Friday, April 30, 2010

The Intentional Introduction of Ambiguity

Sometimes we readers just can't tell whether a writer (a poet and translator perhaps) has intentionally introduced ambiguities.

I'm thinking now of Nancy Mair's quotations of Michel de Montaigne, which indicate to her that he's one who, like her, seems to "try to sustain a kind of intellectual double vision: to see the feminine both as that which language represses and renders unrepresentable by any human being, male or female, and as that which in social, political, and economic terms represents experiences peculiar to the female."  Ironically, she says of him:
Montaigne’s begins to sound like a feminist project. Which is not to say that Montaigne was a feminist. (“You are too noble-spirited,” he was able to write to the Comtesse de Gurson when she was expecting her first child, “to begin otherwise than with a male.”) But whether intentionally or not, Montaigne invented, or perhaps renewed, a mode open and flexible enough to enable the feminine inscription of human experience as no other does.
I'm also thinking of Wayne Leman's quotations of Eugene Peterson's translations of the Psalms, and whether the latter was after some intentional rendering of Hebrew or Hebraic Hellene ambiguities.

I'm also thinking of that old / new Irish Hymn, translated, and of another Hebrew / Hebraic Hellene passage of Creativities in the Beginning when God's image was translated rather ambiguously - intentionally?


And yet, sometimes writers will declare (as Mairs does) their intentions of introducing ambiguities.  Remember how Nancy Mairs says it?
In my writing, I try to sustain a kind of intellectual double vision: to see the feminine both as that which language represses and renders unrepresentable by any human being, male or female, and as that which in social, political, and economic terms represents experiences peculiar to the female. I want my femininity both ways—indeed, I want it as many ways as I can get it. I am the woman writer. Don’t ask me for impregnable argument. As far as I’m concerned, my text is flawed not when it is ambiguous or even contradictory, but only when it leaves you no room for stories of your own. I keep my tale as wide open as I can. It’s more fun this way. Trust me.
And here's how Jorge Luis Borges says it, translating his español into his English or is it the other way around?
Mi suerte es lo que suele domoninarse poesía intelectual.  La palabra es casi un oximoron; el intelecto (la vigilia) piensa por medio de abstracciones, la poseía (el sueño), por medio de imagenes, del mitos o de fábulas.  La poesia intelectual debe entretejer gratamente esos dos procesos.

My luck lies in what might be called intellectual poetry.  The term is almost an oxymoron; the intellect (wakefulness) thinks by means of abstractions; poetry (dream) by means of images, myths, or fables.  Intellectual poetry should pleasingly interweave the two processes.
And now, after reading what Borges says about dreamy poetry and the wakeful intellect, I'm thinking about Alan Lightman's novel, Einstein's Dreams.  How clever to realize, to intellectually understand by the images of a work of fiction, all that might have led you to your understanding of time as relative, especially in relation to your own waking understandings of light.  This is what Lightman's fantastic first novel does for you, and for me, and of course for Albert Einstein.  The book's been translated now into more than 30 different languages.  I asked Lightman about these, and he confessed he'd never yet read a single 1 of these renderings of translators.  I'd been listening to the novelist, who is also an acclaimed astrophysicist; he'd been saying that novelists and other artists use their guts and their hearts to try to capture the imagination, the belief of their readers and viewers.  But scientists, claimed Lightman, do something altogether different:  Lightman says that scientists use their heads to name things objectively, without regard to their readers' belief or imagination.  So I asked Lightman if he'd rather the translators of his novel be artists or scientists.  And do you know what his brilliant answer was?  He said Both.  Of course, translators must intend ambiguities!  They have to both render a work believable and they also must use those "intellectual abstractions."  Yes, "the intellect (wakefulness) thinks by means of abstractions," admits Borges, who also says, "el intelecto (la vigilia) piensa por medio de abstracciones."  And also there's so much more.

And now I'm thinking about novelist Yann Martel.  He's done something very difficult in writing a Holocaust novel, while he himself is neither a Jew nor a historian.  The novel I'm reading now is his Beatrice and Virgil.  His main protagonist, Henry, comes in starting to pitch a novel about the Holocaust to his editors, to the booksellers, to us Martel's readers.  Without spoiling the whole thing (and I'm not finished reading yet), he also tells how the project fails, that it absolutely flops.  But, at the very least, he imagines that he must intentionally introduce ambiguities.  Henry has chosen to use a flipbook format in which the book is read forward to the middle one way but then must be flipped over so that the back cover becomes the new front cover for the second half of the book or, rather, another book in another literal direction.  (Later, Henry struggles with the fact that flipbook is also, ambiguously in an unintended way, a completely different sort of book format as well).  Martel and Henry have to define what they mean:  "a book with two sets of distinct pages that are attached to a common spine upside down and back-to-back to each other."

Here, hear a bit:
        Henry chose this unusual [flip book] format because he was concerned with how best to present two literary wares that shared the same title, the same concern, but not the same method.  He'd in fact written two books:  one was a novel, while the other was a piece of nonfiction, an essay.  He had taken this double approach because he felt he needed every means at his disposal to tackle his chosen subject.  But fiction and nonfiction are very rarely published in the same book.  That was the hitch.  Tradition holds that the two must be kept apart.  That is how our knowledge and impressions of life are sorted in bookstores and libraries--separate aisles, separate floors--and that is how publishers prepare their books, imagination in one package, reason in another.  It's not how writers write.  A novel is not an entirely unreasonable creation, nor is an essay devoid of imagination.  Nor is it how people live.  People don't rigorously separate the imaginative from the rational in their thinking and in their actions.  There are truths and there are lies--these are the transcendent categories, in books as in life.  The useful division is between fiction and nonfiction that speaks the truth and the fiction and nonfiction that utters lies.
What Martel does from this point is to begin to deconstruct the whole notion of intentional, intended ambiguities introduced anywhere, anyplace, anytime.  But we begin to get a bit of what the novelist intends.  It's intention as clever as Nancy Mairs's, and Jorge Luis Borges's, and Alan Lightman's.  (A good interview with Martel is here.  Although the critics seem to be panning his book, I think they haven't read it yet -- at least not its flip side on the other side of the ambiguity.  The best review I've read so far is here.  In another good interview, the novelist defends his fictional writing on the Holocaust here, at Vox Tablet.  What is very clear, whether you like the book or hate it, the author intends to introduce ambiguities; and I like that.)

4 Most Powerful Posts (Yesterday - 29 April 2010)

  1. Afghan Girls Poisoned for Attending School   

  2. The Female Face of France: Banned Beneath the Burqa

  3. Complementarians, why let women lead Bible studies?

  4. Who supported Jesus out of their own means?

Stop Rape Now

from The F-Word Blog by Jess McCabe:

In a symbolic gesture that sexual violence is unacceptable, UN is calling on people world-over to upload photos, with arms crossed, to its Stop Rape Now map.

The UN campaign is particularly focused on conflict-related rape:
United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) unites the work of 13 UN system entities with the goal of ending sexual violence during and in the wake of conflict. Sexual violence in conflict is a serious, present-day emergency affecting millions of people, primarily women and girls. It is often a conscious strategy deployed on a large scale by armed groups (state and non-state actors) to humiliate opponents, destroy individuals and shred societies.

200 000 persons have been raped in the ongoing war in DRC, 500 000 were raped during the war in Rwanda and every day hundreds of women are raped in Darfur.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Poetry and the End of Theology

After I posted "Our World Without Ambiguity, or humility" this morning, James K. A. Smith posted "Poetry and the End of Theology."

