Wednesday, October 31, 2007

my rhetoric

When I speak to you, I always say more than I mean. When you catch on, my come back is to try, by speaking even more, to intend even less. Know what I mean?

(So here I go again:

Let me speak to you what Robert E. Quinn speaks to us after being spoken to by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked that he placed little value on simplicity that lay on this side of complexity but a great deal of value on simplicity that lay on the other side. Put another way, there is a vast chasm between being simple and being simplistic. I would like to suggest something similar.

I believe that in any activity there are many novices, a few experts, and very occasionally there is an extraordinary master. If you ask a novice about a topic, the novice will give you a very simple (simplistic) explanation that will be of little value. If you ask an expert the same question, the expert will give you a complex explanation that will also be of little value. If you ask a master the same question, the master’s explanation may be simple, breathtakingly elegant, and remarkably effective. But the master’s answer will only be valuable, breathtaking, and effective if you and I are ready to hear it and act on it.

(Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results, xi)

So now that you ask, let me see if I can state this as simply as possible:

Aristotle is not only an expert about most things

but he is also only a novice about everything else.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aristotle & Baron-Cohen & Summers & Sommers: On Difference

A good friend of mine (an academic, a literary scholar, a rhetorician, not a feminist) wrote me last Friday (to share with me Christina Hoff Sommers’s op-ed piece “Academic Inquisitors”). He said:

I wanted to share with you a very interesting, if divisive and perplexing, article from today's Wall Street Journal. The article makes me wonder, don't feminist scholars want to show that women have a different perspective and epistemology? Or does that thesis depend on whether one finds herself (or himself) in the humanities or in science?

Others of you more qualified than I and more personally vested in the rhetoric here should have good answers to these questions. Please feel free to comment! But because my friend asks me, and because I can’t sit quiet when I think (with the mother of my children) about our first-born (our son) in the academy and our other children (our daughters) not far behind, here’s what I say:

Yes, women and men are different and have valuable differences. You and I are different (whoever we are). Gender makes different; race makes different; class makes different; place makes different; disability makes different.
No, finding myself in the humanities or in science does not erase the difference of one human body from another. Or the difference of one human brain from the next (whether autistic, if that’s the “far end of the male norm -- the ‘extreme male brain,’ all systematizing and no empathizing” or “wired to be . . . better empathizers” if that’s the other extreme in the female norm, as per scientist Simon Baron-Cohen, as per journalist Sommers.)

So, I ask:
Aren’t all men and women created equal (if we are different in body and brain and perspective and epistemology and rhetoric)?
And is Aristotle a humanitarian or a scientist when he declares that
Greeks are different from (and therefore superior to) Barbarians;
natural born masters are different from (and therefore superior to) natural born slaves;
males are different from (and therefore superior to) females, who are merely

males botched in the biology of conception by the mother’s mal-functioning;

and males are different from (and therefore superior to) females, because males have more teeth and males have heads full of sperm and have backbones that de-seminate the powerful fluid from the brain to the testicles, the natural receptacles for in-semination (if the females serving as mothers would just get the procreation process right)?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Barnstone on Better Bibles

The mutual self-isolation
of linguistic and philosophical studies on translation
and the theory and practice of literary translators
is absolute.

Were linguistics to be serious about literary translation . . .
it would be welcome.

A deeper infidelity in Bible translation goes undetected, however.
For although it is assumed that the felony of contemporary Bible translators
is literary insensitivity, mediocrity, or overliteralism,
few people realize that from earliest Bible translation to the present
there has only been the
appearance of literalism. . .

The translations of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures,
consciously or not, are similar to
the controlled news information in authoritarian states.
In other words, license (register c) and extreme freedom
has been applied to Bible translations, yet passed off as literalism (register a).

There is nothing uncommon about a misalliance of theory and practice,
of intention and realization.
The gap between proclaimed intention and realization

in regard to Bible translation is extreme, however.

The epigraphs above are all from Willis Barnstone in his book, The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice. Just reading the “absolute” and “extreme” rhetoric in his sentences (yanked by me out of his context for mine), one might be tempted to blame Barnstone for (a) the isolation he notes between linguistic and literary translators and for (b) the lack of recognition of his work among Bible translators.

I want, then, to start this post on “Barnstone on better Bible translations” just by acknowledging the divide between translators of various sorts. And to note that (so far) Bible translators (at least the blogging ones, drinking Coke and discussing literary translation and debating Better Bibles) ignore Barnstone and his work.

The challenge that Barnstone provides invites less of a wedge between translators and more of a bridge. I would encourage anyone interested in translation, to read, to study, to critically review Barnstone’s work, especially his Poetics of Translation. As a fledgling rhetorician (and as a linguist much more mature), I find what he says incredibly important. We rhetoricians (in Communications, in Classics, in Composition, with Literature or opposing Philosophy) and we linguists (whether theoretical or field working) do isolate ourselves in our own work by our own approaches in our own small societies for our own goals. My blog here has been to show, in part, how dangerous that exclusivism can be. We from the West in various academic and missionic pursuits far too long have followed Aristotle in his dominant Aristotelianism (fostering intellectualism, ethnocentricism, classicism, kingdom-building imperialism, a self-referential politics, and misogynistic sexism.) And yet, translation and feminisms, in the directions Barnstone might lead us, are radically helpful alternatives. (I’ll just risk losing a few more readers by quoting Barnstone here by saying, “Eve is the mother of translation.” And that’s hardly all of what he says on this woman and translation.)

So, it’s been a breath of fresh air to be welcomed into conversation by Bible translators in the blogosphere. Check the blogroll here for sites and conversations of an incredibly intelligent and friendly lot. But, from time to time, we all retreat to the safe group of our own kind. Then we lob labels across and at: “feminist,” “postmodernist,” “egalitarian,” “complementarian,” “literary,” “literalist,” “Ph.D.,” “amateur,” “infamous,” “fabulous,” and so forth (often simply trying to understand the others’ perspectives). In a bad week, a (first order) comment may hurt another (unwittingly and, unfortunately sometimes, through acerbic wit.)

