Saturday, December 29, 2007


Rhetoricians and feminist scholars have recently, more frequently, been studying, researching, teaching "silence" in American universities.

Outside of the classroom, we hear it. Do you hear it? Listen. Silence.

Here's how it sounds in Fort Worth, Texas, "where the West begins."

Here's how it sounds in the ears of Phyllis Chessler, who listens yesterday to others reminding her

"how much central Asia resembles a far-out Eastern version of our own long-ago Wild West. The feuds never quit, the violence never stops, only more violence and larger bribes can ever dominate smaller violence and smaller bribes—and then only for awhile"

and how much Benazir "Bhutto’s assassination spells trouble for other women who may wish to divorce abusive husbands or to attend college."

Chessler's abduction by men in Afganistan once silenced her,
and Chessler now hears much silence from rhetoricians and feminists in universities in the civilized West. Silence on awful silencing of others. Hear it?

I kid you not when I say that, the day Benazir Bhutto was silenced, the local tv news in Fort Worth and Dallas (ABC, CBS, NBC affiliates) all opened with long stories of tigers (one that escaped further west from a zoo in San Francisco and another that was abused and then shot to death near an apartment complex in Dallas); oh, and then some later in the news, after at least one commercial break per news station, there was the story of that disturbance in Pakistan and the presidential reaction from Crawford Texas. Nationally, ABC Nightline decides to run its 2007 "look back at Condo Vultures and the Worst Mortgage" after Cynthia McFadden gives a brief account of the implications for the U.S. after the Bhutto assassination. Internationally, there's laughter not at Bhutto's rhetoric but at her Pakistani pronunciations here, and here, and here (where she gets an "F" grade for her "really awful accent and speech" for which she has "no excuses"; "The nation was sick of her 'karay hainnn!?' It is beyond humorous now. May God Bless her soul!").

Do you hear the silence (the silence on purdah, the silence on child marriage, the silence on watta satta, the silence on honor killings, the silence on marriage to Quran)?

Hear the silencing (the rhetorics the sexisms the terror the academic consequences) in your ears, if you will:

In a sense, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a political and cultural version of an honor killing. Bhutto was the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim nation and she symbolized an unacceptably Western form of female ambition and achievement. She had attended Harvard/Radcliffe and Oxford. She spoke English—perhaps more fluently than she spoke her native Sindi or Urdu. She once dressed as Western women do. Indeed, many Muslim women from wealthy families, including educators and feminists, have done so for a long time. They cannot do so now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Voice of Benazir Bhutto

"Hey Dad, come here," my son (home from college for the holidays) just beckoned. Together, we heard the sad news of the cowardly assassination of Benazir Bhutto in her home country by a young man who then committed suicide just hours ago.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the extremists' greatest fear is the spread of information, social equality and democracy. These three principles choke off the oxygen of terrorism. It was in the clusters of information, social equality and democracy that I gave my attention as prime minister of Pakistan. This could explain the two unsuccessful assassination attempts made against me by al Qaeda in 1993 to prevent my re-election. As prime minister of Pakistan, my government oversaw the heralding of the Information Age into Pakistan -- we introduced fax machines, digital pagers, optic fiber communications, cellular telephones, satellite dishes, computers, Internet, e-mail and even CNN and Fox into Pakistan."
These are the words I heard Prime Minister Bhutto say when she visited us at TCU (the university where I work and study) on April 18, 2002.

She continued:
The solutions will not be quick or simple. But we shall prevail. Let not the horror of murderous attacks on your people and your cities distract you from continuing to be the beacon of freedom for people everywhere. In my father's last letter to me, written before he was murdered by Pakistan's earlier military tyrants, he quoted the poet Tennyson, 'Ah, what shall I be at 50 if I find the world so bitter at 25?'

Dear friends, be strong, but do not be bitter. Time, justice and forces of history are on your side."

Here's a link to a news report of her untimely death (and I'm afraid someone has already very quickly updated her biography at wikipedia to punctuate the past tense).

But listen to Benazir Bhutto; buy her autobiography, and listen. Listen, and "Dear friends, be strong, but do not be bitter. Time, justice and forces of history are on your side."

Consider supporting feminism in Pakistan. With Bhutto, continue "the spread of information, social equality and democracy."

Friday, December 21, 2007

What I learned about gender

Just when I'd finished blogging for the year, just when I knew I wouldn't learn another thing, I read "What I learned about gender while excavating at Tell Qarqur (Part Three)" at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.


It's learned (and difficult) comment by a very well-read John F. Hobbins, co-pastor of a Waldensian Church with Paola Benecchi.

If you dare, you'll watch gender constructed right before your very eyes: one "imp" becomes "a woman" and the other becomes a different kind of man. Ancient Hebrew poetry becomes English. The "gender-blind" domains of "three K’s (Kinder, Kuche, und Kirche: children, the kitchen, and church)" give way "to a reasonable hermeneutics of suspicion" by which "what passes for feminism in our world is ideological cover for market forces, or little more than impotent and reactionary resistance thereto." Karl Marx and Adam Smith become strange bedfellows. Hobbins himself becomes a qualified disciple of Luce Irigaray. Jewish culture and Christian culture are re-imagined as "positively gendered" with "families characterized by all manner of strains and stresses, but also, by mutuality in the giving and receiving of honor and respect."

And if you stay with it, you'll get a positively gendered invocation. Watch it, should you (and I) change.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ethics: A Dead, White Man’s Habit-ism?

Aristotle invented ethics. We could call him the first father and absolute original author of ethics. More on that in a moment.

First this:
Some of my blogger friends have been recycling and playing the “Ethical Philosophy Selector” (at Curt Anderson’s Here’s the game: Answer 12 multiple choice questions and you get a list that ranks, by percentage, how close your ethics matches the ethics of these:

  • 13 men: Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, Augustine, Jeremy Bentham, David Hume, Thomas Hobbs, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, John Stuart Mill, William of Ockham, Plato, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Baruch Spinoza.
  • 5 –isms (all fathered by men like Epicurus and John Stuart Mill): Cynicism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, Universal Prescriptivism, and General Utilitarianism
  • Oh, and 3 women (2 unmistakable feminists): Simone de Beauvoir, Nel Noddings, and Ayn Rand.