Smith is asking some dangerous questions again:
But how did a discourse so uncreative become the deputized voice of the Creator? How did a genre so flat and sober and unimaginative become the official mouthpiece of a God who created platypuses and larkspur? Frankly, how did the boring disquisitions of “systematic” theology emerge as the authoritative voice for a people who follow a story-teller like Jesus?
And he's making some dangerous comparisons:
The republic of [Christian] theology, like Plato’s city [i.e., The Republic], is built on the exile of the poets whose “fictions” are a dangerous distraction.
Smith sums up his own short story succinctly:
theology picked up some very bad habits in modernity.
What Smith hasn't yet done is to tell the story of where what he calls "modernity" has picked up its very bad habits from.  And yet Smith gives clues:
the language of propositions and syllogisms
Now, who invented such logic and refined the true systematic process of scientific knowing that we call "syllogistic reasoning"?  Who's the one who worked against "images and metaphors" and "fiction and poetry"?  Who's that one who railed against divine "revelation"? 

Yes, that's right.  It's the pre-modern, poetry-despising, anti-female, barbarian-(like-you-and-me)-hating, utterly-objective, father of modernity:


Our World Without Ambiguity, or humility

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Sunday I visited a friend's church, where we sang the above. Ironically, for being the sort of visionary petition that it seems to aspire to call God Himself to being, it's not a very clear text, is it?

The English is outdated. The metaphors are mixed. The categories are contradictory. The penultimate line above has one person, one male person only, identifying with God, when a larger number of us including males and females is singing. The math, down to the last number, is all wrong. The meanings are many. The phrasing is unnatural. The ESL learners are struggling. And the children surely aren't getting much of anything.

Besides all that, what we read singing is not what's in "the original."

I'm being sarcastic again. But I'm trying to sound a little like Socrates in Plato's Republic [aka Πολιτεία or The Perfect City-State with No Old Poetic Ambiguities Whatsoever].  He wants to establish the ideal Greek world without the mindlessness of the people who follow the old poets of the ancient epic poetry.  One of my friends going to a Christian seminary said that the Republic was one of the required readings for a class, and I wonder why.  I asked her if they'd read Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato, and she said No.  Are they going to read anything by Aristotle who invariably and always writes more logically and less dialogically than Plato his teacher?  She didn't know.

What if I were to try to sound like Aristotle?  I think I'd try to sound like the bible scholars and the linguists who are trying to make the bible sound like Aristotle.  One, for example, says he likes better an English translation that "communicates more clearly the meaning" of a bit of Matthew than the clear translation he is Assistant Project Director for.  Another bible language expert, my friend Wayne Leman the linguist, says that one particular bible translator (whose translation he likes to read) "is such a good English writer and poet that I [Wayne] think he would probably have modified the last line [of some verses of his translation in order] to remove the ambiguity."  To Leman, this particular translator is one of those "English Bible translators [who] introduce ambiguity to a translation which they themselves do not intend."  This is Aristotle's clear and logical and intended rule for his students, of course:  "avoid ambiguities."

Now, Leman is much more forgiving than Aristotle, if they both do want to avoid ambiguities.  Leman lets the particular Bible translator who seems to have introduced ambiguity into his English off the hook, on one and only one condition.  Leman says this "good English writer and poet" shall not introduce to an English language Psalm any unintended ambiguity -- and he shall remove it too -- "UNLESS he believed that the original Hebrew was itself ambiguous."  (Of course, Aristotle believed that all bar-bar-ic languages, such as Hebrew, were ambiguous as was that unclear illogical Greek language of the old poets and of the sophists and of all females and even of his teacher Plato and of Plato's teacher Socrates.)  So it may be okay, in one instance alone, according to Leman, for the poetic English translator of the Hebrew Psalms to introduce English ambiguities:  if he intends to mirror what he believes is the intentional introduction of ambiguity by the original Hebrew writer singer poet into the text of the original Hebrew.

Unfortunately, who can know what the original poet songwriter's intentions were?  And how can we " in our generation ... fully understand the original Hebrew, much less the profound wordplay and connections present in the language"?  Now I'm quoting a former blogger named Iyov, who is quoted by another of my linguist blogger friends, Suzanne McCarthy.  McCarthy a former blogger at Better Bibles Blog here goes on to say that
The psalms are uniquely suited for the study of commentary through the centuries, for seeing how diversely and personally the Hebrew has been translated by one generation after another, for simply surrendering the rational mind to an acceptance of ambiguity in the original text.
What Iyov and McCarthy have made us do is to stand outside of an unclear, ambiguous text.  They've made us stand far away.  They've made us assume a lowly position.  We cannot even understand everything in the original text.

I was thinking about whether to give the original Hebrew text that Leman's "good English writer and poet" Bible translator was rendering into English with his perhaps unintentionally introduced ambiguity.  I was getting ready to try to show how ambiguous the Hebrew is.  I was considering bringing in the Greek translation of that Hebrew by certain Jews who would certainly be using the Hellene in ways that Aristotle considers vague and unclear and highly ambiguous.  But it may be better, for now, just to come back to those lines that I started this post with.

There is great humility here in those lines, with the ambiguities.  Perhaps ambiguity calls for humility.  Perhaps change of vision requires ambiguity.  Perhaps that's the point, one of the many many possible points, of the original text.

Now, just to be clear, the original text is old ambiguous Irish:

Rop tú mo baile, a Choimdiu cride:
ní ní nech aile acht Rí secht nime.

Rop tú mo scrútain i l-ló 's i n-aidche;
rop tú ad-chëar im chotlud caidche.

Rop tú mo labra, rop tú mo thuicsiu;
rop tussu dam-sa, rob misse duit-siu.

Rop tussu m'athair, rob mé do mac-su;
rop tussu lem-sa, rob misse lat-su.

If you're a native speaker of modern Irish, then it may make a wee bit more sense like this:

Bí Thusa ’mo shúile a Rí mhór na ndúil
Líon thusa mo bheatha mo chéadfaí ’s mo stuaim
Bí thusa i m'aigne gach oíche ’s gach lá
Im chodladh no im dhúiseacht, líon mé le do ghrá.

Bí thusa ’mo threorú i mbriathar ’s i mbeart
Fan thusa go deo liom is coinnigh mé ceart
Glac cúram mar Athair, is éist le mo ghuí
Is tabhair domsa áit cónaí istigh i do chroí.

But the story goes that one Mary Elizabeth Byrne, an Irish linguist, rendered those old and ancient and ambiguous Irish lines into English something like this in 1905:

Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart
None other is aught but the King of the seven heavens.

Be thou my meditation by day and night.
May it be thou that I behold even in my sleep.

Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee

Be thou my father, be I thy son.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine. 

And then one Eleanor M. Hull introduced even more English ambiguity to the lines of Byrne by making it more poetic in 1912:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one. 

A bit later someone put it to an Irish tune, and some many years later and across an ocean, one Sunday some of us of many generations later sang it in a church, where the English now was American and mostly Texan, with many of the verbs swapped around or lopped off to fit a version played with guitars and drums. 

I think we may have been doing what McCarthy said we might best be doing:  "simply surrendering the rational mind to an acceptance of ambiguity in the original text."  It's not entirely clear to me, but it seems one of the points of the hymn, of the prayer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hitler's Shoah Novel; Aristotle's Woman Poem

No, Hitler didn't write a novel, much less one on the Holocaust of the Jews.  Nor did Aristotle either write poetry or praise females.

My sarcastic title is to emphasize the fact that Adolf Hitler avoided writing fiction and that Aristotle never composed poetry.

Rather, Hitler wrote only in prose:  Mein Kampf   [aka My Very Own Sorrowful Struggles].

