that way"?  Their goal is transposition for better communication.

Aristotle communicated primarily and more purely with “pure correct Greek” to inform.  He separated himself from his teacher Plato.  His insistence tended to be "get it right."  There is one good word in good Greek, not two.  There is "logic" and "not logic."  Socrates's "dialectic" may be close, but it's "not logic."  "Rhetoric is the counterpart to dialectic," but not either of those is "logic."  "Dissoi Logoi" are two words, but "logos" is not always better, but neither of those is "logic."  Logic is science.  Science is that syl-logist-ic method of starting with the statement of what is objectively observed in Nature and lining up all the statements that follow (i.e., premises) and following them to the statement of the absolute replicable and invariable conclusion.  It appears that Matthew might be communicating by such logic.  At least his "Peter" does.  Peter zeroes in on the conclusion, the objective Nature, the Truth, about who Jesus is and who Jesus is not.  Peter gets it right.  And so, then, does the hidden translator / narrator we come to know as Matthew.  It appears that Matthew's goal -- or at least the goal of his character Peter -- is Aristotle's.  (Once upon a time, this was the goal of one Dr. Jim West in "getting Luke 2:14 right" in translation "so as to make it sensible and yet retain its meaning.").  His goal is to overcome the information gap, to ease what Steiner calls the "epiphenomenal" or the "contingency" difficulty.  His goal is proposition for pure, understood communication.

Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle.  He learned to impose Greek on the world, for communication of course.  We might say that everybody in the Hellene empire was to perform all communication in writing and in speaking by using the Greek language.  (A more contemporary variation on this theme of imposition of a single language is what the British empire was able to achieve by colonization and education so that many, many of us in the world today perform much communication -- such as this -- in English.  Or, the theme shows up with Greek bible readers who want to have us all read only or mainly or easily in Greek.  Transliteration can help get people reading the "original" more easily.)  By the time Matthew writes in Greek, the new Roman empire can hardly shake the language.  It appears that Matthew is participating in Alexander's project.  He names "Peter" with a Greek name.  Matthew is translating from Hebrew Aramaic and from Hebrew into hefty Hellene.  There's power in such communication (for the author and his reader); it is what Steiner calls the "strategic" or "tactical" difficulty.  Reader be damned, unless of course the reader learns to read what the author, by his own force and imposing strategy, has written.  Matthew, it appears, is just doing what Alexander did, what Alexander got the Egyptian King Ptolemy II Philadelphus had the Jews in Alexandria do:  perform the communication (even the communication of the holy Hebrew scriptures) in Greek.  "Whatever way works," seems to the be the machiavellian, alexandrian, gordian-knot-slicing method.  The goal is imposition of a communication strategy.

Now, we need a transition paragraph here.  I want to write one because what Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander were doing with Greek was to work against what others before them had been doing.  Others before them may have been focused on communication.  Others before them may have used Greek for communication reformation, communication information, and even imposed communication performance.  And Matthew may have been following Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander in their communication project.  But the others before Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander (and Matthew after them) may have been doing other things with their Greek too.  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander did -- and it bears repeating -- oppose the other things that the others were doing.  The others were people such as Homer, Sappho, Aspasia, and Gorgias.  If we read Plato's Republic (or even if we read Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato), then we begin to get a pretty clear view of the power of the animosity of Plato against the Greek poets.  If we read Aristotle's Rhetoric or Poetics, then we begin to get a sense of how, in disparaging ways, he named certain ones and their ways of using non-logical Greek.  The point I'm trying to make is that there already were a number of various things Greek people before Aristotle did with their Greek that he attempted to box up and make out of bounds.  The other thing I'm trying to say is that the Greek users after Aristotle didn't always fall for it.  For example, the Jews translating their own Torah into a Greek Torah used Greek much more like Homer, Sappho, Aspasia, and Gorgias used Greek than as Aristotle taught his elite male students to use Greek.  I'm saying that Matthew might be doing some of that also.  And so ends the transitional paragraph here.