What is fascinating to us onlookers is how Aristotle invariably and always makes the lists. But Simone de Beauvoir never does. So right now let’s say no more about them, or her.

Now let’s go back to Aristotle:
Aristotle’s ethics are not feminist, but are rather sexist (surprise, surprise). Look here (and in the comments) at the “man”-ly word play in Nichomachian Ethics (NE), the treatise he names for his father Nichomachus, the Macedonian King’s scientist physician.

But since we’re playing with lists and numbers, also look at this. Elsewhere in NE, Aristotle explicitly uses the term “ethics” (which is the transliteration of his Greek ἠθικὴ) some 27 times. Aristotle also writes a few other works in which he explicitly uses ἠθικὴ (a number of times): Economics (2), Eudemian Ethics (24), Great Ethics (of disputed authorship, 29), Poetics (5), Politics (20), and Rhetoric (18).

The thing to note is that Aristotle seems to coin the word “ethics.” No one before father Aristotle uses ἠθικὴ, not even Plato.
Some related things to note are these:
1) Plato is Aristotle’s teacher;
2) Plato coins a lot of words, such as “rhetoric”;
3) Plato’s neologisms are customarily made out of a common word, say “rhetor” (i.e. “speaker”), plus the very uncommon ending “-ike”;
4) Plato’s word ending of choice is that icky feminine suffix, coined by Homer and Hesiod for their “virgins.”
5) (Sappho never uses the perhaps sexist, perhaps pejorative suffix).
6) Plato does use ἠ̂θος (which we transliterate with the English alphabet as, “ethos”); and Plato uses “ethos” as a noun or a verb some 147 times in 17 different treatises when he writes about “ethics” (but just not “ethics” as ἠθικὴ). I just counted them.

So in Aristotle’s Rhetoric (a central interest at this blog),
in his Book III (where he makes the most explicit references to “γυναικὸς” and “πότνια” (or “woman / wife” and “mistress / queen”),
we begin to get to get some interesting things starting from his 5th Chapter:

We find lessons in “speaking Greek,” which get to “grammar” more for “clarity” than for “correctness.” Then starting Chapter 7, Aristotle, the student of Plato, has a few things new to write to his own students about “ᾐ̂ παθητική τε καὶ ἠθικὴ” (or, transliterally, the “pathe-tics” and even the “etho-tics”). We might follow the classicists who translate παθος (“pathos”) as “feelings” or “passion” and ἠ̂θος (“ethos”) as “character” or “habits” or “customs” or “culture.” And yet there's this new "passion-ism" and even "habit-ism."

But get out your 1926 John H. Freese translation and your 2007 George A. Kennedy, and read along at paragraph 6, on page 1408a:

[6] Character also may be expressed by the proof from signs, because to each class and habit there is an appropriate style. I mean class in reference to age--child, man, or old man; to sex--man or woman; to country--Lacedaemonian or Thessalian. I call habits those moral states which form a man's character in life; [7] for not all habits do this. If then anyone uses the language appropriate to each habit, he will represent the character;

6. Proof from signs is expressive of character, because there is an appropriate style for each genus and moral state. By genus I mean things like age (boy, man, old man; or woman and man or Spartan and Thesslian) and by moral state [hexis] the principles by which someone is the kind of person he is in life; 7. for lives do not have the same character in accordance with [each and] every moral state. (Cf. Nicomachean Ethics 2.1.)

Now before we get to Aristotle’s Greek, we have to see a few things in Freese’s and Kennedy’s English. Aren’t we glad, for example, that Kennedy avoids Freese’s use of the word “class” in the context of various categories of peoples? “Class” might suggest that the Macedonian-born Athenian was actually a bigot, that he deplored Spartans and Thesslian’s perhaps. But Kennedy muddies it more by just transliterating the Greek genuswhich is our English scientif-ic bio-log-ical word for, well, a particular level of classification. It certainly gives Aristotle a little more, shall we say, “ethos”? If it’s genus, then he’s just the innocent, objective observer of phenomena in nature. And we all know that scient-ists cannot be bigots or rac-ists or class-ists.

So how about that sexist habit in Freese’s English: “a man's character in life” but not a woman’s? Kennedy has already highlighted for us in his “Prooemion” one salient “feature” of his own translation: “avoidance of some of the sexist language seen in older translations, which often speak of ‘men’ when Aristotle uses a more general plural.” But Kennedy hedges imagining the historical, customary, cultural habits of the Greeks: “Aristotle usually envisions only males as speaking in public” (“Prooemion” page xxi, my bold font). So Kennedy continues to envision this: “the principles by which someone is the kind of person he is in life,” in which no one is a person who is a woman, although Aristotle has already been writing about women, Spartan and Thesslian, as he writes about boys and men young and old, Spartan and Thesslian.

So let’s get back to the Greek, to papa Aristotle’s coinage of “ethics” (or habit-ism) from “ethos” (or a habit). And do note how the passage begins with the former and ends with the latter. And stay tuned for a more inclusive, less sexist English translation. We may have to learn from the French, from the feminists, from Simone de Beauvoir and her Pour Une Morale de L'ambiguïté (The Ethics of Ambiguity) (if that’s at all “eth-ick-al” or the habits of anyone at all):

[6] καὶ ἠθικὴ δὲ αὕτη ἡ ἐκ τω̂ν σημείων δει̂ξις, ὅτε ἀκολουθει̂ ἡ ἁρμόττουσα ἑκάστῳ γένει καὶ ἕξει. λέγω δὲ γένος μὲν καθ' ἡλικίαν, οἱ̂ον παι̂ς ἢ ἀνὴρ ἢ γέρων, καὶ γυνὴ ἢ ἀνήρ, καὶ Λάκων ἢ Θετταλός, ἕξεις δέ, καθ' ἃς ποιός τις τῳ̂ βίῳ: οὐ γὰρ καθ' ἅπασαν (30) ἕξιν οἱ βίοι ποιοί τινες. [7] ἐὰν οὐ̂ν καὶ τὰ ὀνόματα οἰκει̂α λέγῃ τῃ̂ ἕξει, ποιήσει τὸ ἠ̂θος:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Waves of Feminism(s), Rhetoric(s), & Translation(s)

We use (English) words as particles, as precisely defined units. For example, we assume definitions for terms like feminism, rhetoric, and translation. When we use the words in context, or read them in context, these little particles are found in fields, in relationship with the other words, and most importantly in relationship to ourselves and other people.