And so did Aristotle, scientific things like:   ΠΕΡΙ ΠΟΙΗΤΙΚΗΣ and ΠΕΡΙ ΡΗΤΟΡΙΚΗΣ    [aka  AROUND CREATIVITISTICS  and AROUND SPEAKERISTICS  or, what's been called Poetics and The Rhetoric]. 

These men believed that it took the pure prose of non-creative, non-fiction to call for the destruction of those of another race and to observe the denigration of the other sex.

In another post, soon when I have a bit more time, I want to talk about the values of ambiguity, of poetry, of fiction, and of creative nonfiction.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Recovery: Sex Addiction, Silence, and Women

Too much has already been said on the question of the sex addiction of men like Tiger Woods and Jesse James.

And there's too much silence already on sex addiction of women.  Fortunately, some are speaking up.  And what's coming out is for positive recovery.

For example, today Marnie Ferree:  "Female Sex Addict: Not an Oxymoron."  Most postively, Beaty asks and Ferree begins to answer the questions about positive recovery for the woman sex addict and for those who are in her life:
How would you advise a single Christian [woman] sex addict to proceed in recovery?
Bless her heart. It is hard. I think obviously to proceed in integrity and holiness, I think to really focus on her healthy relationships, and they can be of opposite gender, but to be certain about what’s driving them and what the foundation is. And I think to embrace her sexuality, and by that I mean to be very aware of and in touch with her feminine side, whether that’s her appearance or her creative side or her athletic side. To really be a whole person and not just focus on “Well I’ve gotta find a man.”
What do sex addicts need most from the people who love them?
They need loved ones to educate themselves about sex addiction, especially about women. They need to understand the extraordinary challenge that the female sex addict is facing. Second, female sex addicts need their loved ones to be working on themselves. My husband would say that he enabled me for years by his passivity. I’m still totally responsible for what I did, but it sure would have helped had he been healthy enough to put his foot down and say, “I am not going to live with a wife who is unfaithful to me.” That’s what I mean by doing their own work: setting healthy boundaries, learning themselves how to address their own attachments and the impact they have had in their own life.
Ferree's language -- such as in the phrases "embrace her sexuality," "working on themselves," "enable," "responsible," "healthy boundaries," and "attachments" -- is not only important for beginning to open up and to talk about sex addition.  But her words, such language, is also helpful for engaging in the positive process towards recovery.

In her book, No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Shame, Ferree has this section on recovery:
Working the Twelve Steps

        Merely attending a Twelve Step support group isn't enough.  In my experience, lasting recovery requires actually working through the Twelve Steps.  Many who're new in recovery fail to grasp what that means.  It's an enormous undertaking.  One woman naively thought she could work the Twelve Steps in a matter of a few weeks.  "After all," she said, "there're only Twelve of them.  How long could that take?"  Most women find it takes a minimum of a year to work through the Steps - and that's only the first time.  Revisiting the Steps regularly is an on-going part of recovery.  [Page 182]
One of the important parts of recovery, implicit in Ferree's paragraph here, is that one works from one's own experience.  Not surprisingly, Ferree makes clear in her own experience (and even in her book too) that one cannot recover easily (if at all) without support, without a group for support.  And yet, Ferree suggests also that one cannot force another to go through steps of recovery, nor can anyone do any part of recovery for anyone else.

Furthermore, Ferree not only says something about recovery; she also does something.  Freere is not just being an exemplar; rather, she's revealing her own experience as part of her ongoing process of recovery for herself.  One's own experience in recovery -- that is, not being silent -- is eventually one of the points of dis-cover-y, of un-covering.  Thus, a related matter of recovery is safety, safety when speaking up and speaking out about one's self and one's own experience, safety in revealing oneself in a group of others who have or have had the same experience and are supportive as a group, committed to the safety of confidentiality.

I believe J. Keith Miller has, likewise, advised that revealing oneself to and in a support group is not a "strip tease"; but, quite differently, revealing one's struggles in the safety of one's support group is much more purposeful, as with the purpose of willingly taking off one's clothes before going into surgery so that the medical group can help the patient.  Miller makes these points in his book, A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth

I'm bringing up Miller's book when talking about Ferree's book because both have addressed Christian audiences.  But they stress (and so I want to emphasize, perhaps to caution as if it's not already known) how recovery sometimes is not safe in the Christian church.  Miller addresses men and women, but Ferree speaks to women more directly.  Ferree speaks primarily to women because the church often compounds the problem of recovery for women.  The silence and silencing is troublesome, for women, for women struggling with sex addiction, within the Christian community.

Ferree is at the place in her recovery where she is able to feel safe talking about her experience in the church, and with those now in the Christian community.  For example, Ferree is able to give her interview to Beaty, who is an editor of "Her.meneutics - (n) the Christianity Today blog for women."  

And Ferree, at her own website,, is able to give her own "testimony" as if to the Christian community.  Her experience, her story, what she reveals is how personally responsible she has had to be for her own sex addiction; and she adds the other struggle, one of the reasons for her silence so long:
It was the religious folk I was afraid of. The Christians - the church people - those were the ones I wanted to avoid. I knew how the church dealt with sinners like me. They still threw stones. Maybe not literal ones, but sharp ones nonetheless.
Ferree has felt the need to recover beyond the church.  She's created Bethesda Workshops for "Sexual Addiction" and "Co-Addiction" so that others, with the assistance of a safe staff of licensed therapists and support groups, can begin the process of recovery.

Ferree's experience of silence, as a woman struggling with sex addiction, is not unique.  Although Dr. Drew's popular tv show Sex Rehab includes women, there is generally much more attention given to sex addiction among men in the popular media and to the recovery helps offered to men; there's been more public attention given to men struggling with sexual addiction than than to women struggling with sexual addiction.  Similarly, in the blogosphere (even the Christian blogosphere), recovery advice is more offered to men -- as at the blog "Porn Free: To offer sexual redemption through Christ to those who are slaves to pornography."  For example, at a Porn Free post entitled, "12 Steps to Sexual Purity," a person identifying herself as Nicole, a self-identifying Catholic, says:
Your site is very god bit i noticed something….. your mnistry seems to be directed specificaly to men suffering from porn addiction. When are we going to see somr help fpr us ladies who suffer the same? We express our addictions difernetly for men....
... I am a female sex addict and have been searching on the Internet for resources and information and I only find information geared to men. it can be very isolating and frustrating when it is assumed that only men have this problem. it is more prevalent than you would think.
Fortunately, Nicole has begun to speak out and like many others has found (and goes on to share) positive helps, such as Ferree's Bethesda Workshops and her story of recovery.

Nicole brings up an important point about the differences of sex addition for men and for women.  Often men are the ones who tend to abuse women and children.  For boys abused, there is often a cycle created in which they grow up to be abusers.  Statistics on these cycles can be cited, but they are sorely under-reported given the shame.  For girls and women, the shame is compounded by the public perceptions that a woman struggling with sex addiction is an anomaly and is abnormal (in comparison to a male's struggles).