I think Barnstone has experienced some of that. And he’s not even blogging. His beef is with translation that purports to do one thing but that does another. Translation that pretends to build bridges, but sharply divides. Contemporary Bible translation has done that, he says. So what is a better Bible according to Barnstone?

Barnstone is quite conservative in naming English Bible translators he valorizes. But he doesn’t shy away from criticism of those whose translations would divide the linguistic and the literary:

As we have seen in the instance of the Bay Psalm Book, the claims of fidelity have, in older glorious translations, interfered neither with the magnificence of style nor with accuracy. Translators and exegetes alike have invented meanings and words with the full powers of their determined imaginations.

In our century, however, the Bible has suffered ignominiously “accurate” translations. Accurate has replaced literal as the word to justify bad translation.

(The Poetics of Translation, 63)

So one may count exemplary this translation by American Puritans, the Bay Psalm Book (aka The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre [Cambridge, MA,1640]).

And Barnstone notes two others “who dedicated themselves to turning one great book of the Bible into a masterpiece, [namely] Sir Philip Sidney and Lady Herbert [Countess of Pembroke] from Elizabethan London” who gave “us a new rendition of the Psalms” (The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, 16).

But, unfortunately, the Bible today has been

Abandoned by our best-known writer-translators and generations of readers. . . We have had no contemporary English or American equal to Poland’s Nobel laureate in literature, Czeslaw Milosz (who learned Hebrew specifically to translate the Songs of Songs into Polish), who might render distinguished books of the Bible in English. Perhaps it is an unfair burden to ask our leading contemporary religious scholars to become the Luthers and Dantes for our time an refresh the English language. In days of territorial specialization, literature and art are not their terrain. The consequences are clear. (The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, 16).

Barnstone does find three or four exceptional exceptions. He notes [with my boldings here]:

In 1996 Reynolds Price published The Three Gospels . . . which includes Mark, Matthew, and John, a revision from an earlier version of the four canonical gospels. It is of the same literary quality throughout as the [Richmond] Lattimore [translation mentioned further below], less lofty and more modern, and very close to the Greek. It has extra words and is a literary breakthrough. Price uses “wrong” rather than “sin” as one way of reducing what he calls the “puritan” practice in translating from the koine. As pure observation and no reproach, I note that he comes closer than others, but makes no essential break with a strongly Christianizing bias in converting Greek into English and doesn’t move the text from a Hellenization of name, place, and spirit back to its Hebrew Bible base. He does mitigate, where he can without stylistic contortions, the domination of male gender words. (The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, 17).

He adds:

A major change from the pedestrian Hebrew Bible translations that our century has sponsored has been the 1996 publication of Genesis in versions by Robert Alter and by Stephen Mitchell and the 1999 translation of Alter’s David. Alter and Mitchell are both literary, the Alter rhythmically rhetorical and austerely beautiful, with significant annotation; the Mitchell more contemporary, clean, and, like the Alter at once close to both the King James and to modern speech. Like the Everett Fox lineated translation of The Five Books of Moses, the first lines of Genesis in the Alter version have orchestral power and balance, although Alter does so in prose rather than in verse. (The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, 17).

Barnstone dedicates his own translation of The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament to Alter, and calls Alter’s Genesis Barnstone’s “model.” Nonetheless, he praises another:

A masterly instance of close translation is Richmond Lattimore’s books from the New Testament. (The Poetics of Translation, 39)

And although his 1962 publication went largely unnoticed, it remains the finest version we have of the words of the Covenant scriptures in English. (The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, 16).

But in his version of Scripture we hear the evangelists speak—as if we were hearing koine Greek. In his preface to The Four Gospels and the Revelation, Lattimore affirms the notion of letting Greek word order and rhetoric come through in English, as opposed to converting them to contemporary English idiom. He adopted this same method in brilliantly in his versions of Pindar and Aeschylus. . . The Bible in our time, sorely abused by unliterary handlers, finds in Richmond Lattimore its most effective translator. He re-creates Mark’s elegant plainness. The classical scholar writes in his preface, “I have held throughout to the principle of keeping as close to the Greek as possible, not for sense and for individual words, but in the belief that fidelity to the original word order and syntax may yield an English prose that to some extent reflects the style of the original” (vii). Just as Lattimore’s Pindar sounds like Pindar—not Pindar sounding like a modern, literate Lattimore—so, as Lattimore intended, Mark sounds in English like Mark. (The Poetics of Translation, 39)

Now, I’m excited to see that John F. Hobbins in “Faithful Bible Translation” (at Ancient Hebrew Poetry) seems to praise Lattimore in some of the ways Barnstone does. Even more thrilling is to hear Suzanne McCarthy (at Better Bibles Blog) follow Anne Carson and Robert Alter in her own literary translation of I Corinthians 13. As I look at the translations of Aristotle’s Rhetoric by classicists and rhetoricians, I find the kind of isolation Barnstone writes about and translates against. By working in collaboration, as does Barnstone, Carson, Lattimore, McCarthy, and others, I hope the result will be a translation of Aristotle that leads us more in the ways of his Sappho (and our Eve), a redeemed rhetoric not Aristotelian, not self-isolated (to men only, of any particular tribe).

UPDATE: LINK to Jobes on Better Bibles

Friday, October 19, 2007

Willis Barnstone on (Y)OUR Translation Approach

I have tried to chart--reductively, yet perhaps clearly--basic principles and problems of translation [on pages 25-29], suggesting a few variations in this connecting maze. Precisely because of the interconnections of these principles and problems, because, as in all literary theory, science and art merge, there will always be controversy renewing the art, confusion leaving it in darkened labyrinths, and illumination resolving its enigmas dogmatically. Absolutes may be proclaimed, but those absolutes will soon be translated into other absolutes. And although people will try to impose a single way, there can never be one conquering normative approach to translation.