Today, I'm interested in (y)our perspectives of feminism, rhetoric, and translation (not only as words in contexts but also) as waves.

Historically, many of us already see feminism (in English, in the USA especially) in waves. But I want us to consider this: that each one of us participates in feminism (and/or is complicit in sexism) to some degree (whether we are willing to use such words as labels). Can you be as honest and brave as Rachel (of Rachel's Tavern), who says "Backing up a little bit, I’ll have to say I usually don’t write about my own feminism or get involved in debates over feminism" but who can also say "my feminism very much informs how I think and act"? So how do you ride the waves of feminism (or of sexism and racism)?

Typically, we think of rhetoric as the slippery weasily thing lawyers and politicians must do when they wink at the defendant or wave at the crowds. But won't we consider this: that every one of us is interested in using signs and symbols, especially words, to influence other people and their beliefs. Will you admit that even your reading of someone else's text can be rhetorical, that you're using the words to back your beliefs? Look at how re-translator April D. DeConick rightly cautions us to read betrayals of others: "Although we should continue to work toward a reconciliation of this ancient schism, manufacturing a hero Judas is not the answer."

As if scientific or artistic, translation is usually regarded as what the original meaning gets lost in, like a persistent sea foam demolishing the child's sand castle or a Katrina our cities. But sometimes translation can be Lydia He Liu's translingualism (where a host language kindly welcomes a guest) or Mikhail Epstein's interlation (in which the stereotext finds, not loses, meanings). Would you read as humbly, as experientially, as ambiguously, as meaningfully, Suzanne McCarthy's multilingual learning of "some of the tenderest, sweetest and most endearing, yet most elusive words" in translation?

The flux of feminism, the ripples of rhetoric, and the traduttore traditore of translation will always catch each one of us and watch us ride the changing surf or crash. In other words, how (y)our community participates in sexism (or racism or some other othering -ism) really is, profoundly, up to me (and you).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pythias Influencing Discourse

Long before George Lakoff's "embodied mind" was Robin Tolmach Lakoff's "third wave feminist linguistics." And long before that were the Gestalt psychologists with their "put together, figure and ground." But long before that was Phythias's "woman's discourse."

Nancy Mairs in Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer reminds us:

[The dominant, objectivist, Aristotelian discourse 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)

Here's how Aristotle struggled with a poetic riddle in the Rhetoric. (He struggles with the same in the Poetics). And here's how Pythias reads that (with a few traditional English translations -- dominant discourse translations -- following).

Women Influencing (Aristotle)

A blogger friend of mine, Suzanne McCarthy, just posted at Suzanne's Bookshelf on an incredible woman who influenced many of us: Lottie Moon. Suzanne shows how "Lottie Moon is one more of those admirable 19th century feminists." But most histories of the amazing Moon have not conceived of her in this robust way. Thankfully Moon was not silent, and some following her influence recall her voice.

This post is a request for similar recovery. How can we imagine the robust Greek (woman's) discourse around Aristotle's influential Rhetoric when we don't know (well) the women around him?

Thankfully because of the recovery work of historians such as Cheryl Glenn, Susan Jarratt, Rory Ong, and C. Jan Swearingen, we are coming to know a good bit more about the influences of Sappho, Aspasia, and Diotima on their own histories, their own rhetorics, and their own societies of women and men (including the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander). Thanks to the translation work of translators such as Anne Carson, Willis Barnstone, and Jane McIntosh Snyder, we get the robust discourse of Sappho. (And Carson's is the best because she provides us readers with an interlation: her [i.e., Sappho's] very Hellene fragments and her [i.e. Carson's] also poetic English).

But what do we know of Phaestis (Aristotle's mother), Erpyllida (the foster mother), Arimneste (the older sister), Pythias (the first wife who bore their daughter), Pythias (the daughter), Herpyllis (the second wife who bore their son Nichomachus, the namesake of Aristotle's father)? Who are Aristotle's grandmothers, and what do we know of them, and what did he know because of them? Does anyone still hear the voices of these women who Aristotle, likely, could not help but hear?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Teacher Tag Redux

Deborah Siegel at Girl With Pen is keeping the teacher tag going. She says it's her first blogger meme (and it's mine too). I'm only mentioning that as encouragement to anyone who dares (to learn).

Here's the problems, the benefits of such play:
1) This game makes you (stay) humble. Billie at Parts-n-Pieces says:

"Now, frankly, as I sit down to compose this, I'm not sure I can remember the names of 13 individual teachers. But as fragmented as my early life was, and since, there have been people who saw potential in me when I didn't see it in myself, but more than just see it, they let me see it. Nothing could have impacted me more than that. "

2) It gives you chills and makes you laugh. Deborah kindly shares the coolest teachers of some of her interesting friends:

Reading the posts from the people I tagged yesterday just made my friggin day!"

Her own list moves us and gives us a chuckle:

"5. Grandma Pearl, who died this fall, and who taught me gentle graciousness at the very end of her life.
6. Robert Berson, who taught me I was whole.
7. My cat Amelia, who taught me how to nap.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Womanism, Fascism, and DE Translation

George Lakoff’s and Eugene Nida’s theories of language and of translation fail to do enough. Their theories, in their efforts at Aristotelian objectivism, would bear Moses’s authority and would keep Onesimus.

(Warning: in this post, there’s a little word play but little child’s play. In other words, this thing is full of high-horse, academic jargon, which is where much power language lives. Dialog is welcome here, because in translation, especially "dynamic equivalence" or DE translation, there's still too much silencing of the marginalized.)