Ferree has another helpful essay on the website of the National Association of Christian Recovery.  Entitled "Women and Sexual Addiction," the article also explores "The Link Between Abuse and Addiction."  Ferree's essay, some of her readers's comments, and the NACR site all give links to places and resources for recovery.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our World Without Translation: or alternatives

“Translation not only plays its important traditional role as the means that allows us access to literature originally written in one of the countless languages we cannot read, but it also represents a concrete literary presence with the crucial capacity to ease and make more meaningful our relationships to those with whom we may not have had a connection before. Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”
-- Edith Grossman

"Despite these imperfections, the Septuagint is a watershed in Jewish history. More than any other event in Jewish history, this translation would make the Hebrew religion into a world religion. It would otherwise have faded from memory like the infinity of Semitic religions that have been lost to us."
-- Richard Hooker

"[R]eading literature from other countries is vital to maintaining a vibrant book culture and to increasing the exchange of ideas among cultures. In this age of globalization, one of the best ways to preserve the uniqueness of cultures is through the translation and appreciation of international literary works.... Unfortunately, only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation."
-- Three Percent

"Each generation needs its own translators. While a fine work of literature never needs updating, a translation, however wonderful, gathers dust. Reading Pope's Homer, we hear Pope more than Homer. Reading Constance Garnett's Tolstoy, we hear the voice of late-19th-century England. We need to go back to the great works and bring them into our own idiom. To do that we need fresh minds and voices. For a few minutes every year we really must acknowledge that translators are important, and make sure we get the best."
-- Tim Parks

"[W]riters in the Renaissance were acutely aware of the debt they owed translators. It was a great age of international literary cross-fertilization, thanks to English translators of Petrarch’s sonnets and Montaigne’s essays, and the work of innumerable other continental poets and sages. In comparison, readers in Canada and the United States today are strikingly insular. In the United States, only 2% to 3% of books published each year are literary translations. (In Western Europe and Latin America, that number is anywhere from 25% to 40%.)"
-- Philip Marchand

"        Attention is a task we share, you and I. To keep attention strong means to keep it from settling. Partly for this reason I have chosen to talk about two men at once [i.e., Simonides of Keos and Paul Celan]. They keep each other from settling. Moving and not settling, they are side by side in a conversation and yet no conversation takes place. Face to face, yet they do not know one another, did not live in the same era, never spoke the same language. With and against, aligned and adverse, each is placed like a surface on which the other may come into focus. Sometimes you can see a celestial object better by looking at something else, with it, in the sky.
        Think of the Greek preposition πρός. When used with the accusative case, this preposition means 'toward, upon, against, with, ready for, face to face, engaging, concerning, touching, in reply to, in respect of, compared with, according to, as accompaniment for.' It is the preposition chosen by John the Evangelist to describe the relationship between God and The Word in the first verse of the first chapter of his Revelation [i.e., his Gospel revealing the Word in translation]:

πρὸς θεόν

'And The Word was with God' is how the usual translation goes. What kind of withness is it?
         I am writing this on the train to Milan. We flash past towers and factories, stations, yards, then a field where a herd of black horses is just turning to race uphill. 'Attempts at description are stupid,' George Eliot says, yet one may encounter a fragment of unexhausted time. Who can name its transactions, the sense that fell through us of untouchable wind, unknown effort--one black mane?"
-- Anne Carson

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reading Books

My daughter who's prepping to go away to college soon has challenged me to join her in reading a book a week, and preferably a novel (in addition to her schoolwork and to all my other work and play).

Here's one of my favorite bits so far from what I'm finishing this weekend:
Dear Ms. Singer,
I just finished your translation of the poems of Nicanor Parra, who, as you say, "wore on his lapel a little Russian astronaut, and carried in his pocket the letters of a woman who left him for another." It's sitting here next to me on the table in my room in a pensione overlooking the Grand Canal.  I don't know what to say about it, except that it moved me in a way one hopes to be moved each time he begins a book.  What I mean is, in some way I'd find almost impossible to describe,it changed me.  But I won't go on about that....
That's from page 55 of The History of Love by Nicole Strauss.

I love how there's so much going on all at once, in the characters, in their letters, in their lives.  You hear many voices in Strauss's writing, and you get to see how some of them have changed her, perhaps are her.  For example, the dedication is below:

And then one of the protagonists is trying to figure out where she's come from and who she is, and we read this chart on page 96:

Her mother is telling her she's not of any one race.  And after considering all the mix, she shouts back, "I'M AMERICAN," to which her little brother (the religious one, whom some refer to as 'the Moshiach') replies, "No, you're not.  You're Jewish."

Last weekend, it was re-reading Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams.  That one also explores life change, and the subconscious influences.

Books I'm looking forward to reading include:
Cari M. Carpenter's (or rather also Victoria Woodhull's) Selected Writings of Victoria Woodhull: Suffrage, Free Love, and Eugenics.

Edith Grossman's Why Translation Matters(And what makes me even more interested is this exciting essay of hers!)

Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil.

David Rosenberg's An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus.
You might just find some bits from these here to read soon.  Don't know about you, don't know how, but reading changes me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

tired of being the token women

"At theatres, festivals, art galleries and bookshops, women's work is being pushed to the margins....

We no longer live in an age where female thinkers, writers, philosophers, academics, artists, theorists, activists or politicians are rare. [And yet...] The discrimination is obvious. All you have to do is count. It's all the more galling given that women equal or outnumber men as attendees of arts festivals, concerts, readings, discussions and debates, and as arts and humanities students at university. Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men. Women make up the majority of executive, PR and organisational staff in arts and cultural institutions. Women's ticket revenue, licence fees, book purchases and entrance fees are being used to fund events at which women artists and thinkers are marginalised with breathtaking obviousness....

So what's the solution? The establishment, patriarchy, the mainstream, whatever you want to call it, just doesn't find women interesting. It makes sure that women are heavily outnumbered from the very beginning by offering us only a fraction of available opportunities, slots, placements, commissions, trips, panel places, star jobs, reviews. Later, it conveniently uses this to claim that there are not enough women "out there" to make a stronger impression higher up. It talks down women's work. It is supported by a false mythology about the weakness, inconsistency, subjectivity and inconsequentiality of women's creation, experience and perspective."

If you want to count, and if you want to read her solution, here's Bidisha, writing for the Guardian:  "tired of being the token women."  (ht

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Speech on Earth Day, from Aspasia

While it's still Earth Day, maybe you'll be interested in reading what Aspasia said. 

Here is some of what Aspasia said in a speech she wrote.  It's translated by Walter R. M. Lamb in 1925 AD, after it's translated by Benjamin Jowett in 1914 AD, after it's written by Plato in 386 BC, as if Socrates is reading it after Aspasia wrote it some time earlier.  It's in Plato's dialogue Menexenus, which ends with a dispute over whether a woman could really speak so eloquently (or could compose a speech so eloquent).  Much of the point I'm making here is that you have to wade through a lot of stuff men say to hear her.  And none of them gets her earthy mother wordplay (which is highlighted for us below), which I do think the first bible translators of the first book of the bible do get very very well.

(Lamb's version:)

There, Menexenus, you have the oration of Aspasia,

And by Zeus, Socrates, Aspasia, by your account, deserves to be congratulated if she is really capable of composing a speech like that, woman though she is.

Nay, then, if you are incredulous, come along with me and listen to a speech from her own lips.

I have met with Aspasia many a time, Socrates, and I know well what she is like.

Well, then, don't you admire her, and are you not grateful to her now for her oration?

Yes, I am exceedingly grateful, Socrates, for the oration to her or to him—whoever it was that repeated it to you; and what is more, I owe many other debts of gratitude to him that repeated it.

That will be fine! Only be careful not to give me away, so that I may report to you later on many other fine political speeches of hers.

Have no fear: I won't give you away; only do you report them.

Well, it shall be done.

(Jowett's version:)

SOCRATES: You have heard, Menexenus, the oration of Aspasia the Milesian.

MENEXENUS: Truly, Socrates, I marvel that Aspasia, who is only a woman, should be able to compose such a speech; she must be a rare one.

SOCRATES: Well, if you are incredulous, you may come with me and hear her.

MENEXENUS: I have often met Aspasia, Socrates, and know what she is like.

SOCRATES: Well, and do you not admire her, and are you not grateful for her speech?

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates, I am very grateful to her or to him who told you, and still more to you who have told me.