In this study the translation paradigms will strongly depend on two early sources: translation of the Bible, with its frequent goal of literalism and absolute fidelity, asserted but rarely practiced; and classical translation, with its free-minded Roman poets and rhetoricians who chose to re-create, to paraphrase Greek letters into their Latin tongue. The Roman method was to dominate the practice, if not the pretensions, of secular translation from the Middle Ages, when antiquity strongly re-entered the West, until the early twentieth century.

The two paragraphs above are from page 29 of Willis Barnstone’s The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice. Clearly, he’s outlining approaches to translation and is noting two early and rather persistent approaches: “Bible translation” and “Roman translation of Greek poetry and rhetoric.”

Barnstone translates both the Bible and Greek poetry and rhetoric. But I suspect Bible translators are more reluctant to include him in their society of Bible translators although, I think, Barnstone fairly understands their concerns.

I’d like to see Bible translators and Greek classicists and Greek rhetoricians today talk more together about our approaches. Can we muse about whether we’re rather dogmatic, for instance? Might we be brave enough to confess our translation-approach lineage? Could we find ourselves on Willis’s chart? Here’s the abbreviated version from page 25:

  1. Register, or translation level

a) literalism

b) middle ground

c) license

  1. Structure, or degree of source text in translation

a) retaining structure of source text in target text

b) naturalizing structure of source text in target text

c) abandonment of original structure and creation of new one

  1. Authorship, or dominant voice

a) retaining voice of source language author in target language

b) yielding voice of source language author to translator’s voice in target language

(And Barnstone sidesteps what most translators of most approaches sidestep: the absence of women in our histories of translation. But that's another discussion.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Goldilocks: A Literary Translation

A tale which may content the minds
Of learned men and grave philosophers

ἐὰν μ στραφτε κα γνησθε ς τ παιδα
μ εσλθητε ες τν βασιλεαν τν ορανν

  1. A truly literary translation will suggest the foreignness of the original without being incomprehensible.
  2. A literary translation will not be literary in ways that the original is not.

I’d like to riff on those two maxims looking at THE STORY OF THE THREE BEARS. (I just ripped off two or three lines from Lingamish, linked way below).

Perhaps I should just let the children play.

Once upon a time, when my kids were younger, we’d go to the library to check out every version of the same storybook we could find. We’d read James Marshall’s version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (where she spits out the porridge crying “Patooie!”); then we’d “read” through Marshall’s own Spanish translation he calls Ricitos Dorados y los tres osos. Next, we’d breeze through the two Spanish-English bi-lingual versions we found: both Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Ricitos de Oro y los tres osos by two different authors; except one had the Spanish before the English. (If Aprende Ingles con Cuetnos de Hadas: Ricitos de Oro y los Tres Osos had been in the library, I’m sure we would have been fascinated at the instruction for Spanish readers learning English. And if Learn Hebrew Through Fairy Tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears were there, we’d have tried the English-to-Hebrew learning that David Burke provides by his book.) We did laugh over Jolie Blonde and the Three Huberts (a Cajun Creole – English bilingual translation), and my kid who signs was most moved by the ASL / Sign Writing / English translation. We found Alvin Granowsky’s Bears Should Share! which gives Goldilock’s side of the story; Tamara Lynn Thiebaux’s re-telling, which ends with Goldilocks returning to fix Baby Bear’s chair. We looked at Dusty Lock and the Three Bears, which closes with the girl’s mother dunking her into the bathtub and lovingly cleaning her so that the bears didn’t recognize her when they saw her in the end. Then we’d check out Shelley Duvall’s video version of the story acted out by famous actors including Tatum O’Neal as the bratty Goldilocks.

The versions are DIFFERENT. But my kids would still intuit that they are all really the SAME story. My kids are native speakers of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” They know how radically relative the foreigness and the literary plot and the notional structure and the style and the characters and the lexical-and-grammatical simplicity can be. And they also understand (that THEY HOLD ON -- with the authors, and transposers, and translators -- TO) the rigid restraints of the story.

Now that my kids are older, and I’m more learned, I must first consider “the foreignness of the original.” So in the big research library here on campus I find it as first written by scholar, Dr. Robert Southey, in his self-referential book, The Doctor.

(Alas, it’s not quite the original, if foreign enough, for it’s the 1848 version, that “newer” compilation retitled The Doctor &c.: Complete IN ONE VOLUME and edited by “HIS SON-IN-LAW, JOHN WOOD WARTER, B.D.”

So I think to myself, “1848?! That’s the same year of the original Woman’s Rights Convention on the other side of the Atlantic where the un-original declaration of independence was declared rather sentimentally. Will I be surprised by any sexism in this English language book out of England? Oh no. Here’s a reference to the “FAIR SEX.” And CHAPTER CLXXXVIII is entitled: “FOLLY IN PRINT, REFERRED TO, BUT (N.B.) NOT EXEMPLIFIED. THE FAIR MAID OF DONCASTER. DOUBTS CONCERNING THE AUTHENTICITY OF HER STORY.”)


The CHAPTER begins in English (followed by an epigraph in italicized Portuguese attributed to BALBUENA):

HERE might be the place for inquiring how far the Doctor’s opinions or fancies upon this mysterious subject were original. . . Original indeed in the Doctor it was not; he said that he had learned it from his poor Uncle William; but that William Dove originated it himself there can be little doubt. . . The Doctor believed that this poor Uncle. . . had deduced it intuitively as an inference from his intuitive skill in physiognomy. . . [to which is added much more English, and a bit of Greek, on the rationale for including this story]. Bearing this in mind [is "Bearing" The Doctor's pun???!!!] I have given a Chapterfull . . . for physiologists and philosophers; but this Opus is not intended for them alone; they constitute but a part only of that “fit audience” and not “few,” which it will find. . . One thing alone might hitherto seem wanting to render it a catholic, which is to say, an universal book, and that is, that as there are Chapters in it for the closet, for the library, for the breakfast room, for the boudoir, (which is in modern habitations what the oriel was in ancient ones,) for the drawing room, and for the kitchen, if you please, -- (for whatever you may think, good reader, I am of opinion, that books which at once amuse and instruct may be as useful to servant men and maids, as to their masters and mistresses) – so should there be one at least for the nursery. With such a chapter, therefore, will I brighten the countenance of many a dear child, and gladden the heart of many a happy father, and tender mother, and nepotious uncle or aunt, and fond brother or sister; [to which is added a quotation, in Greek, from Sophocles]. For their sakes I will relate one of William Dove’s stories, with which he used to delight young Daniel, and with which the Doctor in his turn used to delight his young favourites; and which never fails of effect with that fit audience for which it is designed, if it be told with dramatic spirit, in the manner that our way of printing it may sufficiently indicate, without the aid of musical notation. Experto crede. Prick up your ears then, My good little women and men; and ye who are neither so little, nor so good, favete linguis, for here follows the Story of the Three Bears.

