Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stopping to Do the Dissertation

My dissertation committee has kindly approved a very long prospectus. And a few others have generously read and graciously commented on this blog. Now it’s time for me to focus my time and effort rather exclusively on the writing of the dissertation itself. (This is the announcement of my sabbatical from the blog, a synopsis of the project). So what is my dissertation?

Here’s a five-paragraph summary statement of what I’m doing.

The spoken and written language of the ancient Hellenes is, I believe, the kind of communication that feminists today, especially Nancy Mairs, would call “woman’s language” and “feminine discourse.” (We all might agree to call that rhetoric.) In such language, in the Greek of Helen, Aristotle wrote what he himself called Περὶ Ρήτορικη, the treatise we translate the Rhetoric.

The big irony, of course, is that Aristotle’s method (which we call Aristotelianism) is not woman’s language, is not feminine discourse, and is neither very rhetorical nor very like Helen’s Greek at all. Aristotle’s method is to define specifically and to classify generally any given subject in nature. Indeed, Aristotle’s procedure forces a definite “either / or” binary on the subject of investigation in order to sort it onto the hierarchical map of knowledge. (And, in fact, by Aristotle’s scheme, “man” is above “woman,” “logic” is above “rhetoric,” a “master” is above “natural born slave,” and “Greeks” are different from and above all others, all “Barbarians.”) Such Aristotelianism is what Mairs calls “the fundamental structure of patriarchy,” “the language of opposites,” and “the dominant discourse” of our western culture ever since Aristotle.

So let’s be clear about the irony. Aristotle had to use woman’s language (i.e., ancient Hellenist Greek) in order to erect the fundamental structure of patriarchy (i.e., Aristotelianism), which, in turn, attempted to subjugate woman and her language.

This irony has been lost on translators. Furthermore, translators of the Rhetoric (i.e., from the written Hellene into written Latin or written French or written English) have merely employed the dominant discourse method (i.e., the language of opposites). As a result, many feminists have (rightly) rejected Aristotle’s Rhetoric – and even ancient Hellenist rhetoricS – as propaganda for the kind of logic that founds misogyny. Nonetheless, Aristotle could not get around using feminine discourse, the rhetorics of Helen. Of course, certain individuals would not have missed the irony: Pythias Aristotle’s wife and Pythias their daughter and Aspasia his friend (or at least his friends’ or his teacher’s friends’ friend).

We might try, today, to read Aristotle’s Rhetoric the way Pythias, Pythias, and Aspasia might have read it. My dissertation is an attempt to retranslate the treatise into English from the language of Helen (i.e., the language of Sappho, of Homer, of Hesiod, of Gorgias, of Aspasia). And, rather than resorting to Aristotle’s dominant binary method, I’d like to translate his statement on Greek rhetoric Hellenistically, rhetorically, feministically by a method Aristotle could not get around, by (what Mairs calls) “an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other . . . [that] shelters and nourishes . . . [in] a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy.” We might entitle it, we might translate it Περὶ Ρήτορικη, Around Speakerly-ness.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I’ll confess I associate male dominance (i.e., over women) with arrogance (as with a master over slaves, a controlling parent over children, an expert self-important professor over undergraduates, and the ivory tower tenured over college dropouts). And I connect certain language acts with the kind of arrogance I relate to male dominance.

Yesterday, my son and I watched the film Goodwill Hunting together. Tomorrow, I accompany him to his new college to leave him to start his first semester in higher education. Lot’s of feminist, rhetoric, translation lessons for us, father and son. My son looks a little like Will (i.e., Matt Damon’s character in the film) and, like Will, is the one of all his buddies who’s going to college and, like Will again, is one who has a rare gifting that a college professor has noticed and has offered him money (i.e., a scholarship) for. But my son and I are aware of the risks of ignoring the reality of fiction, the necessities of narrative (and not just someone’s propositional truth). After all, Matt Damon and co-writer Ben Affleck are, in real life, college dropout success stories, largely because of their writing about, but not necessarily developed by, higher education. (Damon was an English major at Harvard, no less; I think Affleck dropped out of community college. I keep hearing Harvey Graff talking about the “literacy myth,” and wonder if I, an academic in English studies, have believed it for my son.) It's tough for me to leave my son. What will he become?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nothing is Sound

I start this post with word play (again!). Why? To me, it's a way around arrogance, and boredom, I suppose. Not to allow play in words is what, for some, is the purpose of the dictionary. To name precisely, for some, is the real value of science and logic and philosophy. So there's this authority thing in locking down a single meaning to a single word (so there's no wiggle room, and not much fun).