SOCRATES: Very good. But you must take care not to tell of me, and then at some future time I will repeat to you many other excellent political speeches of hers.

MENEXENUS: Fear not, only let me hear them, and I will keep the secret.

SOCRATES: Then I will keep my promise.

(Lamb's version of a bit of Aspasia's speech:)

For every creature that brings forth possesses a suitable supply of nourishment for its offspring; and by this test it is manifest also whether a woman be truly a mother or no, if she possesses no founts of nourishment for her child. Now our land, which is also our mother, furnishes to the full this proof of her having brought forth men; for, of all the lands that then existed, she was the first and the only one to produce human nourishment, namely the grain of wheat and barley, whereby the race of mankind is most richly and well nourished, inasmuch as she herself was the true mother of this creature. And proofs such as this one ought to accept more readily on behalf of a country than on behalf of a woman; for it is not the country that imitates the woman in the matter of conception and birth, but the woman the country. But this her produce of grain she did not begrudge to the rest of men, but dispensed it to them also. And after it she brought to birth for her children the olive, sore labor's balm. And when she had nurtured and reared them up to man's estate, she introduced gods to be their governors and tutors; the names of whom it behoves us to pass over in this discourse, since we know them; and they set in order our mode of life, not only in respect of daily business, by instructing us before all others in the arts, but also in respect of the guardianship of our country, by teaching us how to acquire and handle arms.

(Jowett's version of that same bit of Aspasia's speech:)

For as a woman proves her motherhood by giving milk to her young ones (and she who has no fountain of milk is not a mother), so did this our land prove that she was the mother of men, for in those days she alone and first of all brought forth wheat and barley for human food, which is the best and noblest sustenance for man, whom she regarded as her true offspring. And these are truer proofs of motherhood in a country than in a woman, for the woman in her conception and generation is but the imitation of the earth, and not the earth of the woman. And of the fruit of the earth she gave a plenteous supply, not only to her own, but to others also; and afterwards she made the olive to spring up to be a boon to her children, and to help them in their toils. And when she had herself nursed them and brought them up to
manhood, she gave them Gods to be their rulers and teachers, whose names are well known, and need not now be repeated. They are the Gods who first ordered our lives, and instructed us in the arts for the supply of our daily needs, and taught us the acquisition and use of arms for the defence of the country.

(Plato's version of what Socrates read, the wordplayful bit of earthy Aspasia's speech:)

πᾶν γὰρ τὸ τεκὸν τροφὴν ἔχει ἐπιτηδείαν ᾧ ἂν τέκῃ, ᾧ καὶ γυνὴ δήλη τεκοῦσά τε ἀληθῶς καὶ μή, ἀλλ’ ὑποβαλλομένη, ἐὰν μὴ ἔχῃ πηγὰς τροφῆς τῷ γεννωμένῳ. ὃ δὴ καὶ ἡ ἡμετέρα γῆ τε καὶ μήτηρ ἱκανὸν τεκμήριον παρέχεται ὡς ἀνθρώπους γεννησαμένη· μόνη γὰρ ἐν τῷ τότε καὶ πρώτη τροφὴν ἀνθρωπείαν ἤνεγκεν τὸν τῶν πυρῶν καὶ κριθῶν καρπόν, ᾧ κάλλιστα καὶ ἄριστα τρέφεται τὸ ἀνθρώπειον γένος, ὡς τῷ ὄντι τοῦτο τὸ ζῷον αὐτὴ γεννησαμένη. μᾶλλον δὲ ὑπὲρ γῆςγυναικὸς προσήκει δέχεσθαι τοιαῦτα τεκμήρια· οὐ γὰρ γῆ γυναῖκα μεμίμηται κυήσει καὶ γεννήσει, ἀλλὰ γυνγῆν. τούτου δὲ τοῦ καρποῦ οὐκ ἐφθόνησεν, ἀλλ’ ἔνειμεν καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις.  μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἐλαίου γένεσιν, πόνων ἀρωγήν, ἀνῆκεν τοῖς ἐκγόνοις· θρεψαμένη δὲ καὶ αὐξήσασα πρὸς ἥβην ἄρχοντας καὶ διδασκάλους αὐτῶν θεοὺς ἐπηγάγετο· ὧν τὰ μὲν ὀνόματα πρέπει ἐν τῷ τοιῷδε ἐᾶν—ἴσμεν γάρ—οἳ τὸν βίον ἡμῶν κατεσκεύασαν πρός τε τὴν καθ’ ἡμέραν δίαιταν, τέχνας πρώτους παιδευσάμενοι, καὶ πρὸς τὴν ὑπὲρ τῆς χώρας φυλακὴν ὅπλων κτῆσίν τε καὶ χρῆσιν διδαξάμενοι.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aristotle in New Zealand and in eating disorders

When Aristotle teaches his elite male Greek students that females lack souls, that they are deformed males, then how does that affect you?  How far through time and across nations has such teaching influenced us?

Well, in New Zealand, a girl who struggled with "anorexia for nearly twenty years" has grown up to find some answers.  She's a fledgling scholar now, looking at the teachings as the "foundation of a biased and therefore incorrect metaphysics which has caused in all girls a disruption of their normal processes of development."  She suspects that what's been caused in young women is "[n]ot just a sense of inner turmoil but a fragmentation and loss of whole selfhood as they learn to see the real sexual female body as defective, disgusting, bad and shameful."

She is "Waikato University doctoral student Jane Cook."  What might we someday learn (and then unlearn) from Ms. Cook?

The Difficulty of Psalm 90

I just posted various versions of what we call Psalm 90:1-3.  It's poetry to be sung that takes a rhetorical turn right at verse 3.  Of course, it goes on in a unique way.  And it's difficult.

This particular passage is unique for several reasons.  First, it is the one and only Psalm that the Sefer Tehillim attribute(s) to Moses.  Second, therefore, readers might expect and indeed may find in this particular text some reflections -- and even some language -- from Chumash, or Torah, attributed also to Moses.  Third, the language is gendered as are the reflections.  Forth, as noted already, there's a major turn in this Psalm 90, right at what we call verse 3.  Fifth, this makes for some interesting decisions that translators must make.  Sixth, when the first translators translate, they are back in Egypt under new domination, making a decision about which way to turn with the language of translation (i.e., whether to go with imperial Greek or playful Greek).  Seventh, when women translators translate, they are making decisions about which ways to turn with the gender(s) of the languages.  (Moses, we re-member, is birthed from a woman by women, rebirthed by a woman from the Egyptian river; the word Moses is a translated name from a woman's Egyptian into playful Hebrew.  Moses, who is remembering where he comes from in this Psalm, is its authoritative voice.)

This passage, the poem to be sung and heard in the sweetest way possible, is difficult in at least four ways.  Is the author (whoever she or he is) intending to tell, to force, to negotiate, or to transform (herself and her readers and listeners)?  Is the intent to inform, to perform, to reform, or to transform?  For us listeners and readers, is the difficulty epiphenomenal, tactical, modal, or ontological?  These are questions of the sort that Gorgias asked of Helen when he asks the difficult question of why she'd abandon the men of Greece (i.e., "(1) she obeyed the gods' commands; (2) she was carried off by force; (3) she was persuaded by speech; (4) she succumbed to love.")  These are the sorts of questions that Jesus gets his listeners listening to (i.e., when Mark's Jesus tells the parable of seed, falling by the wayside, falling on hard ground, falling among thorns, falling and dying in good soil).  So these are Jewish questions if they seem like those of a Greek sophist about a woman.  The Jewish literary critic George Steiner, when he's thinking on difficulty in poetry, asks the questions. 