Now, we can talk a bit about how Homer, Sappho, Aspasia, and Gorgias (and others named by Plato and Aristotle too) used Greek and about how the Jews in Alexandria and Matthew in Jerusalem used Greek similarly.  Their language transformed.  It transformed the writer (or speaker), the readers (or audience), and those who were being written about (or spoken about).  The difficulty, as Steiner puts it, was "ontological."  The goal, if there was one, was a(p)position.  What I mean by that is both to participate in "apposition" or putting one word or phrase or story beside the next to see the meanings interlate and also to emphasize that one, at first, may not be in any position at all (i.e., a-position, or non-position) to relate and thus must participate by listening or overhearing or eavesdropping as if from the margins. "What may be(come) significant, meaningful" seems to be the motto.

Contemporary examples of this may be more what Mikhail Epstein has named "interlation," or "translingualism."  Maybe it's what Mikhail Bakhtin has named "polyglossia," or "heteroglossia." Certainly, it's what many feminists such as Hélène Cixous and Sherry Simon get at when translating or theorizing translation.

We don't pay attention much to this if we live in monolingual societies or read in one language in a cloistered "language group."  From time to time, we do get writers invading our one-language imaginations as creatively as Matthew writes his gospel.  For example, Yann Martel does this with his wonderful novel Life of Pi, in which the author's Indian protagonist narrates and converses in English until, at the end, the author himself (i.e., Martel the writer) must come back into the text to have two others speaking with the the protagonist in English but also speaking with one another mostly in Japanese.  We readers, nonetheless, get everything in English but understand perhaps Hindi thought patterns throughout and recognize the Japanese speech as bolded letters and otherwise very different font.  And, if you haven't yet read it, I haven't even given one thing away in the amazing story of stories.  I do have to tell you that "Pi" is a great play on the protagonist's name.  You get that right up front. But if you do make it to the end, then you find yourself, an outsider, suddenly thrust in, into the middle.  Pi's story becomes your own.  Or at least the Japanese interrogators' story does.  Or at least you find yourself changing, having to change now that you've suspended your own disbelief so long.  This may be what Matthew is doing with his Greek in "Matthew 16:15-19."

(And, with that long commentary, I think I might be ready soon now to post "translating Peter.")

Friday, January 29, 2010

Translating Names

In the previous post, I began thinking about our generally Western (especially Aristotelian) idea and practice that a name and naming contains and limits.  Names in the West tend to close down meanings rather than to open up meanings.

In this post, all I really want to do is to show how two Bible translators try to open up meanings around names.  In the next post, (to be named "translating Peter") I'll attempt to get at how a Bible writer is translating, is naming, and is opening up meanings (and I'll aim for opening up meanings by my own translation of his translation).

In this post, the two translators featured are Willis Barnstone and Ann Nyland.  Remember, Barnstone and Nyland are both trying to translate so that the words and the names in the New Testament do not close down meanings.  Barnstone is after restoring the Jewish meanings lost in Christianized transliterated names.  And Nyland is trying to open up the Greek words and names to meanings in the sources prior to the New Testament.

Let's take a look at Barnstone's then Nyland's respective translations of what we name as "verses" of the "Bible" in the "gospel" of "Matthew":  "Matthew 16:15-19." And let's also consider their footnotes on these verses.  In Barnstone's translation, he's trying to show where the text became christianized, something his second footnote gets at.  In Nyland's translation, she's attempting to get at the meaning of the Greek name for an Aramaic name but how the Greek name contrasts in meaning with another Greek word the writer of the Greek text uses.  Reproduced below is what the two translators do and say (as each is concerned about the practices of earlier English translators around the names).

     15But you, who do you say I am?
16Kefa, called Shimon Kefa, “You are the mashiah, the anointed, the son of the living God.”
17Yeshua answered him, saying,
     You are blessed, Shimon bar Yonah.130
     It was not flesh and blood that revealed to you this vision,
     But my father who is in the skies.
  18And I tell you that you are Kefa the rock
     And upon this rock I will build my church, 131
     And the gates of Gei Hinnom will not overpower it.

130. Barjonah, son of Jonah from the Greek Βαριωνᾶ (Bariona), from the Hebrew יוֹנָה בר (bar yonah). Some have suggested a secondary derivation from the Hebrew יוחנן בר (bar yohanan).