First, then, two true stories about children and words. Call them personal testimonies to the power of parables. Not long ago, a friend of mine told me her grade school daughter came home from school and declared: “Mommy, I know the ‘d-word’ and I know the ‘s-word’ and I know the ‘f-word’ too.” My friend replied, “Oh, Melissa, I’m so sorry you have to learn these words. Who told you what they mean?” But the little girl persisted: “the ‘d-word’ is ‘dumb,’ and the ‘s-word’ is ‘stupid’ and the ‘f-word’ is ‘faker.’” The mother suppressed her smile and her sigh of relief, and proceeded to give her child a lesson in the proper and improper uses of such "four letter words." The second true parable is this: my son when in grade school came home and asked, “Mom, is sex bad?” My wife gave him a long answer, dynamically equivalent to his question. But I’ll explain the problems below.

Linguists and others familiar with the work of George Lakoff may note how my title here plays on one of his: Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Likely, some of you will remember Lakoff’s opener. He begins: “Many readers, I suspect, will take the title of this book as suggesting that women, fire, and dangerous things have something in common—say, that women are fiery and dangerous.” (He confesses that he is “inspired by the Australian aboriginal language Dyirbal, which has a category, balan, that actually includes women, fire, and dangerous things.”) With sure, confident certainty, he recalls the mixed reactions to his word play: “Most feminists I’ve mentioned it to have loved the title for that reason, though some have hated it for the same reason” (page 5).

Lakoff shows the arbitrary-but-common, nevertheless-coherent Dyirbal category of balan and its appositioned members. (Fortunately for his readers, Lakoff translates these members into English as “women,” “fire,” and “dangerous things” ). Unfortunately, in unveiling his title and its unifying term, balan, he can’t help but make a point about divisiveness among readers. Ironically, Lakoff can only assume he stands above them with a more unified, a more objective, approach. And yet you, reading closely (in English only), should be able to see his own arbitrary and coherent category of overlapping but varying members of readers: (1) “many readers,” (2) “most feminists,” and (3) “some [feminists who] have hated.”

That is, Lakoff believes that all of those “many readers” (e.g., those in group 1) can’t help but “take” his title to represent “women, fire, and dangerous things” as having “something in common.” Likewise, he believes that all of those “most feminists” (e.g., those in group 2) hold the same three variants in the title (e.g., “women,” and “fire,” and “dangerous things”) as part of the same single category (e.g., the “something in common. . . for that [same] reason”). And Lakoff believes that each and every one of the “some [feminists who] have hated” the title (e.g., those in group 3) have nonetheless belonged in the category with all of those who will take the three noun phrases of his main title to belong to the same single category (e.g., all readers). In summary, as Dyirbal holds together at least three unlikely terms in a single-word category so Lakoff identifies as dynamically equivalent his three explicitly-named groups of readers.

But neither Lakoff nor any of us reading his title can easily identify a single categorical word in English (such as balan, so superficially foregrounded in Dyirbal) that would name his category and ours (e.g., the category “that actually includes” the variant members (1) “many readers,” (2) “most feminists,” and (3) “some [feminists who] have hated [the title]”). If the common meaning were not so “transparent,” we English readers should perhaps agree on the noun phrase, readers. You see, Lakoff is trying to keep all of his readers (in one big dynamic readership). And he’s telling us all, as if objectively, something about our categories and our minds that we cannot categorize and comprehend either alone or collectively as part of a group of his readers. After more than 580 pages of carefully explicated examples, Lakoff begins his “Afterword,” by writing:

I began work on this book with the knowledge that objectivist views of the mind have a very wide currency in the academic world. Among my principal aims has been to characterize that view, name it, point out that it is an opinion, not a fundamental truth, and raise the question of its validity, so that is can be discussed in the open and no longer be presumed automatically as part of an unquestioned background. (page 586)

Nevertheless, Lakoff’s unnamed assumptions exemplify and enact the very “objectivist views of the mind” he purports to write against. For all the naming he does do, Lakoff fails to “point out [how his] is an opinion, not a fundamental truth”; and, to be sure, his opinion is that as an expert linguist (not a woman, not even a feminist) tenured at Berkeley he is objectively recording the facts, albeit the now-obvious facts about the dubious “objective views.”

To best interpret his argument, then, we readers can only try to “raise the question [of Lakoff’s argument’s] validity, so that it [is] discussed in the open and [is] no longer presupposed automatically as part of an unquestioned background” (page 586). What we have to attempt to do, now, is to show that Lakoff’s book (and our reading and critiquing it) is based on profound, unnamed, and unquestioned categories of belief, from our own subjective perspectives. What we might end up seeing is that his argument-belief contradiction (and even ours) is emblematic of slippery, sloppy language that DE translators want to tidy up. From his title to his closing words, Lakoff counts on all of his readers to believe certain categories, to suspend their disbelief, and to take his categories for granted as theirs. And we do go along, even if we “hate” it. But, oddly, Lakoff is careful to report, as an “objectivist” would, that there are the “some [feminists who] have hated [his title].” Suspiciously, the author himself cannot observe his title to be hateful or hate provoking. It’s “some feminists” who are in that category, and he is not.

So we can go on: neither Lakoff nor we his readers can easily fathom something more profound and problematic. That is this: if Lakoff could ever have written the book in Dyirbal, then how transparent balan would be to the Aboriginal native speakers. Of course, not much considering what deep suppositions they might have about us, we may tend to presume them to be illiterates and not necessarily speakers of English, and not linguists, feminists, or thinking people of any discipline. Yet wouldn’t and shouldn’t they be suspicious that we might read (as Lakoff suggests in English we will) the phrase “women, fire, and dangerous things” as suggesting “that women are fiery and dangerous”? Is it not a stretch to imagine, analogously, that readers (of English or of Dyirbal) would take the title “Womanism, Fascism, and Dynamic Equivalence Translation” to mean that womanism and fascism are dynamically equal? As we interpret, we do prefer not to be interpreted.