And this authority thing shows up in many who want to name "men" as over "women." The whole issue becomes central in translation debates. For example, people translating and theorizing translation of the Bible into English often try to presuppose a male dominance in the "authoritative" writings and the "original" languages. Fortunately, this doesn't go unnoticed. I'm glad Suzanne McCarthy challenges the notion of "an unbroken line of uniquely 'male authority' in the Bible narratives," especially as this notion gets cloaked in English translation of the Hellene and Hebrew words.

In a more recent post, McCarthy also raises the issue of "The Spoken Word." Orality is associated, in reading, with a thing children do. Although McCarthy doesn't tie the orality-literacy question to male dominance, I'd like us to play with this. Plato ostensibly (ironically) wrote against writing; but, as Eric A. Havelock shows, Plato saw dangers in the orality of the Greek poets. Ever since, so it seems, peoples have seen the originality of orality but the preferred "soundness" of literacy. Now, you should see (and if you're reading aloud, you should hear) how I'm playing. We want this notion of text as dominant, as (more) stable, as better and more meaningfully locked down. It's more "sound."

I believe textual and male dominance go hand in hand. But I'm not going to "say" much more on that here. Let this suffice for now. Richard Leo Enos has a wonderful article "The Archaeology of Women in Rhetoric," in which he sees, in the British Museum, artifacts of literate women. (Patricia A. Bizzell has a great follow-up article on "difference" entitled, "Feminist Methods of Research in the History of Rhetoric"). What I think is important to notice is how early, how primary, how powerful, literacy and women are. Orality and men do not necessarily dominate.

Take a "look" at this "Woman writing on a folding tablet Cyprus, 4th century BCE." And read silently or aloud in the Illiad a similar reference to something "written" long before Homer:

ILLIAD.6.169 γράψας ἐν πίνακι πτυκτῷ θυμοφθόρα πολλά,
ILLIAD.6.169 which he inscribed in a folding tablet, enough to destroy life,

and just to continue with the word play, I must confess how I love but didn't coin "Nothing is Sound." That's the wonderful written title of an "album" by Switchfoot, who are wonderful to hear.(Get this: some Switchfoot listeners say this one has a "dark" sound. And we might agree: beauty is in the "ear" of the beholder.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Taking Liberties

A blog post I read this morning attempts to disparage a couple of translations of the Bible. The critic writes: “both translations take liberties with the original language.”

Here are a couple of responses:

1) What if translations don’t or won’t or can’t “take liberties”? Would we be any better off? What if Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her colleagues hadn’t taken liberties with the original wording of the Declaration of Independence, particularly the original phrasing all men, when writing and speaking the Declaration of Sentiments, to further liberate every one of us equally, as “all men and women”?

2) And is there ever really an original (as if there are no liberties to take from the beginning)? What if I share a few of my original stories? And may I dare you not to take liberties with these, or any other parable, by translating my original into your personal application?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Heart of Helen in the Speakerly-ness of Aristotle

What if someone showed us very clear signs that key feminist concepts are at the heart of Homer’s patrilineage?

What if Aristotle’s Rhetoric were a grappling or an apparent grappling with that?

Shall we consider, FIRST, epic narratives of the man, Homer and his people, centered around the woman, Helen?

And, SECOND, can’t we re-view whether we’ve lost anything across shallow translation by refusing to read deeply enough of father Homer and mother Helen?