131. The Greek words ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) and συναγωγή (synagogue) mean an “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation,” and both words can refer to “synagogue.” However, ekklesia (except in the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) is normally translated church, while synagogue is the common word for “synagogue.” Here, in Yeshua’s prophecy, the intentional futurity of “I will build my church” is contrasted with the old Jewish tradition represented by Gei Hinnom, the Hebrew word for “hell.” Yeshua’s dramatic message is that he will build on a rock the new church that will overcome the old synagogue, and that Christian heaven will overcome Jewish hell. In his lifetime there was no Christian church, and Yeshua preached in the synagogues. For the observant Jew to say that he would “build a church” is an anachronism, revealing not his voice but that of churchmen many decades later when a Christian church as a building and institution did exist. The superimposition of later terminology, theology, and history on the figures of Yeshua and his followers remains the essential dilemma of the New Testament.
     15 “But you – who do you say I am?” he asked.
     16 Simon Peter answered, “You’re the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.”
     17 “You are a blessed person, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Jesus exclaimed. “This wasn’t revealed to you by human beings but by my Father in the heavenly places. 18 I certainly say that you are Peter, the stone, and I will build my assembly upon me, the rock,1 and Hades’ gates will not triumph in an encounter with my assembly!

1 In the Greek, the “this” refers to Jesus, not Peter. He is playing on words. “Peter,” ὁ πέτρος, ho petros, is the Greek word for “stone” and ἡ πέτρα, he petra, is the Greek word for a rock, or shelf or ledge of rock, cliff or boulder, used in “upon this rock (πέτρα, petra, not πέτρος,  petros, Peter) I will build my church”. They are two completely different Greek words. See use in Eur. Medea, 28-9; Eur. Andr. 537; Soph. OT, 334ff. However, some (dating to back [sic] Tertullian in the third century) argue that the two words here have the same meaning. Much earlier than Tertullian, the Shepherd of Hermas states that Jesus is the rock.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Naming Translation

Do names contain meanings?  And by "contain" I mean, "label."  I'm suggesting "limit."  Do names set "exclusionary" boundaries? 
"Labels are limiting. They're exclusionary." 
That's what linguist David Ker says when reading my post on the labels "feminism," "rhetoric," "translation," and the "Bible."
"Roughly speaking, the scientist tries to name things and the artist tries to avoid naming things."
That's what acclaimed scientist and acclaimed novelist Alan Lightman says when writing and speaking about writing scientifically and writing artistically.

So I want to know what happens when a name is translated.  Is the name now more of a name?  Is the translated name more limiting, more exclusionary, more scientific?

If you've read my blog much at all, then you know I'm curious about how quickly -- how so easily and so effortlessly -- we in the West accept the binary distinction between science and art.  We follow Aristotle.  Aristotle named things.  He named science, and he named art.  He wrote of Physics, and he wrote of Poetics.  He claimed Logic, and he warned of slippery Logos and of Dissoi Logoi.

So what? we say.  So what if we use names to contain?  So what if we exclude?

Well, I asked Lightman about this.  He conceded that the binary of "scientist trying to name" / "artist avoiding naming" just doesn't work.  And he had to concede when thinking about his own work.  But he wanted to concede especially when recognizing that translators -- when really good -- are best not only as scientists but also as artists as well.

Let's just say that again so we don't miss it:
Good translators both do some naming and also leave some naming to be done by their readers.
This is exactly what goes on in the earliest Jewish translation of Torah by the Jews.  The Jews translating the Bible into Greek worked against Aristotle's clean division between Logic and Logoi, between Physics and Poetics.

And, in fact, when we come to "the Gospel," which is the limit that David Ker names, then we see much of this sort of translation going on.  I'm calling it -- even naming it -- wordplay.  And by "wordplay," I mean both playfulness with words and also interpretive wiggle room.

In an upcoming post, I'm planning to show -- in the gospel of "Jesus" -- some of the striking translational wordplay.  There's an example of one of the writers using Greek mixing (even mixing up) names in Greek, in Hebrew Aramaic, and in Hebrew.

So what? we ask again.  And I do think Ker is on to something.  The "so what" is the question of exclusion.  Who gets excluded when the translator presumes only to be a scientist?  When the translator decides to get so serious with names that there are clearly-defined labels and severely-strict limits, then who gets cut and who gets cut out?
"Christians who have translated the Bible have changed the Jewish names so as to de-Jew them." 
That's what New Testament translator Willis Barnstone, a Jew, claims in his history, his theory, and his practice of translation.
"So many women are kept out of the ministry on the grounds of 'what the Bible says' but the Bible in Greek actually doesn't say anything against women in the ministry. (Mis)translation is a different matter." 
That's what New Testament translator Ann Nyland, a woman, says.