Specifically, we desire our vocabularies not to be mixed, our beliefs not to be contradicted, and our categories not to be exposed. Otherwise, when drawing sharp lines of distinction, we might be found sitting on the side of the others we criticize. Such is the case of George Lakoff (e.g., exposing objectivist views by employing the objectivist perspective, that would transcend a feminist and an Aboriginal critique). But he knows that he, and we, and they all do play the dynamic equivalence game.

We might have gone on long enough here. You can get “the meanings” of womanism and fascism and dynamic equivalency translation theory from a dictionary or an encyclopedia.

But I do think we’d do well to see what’s going on. There are positions of power, for any reader, for any translator. And the insider and outsider positions are subjective. Even the most objective scientist will use his or her head and his or her heart and stomach. Even the most artsy translator will find, in a text to be translated and its translation, at least these three alternative perspectives: particle (i.e., a unit), or wave (i.e., dynamism and change), or field (i.e., relativity in context). (Such is the contribution of the late great Kenneth Pike to language and translation). So Lakoff is on to something, wanting to resist objectivity, if he could only acknowledge how he assumes power over, say, feminists who hate his title and the Dyirbal speakers he presumes to speak for. And Nida, by referring to his translation approach as “dynamic equivalence” is on to something. Dynamic seems to be wavy (though it isn’t always in DE). Equivalence assumes a field of relationship (albeit an impossibly ideal one). And Translation (as DE) likes to think of itself as an objective thing, a particle if you will. But.

Let’s listen to a womanist, then a fascist. And let’s see how dynamically equivalent we may be to them. (I haven’t forgotten the children in the true parables above. We’ll hear them out too).

Now Alice Walker, the afrafeminist who coined “womanism,” didn’t write the Bible. She did write a book called The Temple of My Familiar. Let’s listen in on some of the characters’ conversations:

“‘You are saying,’ I asked her, ‘that all evil, like racism or sexism, is a result of sickness?’

“‘Not only that,’ she whispered, ‘the child will always, as an adult, do to someone else whatever was done to him when he was a child. It is how we, as human beings, are made. I shudder to think what Hitler’s childhood was like,’ she said. (page 310)

“ . . . I told her bluntly that I was in therapy, trying to get to the roots of my anger against white people. I didn’t tell her it was particularly against whites who were blond. I guess I was afraid she’d say, like so many people do: Well, everybody hates Nazis. That’s what they think I mean. They think of Hitler’s Aryan race as played by bleached-blond actors on TV. That image is, I know, only a small part of it. (page 326)

Now Lakoff and Nida might protest here. This is literature. The categories in non-literary works are not equal to others. Apples and oranges. We ought to know better.

So let’s all keep moving, then. To something more familiar. To translation of a didactic text or an epistolary one. How about these:

“Es ist immer der gleiche Jude. Daß diese Selbstverständlichkeit von einem normalen heutigen Ministerialrat oder höheren Polizeibeamten nicht begriffen wird, ist freilich auch selbstverständlich”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

“He is always the same Jew. That so obvious a fact is not recognized by the average head-clerk in a German government department, or by an officer in the police administration, is also a self-evident and natural fact”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (DE translator James Murphy)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

So let’s start with the most familiar (since, fortunately, more of us read the Bible and the Declaration of Independence it’s based on more than we do Mein Kampf).

Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration may name some (e.g., “the merciless Indian Savages”) while it unnames others (e.g., black males and women, regardless of color but especially black women). But it excludes all of them equally from the category of “all men created equal.” Moreover, the liberating document—invoking the names of God and of Nature—binds together, in an unintended dynamic equivalence, the revolutionary colonizers and their abusive King into one elite group: property owners, who are white men. These truths, if they are “to be self-evident,” we must hold; and we hold them to a certain advantage: our own. To read the Declaration of Independence otherwise is to see the inequalities in its explicit and implicit “natural” classes of ownership, race, and gender.

But “we” might be outsiders to a Nazi’s experience, and more to Alice Walker’s characters’ experiences. Neither we nor Adolf Hitler or Walker will interpret as equal both (A) his Übermensch and (B) the reality of her whispering black women. And only few of us (namely translator James Murphy) might see the phrase “self-evident” as a good translation of freilich; not many of us could believe or should want to imply that Hitler follows some method of Jefferson and is thereby less sinister. However, we all know that human beings have the power to call disparate things equal. Likewise, “we” in community can “hold these truths” in our collective subjectivity “to be self evident.” And we acknowledge our Creator, depending on our perspective of outsider or insider, as creating all men and women equal.

So back to the parables. My friend and her daughter were in learning conversation. Each was learning from the other. What the girl meant by “the s- word” was not anything “stupid” at all. And when calling it a “four-letter word,” the mother could take the context, and the power issues on the playground, and discover that the demeaning-term category often includes five letters.

And my son? After awkwardly listening to his mother discuss good sex and bad, he replied. “No Mom; not sex. Sucks. Is sucks a bad word?

(No, DE translators; not authority, rather “Moses’s seat.” And not Onesimus the slave; rather “Handy” the handy name of a human being “above a slave in the flesh and in the Master.”)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Same Kind of Different As Me

Have you ever witnessed slavery? Ever seen a marriage in which the wife is subjugated to the husband?

Yesterday, I saw slavery firsthand and shook the hand of a former slave. And this morning, I read Suzanne McCarthy’s testament to the “handicapped form” of marriage in which the man dominates the woman. A link to McCarthy’s post is below. Here’s who I met yesterday:

Denver Moore is the co-author of Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound Them Together. It’s the bestseller on’s “Ethnic and National” top-five short list (with Tony Dungy’s and Clarence Thomas’s biographies; with David W. Blight’s book including the autobiographical manuscripts of slaves Wallace Turnage and John Washington; and with Barack Obama’s statement of political vision, now with Oprah Winfrey’s backing). On page 3, Moore says:

I worked them fields for nearly thirty years, like a slave, even though slavery had supposeably ended when my grandma was just a girl. I had a shack I didn’t own, two pair a’ overalls I got on credit, a hog, and a outhouse. I worked them fields, plantin and plowin and pickin and givin all the cotton to the Man that owned the land, all without no paycheck. I didn’t even know what a paycheck was.