(I've been thinking about some of these things while talking, again, with several people over at Better Bibles Blog.  The question that came up recently is whether a particular English translation of a particular Psalm is better than others.  One astute commenter, Theophrastus, at one point suggested the poem sounded simply saccharine but not nearly as sweet as the Tellihim.  I think, to be precise, he said something like it sounded like doggerel to him.  I agreed.  And our comments were censored, excised, without explanation or warning, by the editors of BBB.  The conversation has continued.  The best we might do now, as if with a clipped tongue or a missing hand, is to let the poet translators speak with writing that is better than the doggerel.  I'm sure, in part, that's what has motivated this post of mine here.  But I do think there are many other very good reasons to read and to listen to good translations of the Psalms.)

various poet translators turning around Tehillim 90

- Pamela Greenberg, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, April 2010 (Iyyar 5770):

Psalm 90

A prayer of Moses, man of God.

God, you have been a dwelling place for us
from one generation to the next.

Before mountains were born,
before earth and its people came to exist.

From eternity until eternity you are holy.

Mortals can turn to you until they are crushed.
You say, “Return, children of Adam.”

- Ann Nyland, New South Wales, Australia, March 2010:


A prayer of Moses, a person of Elohim.
1 Adonai, you have been our place of safety through all generations.
2 Before the mountains came into existence,
or you brought the earth and world into being,
you are El, everlasting to everlasting.
3 You make humankind return to the dust,
and say, "People, return to dust!"

- Julia Evelina Smith, Connecticut, USA, 1855:

PRAYER to Moses the man of God.
        O Jehovah, thou wert a refuge to
us in generation and generation.
     2 Before the mountains were born,
and the earth shall be begun, and the
habitable globe, and from forever even
to forever, thou art God.
     3 Thou wilt turn man even to crush-
ing, and thou wilt say, Turn back, ye
sons of man.

- Mary Sidney Hebert, Wilton House, Wiltshire, England,1599:


Thou our refuge, thou our dwelling,
    O Lord, has byn from time to time:
Long er Mountains, proudly swelling,
    Above the lowly dales did clime:
Long er the Earth, embowl'd by thee,
    Bare the forme it now doth beare:
Yea, thou art God for ever, free
    From all touch of age and yeare.

O, but man by thee created,
    As he at first of earth arose,
When thy word his end hath dated,
    In equall state to earth he goes.
Thou saist, and saying makst it soe:
    Be noe more, O Adams heyre;
From whence ye came, dispatch to goe,
    Dust againe, as dust you were.

- Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (or maybe his sister Miriam), Yam Kinneret, Israel, 902AD (4662):


א תְּפִלָּה, לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ-הָאֱלֹהִים
אֲדֹנָי--מָעוֹן אַתָּה, הָיִיתָ לָּנוּ; בְּדֹר וָדֹר

ב בְּטֶרֶם, הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ-- וַתְּחוֹלֵל אֶרֶץ וְתֵבֵל
וּמֵעוֹלָם עַד-עוֹלָם, אַתָּה אֵל

ג תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ, עַד-דַּכָּא; וַתֹּאמֶר, שׁוּבוּ בְנֵי-אָדָם

- Some unnamed Elder scholar(s), Alexandria, Egypt, around Nisan 20, 3561 (or 200BC or so):

Ψαλμοὶ πθ

προσευχὴ τοῦ Μωυσῆ ἀνθρώπου τοῦ θεοῦ

κύριε καταφυγὴ ἐγενήθης ἡμῖν
ἐν γενεᾷ καὶ γενεᾷ
πρὸ τοῦ ὄρη γενηθῆναι
καὶ πλασθῆναι τὴν γῆν
καὶ τὴν οἰκουμένην
καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος σὺ εἶ
μὴ ἀποστρέψῃς ἄνθρωπον εἰς ταπείνωσιν
καὶ εἶπας ἐπιστρέψατε υἱοὶ ἀνθρώπων

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More from Pamela Greenberg

PBS has offered videos of Pamela Greenberg speaking and and has shared entire Psalms she's translated. Here is some of that:
Greenberg's website for The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation also offers this:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pamela Greenberg Translates the Psalms

Pamela Greenberg has written The Complete Psalms: The Book of Prayer Songs in a New Translation.  [published in its completed form, yesterday; HT Ruth Abrams at]

This may be one of the most important Bible translations in our day for several reasons.  It stands apart, in substantive ways, from previous attempts to render the ancient Hebrew poetry into English.  The publisher's blurb starts to get at some of these ways:
Traditional translations—from those of the medieval Jewish commentator Rashi to early Christian commentators to the King James version—have downplayed anger at God and reinterpreted the Psalms in ways that would be doctrinally more palatable, but which flatten the richness and subtlety of the Hebrew verse. Greenberg's translation aims to restore the poetry and vibrancy of the Psalms as a prayerful act, replicating their emotional passion while both wrestling with the text as living liturgy and remaining as true as possible to the originals.
And a reviewer at the Library Journal says:
She is, naturally, up against stiff competition—along with the committee that brought forth the Authorized Version, the likes of the Countess of Pembroke, Isaac Watts, and, more recently, biblical scholar Robert Alter. Greenberg's version speaks with a directness and simplicity that distinguishes it from the magniloquence of most other versions. 
What strikes me most about Greenberg's work -- what makes her translation entirely fresh and distinctive -- is not just the restored and vibrant poetry, or its "directness and simplicity."  (I've just posted her Psalm 2, so you can hear and see for yourself).  What is genuinely impressive in her rendering is how personal this is to her.  Greenberg lends her voice, her spiritual angst and transformation, to her renderings.  This sort of dynamic subjectivity is critical to the voices of the psalmists.

Sometimes, more often than not, translators miss this critical need.  Greenberg explains:
        Since all translation is part interpretation, bringing one’s own ideas to the psalms is inevitable. The difficulty is that allegiance to preconceived ideas of piety has often resulted in a flattening of the richness and subtle poetry of the original. For readers of English, this has been a tragic loss. It is precisely the psalms’ refusal to engage in theological piety— their overflowing into wild jubilance or anger or deeply wrenching despair— that allows them to resonate as perennial expressions of the human desire to stand simply and unabashedly before God.
She insists, “The psalms have touched people because they reflect the lived experience of religion, not neat theological doctrine.”

Greenberg explains how poetry -- but its personal, transformative power -- is so central to the psalms and to her translating of the psalms:
        My central motivation in this translation was the impulse of shiru l’Adonai shir chadash, the imperative to sing to God a new song. I wanted to render the original in such a way that it might be more useful and alive for liturgical and meditative reflection. In doing so, I wanted to find ways to struggle with the poetry and vibrancy of the original psalms while at the same time wrestling with them as pieces of living liturgy. Because my central aim was to bring the text more fully alive as an act of prayer, I did not limit myself to translating any given word in the same way each time it appears. While consistency of language is useful as a pedagogical drumbeat, awakening a reader to repetitions that might otherwise be lost, poetry was for me a higher imperative.
There is much much more to say about Greenberg's translation and her translating, but I'll just say two additional things:

First, the personal, transformative stuff of Greenberg's translating includes her work on this project with respect to her Jewishness and her gender.  Second, her translation (i.e., the physical book or digital copy) that you and I can hold in our hands and read with our eyes (and I hope many many of us will) can't easily be -- and shouldn't at all be -- separated from who Greenberg is and is becoming.