So I want us in the West who are all too eager to practice the Aristotelian binary in translation to think again.
"all languages are translations. The moment I write, I translate. I translate what I feel in this or that language, which I am going to destabilize. The encounters of my emotions in my thought with the French language, for instance, is going to de-French and re-French French -- to free French... Of course the translator has to be a great poet and also a kind of mathematician of an equivalent order to displace the original to its next of kin."
That's of course what Hélène Cixous, a translator, a Jew, and a woman, says.  She also asks other questions when translating:
"La question des juifs.  La question des femmes.  La question des juifemmes... 
The question of the Jews.  The question of women.  The question of jewomen..."
So Sherry Simon says:
"We are reminded here of Derrida's question: can the process of transfer between texts already written in a plurality of tongues still be called translation?  How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language...?"
So I'm planning to post again, to translate some when I do.  And I'm going to start with "the Gospel."  I'm going to look at some things that Jews we know as "Jesus," "Matthew," and "Peter" do with names.  I'm going to try to do some of those things myself, to try naming and also to avoid naming.   The name of that post will be "translating Peter."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Euripides & St. Peter: Feminist & Weaker Sexist?

In this post, I want to get us examining (re-examining perhaps) a word that Euripides and then St. Peter used in reference to women. First, however, I would like to look at what readers of Euripides have said about him and his "feminism." And then could we conjecture about Peter's view of women?  Finally, shall we compare how the two men use the one word?

Euripides is the Greek playwright. And the Peter I'm interested in is the Jewish disciple of Jesus writing in Greek nearly five hundred years later -- the one who's called Saint Peter.

Of Euripides, much has been written with respect to his views on women.  For example, historian F. A. Wright, in his Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle, says this:
“Euripides and Plato are almost the only [male] authors who show any true appreciation of a woman's real qualities, and to Euripides and Plato, Aristotle, by the whole trend of his [sexist, bigoted] prejudices, was opposed.”
Likewise, English professor Louis Markos, in his From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, says this:
“The 'sentimental' Euripides is a self-conscious artist who cannot ignore his own age to sweep his reader off to a mythic neverland.  He was keenly aware of the injustices of his day--the brutalities of war, the subjugation of women, the ill treatment of foreigners and illegitimate children--and he projected these contemporary issues and struggles back into the legendary settings of his tragedies, rather as Arthur Miller's The Crucible projects the dangers of McCarthyism back into the 'legendary' days of Puritan New England.  That the plays of Euripides make their points without sinking into polemic or allegory is a tribute to the complex and subtle artistry of their maker.  They are a tribute as well to his insight into human nature and his gift for giving dramatic voice to the mental anguish and internal rage of the dispossessed.”
In addition, Anne Carson, a Greek classicist and translator of several of Euripides's works, says this of the nature of the playwright:
“He was also concerned with people as people--with what it's like to be a human being in a family, in a fantasy, in a longing, in a mistake.”
And Ann Nyland, a Greek classicist and translator of the New Testament, finds the Greek words of Euripides to be helpful in understanding the words of the writers of the gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation -- especially as the words that figure in the often-ignored “case of gender (mis)translation and anything pertaining to women” in much Bible translation.

Now, has anyone said about St. Peter that he showed “true appreciation of a woman's real qualities” and that he “was keenly aware of the injustices of his day--the brutalities of war, the subjugation of women, the ill treatment of foreigners and illegitimate children”?

Well, maybe.

Suzanne McCarthy posted recently that Peter Leithart is suggesting what she calls “an unusual interpretation” of I Peter 3:7 in Leithart's blog post.  The interpretation is that St. Peter is perhaps less sexist than his fellows and his predecessors.  In fact, St Peter may even favor women -- promoting them from a more sexist Judaism to a more feminist Christianity.

The phrase so unusually interpreted is ὡς ἀσθενεστέρῳ σκεύει.  It can be transliterated hos asthenestero skeuei, and it has been often translated as “as weaker vessels.”  St. Peter's word that Leithart keys in on is σκεύει / skeuei /.  Leithart interprets it as “temple” vessels for the “New [Christian Church, not-old-Jewish Tabernacle] Covenant.”  Christian wives, as such “vessels,” are now by St. Peter included in the “service.”