Yesterday, Moore and his co-author, Ron Hall, shook hands with a few of us. They had come out to tell their stories, and their story together: the story of how a woman, Debbie Hall, brought them together in a very unlikely friendship. The whole event of their story telling was unlikely yesterday. None of us really escaped slavery and its effects today. It was December 9, 2007 in the United States of America. (This is the place where “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” where slave-holding men mention their Creator and their endowments – without a mention of blacks or women – when they make their declaration of independence from a monarch who incites against them the red “merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”)

More specifically, it was 7am, and we were in Texas, in Fort Worth (aka “Cowtown” and “Where the West Begins”). We were at the National Cutting Horse Association's best-of-the-best Futurity event. And we were in the worship service of the Cowboy Church there. I counted every person in the arena: 102 whites, 1 black. It was a scene reminiscent of the keynote address of this year’s Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, where during lunch white feminist scholar Krista Ratcliffe showed colored slides of colored women rhetors and spoke from lessons of her book Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness while we the audience of mostly whites ate desserts served by the hands of the all-black wait staff, mostly women.

Moore followed Hall, and began his story by thanking God for helping, by thanking us his audience for listening, and by thanking the elite cutting horse owners and the Will Rogers Coliseum authorities for doing what they do. Moore quickly specified: “When I was living on these streets here in Fort Worth, yall gave me some good work, cleaning yalls horses stalls here. Keep doin what yall do.” Moore was not being disingenuous; nor was there a hint of sarcasm in his voice. No. Just plain gratitude. In his body, he found appreciation for the good in the bad. Slavery, in the form of sharecropping and homelessness and physical abuse by white racists, had once and perpetually taught him profound bitterness. But, yesterday, Moore talked as a changed and as a changing human being. (Hall did too). Yesterday, as Moore spoke and as he sang a blue Negro spiritual of struggle and hope, there was not a throat without a lump in it (though I noted through blurry eyes that several of the tough Texas cowboys can still hold back their tears).

We all came into the arena the same; and now we’re some kind of different. Buy the book. Listen very, very carefully. (Click here for McCarthy’s insights. Interpret the views very, very carefully). Consider change.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Letter's Literary: A Personal Translation

In this post, I try my hand at translation of a book of the Bible, though I'm no Bible translator. I'm working my way through the Greek, as the host language; my English is the guest. The interlation (i.e., Greek and English side by side) below is to show the personal, the embodiment, the word play (i.e., wiggle room and playfulness in language). If Willis Barnstone attempts to recover the Hebrew senses lost in the Jewish gospels of Yeshua and in Israel's Apocalypse of Yohanan, I'm hoping to restore some of the Greek senses (for instance, the allusion to the gods in the names, such as Timothy and Epaphras). (With the English, especially the punctuation and name choices, I do confess "taking liberties," as Iyov once put it. For instance, the letter is redesigned as a memorandum; and Paul is Smally -- I just couldn't use either Pee Wee or Tiny, as those two names are infamously claimed.) I would appreciate any feedback from others, especially those who are more experienced translators, those who would have disagreement with my translation, and anyone amused by it in any way.

I'm trying, here, to translate Philemon for these few reasons:

1) It's the only book I can work through quickly to consider its whole start-to-finish context (though that itself is within the first century Roman imperial context, which looks back to various waves of Greek influence).

2) The "book" really is a letter. It is "someone else's mail" - as theologian Richard B. Hay calls Paul's first letter to the Jewish, Christian Greeks in Corinth; and that makes you and me "eavesdroppers." In Kenneth Pike's theory, then, we are principled "etic" observers, outsiders who will change the text and be changed by it, depending on whether and how we go in.

3) The little letter is highly rhetorical, and John Hobbins constantly brings attention to the rhetorical (even when he translates into English Matthew's Greek translation of a sermon of Jesus; more on Hobbins' translation in a moment, with a link to it).

4) As rhetorical and epistolary on the specific issue of slavery, Paul's letter is ambiguous in a number of different ways:
a) first, it is a letter that became a scriptural proof-text for both sides in the U.S. Civil War;
b) second, though a mere letter, it uses principles of rhetoric to make a strong argument (i.e., it delays the main point -- the freeing of the slave Onesimus and even the identification of who the letter is about -- until after the principle disputer, Philemon, has been reasonably won over by enthymeme and epideictic).
c) third, the ambiguous, rhetorical letter on slavery is applicable to other issues such as hermeneutics around whether a husband must be lovingly "over" a wife who must submit;
d) fourth, the ambigous rhetorical letter applicable to many question of human equality is literary (i.e., the proper nouns play with common nouns poetically, semantically; the incidence of chiasmus is frequent; and the implied touch of Paul's chained hand to the paper adds a splash to the poetic punch.)
Now, before jumping right in, I'll mention another huge problem right off the bat. By calling Philemon a letter but by translating it also as literature, we're mixing categories. Logic might say:

premise 1 - letters do not equal literature.
premise 2 - Philemon is a letter.
conclusion - Philemon does not equal literature.

And we could go on like that more, for to translate in a literary fashion something that is not literature is not logical. Not only it is illogical to call letters literature, but it's also unreasonable to use literary translation principles on a epistolary text. (Rather, we might more rationally use Formal Equivalence OR Dynamic Equivalence).

Peter Kirk makes this point in a comment on Elshaddai Edward's post, "Is it time for a new translation acronym?":
I would deny that of much of the Bible, in any meaningful sense of the word “literary”. The Gospel of Mark, for example, is not literary in style, nor in intent; the only meaningful sense in which it is literary is that it has been considered so by some literary critics, judged as if it were literary and found wanting. Similarly, Paul’s letter to Philemon is not “literary” but a personal letter. So, to use the term “literary translation” for Bible translation seems to imply either the false assumption that the original is literary or, in violation of Lingamish’s principle [i.e, "A literary translation will not be literary in ways that the original is not"], an attempt to distort a text which was not originally literary into a translation which is.
So I'd like to go back to the N-dimensionality of language, that Kenneth Pike talks about. Language is not so logical as, well, syllogistic logic. Language's categories (despite all Noam Chomsky's helpful theorizing) do not have the government and binding of "either/or" binary features manifesting in the performance of deep structure grammatical competence, if you'll allow the repetition of the jargon. Aristotle might like that if Chomsky would just translate his theory back into Hellenistic writing. Pike reminds us again and again: Person Above logic.

