Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Use Hitler's Deutsche, Aristotle's ἑλληνίζειν

Den gewaltigsten Gegensatz zum Arier bildet der Jude.
The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew.

So glaube ich heute im Sinne des allmächtigen Schöpfers zu handeln: Indem ich mich des Juden erwehre, kämpfe ich für das Werk des Herrn.
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will if the Almighty Creator: by resisting the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord..

Denn ein rassereines Volk, das sich seines Blutes bewußt ist, wird vom Juden niemals unterjocht werden können. Er wird auf dieser Welt ewig nur der Herr von Bastarden sein.
For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jew. In this world he will forever be master over bastards alone
--Adolf Hitler

τὸ γὰρ θῆλυ ὥσπερ ἄρρεν ἐστὶ πεπηρωμένον·
The female is, in fact, as it were, a mutilated male.

Hence it is manifest that all the persons mentioned have a moral virtue of their own, and that the temperance (sophrosyne [σωφροσύνη]) of a woman (gunaikos [γυναικὸς]) and that of a man  (andros [ἀνδρός]) are not the same, nor their courage and justice, as Socrates thought, but the one is the courage of command, and the other that of subordination, and the case is similar with the other virtues.
Why would anyone want to use Aristotle's words or Hitler's?  What if you're a Jewish woman?

My wife, who works in words as a professional writer, recently shared with me the ways some women, in fact, have well appropriated not only Aristotle's words but also his advice about how to use them persuasively.  Look here:

Aristotle’s Ancient Guide to Compelling Copy

and here:

What Aristotle Taught Us About Web Content Development

My spouse was actually endorsing what Amy Harrison and Elise Redlin-Cook were doing with Aristotle's language, with his conception of rhetoric, as clarity and as persuasiveness.

This isn't to say that she doesn't understand the evil of Aristotle's words, his straightforward ugliness towards females, towards women, towards any other, any barbarian.  No.  In fact, my life partner actually gave my dissertation on the awful phallo-logo-centricity of Aristotle's τὸ ἑλληνίζειν an apt, 2-word nickname.  She named the academic project of mine:  Aristotle Exposed.  She and many understand it's not just that Aristotle used his words, his sexist and racist logic, to put down females and to denigrate non-Greeks un-like him

It's also the way Aristotle used language.  His logic left no room for womanly or for barbarian ways of using language.  He taught his elite Greek male-only students to avoid ambiguities, to scoff at hyperbole, to ridicule parable, to work only in what's "Natural" and never in anything else (such as the speakeristic, poetic, the lyrical, the dialectical, the supernatural).  He didn't teach his boys in his AkaDemy (his school for the People) to listen.

So let's listen.  Listen again to Sister Prudence Allen and then to rhetoric scholar Krista Ratcliffe listening to Aristotle:
In these statements the superior valuation of man over woman is explicitly stated [by Aristotle]. However, it is also present in the theory of contraries and in other aspects of Aristotle’s thoughts about sex identity. Aristotle stands out from his predecessors in that he a complete rationale for his theory of sex polarity. He developed reasons and arguments for the philosophically significant differentiation of the sexes and for the superiority of man over woman. Therefore, he is correctly identified [by historians] as the founder of the sex polarity position…. [H]e also laid the groundwork for another theory of sex identity in his philosophy of definition.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric assures students who study his rhetorical theory that they will learn not only how to produce enthymemes but also how to analyze them, and in a culture whose texts were primarily oral, such analysis implies listening. But Aristotle’s theory never delves into how to listen. Moreover, his production/ reception linkage is more complicated than his assurance allows.

Aristotle’s treatise of rhetoric was gender blind.
[Likewise, his treatise of politics is one in which w]omen, slaves and children were relegated to the category of ‘earthly possession’ for which men bargained. To redefine women’s position, feminist theories of rhetoric must critique this concept of language to determine if, and how, it can be made more inclusive. For how we assume language functions, more than anything else, determines how we read and write the cultural as well as the textual.
Listen again.  Allen helps us recall how Aristotle lays a groundwork with language, the groundwork for thinking of males as superior to females.  Now, of course, Aristotle was not the first man to do this.  But, as Ratcliffe also rightly observes, Aristotle's teachings on rhetoric and on politics functioned as categorical and categorizing language that somehow [if wrongly and incongruently] appealed to Nature.

So we come back to Hitler.  Why Hitler?  Well, he's also sexist and racist by how he uses language.  Does that mean we shouldn't use his language?  No, but it means we'd do well to know exactly how he used it.  We would do well to remember that he would not use our language, that he would not want language to be used so liberally, so freely.

My eldest daughter just gave me Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning.  Toward the end of the edition she gave me, Frankl tells this story about language and making meanings by it:
An American woman once confronted me with the reproach, "How can you still write some of your books in German, Adolf Hitler's language?"  In response, I asked her if she had knives in her kitchen, and when she answered that she did, I acted dismayed and shocked, exclaiming, "How can you still use knives after so many killers have used them to stab and murder their victims?"  She stopped objecting to my writing books in German.
To be fair to this American woman, Frankl was quite aware of just how awful, how sexist and how racist, the propaganda of Hitler really was.  Frankl experienced the effects.  Hitler's German is worse than just a kitchen knife.  It was a two-edged sword.  It was a gangster's switchblade, a guerilla's machete, a sadist's scalpel.  It was an IED, a terrorist's home-made bomb, an improvised explosive device.  It was Aristotle's Greek all over again, extreme racism and sexism in the guise of moderate rationality and by appeals to nature.  It was boxing up the Other in tight categories and putting oneself above as the default, unmarked Natural superior. 