I’ll let you find in your own library the book and the chapter and the nearly “original” THE STORY OF THE THREE BEARS.

But let me spoil it ahead of time: There is NO Goldilocks at all. Rather, the bears are visited by “a little old Woman,” who is “naughty” and “impudent” and who “said a bad word” and who had an “ugly, dirty head” and who not so innocently did all kinds of nasty things to three nice, good bears.

Furthermore, the readers and listeners are left to determine “whether she broke her neck in the fall [after jumping out of the window]; or ran into the wood and was lost there; or found her way out of the wood, and was taken up by the constable and sent to the House of Correction for a vagrant she was, I [the author] cannot tell.”

And still, the Doctor – the self-confessing un-original author – gives additional story-reading instructions to his readers.

Now, allow me to address some of the literary difficulties here, for translation, before returning to our two original maxims. First, there are plenty of contingency difficulties. Who are these story tellers? What of the Greek and Latin and foreign sounding English? Well, I overcome these by or wikipedia or a trip to the library or my language lexicons or by reading the author’s very explicit statements of intent. Second, there are tactical difficulties. You’ll fly on by the “Once upon a time,” but just getting to it is tough. If you deny that, then you flew by that long (and . . . abbreviated by me) set up in the block quotation above. And, when you read your nearly “original” copy of the story, you may have some difficulty with the epigraph (which is the one in English at the top of this blog post). This is a story for kids, The Doctor says; but it’s all addressed [yawn] to the adults. The Doctor wants to make you understand the context of the story (and just how smart he is) before you read it, so you’ll get it (and get that about him). He sets up some difficult stuff by those tactics. Third, [yawn] there are modal difficulties. The Doctor credits one “G. N.” who has “versified” the story and had it “published specially for the amusement of ‘little people.’” And in both the long quotation (above [yawn]) that sets up the story and in the instructions to adult readers that starts the next chapter, The Doctor acknowledges the modes of orality and literacy and the difference they make. Fourth, what kind of beings do we have to be or to become to appreciate “good Bears” in contrast to “an impudent, bad old Woman”? That, I suppose, is an ontological difficulty. I think George Steiner might agree.

If you’re still with me, we come back to that much more adult question of literary translation.

  1. A truly literary translation will suggest the foreignness of the original without being incomprehensible.
  2. A literary translation will not be literary in ways that the original is not.

But if you’re like my kids, and me, you’re awfully glad for James Marshall’s Goldilock’s cry: “patooie!”

P.S. for more serious, much more intelligent discussion on all "literary translation," pay a visit to:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On Difficulty

The title of this blog post could have been:

Γοργίου Ἑλένης Ἐγκώμιον
(Gorgias’s “Praise of Helen”)


Πῶς Πάσας Τὰς Παραβολὰς Γνώσεσθε
(“'How Are You Going to Understand
Each and Every One of the Stories I Throw Beside You?':
Jesus’s Question Back to His Questioners,
as Translated into Greek by Peter
or Mark, Chapter 4, Verse 13")


Change the World:
How Ordinary Individuals Can Achieve Extraordinary Results
by Robert E. Quinn

These could have been the titles, for Gorgias and Jesus and Quinn all work through the same four “difficulties” if from different perspectives.

But, since John F. Hobbins kindly added my blog to his blog’s roll while warning readers that mine is “Learned (and difficult) comment,” I thought I’d name this post in honor of Hobbins and his parenthetical phrase: “and difficult.” And, besides, George Steiner (in his essay “On Difficulty” in his book On Difficulty) does what Gorgias and Jesus and Quinn do with the same four difficulties. In addition, Steiner and Hobbins are both interested in poetry.

Let me try to make this a little less difficult.

Steiner puts the four kinds of difficulties this way (and I translate from academicianese to blogerese):

In poetry reading (which I myself hope here to apply to language translating) there are these four possible difficulties:

1. epiphenomenal (or contingency)
2. tactical (or strategic)
3. modal (which Steiner attributes to the great C. S. Lewis, and I just had to throw that in)
4. ontological

Let's call these:
1. an information gap difficulty
2. a following-the-poet's-moves difficulty (i.e., the poet's "speed bumps for the reader," for example)
3. a difficulty of expecting one form but getting another
4. the difficulty of having one's very being challenged by the poem. (i.e., If I were to believe that . . . )

The reader has to overcome these difficulties respectively:

1. by looking up the difficult word or phrase or allusion in the dictionary or encyclopedia to overcome the contigent information gap.

2. by slowing down and figuring out what the writer might be trying to get the reader to do (and the poet might well be just employing writer tactics to get the reader to slow down) to oblige the strategic style choices of the writer.

3. by considering that the poet may be using lyric, or something more visually akin to painting, or something more like music – some mode that the reader may or may not be all that familiar with to work in the form choices of the writer.

4. by being transformed in the reading to suspend disbelief and become different.

So my first analogy is this:

A translator is like a reader of a poem who must acknowledge the four sorts of difficulties of the writer using the language to be translated.

But a translator is also like the poet, who in writing creates these same difficulties for the subsequent readers in the new language.