So now we can mention again John Hobbins' translation of Matthew 23. Note Hobbins' perspective on a sermon (i.e. a discourse with "hortatory" features): he calls it literary. And I say, if it fits as Matthew's Greek translation of Jesus's Hebrew Aramaic sermon within the context of Matthew's Greek gospel within the context of a multilingual multicultural first-century Israel, then why not allow "literary translation" of the literature. Barnstone flat out calls Matthew's gospel literature (while not denying its prosaic qualities, which he says most English and most Christian translations reduce the text to).

And note how Sir Philip Sidney writes The Defense of Poesy. How ironic that he must use rhetoric and Prose to defend Poetry. Why not use Poesy (i.e. Poetry)? And could poetry prove the worth of rhetoric and of prose too? Of course! Again, it is we the people writing and reading and speaking and listening who see the various qualities (sometimes ironic, sometime
unintended by the author) as various letter or literature, poetry or prose, formally equivalent or dynamically equivalent or literarily equivalent.

So here is Philemon, first in the original Greek (with some re-formatting -- it's my poor html that doesn't quite do what I want), and second in a kind of original English:

1 Παῦλος δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
καὶ Τιμόθεος ὁ ἀδελφὸς

Φιλήμονι τῷ ἀγαπητῷ καὶ συνεργῷ ἡμῶν
2 καὶ Ἀπφίᾳ τῇ ἀδελφῇ
καὶ Ἀρχίππῳ τῷ συστρατιώτῃ ἡμῶν
καὶ τῇ κατ' οἶκόν σου ἐκκλησίᾳ

3 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
4 εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου πάντοτε μνείαν σου ποιούμενος ἐπὶ τῶν προσευχῶν μου 5 ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους 6 ὅπως ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν

7 χαρὰν γὰρ πολλὴν ἔσχον καὶ παράκλησιν ἐπὶ τῇ ἀγάπῃ σου ὅτι τὰ σπλάγχνα τῶν ἁγίων ἀναπέπαυται διὰ σοῦ ἀδελφέ 8 διό πολλὴν ἐν Χριστῷ παρρησίαν ἔχων ἐπιτάσσειν σοι τὸ ἀνῆκον 9 διὰ τὴν ἀγάπην μᾶλλον παρακαλῶ τοιοῦτος ὢν ὡς Παῦλος πρεσβύτης νυνὶ δὲ καὶ δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ 10 παρακαλῶ σε περὶ τοῦ ἐμοῦ τέκνου ὃν ἐγέννησα ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς Ὀνήσιμον 11 τόν ποτέ σοι ἄχρηστον νυνὶ δὲ καὶ σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστον 12 ὃν ἀνέπεμψά σοι αὐτόν τοῦτ' ἔστιν τὰ ἐμὰ σπλάγχνα 13 ὃν ἐγὼ ἐβουλόμην πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν κατέχειν ἵνα ὑπὲρ σοῦ μοι διακονῇ ἐν τοῖς δεσμοῖς τοῦ εὐαγγελίου

14 χωρὶς δὲ τῆς σῆς γνώμης οὐδὲν ἠθέλησα ποιῆσαι ἵνα μὴ ὡς κατὰ ἀνάγκην τὸ ἀγαθόν σου ᾖ ἀλλὰ κατὰ ἑκούσιον 15 τάχα γὰρ διὰ τοῦτο ἐχωρίσθη πρὸς ὥραν ἵνα αἰώνιον αὐτὸν ἀπέχῃς 16 οὐκέτι ὡς δοῦλον ἀλλ' ὑπὲρ δοῦλον ἀδελφὸν ἀγαπητόν μάλιστα ἐμοί πόσῳ δὲ μᾶλλον σοὶ καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν κυρίῳ 17 εἰ οὖν με ἔχεις κοινωνόν προσλαβοῦ αὐτὸν ὡς ἐμέ 18 εἰ δέ τι ἠδίκησέν σε ἢ ὀφείλει τοῦτο ἐμοὶ ἐλλόγα

19 ἐγὼ Παῦλος ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί ἐγὼ ἀποτίσω

ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι ὅτι καὶ σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις 20 ναί ἀδελφέ ἐγώ σου ὀναίμην ἐν κυρίῳ ἀνάπαυσόν μου τὰ σπλάγχνα ἐν Χριστῷ 21 πεποιθὼς τῇ ὑπακοῇ σου ἔγραψά σοι εἰδὼς ὅτι καὶ ὑπὲρ ἃ λέγω ποιήσεις 22 ἅμα δὲ καὶ ἑτοίμαζέ μοι ξενίαν ἐλπίζω γὰρ ὅτι διὰ τῶν προσευχῶν ὑμῶν χαρισθήσομαι ὑμῖν
23 ἀσπάζεταί σε Ἐπαφρᾶς ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ
24 Μᾶρκος Ἀρίσταρχος Δημᾶς Λουκᾶς οἱ συνεργοί μου

25 ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν

1 Smally -- A Chained Prisoner of Anointed Joshua
and God Guy -- A Brother
Buddy – Our Loved-One and Co-Worker
2 and Loveless – Our Sister
and Horseman – Our Co-Warrior
and the Entire Group Called to Your House, Buddy
3 Favor and Peace
God – Our Father
and Joshua Anointed – Our Master

4 Blessed favor goes to my God when my memories of you, Buddy, are made vivid in my prayers. 5 I keep hearing about your love – and your belief, which you hold in your possession before Master Joshua – for each one made supremely special. 6 So I’m praying that your partnership in belief is actively birthed – in the expansive knowledge of everthing that’s good in each one of you – for our Anointed One.