From here, I'd like us to compare how the “feminist” Euripides used the word σκεύει / skeuei / with how the perhaps “weaker-sexist” St. Peter used it.

The main objection in comparing how the two men used the word is their contexts and their time.  Euripides writes during a life time of world war nearly 500 years before St. Peter writes during the days of a fairly stable empire.  So to overcome the objection, I want to look at an author who is a likely contemporary of Peter.  I want to show that Chariton, writing the first-century novel Callirhoe, uses the word in question the way Euripides did some centuries earlier.

Here's from the translation by G. P. Gould:
“That is why I [Callirhoe, the beautiful woman protagonist of the novel] have been handed over like a mere chattel [σκεῦος, / skeuos /] to I know not whom...”
Elsewhere in the novel written in the first century (when St. Peter wrote his letter), there is this:
“, a royal abundance of funeral offerings, first the gold and silver of the dowry, a beautiful array of garments [κάλλος καὶ κόσμος / kallos kai kosmos /] (for Hermocrates had contributed much from the spoils of the war), and the gifts of relatives and friends. Last of all followed the wealth of Chaereas...”
What I am trying to show is how the word σκεῦος, / skeuos / relates to women.  It has to do with material goods, which Gould translates “mere chattel.”  The second quote given is to show the war context and specific examples of the sorts of σκεῦος, / skeuos /, imagined by a novel's author and by his readers.

Now, we can turn to Euripides.  In the play, The Suppliant Women, we read the following conversation between two characters.  The English translation is by E. P. Coleridge (and we wish Carson had translated this play too); but watch for the Greek word of Euripides, which is reinserted within the brackets below:
Iphis -- Why do you deck yourself in that apparel?
[σκευῇ / skeue / δὲ τῇδε τοῦ χάριν κοσμεῖς / kosmeis / δέμας]    
[[UPDATE -- I just found Michael Wodhull's 1888 rendering, a more literal translation of this line above as:
"But on what account Thy person with that habit hast thou graced?"]]

Evadne -- This robe conveys a strange meaning, father.

Iphis -- You have no look of mourning for your lord.

Evadne -- No, the reason why I am decked in this way is new, perhaps.

Iphis -- Do you then appear before a funeral-pyre?

Evadne -- Yes, for here it is I come to take the prize of victory.

Iphis -- What victory do you mean? I want to learn this from you.

Evadne -- A victory over all women on whom the sun looks down.
Here, the characters of Euripides understand the word σκευῇ /skeue/ to refer to material goods, and in this case to “apparel.” [[or something like a worn “habit.”]]

In comparing Euripides's (and Chariton's) use of the word σκευῇ /skeue/ with St. Peter's use of it, we are left with questions:
Is St. Peter instructing married men to look at their wives as “weaker vessels” or perhaps as “fragile and feeble material goods”?
And if St. Peter is using the word in the same way other writers have used it, then does this make St. Peter more of a feminist or even some sort of “weaker” sexist?
Or, given the Bible as some "God-inspired" text that surely somehow favors men and women equally and always, should we just stop asking these sorts of questions?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Impossible n'est pas français

The French proverb that is the title of this post is both English and French, or is it just French?:

"Impossible n'est pas français"

It's funny of course.  Because the English is French and the French English.  The lore is that Napoleon said it -- see what "Bruno says" here from Petit dictionnaire des expressions nées de l’histoire.  And the fact is that in 1899, the women of the "International Conference of Women" wrote "Si le mot impossible n'est pas français, il est encore moins féminin" to make the English-French possible as something women can do (i.e., "the impossible").

Translators rendering the phrase in English tend not only to offer a literal expression of the French but also to provide a comparable English parable proverb as if that's translation.  "Impossible isn't French," is the literal.  "There is no such word as can't," is the non-French English translation.  (By my adding italics, there's another layer of silent meaning that doesn't come across when the translations are read aloud -- in other words, the italicized words signal to the reader "this is the word as a word."  But the reader speaking the sentences can't signal this meaning by voice).