My other analogies (with Gorgias and Jesus and Quinn) appear in a difficult little essay I wrote some while ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Aristotle's (sub)Text for the Bible Writers' (pre)Text

To get some idea of what the New Testament (NT) writers are up to it’s helpful to see a little of what the Septuagint (or LXX) translators are up to first. Part 1 “Icky-ness: (womanly) Word Play in Bible Translation” attempted some of that. Part 2 begins like this: “The canon of the NT is an elite collection of elistists’ texts.”

In translation and in writing there are texts. But translators and interpreters of the Bible today often neglect contexts

and subtexts

and metatexts (the earliest of back-referencing hypertexts)

and pretexts.

And there are stereotexts (that enact 2-way interpretations on the spot, with a reinterpretation of the reader / listener).

Kenneth Pike enacts such in his monolingual demonstrations (as etic observer, not coldly observing but subjectively being affected by his inter-actions with the emic observed, equally affected by the transforming experience). Mikhail Epstein (who coins stereotexting) calls this interlation. Missionary kids (like me and my siblings and “cousins”) live with interlation. MKs live without choice among peoples of at least two cultures, and MKs live without any effort at all in mastering two languages at least. MKs live with hints of what’s at stake on both sides for the rhetorical adult choosers of cultures and languages and texts. In the simultaneous translation of a sermon, for instance, the preacher and the interpreter are up to things! Bilingual listeners (like the MKs) get the issue. Call it literal or dynamic equivalence or something else too. What really is most interesting, and most dangerous perhaps, is how adults in the act of translation or in the inevitable practice of interpretation insist on “text” alone, by pretending that pretext, subtext, metatext, and context are lesser if important at all. (The stereotexting deconstructs this pretense. And the deconstruction of the "text-is-everything" pretense transforms – or translates -- the speaker, the listener, the reader, the writer, the translator, or the interpreter).

My own issue (I’ll confess here) is the question (generally) about what goes into the preferences and processes and products of “better translation.” It’s writers and translators (people) who are the fly in the ointment or those who make the ointment fly. That makes this rather personal for me. I’m going to project and say that this makes it personal for each one of us. Immediately and specifically my rhetorical situation is this: we (the people who make up the cultures I live in now) are not so eager to confess how we look to texts alone to justify our theologies and / or biologies and, consequently, our behaviors. I could tell you story after story of how, by canonized texts of religion or science, people determine inequalities among the sexes and among people of different races and ethnic backgrounds. Let me just say for now that I have four close friends whose respective marriages, as I write, are in deep and deeper crisis largely as a result of the belief of both the husbands and the wives that the Bible (in English translation appropriated into a post-Christian U.S. evangelical context) is saying to them each one how the woman is to be under the man. Some people (online) are talking all about this translation-and-interpretation question rather universally, so I’ll give us a meta-textual link back to that through Metacatholic’s (aka Doug’s) recent post.

Circling back specifically to NT writers and LXX translators, though, I’d suggest we also read five works on language-and-culture appropriations: Sylvie Honigman’s The Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship in Alexandria: A Study in the Narrative of the Letter of Aristeas; Lydia He Liu’s Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937; Kathleen E. Welch’s The Contemporary Reception of Classical Rhetoric: Appropriations of Ancient Discourse; William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis; and Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance.

In addition, I’d recommend that we find our way (at least once) through the entirety of the LXX and the NT (and maybe through some Homer and Aristotle) before reading another English word of my post here.

When we’re ready (when we think we’re ready), here’s the link to Part 2 on More Icky-ness: (womanly) Word Play in New Testament Writing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An Inconvenient Truthiness

You should have laughed reading the title of this post.

You would have laughed if you were an insider to USA pop culture. (None of the friends of mine from Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Mexico, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, or Morocco laughed at this title phrase today. None of them are north American culture insiders).

So why laugh? If you’re in on the inside joke, then you laughed at the play on the plays on words. Huh?

Yeah. I get the first part. An Inconvenient Truth is the title of Al Gore’s book and documentary on global warming.

We get the word play without anyone telling us in England or America or anywhere else: truth just isn’t supposed to be inconvenient. Often we laugh when our categories become incompatible, unwittingly (as with Freudian slips) or intentionally (as with making witticisms).

"So what does the author intend?" This seems to be THE question many readers (and even sophisticated linguists) run to first for “the meaning” of a “text.” “What does the text say?” is the sequitur, logically, as if an alphabetized page or a motion picture has agency and voice and personality to speak to us. Well, the safer presumption (a safe guess no less) is this: that “what the text says” depends entirely on “what the author intends.” So, then, in his three hundred and twenty eight page text, author Gore uses the phrase "inconvenient truth" just five times (depending on what the text of the dictionary or linguistics textbook says a "phrase" is). So, just 5 in 328? I'd say that's an inconvenient truth. But (there's hard numbers and math here and) here's his clue: the author uses the word clear as in the phrase unmistakably clear in four of those five phrases of inconvenient truth. (He also compares "our [conveniently unnamed] leaders" to "Hitler"). To read those phrases, you have to click here and be a member of, or just get the book or watch the movie as my children in gradeschool and middleschool were made to do. (Unmistakable. Inconvenient. Truth. If you don’t want to be stupid. If you'd like to be a real insider.)

If less of an insider, then google (just by clicking here). Oops. Now we’ve got more than the author’s intention. Here are promotionists, archivists, encyclopedists, critics, and film and book sellers. And if we google images, videos, news, maps, blogs, books, groups, products, or academic scholar-ship, then we've got “an inconvenient truth” of many sorts in many places for many prices.

Yeah. I get the second part. Truthiness is what the American Dialect Society authorizes. A comedian author made the society laugh at his neologism. Now the Amerian-Webster dictionary makes "truthiness" a real American word, and a blogger and a op-ed text say more. You guessed it. I just googled truthiness.

