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.

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