And, THIRDLY, might we reconsider treatise of father Aristotle written around (womanly) speakerly-ness (Περὶ Ῥητορικης)?

So, FIRST, in Odyssey (a titular play on words), we should hear (and read) Homer’s “Odysseus” (another word play), saying this:

ε δ' γε δ, κα σμα ριφραδς λλο τι δεξω,

φρα μ' ἐῢγντον πιστωθτν τ' νθυμ,

And, if we sit with Illiad long enough, we find this repeated five times:

λλ τη μοι τατα φλος διελξατο θυμς;

But can we “get” their Hellenism (of events around Helen spoken of from around 1200 BC and written down first around 700 BC) through translation into our English (or perhaps even into modern Greek) now?

Are our problems really just time and space, orality and literacy, the “original” Greek and the “target” modern langauge?

Or might the issues be the quality of translation?

Couldn’t Homer’s patriarchy have been born of woman and her language? And might we not try a translation that is more Hellenistic, more polymorphic and not so dimorphic? Do you recognize Nancy Mairs’s language here? Would you mind re-reading all over again what she says, how she writes, in her Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer? She risks a dimorphic binary when she says to our dimorphic ears this:

The fundamental structure of patriarchy 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. It demands rupture, the split into halved engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites.

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. Some theorists would claim that all subjects function thus. But as Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.”

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, as in pregnancy a woman’s immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: “Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on.” Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy. (40-42)

So we now, with Mairs, must unfold this further, must enfold the other into a translation of absolute radical alterity. The “original” Homer and Helen began this after all.

And, SECOND, here’s a re-view of Homer. Here’re those couple of lines from Odyssey (21.217 and 18):

ε δ' γε δ, κα σμα ριφραδς λλο τι δεξω,

φρα μ' ἐῢγντον πιστωθτν τ' νθυμ,

A pure translation by a “fundamental structure of patriarchy” is Samuel Butler’s translation (of Odyssey of 1900):

I will now give you a convincing proof [sêma]

that you may know me and be assured.

Can we view what gets lost by reducing / κα σμα ριφραδς λλο τι δεξω / to / a convincing proof [sêma] /

and by truncating / πιστωθτν τ' νθυμ / to / be assured /. The really odd, maybe ironic, thing is that, in 1897, Samuel Butler speculated that Odyssey was not authored by the man, Homer, but by an “authoress,” a woman. Some think Butler was just a man trying for satire, for sarcasm; and his very abstracted English for Homer’s lines here suggest that this translator was no feminist. At least he was familiar with opposites, with the man / woman binary, with “the fundamental structure of patriarchy.”

So what more might an-other kind of translation, a more polymorphic, perhaps a feministic, translation find in the Hellenism of Homer?

Consider A.T. Murray’s translation (of 1919):

Nay, come, more than this, I will shew you also a manifest sign,

that you may know me well and be assured in heart,

Also consider James Huddleston’s translation (much more recent):

Come now, I'll show you something else, a sign, a very clear one,

so you'll know me well and trust me in your heart,

The quality of knowing and the passionate location of being assured and of trust are added. And there’s absolutely no need for a transliteration such as “[sêma]” to explain an abstract concept such as “proof” since “sign” is as “manifest” and as “very clear” as “σμα” is “ριφραδς.”

So before turning to Aristotle’s Hellenist language, let’s look a bit more at Homer’s and at what gets lost and found in our translations. Here’s that five-time repeated line in Illiad (11.407; 17.97; 21.562; 22.122; 22.385):

λλ τη μοι τατα φλος διελξατο θυμς;

Butler, in 1898 or so, has the five different speakers saying the line in respective ways in English, “predicated on separation not relation”:

But why talk to myself in this way? / (Odysseus)

Why, however, should I thus hesitate? / (a son of Atreus)

But why commune with myself in this way? / (Agenor)

but why argue with myself in this way? / (Hector)

But why argue with myself in this way, / (Achilles)

But Homer’s characters vary their Hellenistic speech in context and in audience alone, and (we) his audiences “get” them and their internal declarations.