And yet, reading nothing at all of Stephen Colbert’s coinage, we still get it. We can remember we're linguists or pretend that we're linguists:

“Truth + y” = “truthy” (or the new adjective form of the noun) and “Truthy + ness” = “truthiness” (the new noun form of the new adjective form of the old noun; but with the “i” instead of “y” because that’s just what we do when we write formal alphabetic “texts” with an authorized spelling convention. If you don’t want to be stupid. If you want to be an insider.)

Yeah. I get the third part. I'll remember that I'm a philosopher or a sophist or a rhetorician. Or I'll just pretend: "An Inconvenient Truthiness" is a Hegelian synthesis. And now I'm having fun as a mathematician again: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. (And now I'm a greek scholar).

But lest you think I think I'm just oh so clever, google again. Did you see how "An Inconvenient Truthiness" is the title of so many other bloggers' posts. And all the meanings of those texts. The different meanings. The varieties of contexts and punchlines. Various insiders. All sorts of laughter. Most I don't get yet.

My punchline? I do hope someone gets it.

If Plato translated an inconvenient truth-iness into his Hellenism, it'd end in the pejorative feminine suffix, -ική. Somewhere else, I tried to show he got that from Homer or Hesiod, who were looking for something to have some man say about some virgin.

Ironically, with some serious funniness, Plato and his student Aristotle would coin feminine words that leave women out.

So, I'll talk about one of my teachers who took Greek suffixes to talk about being on the outside and on the inside. That incredible teacher, who sought to make others insiders, coined his own phrases. The two most famous are emic and etic. At the recent Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) conference, a feminist rhetorician used those terms (pronouncing them differently than my teacher did, but using them nonetheless. Pike would have been proud, for he was quite interested in what other people said about emics and etics).

Of course, those of you now insiders to linguistics and anthropology and about twenty other disciplines know I'm talking about Kenneth Lee Pike.

Pike called his way of working "tagmemics." I call it feminism, or at least feminist-ics. The early developers of tagmemics (Ken Pike and Evelyn Pike and Eunice Pike; and Robert E. Longacre and Shin Ja J. Hwang, who did much more with texts) would not have used this label.

Anyway, a label is too much like "an inconvenient truthiness." For one it means one thing. For another, it's the thing to be mean about.

So let me give my humble opinion. Tagmemics allows for ambiguities, celebrates ambiguities, fosters humility. (So now, google "Ambiguity and humility" to see what others very brilliantly say). I say Pike's approach is very much in contrast to that of masculinists such as Aristotle and his Aristotelianism and Noam Chomsky and his abstractionistic approach. The former approach is lowly and inclusive; the latter high and exclusive. (It's weird how tagmemics has all but died in the organization where Pike worked. Before that, it was misunderstood and killed off in composition and rhetoric. I wrote about that somewhere once. But emics and etics are alive and well. And one on the internet (google him) calls tagmemics "the theory of everything." And another "culture" (google PERL and Larry Wall) uses tagmemics to make a computer language more like our sloppy human language, our wonderful truthiness langauge.

In contrast to the cold, impersonal, calculating, abstract, and abstracting from context objectivity, Pike insisted on subjectivity, on ambiguity, on letting people inside for the joke. He would always laugh at "an inconvenient truthiness."

P.S.: here are a few things I remember Pike saying:

"What we need is radical relativism within rigid restraints" (Pike's paraphrase of Nelson Goodman in Ways of World Making)

"I'm interested in talking about 'talked-about' reality. What else is there to talk about?"

"Person is always above logic. Person always has the choice of perspective [i.e., particle, wave, or field] in any given context as a conceptional hierarchy."

"One of my teachers once declared: 'What we need is one and only one word for each concept.' I simply asked: 'But, sir. How then would we learn language?'"

"Language is N-dimensional."

"I know of a language in which there are no numbers beyond 'one' and 'two' or perhaps 'three.'" (I'm quite sure Pike was thinking of the language of the Pirahã of Brazil).

"The observer adds part of himself to the data that he [or she] looks at or listens to . . . . A
bias of mine -- not shared by many linguists -- is the conviction that beyond the
sentence lie grammatical structures available to linguist analysis, describable by
technical procedures, and usable by the author for the generation of literary works
through which he [or she] reports to us his [or her] observations. (page 129 College Composition and Communication, October 1964)"

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Icky-ness: (womanly) Word Play in Bible Translation

This post is a nod to the profound posts of Suzanne on “Ambiguity and humility”; of Stefan on traduttore, traditore!; of Doug on “Minimising mistakes in the Bible (or not).” (and, in an update late, this post nods too to two posts Suzanne references which I'd not gotten to until now: Iyov's post on the “Least common denominator,” . . . with my paraphrasing his words “as if the Greeks were to start celebrating,” partying around the Jew's paraphrase we call the Septuagint, “translation” that I hope to show below surely “severs the connection with tradition”; and too there's Lingamish's post out of Africa, “Please be so kind to laugh,” in which he starts in Texas and ends with Paul's mandates to those dirty Corinthians about hair, headcoverings, and women in worship. Worth reading, all!!).

My post here is also part 1 of 2 in a series on icky Greeky word play in the Bible (& its translation history).

As far as I can tell, it’s pretty clear that the earliest Bible translators (and the later writers of what’s been canonized as “the New Testament”) avoided what we call “rhetoric.” They were Jews all too familiar with Greek.

(They, especially Saul/Paul the Hebrew of Hebrews the Roman citizen, divided the world into the Joudahs and the Hellenists, into God’s chosen race and the reasonably-tolerable class of ethnics. Note how Paul writes to non-Joudah “Romans.” Note how he writes in Greek, and how he addresses them as ethnic Hellenes and non-Greek Barbarians, wise and un-intelligent, in Rome beloved of God [1:14 & 1: 13 & 1:7]. And thereafter, still writing in Greek, Paul continues to address them but only as ethnic Hellenes, as certainly distinct from the chosen Joudahs, brought together under the name of the Joudah-ic Joshua over all the ethnics, even all ethnics in Rome. Most English translators of Paul’s text now here translate this as something like “both Jews [first] and [then] Greeks.”)