You may have seen my earlier posts today on the translating Hélène Cixous. I'm particularly interested in some of the questions and statements there. And then I'll end this post with some questions for me, and for you too. The bits I want to quote again here are these:
We are reminded here of Derrida's question: can the process of transfer between texts already written in a plurality of tongues still be called translation? How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language (Graham 1985:215)?

all languages are translations. The moment I write, I translate. I translate what I feel in this or that language, which I am going to destabilize. The encounters of my emotions in my thought with the French language, for instance, is going to de-French and re-French French -- to free French... Of course the translator has to be a great poet and also a kind of mathematician of an equivalent order to displace the original to its next of kin
So here are my questions:

1.  Isn't the English-French proverb like much of the Bible, a mixture of language, of translation already?  Is the process of bible translation, then, really "translation"?  Does it "stabilize" meanings the way many hope translation will?

2.  Which is the better English translation of the French proverb above here, after all the explaining?  Is it the literal which ignores the "natural English" contexts and proverb?  Or is it the English idiomatic translation which ignores the not-French English word now as French?

3.  And in translating the proverb can you do even better?  Can't you?  Impossible?

More Translating Hélène Cixous

From a public interview in English with Martin McQuillan at the University of St. Andrews in 1999:

McQuillan - .... I would like to ask... why Hélène Cixous thinks that perhaps writing is more important than painting?....  So, I would like to know... whether painting has more space for women to transform and transgress than writing does, or whether it is the other way around?

Cixous - Well, thank you.  These are huge questions -- and beautiful questions.
     You know when we started, I should have said one thing regarding "Cixous", which is something very difficult to say, because I think that while one should read, unfortunately one should in the original, but it is not given to us.  We mostly read in translation.  So what do we do with that?  It is a huge question of translation.  So, let me just linger on that for a few minutes.
     I, myself, read in translation.  I've learned to read Brazilian in order to read Clarice Lispector because I know that the secrets are in the skin and flesh of the original language.  So, what happens when we are cursed (or blessed by) the fact that we encounter through different languages.  Usually I try to come to terms with the situation by reminding myself that all languages are translations.  The moment I write, I translate.  I translate what I feel in this or that language, which I am going to destabilize.  The encounters of my emotions in my though with the French language, for instance, is going to de-French and re-French French -- to free French.  I think it's the same, well, it's not exactly the same, but it's in this direction that we read works in translation.  But then of course the responsibility of the translator becomes huge, whcih is also one of the problems that, we, literary people meet all the time.  All those who teach literature here know about the problem with translation.  Of course the translator has to be a great poet and also a kind of mathematician of an equivalent order to displace the original to its next of kin, and maybe one might think of painting and writing in different terms of translation, except that, of course, I am fascinated by painting. 

I also realize that I have a wider scope in reading than in looking at painting.  That is, I read painting in a way that is much more selective.  I don't know why it's something in me that is less open.  I think I read painting when I am touched because I only read paintings that touch me and there are not so many....  Maybe it's because I am not sensitive enough -- I don't know -- it's a question of ear as for music.  So, I do not resound as much for painting, as for writing, where I can say that each hue in the signifiers is a light for me....   I think that one of the mysteries of writing, of language, is really the fact that when we write at surface level (while we write or weave something on the surface) -- underneath the ground where the half of the body, where the dog is hidden [in the painting]), is where language goes on weaving kinds of effects of meaning, of music, and forth which we don't know of.  The question is whether it is easier for women to transgress in painting:  I don't know.  Really, I don't know.  I would say, yes:  it is a temptation to say yes because I have met so many women painters who enjoy their paintings immensely, and who are wonderful artists.  But then after the moment of creation they come upon the same obstacles as women will find in publishing etc., so, I don't know.  It's probably a mirror.  You don't create without transgressing.  But I couldn't give advice that I myself could really believe regarding that.