And A. T. Murray, around 1919, “gets” Helen’s Illiad too (in 11.407; 17.97; 21.562; 22.122; 22.385):

But why doth my heart thus hold converse with me?

Similarly Richmond Lattimore much more recently “gets” Helen’s Illiad too (in 11.407; 17.97; 21.562; 22.122; 22.385):

Yet still, why does the heart within me debate on these things?

They “get” Illiad as Mairs “gets,” as a woman, “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.”

From Helen, from Homer, from Murray, from Lattimore, from Huddleston, we see that Aristotle is never completely able to be differentiated from Mairs:

σμα is a sign (not simply some precise, technical proof [sêma] )

δεξω shews and may later show (but does not invariably force a con man’s convincing anything)

you may ἐῢγντον or know well (and the good quality matters to me and you)

your πιστωθτν is your belief (is hardly a persuasion, an assurance, a formal proof).

since an affectionate friend is φλος who is to be personally acknowledged (not silent) even as part of me

as διελξατο talks across, con-verses, and debates

(but does it “hesitate” as with the structured argument A plus B equals C??)

(and how does νθυμ become a “dialectic’s rhetorical syllogism” aka “the enthymeme”)

since νθυμ is where πιστωθτν is embodied,

since the heart within me and you is where belief is incarnate?


So, THIRD-LY, here’s a view of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, his third and fourth “definitions” of “rhetoric”:

Click here to re-view the elegance. (And see the contrast, the mere dimorphic binaries in translations by Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy. Though I’ve color-coded and rearranged their translations for comparison with Aristotle and with our feministic translation, these four translators have divided into separate paragraphs the two verses 7 and 8 of chapter 2 of Book I).

There’s hardly bi-nariness in these “definitions” of “rhetoric.” If a structure at all, Aristotle’s Hellenism is a polymorphiness, maybe triplets within triads of paragraphs:

  • περι, περι, τρίτον περὶ (or around, around, thirdly around without the need to mention “firstly” or “secondly”)
note each of the three issues of ἕκαστόν . . . τω̂ν παθω̂ν
  • τὰ μὲν δι', τὰ δὲ δι', τὰ δὲ καὶ δι', ἔστι γὰρ
  • τὸ μὲν, τὸ δὲ, τὸ δε . . . καὶ, ἔστι γὰρ

There’re the πίστεις to begin, which Aristotle comes round to at the end. Are these really “proofs,” “persuasions,” and “pisteis” (as for Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy)? Might they not be believable things (for you and me, as for Homer, and the Septuagint translators, and the New Testament writers, and as for Murray and Huddleston and C. Jan Swearinger)?

Isn’t what’s φανερὸν what’s apparent at the start also apparent through and through? If later in the passage -- for Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy – it’s finally like a “Greek” phantom (in order to form the binary real vs. “apparent”), then how so initially “evident” and unmistakably “clear”?

How are περὶ τὰ ἤθη so different from περὶ τὰ ἤθη πραγματείας? How do “characters” differentiate from the “business of characters” – unless like Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy, one divides the latter into “science of ethics” or “ethical studies” or “study of ethics” or “ethical studies”?

Aren’t the types of conversing-ness similar, and doesn’t Aristotle show that and not divide them so?

τὴν ῥητορικὴν οἱ̂ον παραφυές τι τη̂ς διαλεκτικη̂ς

And don’t πίστεις come back around to the birthing of natural born triplets?

  • a show: δεικνύναι (hardly the “employment of proof” or the “demonstrative proofs” or the “logical persuasion” of Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy).
  • a showing by declarations of the friendly sort in Homer’s Illiad: παραδείγματα λέγοντες(hardly the precise “examples” and “paradigms” of Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy).
  • and the inner heart (hardly the precise “enthymeme” of Freese, Roberts, Lawson-Tancred, and Kennedy).

So what can we find, in feminist translation, if not the heart of Helen and of Hellenism in the patrilineage of Homer and in the Speakerly-ness of Aristotle?