They were Jews all too familiar with Greek. They knew Socrates’s and Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings on “rhetoric,” and its playful connections with “erotic” and with that god “Eros.” For the Jews, then, the “be-loved” are always “agap-ed” by God but are never “eros-ed” by the goddesses and gods and various other muses and deities.

Between the time when Aristotle’s student, Alexander the Great (Greek), set up Alexandria and the time when this Joshua of Nazareth comes out of the ethnic Egypt, the Jews in this poly-theistic ethnic educational center of the world translated their scriptures from Hebrew into Greek. And the translators avoided like an Egyptian plague the Greek “rhetoric” terms with its “erotic” word plays.


But there’s one little slip. And then another.

When the Jewish translators came to ילשמ in their scriptures, they decided to translate παροιμίαι (and we, of course, have rather barbarically decided to transliterate that “Proverbs,” from the later Romanish Latin proverbium). And these Jewish translators in Egypt read (in the Proverbs) much that is gendered, much that is male-centered, and much that is downright female-marginalizing. The much is all about making sure the Jewish young man, the son, is wise and is not un-intelligent.

When the Joudahic translators come to Proverbs 7 and then Proverbs 30, there is much that is Hellenistic erotic. There is much that is Hellenistic rhetorical. Icky stuff indeed.

What’s a good Hebrew translator to do? There, in the text and in the context of Proverbs 7, is the Joudahic wisdom for the son to avoid a woman, particularly a strange rhetorical woman: הקילחה הירמא הירכנמ הרז השאמ. So they get by with translating this as γυναικὸς ἀλλοτρίας καὶ πονηρᾶς ἐάν σε λόγοις τοῖς πρὸς χάριν ἐμβάληται. So far, so good. The translation is safe enough, so far, from the icky-ness, from the ethnicky eroticky rhetoricky goddess-icky language at least.

But the context is quite erotic, and the erotic woman is especially rhetorical. So the translators begin to reason among themselves. “Hmmm,” they say. “What if putting this male Hebrew disgust into a Greek declamation could bring the lack of Joudahic wisdom across as, well, as icky as it really is? Then the Joudahic son having to read Hellenisms would avoid the woman!! Must we translators really avoid ‘eros’ and ‘erotic’ and ‘rhetoric’?”

And they fall, these Jews, into various translator temptations, and for the first time they slip into low-down poly-womanly-theistic erotic rhetorical Hellenisms. At the climax of the story, here’s how it goes for the first time in Greek:

13 εἶτα ἐπιλαβομένη ἐφίλησεν αὐτόν ἀναιδεῖ δὲ προσώπῳ προσεῖπεν αὐτῷ 14 θυσία εἰρηνική μοί ἐστιν σήμερον ἀποδίδωμι τὰς εὐχάς μου 15 ἕνεκα τούτου ἐξῆλθον εἰς συνάντησίν σοι ποθοῦσα τὸ σὸν πρόσωπον εὕρηκά σε 16 κειρίαις τέτακα τὴν κλίνην μου ἀμφιτάποις δὲ ἔστρωκα τοῖς ἀπ Αἰγύπτου 17 διέρραγκα τὴν κοίτην μου κρόκῳ τὸν δὲ οἶκόν μου κινναμώμῳ 18 ἐλθὲ καὶ ἀπολαύσωμεν φιλίας ἕως ὄρθρου δεῦρο καὶ ἐγκυλισθῶμεν ἔρωτι

(in English, Sir Lancelot Brenton puts this Greek this way:

13 Then she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said to him, 14 I have a peace-offering; today I pay my vows: 15 therefore I came forth to meet thee, desiring thy face; and I have found thee. 16 I have spread my bed with sheets, and I have covered it with double tapestry from Egypt. 17 I have sprinkled my couch with saffron, and my house with cinnamon. 18 Come, and let us enjoy love until the morning; come, and let us embrace in love.)

Let’s not miss the icky-ness of this scene. First, there’s the icky-suffix: ική. It’s the suffix that Plato found, popularized, and used to coin “rhetor-ike” or “speaker-ly-ness.” Here, in Proverbs 7:14, the Joudahic translators have traded Hebrew word play (i.e., רדנ יתמלש םויה ילע םימלש יחבז ) for a dirtier Greek word play. There’s now no playful “peace” in the adulteress’s offering. Now in Greek, she’s that othered and porned ethnic woman using logois (verse 5); and now (in verse 14) she’s paying vows to some goddesses or gods in a merely peace-ish way (or please allow me: in an “appeasing a-peace-ish” way). This is Plato’s Gorgias’s sophistic (not wise) rhetoric; it’s the trick of the eroticist, the feminist, who would bring down the Hebrew lad with her into the linens of Egypt.

Second, there’s the icky (usually avoided, and to be avoided) “love.” To be quite sure, the translators are moving away from “agape,” the love of the LORD and of parents. In earlier Proverbs, they’ve already reassured Hebrew readers and Judaic fathers and sons that there’s no Greekish love here from God or from father or mother:

υἱέ μὴ ὀλιγώρει παιδείας κυρίου . . . ὃν γὰρ ἀγαπᾷ κύριος παιδεύει μαστιγοῖ δὲ πάντα υἱὸν ὃν παραδέχεται (LXX Proverbs 3:11,12)

υἱὸς γὰρ ἐγενόμην κἀγὼ πατρὶ ὑπήκοος καὶ ἀγαπώμενος ἐν προσώπῳ μητρός (LXX Proverbs 4:3)

So now in Proverbs 7:13-18, the temptress moves from appeasing the goddesses and from pacifying the gods to the would-be wise son. She moves from her rhetorical affectionate kiss (φίλησεν) and her farcical feministic face to her lure with more affection (φιλίας) and finally to her more encompassing encapturing enrapturing dirty god-like eros (ἔρωτι).

In the end, the Proverb becomes a father-to-son discussion (a heart-felt “rhema,” not the woman’s “logical logos” or “rhetorical rhetoric”). It’s a discussion to be heard around the run for the Juodahic son’s soul: περὶ ψυχῆς τρέχει 24 νῦν οὖν υἱέ ἄκουέ μου καὶ πρόσεχε ῥήμασιν στόματός μου.