Translating Hélène Cixous

     Cixous' translation strategy is consistent and coherent:  she provides in English a very close echo of the French text, a persistent shadowing of the French, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase.  This close reading inevitably creates estrangement effects in English....
     Only one paragraph seems to depart radically from this system of strict equivalences and coincidences.  This is a paragraph where the question of Cixous' Jewish identity is broached in a kind of paroxysm of anguished jubilation.  What is the relation between women demonstrating in Iran against the veil and the "Jewish question"?
La question des juifs.  La question des femmes.  La question des juifemmes.  La questione della donnarance.  A questāo das laranjas.  The question:  Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme?  Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher?  Joy I donna?  ou fruo filha?  Fuis-je femme ou est-ce je me ré-juive?
The question of the Jews.  The question of women.  The question of jewomen.  A questāo das laranjudias.  Della arancebrea.  Am I enjewing myself?  Or woe I woman?  Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich?  Joy I donna?  Gioia jew?  Or gioi am femme?  Fruo.                                                                                                                (Cixous 1979)
     Here we see Cixous writing across languages, moving from jubilation to lament, moving through English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian [and dare we see German and transliterated classical Greek?], between Clarice Lispector and Joyce, in an outburst of ambivalent self-accusation.  Here, the absence of any mechanical idea of equivalence between languages reinforces the dynamic of Cixous' writing which is to create meaning in the spaces between words, in the interplay between them.
     The careful, restrained linguistic shadowing which prevails elsewhere in the text collapses entirely as the plurality of codes is equally produced in all languages.  We are reminded here of Derrida's question:  can the process of transfer between texts already written in a plurality of tongues still be called translation?  How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language (Graham 1985:215)?  In this passage, Cixous brings to the surface the tensions among identities through which her text is constructed.  The unity of the speaking subject's identity explodes, as does the unity of language.
     There is a certain violence in this expression of non-identity, in the dispersion of familiar linguistic traits.  The reader of the translation is faced with "stiff or limping English, full of gaps, blocked by untranslated matter" (Willis 1992:107).  Exposed to the eye are two texts, one dependent on the other, each language showing itself to fill the gap of the other, supplementing and at the same time revealing the faults and gaps of the original, in a complementary and simultaneous act of completion and deformation.  The poles of wholeness and loss are indicated by the orange and the apple, the orange pointing to a mythic completeness, the apple drawing attention to the divisions at the heart of being:  apple becomes appel, appeal:  how to call, what to call?  The speaker draws attention to the shift from orange to apple, claiming in the text:  "I am guilty also of voluntary translation" (Cixous 1979:38).  Clarice [Lispector], however, is the instrument who will translate the apple into the orange.  Vivre l' orange [by Cixous], in Sharon Willis' strong reading, is a text that "exposes its own fault, faultiness, an internal rift, across the figure of the orange being displaced, occupying the place of Iran, of I, of woman, of the body through which the voice passes" (Willis 1992:113).  It performs the failure of the journey toward the proper name, toward the security of a linguistic home.  The interdependence of the double text echoes the absent origin of the speaker, the displacement of her quest.
--from pages 97 and 98 of Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission by Sherry Simon

The F Word (and the R word, the T word, the B word)

Feminism.  It's a word in the English dictionary.  It has a stable, objective meaning.  We'd all agree, for example, that it does not mean "cowboy" or "vivorum" or "复杂性" or "σκεῦος."  And yet, are you neutral in your understanding of "feminism"?  Doesn't the word (and your use of it in writing or in speaking or even in reading and in listening) immediately cause you to participate in its force, subjectively?  "No, I am not a feminist," you might protest.  And most of us would, likely, agree with you.  But then we all -- each one of us -- could get into an argument over who "is" a feminist and who is not a feminist.  Among self identifying feminists, this happens regularly, so that there are "waves" and there are kinds ("afrafeminism" and "womanism" and "academic" feminism and so forth) and there are memories of Mary Daly post mortem in which she's a "dangerous" or a "radical" or a "theological" or a "no longer representative of me and my sort of" feminist.  The safest definition of the word "feminist" I have found so far is "a supporter of feminism."  But what if a true "feminist" could care less about "feminism" per se?  Feminism cares about feminism?  You get the point of my personal questions, don't you?  There's an inclusivity in the questions whether you're finding yourself on the outside or the inside of this word "feminism."  These are rhetorical questions, aren't they?

Rhetoric.   You know what that word means, don't you?

Translation.  As with feminism and rhetoric, translation begs for experts.  You can get a Ph.D. in it.  And if you have less than that, well then, what other kind of training is necessary to talk about it, or to do it "right" and not wrong?

Bible.  If we all could agree that it really means βιβλία [biblía] "books," then there would be so much less disagreement, right? We might not have to define biblioblogger or learn to read Alexa ratings or to count down from 50 or to count women so delicately if we're not one or so vigorously even if we are one or to "draft criteria for inclusion in" or to pronounce "niche" correctly. It might not matter so much whether someone else includes me or you so much or not. Alas. words. I know what they mean but then they change, change you, change me.