Susannah Heschel, who writes the book's forward, says that "Jewish life receives its flavor from the psalms." But she's already noted that:
       The psalms appeal to all people, regardless of religious commitments, because they strive to give voice to the human soul. Elusive and often unknowable, our souls and their passions inspire our lives and quest for religious meaning. Not under the discipline of particular theological doctrine, the psalms are free to express the religiosity that gives rise to a wide range of religious commitments, giving them a universal relevance. People of all faiths partake of their invigorating emotional music.
What's so important in this statement of the forward is that it allows us readers to hear from Greenberg some of her own story of spiritual journeying, before and now after she's encountered the psalms in the context of various ways of entering her Jewish faith.

Greenberg makes some important notes about gender, and about gendered language, in Hebrew and in English.  Her decisions as a creative writer, a poet, a reader of Hebrew, and as a translator, are just fascinating.  She is, of course, a woman who's translating without any one else's help, much less the help of a man.  And she acknowledges how important it is to hear "the psalms speak equally to either gender."  But she goes on to say:
In some instances, however, I thought the masculine pronoun important to retain. For one thing, the “he” of the psalms is often a way for the psalmist to articulate his own predicament (and yes, the overwhelming likelihood is that the psalms were written by a man or men), a dynamic of the psalms I felt it important to retain. For another, avoiding the specificity of gender sometimes made the psalm feel too abstract. Translation is always a flawed art, and a translator is always making choices about competing claims. I made such choices as best as I could.
When you read her translation of Psalm 2, you'll see how she keeps "kings" as exclusively masculine (vs. "kings and queens" or "monarchs").   You'll hear how she leaves the gender of God in your reader's mind.  And you'll note, nonetheless, how personal and interactive (and feminine) the voice of God to the singer / listener:
God said to me, You are my child.
I give birth to you each day.
(There's a short biographical blurb on Greenberg here.  And here's Heschel's Introduction, the Acknowledgments, Greenberg's story and translator methodology notes, and her translation of the first four Psalms.)

Pamela Greenberg Translates Psalms 2

Pamela Greenberg has rendered the Psalms in a New Translation that hit the market just yesterday (April 15, 2010).  Her translation of Psalm 2 follows:

Psalm 2 
Why do crowds rush around restless?
And why do nations contemplate empty goals?

Kings of the earth stand brazenly,
while princes conspire in secret,
against God and against the anointed.

They say:
“Let us break the ropes of their oppression!
Let us throw off the thick weave of heavenly rule!”

The one enthroned in the sky will make light of them,
shrugging at their fearless pride.

Then with words of righ teous anger,
God’s heavenly disapproval will fill them with dread:

I have anointed my king on Zion,
mountain where my holiness dwells.

I am the one who creates eternal law.

God said to me, You are my child.
I give birth to you each day.

Come to me with your perplexities
and I will make people your inheritance;
your possessions will extend to the ends of the earth.

If you break them with a staff of iron,
they will shatter like a vessel of clay.

And now, kings of all countries, awake!
Judges of the earth, discipline yourselves.

Serve the Eternal with wonder
and rejoice that in the divine presence you quake.

Make purity your only weapon,
lest in the heat of holy anger
the way back to your Redeemer be lost.

Because God’s outrage at wrong blazes quickly,
happy are those who take refuge in their Creator’s

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quizical Q: in Chinese (translation)

qasida, like a quale

Is Q a Chinese Character?

I'm not going to spoil it, but the answers in the post all come down to this sentence:
"If anyone should try to outlaw Q from all Chinese writing, then there would be no way to talk about the most famous work of modern Chinese fiction or the best-selling Chinese mini-car, and one would not be able to describe the texture of mochi, gummy bears, and lots of other delectables, nor would one be able to ask one's friend to Q him on QQ, and you'd never be able to get out of Warcraft II."  
(Yes, that makes us think about what Lydia He Liu and Tony Barnstone say, respectively, about Chinese translation.  The former says "the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language."  And the latter says a translation can be "like a stolen car sent to a 'chop shop' to be stripped, disassembled, fitted with other parts, and presented to the consumer public with a new coat of paint.")

How Bible Scholars and Translators Miss It

Several months ago, Jane Stranz blogged here and here on how "helpful" one particular book is:  Tom Thatcher's study Jesus The Riddler: the Power of Ambiguity in the Gospels.  I want to give a longer quotation from the book here that seems important.

The only thing I'll add first is this:  Thatcher is a Southern Baptist bible scholar in the USA who's engaging with folkloristics (i.e., the cross-cultural study of folklore) as he tries to get at whether Jesus fits into a larger practice of riddling.  Folkloristics, for Thatcher, just barely touches on Greek rhetorics (in other words, he hasn't recognized the discipline of rhetoric although folklorists have dabbled in it; and Thatcher has no idea how Aristotle - who worked through his own classifications for what's Poetic and what's Rhetoric - so despised riddles and riddling (and riddlish ambiguity and riddlish parables) as strange sophistry and as mere rhetoric, although such riddling ironically stumped Aristotle more than once); so there's much work yet to do (perhaps a dissertation topic for anyone working in biblical studies, historical Jesus work, historiography, rhetorics, feminisms, translation studies, and the like; if you want to do some publishable research with me on this, then just let me know).

Now, here's longish quotation of Thatcher (from page 47) that gives a bit of a definition to "riddle" and a bit of an explanation why so many so far have missed it:
The fact [is ...] that riddles don't necessarily stand out as "riddles" in obvious ways....  Riddles generate intentional ambiguity, and this ambiguity can, in turn, be harnessed to serve a variety of objectives (entertainment, teaching, test of wits, etc.).  But those objectives do not depend on any particular style or form; as noted earlier, any statement of any shape or size can function as a riddle.  Riddles come in a wide variety of forms in many cultures (like mine) simply because variety fosters ambiguity; they're more ambiguous if they don't always look or work the same way.  For the same reason, riddles do not evidence a consistent content.  Even within a single culture, there is usually no narrowly limited set of terms or themes to which they appeal again and again.  As an example, the children's book to which I alluded in the preface, Bennett Cerf's Pop-Up Riddles, includes questions about ducks, bananas, kangaroos, eggs, 200-pound mice, and a host of other unrelated topics.  Riddlers use this license to generate confusion; the more different things a riddle could potentially refer to, the better.  Because the form and content of riddles are necessarily inconsistent, specimens of the genre are most easily identifiable by the way people use them and by the way that other people respond to them.  But this makes the task of locating riddles as the sources for Jesus especially difficult, simply because we are not now in a position to ask Jesus or the Pharisees exactly what they were trying to do with their words on various occasions.  As a result, riddles have fallen below the radar of the typical criteria utilized in historical Jesus research.
What Thatcher is doing is fairly radical.  It's Mary Daly-ish if you ask me.  But if you yourself are anti-feminist-ish, please don't let that scare you off.  Thatcher is really putting Jesus in a very large class of Jewish rhetors, including those who translate and who write some of the Jewish scriptures.  This very large class also includes riddlers in Greek history (which linguistically, of course, intersects with Jewish scriptural histories in a grand way).  But don't let that scare you off either if you're more Christian-ish, even more English Christian-ish of the Anglo, Australian, American, Canadian, New Zealand, Western-World varieties; maybe what Thatcher sees in Jesus can help with better Christian English Bible translation on difficult sayings such as “Ears to hear…” which might be seen (and translated) as a riddle marker.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Re-presenting Genesis: through a sexist, racist, anti-Semitic misogynist's eyes

"Well, he is a sexist, racist, anti-Semitic misogynist," says his second wife who is Jewish as was his first wife. And in answer to the question of whether Robert Crumb is in denial about having a foot fetish, she sets the record straight:
Legs and ass are No 1. He does not like fat women. He likes muscular, powerful women, physically and psychically!! He has strong footwear preferences but I would not consider him a foot fetishist.
She's been representing R.Crumb for some time now in relation to women, Jewish women, and muscular, powerful Jewish women.  On the cover of her "graphic memoir," Need More Love, she pictures herself as his type of covergirl:

And she appears with him, strong, on the poster of the documentary film about him:

But do you think that Aline Ricky Goldsmith Kominsky-Crumb can call Robert Crumb's graphic art sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, or misogynistic?  If she were to review his Genesis, would she say anything about his women and Jew denigrating illustrations of the first book of the Bible?  Could she?  Of course she could.