But the son in the story and the male readers of the παροιμίαι hear “eros.” The males listeners end up just feeling dirty. So do these first Hebrew Bible translators.


Fast forward to Proverbs 30. Here’s the confession of the un-wise son. So fast forward a bit more to verses 15 and 16. Here’s the Hebrew:

-אל עברא הנעבשת אל הנה שולש בה בה תונב יתש הקולעל
:ןוה ורמא

:ןוה הרמא-אל שאו םימ העבש-אל ץרא םחר רצעו לואש

(And here’s some fairly concordant English [NASB] to translate that:

The leech has two daughters,
"Give," "Give."
There are three things that will not be satisfied,
Four that will not say, "Enough":

Sheol, and the barren womb,
Earth that is never satisfied with water,
And fire that never says, "Enough.")

Now here’s what the Joudah-icky translators decided for the Hellenist-icky version of that:

τῇ βδέλλῃ τρεῖς θυγατέρες ἦσαν ἀγαπήσει ἀγαπώμεναι
καὶ αἱ τρεῖς αὗται οὐκ ἐνεπίμπλασαν αὐτήν
καὶ ἡ τετάρτη οὐκ ἠρκέσθη εἰπεῖν ἱκανόν

ᾅδης καὶ ἔρως γυναικὸς καὶ τάρταρος καὶ γῆ οὐκ ἐμπιπλαμένη ὕδατος καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ οὐ μὴ εἴπωσιν ἀρκεῖ

Please note how for םחר רצעו (orthe barren womb”) there’s ἔρως γυνα-ικὸς (or “a woman’s eros-love”).

And do see the added, explicit contrast between this feminist rhetorical eros and the Godly, parently, daughterly love: ἀγαπήσει ἀγαπώμεναι.

Where in the original Hebrew text from the un-wise son do the Joudah-icky translators get that? Isn’t it from the original Greek concepts of Helen, Homer, Sappho, Gorgias, Plato, and Aristotle? Who could miss the sophist-ical, erot-ical, rhetor-ical, Hellenist-ical, feminist-ical word play in translation? Icky stuff indeed!

Friday, October 5, 2007

translating Hope

I’m at the Sixth Biennial Feminism(s) & Rhetoric(s) Conference. I’m tired, often bored with the pedantry, but fully alive with how important the conversations are.

Aristotle is everywhere here in Little Rock, Arkansas. And then he’s not seen much at all. (His name is one of the white academic men’s names carved on the high head stones of the Main Library at 100 Rock Street).

The pedantic paper I read yesterday suggested that we Barbarians today (i.e., non ancient Greeks), and we feminists (i.e., people who start with the belief that women are equal to men), and we rhetoricians (i.e., academics in rhetorics), and we translators (i.e., scientists of language forced from time to time into being artists also) may be “Aristotle blind.” Actually, I didn’t say that at all. (I said Aristotle in writing the Rhetoric couldn’t get around using women’s language or around the importance of women and Barbarians). But after listening to Krista Ratcliffe deliver her powerful keynote address yesterday, I went back to her best-known book and heard her confess this:

And I finally realized the irony of my reasoning: by enthymemically arguing my case from existing commonsense assumptions . . . , I was retreating into an Aristotelian rhetoric of common sense (i.e., the sense we hold in common), which was the very rhetoric that my manuscript challenged. Now I grant you, Aristotelian rhetoric is a very powerful, very useful way to reason. But as I argued . . . , it can be gender blind, that is, naïvely blind to concerns of gender. What I was realizing in my own life was that it can also be race blind.

My first response was guilt—good old-fashioned liberal guilt. When asking myself whether my defense of Woolf, Daly, and Rich was as race blind as Aristotle’s treatise of rhetoric was gender blind, I answered myself with a well-intentioned, “Of course it is.” (5)

Of course, if you remember what Ratcliffe says in her book on page 5, then you know she finds other responses beyond her Aristotle-like blindness and the guilt she claims that such blindness induces in her.

In her keynote address at lunch yesterday, Ratcliffe had gone beyond Aristotle, and his Rhetoric, and all that blindness of gender and race. We heard and saw women of color (on color slides) who represented to us (Ratcliffe and the audience) going beyond being “Unwilling to Listen” (which was the title of her talk.). We were grappling with (the topic of her sub-title) “How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn’t Civil.”

We were listening (and Ratcliffe was talking) as women (mostly but men also) all of color served us blueberry cobbler and / or bread pudding (and most of our faces eating the desserts served by black hands and watching the slides of the women of color were of the white un-coloreds of the dominant race).

But look. Listen. Ratcliffe says some important things (and so does her Aristotle in translation):

“Following Muktan Mai, Magogong Mahlagayu, and Wajeha al Hawaida, we would do well to turn to the tropes of belief, possibility, agency, and hope.”

Of course, we translators (especially those ridiculously insisting on word-for-word swaps) notice that “tropes” is the fifteenth word of Aristotle’s Rhetoric. And Ratcliffe says that “belief,” “possibility,” and “agency” are words of rhetoric (or what she translates/ transliterates as “tropes of rhetoric.”) The other word, “hope,” Ratcliffe says is a feminist term.

In the Little Rock airport, in a little bookstore, I just picked up this little book entitled: Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” A Woman’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men. Aristotle may have gotten more out of the language of women than he realized (though Ratcliffe claims from him we get things like trope, belief, possibility, agency). At any rate, I read the whole book already. Maybe also why I’m tired. But it’s a fresh break from the pedantry. At any rate, authors Stephen James and David Thomas, men writing about men’s language, say this (at the end of their book’s introduction):

“We all have the same core feelings, needs, desires, longings, and hopes.”

“We all” just may be men and women, reasoners and rhetors, authors and translators, Greeks and Barbarians, academics and laity, whites and colored, the sighted and the blind. All need hope.