Thanks to the ones of you who've noticed I set this blog to "private" the past several days. Thanks for the email conversations. It's time to resume more public conversations around the topics of this blog.
Blogging is an intrinsically social act. It's social so that, when I'm not able to be so attentive to you, whether you are a regular reader or a new one, all sorts of unintended things happen. And, thinking that I should or even could control how your read this blog (which is too often an illusion of my own making), I retreat. I'd rather not have a public face at all. Otherwise you might think I'm crazy for some of the things I've said. Or you might imagine me as sane. You make meanings. Let me quote Nancy Mairs of this "social act" in a moment.
But, first, let me quote something I read this morning. It's the preface to Psalm 34. What maybe you should know as I tell you how I read that psalm is this: When I was in high school, was an atheist in the closet, I agreed to my father, who was a very public Christian, to memorize this psalm for money. He, a missionary, had sent me away to a boarding school. Whatever his motivation, or mine, his having me memorize the Psalm had considerable, spiritual, impact on me when I was 16 years old. This morning, however, I read not the bit I memorized but the preface. And I didn't read it in Hebrew first this morning, but in Greek translation of that Hebrew by the Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, who were translating it, whatever their motivation. Here's how that goes:
τῷ ΔαυιδI'm interested the face of this, as a preface. I'm focusing now on the line ὁπότε ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐναντίον.
ὁπότε ἠλλοίωσεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἐναντίον
καὶ ἀπέλυσεν αὐτόν
It's a translation, apparently, of the line in Hebrew that gets translated "when he changed his demeanour before." (Robert Alter, translating, has "For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech....") In Greek, however, it's something like "when he othered that face of his in opposition to." Would you image with me that we don't really know all there is to understand here? Won't you call this Greek Hebraic? Can you suppose that there's something rhetorical going on here, for Jews taking their holy Hebrew and rendering it into a most public Hellene, that hearkens back to an empire over them, maybe two kingdoms, that one of Egypt and then that one of the Greeks? What does that public face look like to you? Lots of other English translators, whether working from the Greek or Hebrew, will convey the idea that David is pretending to be crazy, that he is distorting his face to act like a mad man, that he is trying to trick Abimelech.
The Greek makes it clear that David was changing his public face. And I never really paid attention to that pre-face to this psalm before. Sort of changes how I read it now. What have the Jewish translators done? How must I read that? Can they control how?
At any rate, going back to your reading of this blog, I now want to quote (again) Nancy Mairs. She's written this:
Publication of any sort is an intrinsically social act, "I" having no reason to speak aloud unless I posit "you" there listening; but your presence is especially vital if I am seeking not to disclose the economic benefits of fish farming in Zäire, or to recount the imaginary tribulations of an adulterous doctor's wife in nineteenth-century France, but to reconnect myself—now so utterly transformed by events unlike any I've experienced before as to seem a stranger even to myself—to the human community.... lendingHow do you read that? or what do you figure what it means when, right before you read a psalm in public or in private, you notice what David has done with his public face?
materiality to my readerly ideal, transform[ing] monologue into intercourse.
For me, you being here reading, with me, is an intrinsically social act. How we can change when it's good change is what's most interesting to me now. What faces we put on in public, in publication, change everything.