Our question today (in these last few days of this Women's History Month) doesn't need to be whether we can use Adolf Hitler's Deutsche or Aristotle's ἑλληνίζειν.  We can.  And we can also do more.  We can use language inclusively, creatively, extremely.  We can listen to that preacher in the church down the street who exclaims that the Bible and Nature conspire against women to keep them silent.  We can eavesdrop on the husband who tells his wife that she is his helpmeet, his complement, his to-be-submissive God-given object, for "the Bible tells me so."  We can overhear the mostly-male politicians and the rule of law again and again justifying why males will have to continue to make more than women in the workplace.  We can ponder, sleeplessly if we must, how it is that young girls must still fear and must still have to work so hard at protecting themselves from being raped, fondled, abused, objectivized by men.  There is much more we can do.


Katherine said...

There certainly is always more to do. For me, a very hard “more to do” has been to wonder how to understand the language of the Bible—“inclusively, creatively, extremely”, as you put it—in light of my own evolving understanding of feminisms and sexisms. What things give life, and what things don’t. What’s very hard is when I see the writers using misogynist tropes to make some other point—Isaiah lets us know that society has really gone to pot because women are ruling it. Weird! Wrong! And all the times where Israel’s idolatry is described as whoredom, and so we must slut shame her for her own good. It’s not exactly the point, except for the part where it is, or is just assumed. I just…I don’t know what to do sometimes. I know God doesn’t wait for us to get our act together before working in and through our lives, so also with the writers of scripture, and that is a comfort. But, in what way does God speak through a misogynist voice? I’m trying to listen, but it does get really garbled at times. More work to do, I suppose…

J. K. Gayle said...

But, in what way does God speak through a misogynist voice?

Wow, Katherine. What a question you ask! All the time, it seems, I'm asking this question because, like you, I do read the Bible. And my wife, and our son, and our daughters too read it. What a voice therein. What voice? The early blogging I've done this month here is in part an attempt to listen to others who've influenced how I read this voice, those voices. Don't think I posted much (yet this month) on Jacqueline Jones Royster, whose essay, "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own," gets me thinking perpetually and more and more about being an outsider and how to negotiate that. There has been in the blogging an acknowledgment of Krista Ratcliffe's recovery of that canon of rhetoric she calls rhetorical listening, which calls for listening with intent inventively (as if overhearing and as eavesdropping) rather than always listening for the Author's sole intention (as if He could, like Aristotle, have one and only one intention and could express it so singularly). I'm writing fast here. excitedly.

In the words of bell hooks, I'm listening. "Listening," she says, "does not simply mean we hear other voices when they speak but that we also learn to listen to the voice of our own hearts as well as inner voices." And she herself has these memories: "She was always standing in the background listening — waiting to hear the boy tell her when they were alone that he hate, hate, hated her because she was a girl. She grew up not remembering why the red wagon had been so important." And boy does she listen: "Despite major changes in gender roles in public life, in private many boys are traumatized by relationships with distant or absent fathers. Working with groups of men, listening as they talk about boyhood, I hear the stories they tell about their father's lack of emotional connection. As they attempt to measure up to patriarchal expectations, many boys fear the wrath of the father." From this sort of being outside (of the Bible), I also hear in Isaiah's voice -- yes misogynist tropes. And yes also perhaps little boy changed into man-who-must-be-the-father-once-resented. "They [including Isaiah?] attempt to measure up to..." Is this God's voice too? Anne Carson has some wonderful imagination about God and Isaiah talking, in which the latter finds himself with breasts full of milk, becoming like a mother, a woman, of course. So with whose ears do we listen to the Bible?

Once another male blogger who regularly silences another female blogger called me out. He wrote an entire blog post at his Top 50 Bible Blog with my name in the title. He said to me what he himself saw: "As far as I can see, you come at scripture with axe in hand." He went on to lecture me on the positive lessons of "Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana" without for a moment considering that Aristotle was the father of Augustine's infamous misogyny. Talk about an ax in hand. I'm babbling here, but really? The male is always and naturally over the female! Really?

So with whose ears do we listen to the Bible? Why does the misogynist have all the authority? "More work to do, I suppose..." Thanks for doing, for supposing. I'm also listening with you...

J. K. Gayle said...

“inclusively, creatively, extremely”

I'm still musing about the language(s) of the Bible. Nancy Mairs is a help (to me).

She notes that, "The fundamental structure of patriarchy [which Aristotle developed] is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false.... It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation....

Which is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it.... The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces 'woman to man’s opposite, his other, the negative of the positive.' No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other.... Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy."

I think about the recent, hellish Rob Bell book controversy. It's all about heaven / hell, exclusivity / universality, correct doctrine / heresy. A friend of mine recently shared a blog by one of her colleagues that gets at the issue from a social-psychology perspective. "So why are we so stubbornly opposed to the idea that we might learn something from another theological viewpoint?" she asks.

Answers: 1) we hate ambiguity (because it busts up the fundamental structure of the patriarchy, that need to control through pure oppositional binary categories);
2) we hate black sheep (because they blur the boundaries the fundamental structure of the patriarchy, that need to categorize and to essentialize The Other to control through pure oppositional binary categories).

Here's from Christena Cleveland on Why Love Rarely Wins.