So why can't John Hobbins, who's praised David Peterson's review of R. Crumb's Genesis as "judicious"?  And why isn't Peterson's so-called judiciousness a recognition of Genesis through the eyes of a sexist, racist, anti-Semitic misogynist?  Here's why:

Hobbins quotes himself as having said:
The loathing Crumb inspires in a few, the accolades he receives from others, cast shadows and light on his most recent work . . . Crumb is a satirist. Satirists offend. Satirists offend by exaggerating truth.
Then he links to Peterson's review that offers:
To characterize Crumb’s tome as a graphic novel would be apt for another reason. Genesis is, indeed, a graphic book. In his drawings, Crumb does not hesitate to depict human bodies, violence, and sexual behavior in a graphic fashion, hence the aforementioned warning to minors. So, for example, the depiction of Lot and his daughters (Gen 19) or Judah and Tamar (Gen 34) leaves little to the imagination. Blood flies when Cain kills Abel. Some readers will, no doubt, complain about the overt depiction of sexual activity and violence.
What I think is fascinating is how Hobbins and Peterson and a whole host of other men love to focus on Crumb's art while, in contrast, his wife, an artist, loves to focus on Crumb himself in his art and in his life and as her art.  She doesn't just appreciate him for the satire or the way he offends or exaggerates.  She doesn't consider his truth so exaggerated or offensive so it seems.  She doesn't classify Crumb's representations of women and Jews as entirely different from Crumb the man, and goy.  She doesn't abstract his art from his self-loathing self.

In contrast, the sort of male abstracting that Hobbins does is akin to what men do when complaining to their wives, "Come on honey, I look at Playboy for the high-class articles."  The separation and the valuing separately conveniently allow men to allow men to denigrate women and, in some cases, certain races of women.  Now, I'm not accusing Hobbins of being blatant about this sort of Aristotelian categorization.  He's not necessarily in denial if he denies it.  He may have other intentions for praising Crumb's art as high satire apart from his blatant sexism and his expressed racism.  Nonetheless, it is convenient not to mention who Crumb is or at the very least who he has been or at the very very least who those being denigrated by Crumb recognize that he is.

Maybe some day, I'll write a review of Crumb's Genesis here at this blog.  He certainly includes some very interesting statements in the illustrated work on the text of Genesis and the sources of the stories therein.  Until then, and right now then, let me just link back to a few posts that have pointed out the abstracting reviews of R Crumb's Genesis by various men in the biblioblogosphere:  here, here, and here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ann Nyland Translates the Psalms

Ann Nyland has just published The Psalms: Translation with Notes.  I'm especially excited about it because she's doing some things with translation that are fairly important and fairly rare.

Two remarkable things about Nyland's translation are these:

first, she keeps Jewish words Jewish (or rather "retains the divine names of the Hebrew");

second, she uses not just the newer Masoretic Text of Hebrew (MT) but also the older Septuagint (LXX) text of Greek (both reflections, of course, of even older Hebrew).

In addition, it's worth noting that Nyland is like Willis Barnstone and Richmond Lattimore in that she's a Greek scholar.  Her translation of the New Testament like theirs attends to Greek word meanings prior to the NT, including meanings in the Septuagint and early and ancient Greek classics.  And each of these classics translators has translated the NT alone, and not as part of committees.  (Here's a post that compares the way the three handle a Greek "hapax legomenon").

Nyland's Psalms are similar to Barnstone's New Testament books and letters in that they retain Hebrew (i.e., Jewish) names.  Moreover, Barnstone does not read the Christian translation tradition back into his Restored New Testament; likewise, Nyland "does not read the New Testament back into the text" of the Psalms.  (A comparison between how Barnstone and Nyland translate Matthew 16:15-19 is here; note that Nyland when translating the New Testament used the more Christianized transliterations for the names.).

Nyland, like Robert Alter, who also translates the Psalms, uses both the MT and the LXX to render the psalms into English.  The poetry of the original languages is some reflected in the English; Nyland puts it this way: "as this [the book of Psalms] is a poetic work, the translation does leave in some of the poetic style of the original at the expense of good English." Nyland also handles "several Hebrew words or sentences the meaning of which is uncertain or unknown" by "leav[ing them] ambiguous, with an endnote, instead of making a decision for the reader."  Alter, similarly, avoids what he calls the "heresy of explanation" in translation by using footnotes to mark textual issues that need clarification for the reader.

There are at least three fairly unique things to note about Nyland and Nyland's translation:

First, she, by her translation, "avoids the Biblish dialect, that is, the type of [English] language that follows the syntax of the original language."  For Nyland, such a dialect may cause a "translation error" in that it might "invent a tone that was not there in the original."  She gives several examples of biblish or "common [language] use with Christians" both in translations of the Bible and in social communication.

Second, Nyland's "translation does not attempt to translate the Psalms into poetry" as Alter's translation of the Psalms does and as Barnstone's translation of some of the gospel writings does.  Nyland does offer commentary on some of the poems in her endnotes; for example, she distinguishes Canaanite and Israelits poems and explains when the Septuagint but not the Hebrew Bible contains a poem.

Third, Nyland has had to work in ways that most men don't.  Neither Alter nor Barnstone nor Lattimore, of course, were ever disparaged for being a woman, for being a feminist, as Nyland has been so disparaged.  Her interview with Wayne Leman at Better Bibles Blog gets into some of that.  To be clear, Nyland has taken on the mostly male Bible translation establishment with essays such as in More Than Meets The Eye: THE CAMPAIGN TO CONTROL GENDER TRANSLATION BIBLES.  Nyland has a blog at which she says this rather explicitly about herself: "I breed, ride and train the old-fashioned type of Arabian horses; also Quarab horses, am a Bible translator." And elsewhere on the Internet, she converses about translation as the woman Bible translator, Ann Nyland.  Her Bible Translation blog is worth a careful read:

For a sample of Nyland's work on the Psalms, I've included her translation of Psalm 8 in another post today.

Ann Nyland Translates Psalm 8

Ann Nyland has translated the Psalms in a new volume published with her notes just last month (March 2, 2010).  Her translation of Psalm 8 follows (from pages 15 - 16 and page 213, which you might compare with other translations and appropriations I've been looking at recently).


For the music director.  According to the gittith,26 a psalm of David.
1 Yahweh, our Adon,27
how majestic is your name throughout the earth,
you who place your magnificence upon the heavens.
2 From the mouths of children and nursing babies
you establish strength because of your enemies,
so that you might silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers,
and see the moon and the starts, which you established,
4 what is humankind, that you should notice them,
5 and make them a little less that the elohim?28
You crown humankind with honor and magnificence,
6 you permit them to rule over works of your hands,
you have place everything under their authority,
7 including all the sheep and cattle,
as well as the beasts of the fields,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that moves through the currents of the seas.
9 Yahweh, our Adon,
how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

26  The Septuagint has, "For the end, concerning the wine presses, a psalm of David."
27  Adon, a divine name.  Used of a lord, a master, a ruler, a prophet, a priest, or a king.  Used for example as "master" in Psalm 12:4
28  Elohim, a divine name, also used for rulers, heavenly beings, divine possessions.  Not translated here as referent unknown.