7 What I hold in my possession is joy, and much of it -- not to mention a call from beside you to be encouraged – and that’s all because of your love Buddy. And that love through you, Brother, refreshes the supremely special ones to their gut-level core. 8 Now, much of what I hold in my possession – from the Anointed One – is boldness: a boldness to order you to do the right thing. 9 Through love, there’s much more: a call to you alongside, to encourage you, Buddy. This is Smally here, the old guy; and now I’m even a chained prisoner of Anointed Joshua. 10 I’m beside you, calling you around now to my child -- the one I birthed in my chains -- I’m talking about Handy. 11 He’s the one who was useless to you once, but who is now -- to me and to you -- very useful in the most blessed ways. 12 He’s the one I’m sending back to you, Buddy. He’s my gut-level core. 13 He’s the one I had been counseled to hold in possession for myself, so that you, Buddy, could serve me in these chains of that Blessed Announcement to the World.

14 Apart from your knowing all about it, though, I didn’t have any wish to make a single move. I did wish that -- by no obligation -- there’d be that goodness of yours, rather by your own free will. 15 Perhaps, in fact, he was apart from you an hour, so to speak, so that for ages to come you’d hold him in your possession -- 16 no longer as a slave -- rather, as above a slave: a loved brother -- especially to me -- but so much more to you, Buddy, not only in the flesh but also in the Master. 17 If you hold onto me now as a partner, then take him back as you’d take me. 18 If, however, he’s committed some injustice, or has a debt, against you, then state that on my bill.


I will repay so that there’s no statement of your debt, Buddy: that you owe me your own self. 20 Yes, Brother, I myself need something handy from you as you’re in the Master: refresh me to my gut-level core in the Anointed One. 21 Persuaded by how you’ve heard me before, I’m writing to you now, Buddy, seeing once again that you’re going to go above and beyond to make good on this statement. As you’re doing that, please get a guest room ready for me. 22 I’m expecting, in fact, that the requests each one of you is making will bring favor to you all.

Aphrodite’s Guy – my co-inmate in Anointed Joshua
24 And my co-workers – Warrior, Valorman, PopulaceMan, and Lukan

The favor of the Master – Joshua Anointed

Academics: Discovery & Change?

On the same day this past week, my wife and I went to each of our daughters' schools for respective "teacher conferences." The issue was slipping improvement on progress reports. Our assumptions (that is, the assumptions of the teachers, the parents, and the students in conference) are that, by talking, we can discover issues, and, by discovery and more talk with more action, there can be some good change.
On that very day, The Boston Globe issued a progress report of its own. MIT, the elite ivory tower of the American academy is slipping, and it's not school children's grades at stake. It's sexism all over again, after 10 years of trying to improve things. Now the Chronicle of Higher Education starts a "conference," and you can join in with your comments. You may want to do some homework by reading some past report cards from MIT in 1999 and 2005.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Around Equivalence (in Translation)

At the end of this long post, I’m going to define “translating feministically.” Most people think that “feminism equals ___________,” and I’ll just risk losing readers who could care less.

But please hold on. Several in the blogosphere are discussing another issue, not unrelated (and I’ll link to those at the end of the post). I write mainly, here, on that other issue.

Here goes:

One huge issue for translators, perhaps the biggest, is equivalence. Does “pan” in Spanish equal “bread” in English? Does “pan” in English equal “Padella” in Italian? Does the Italian pun “traduttore, traditore” have a good equivalent in any other language? Is “Dynamic Equivalence” in translation theory equal to lesser forms of equivalence such as “Formal Equivalence” or “Literary Equivalence”? Does it all equal Greek to me?

For Aristotle, in the science of knowing things, equivalence was the first thing. Is the rock equal to the bird? No. Clearly one is inanimate and the other is an animal. But is the parrot equal to the sparrow? Yes. Both are animals; both are birds. But are these two birds equal? No. One is an expensive mimicker; the other is a cheap chirper. They are equal in class but not equal in order. (Are barbarians equal to Greeks; are women equal to men; are slaves equal to masters? Is a barbarian language equal to the Hellene? Is rhetoric equal to truth? Is a translation equal to the original?)

And, we could say, Aristotle’s essential principle of equivalence is equal to Noam Chomsky’s linguistic principle of equivalence. Chomsky IS equal to a linguistic scientist, we could add. So he asks these questions: Is a subject equal to a verb? No. The two different parts of speech have two different sets of features. Their features are, clearly, not equal. Is “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” the equivalent of a Sentence? In English, in terms of the feature of “grammatical,” the answer is Yes. In terms of the feature “meaningful,” the Sentence is not equal to a sentence. Are homo sapiens equal to other species? No. The feature of grammatical Sentence separates humans from other animals.

So, we humans might continue to ask equivalence questions:
Does Science equal Art?
Does linguistic Science equal linguistic Art?
Does translation Science equal translation Art?

To answer the first question above, Alan Lightman came to visit the university where I study and work. Lightman is an acclaimed scientist, whose textbooks have been used in our Physics department. Lightman is also an acclaimed artist, whose novels have been on bestseller lists. To be sure, Lightman the scientist is equal to Lightman the artist. But the same Lightman says this authoritatively: Science writing is not equivalent to Artist writing. Scientists play the equivalence game; they find the features of the thing and Name it. Scientists use their heads, says Lightman. In contrast, Artists play the belief game; they want those in the art gallery or in the concert hall or in the cozy chair in Barnes and Nobles with a Starbucks coffee in hand to suspend their own previously conceived categories. The artists want those appreciating their art to Unname, if you will. Artists use their hearts and their stomachs, says Lightman. Therefore, Science does not equal Art, when the contrastive feature or the essential difference is Writing.

Fair enough. But Lightman the Artist has a problem. Several of his novels have been translated into some 30 different languages. And I get to ask Dr. Lightman the question at the Q & A session: “If you could read the best translations of your novels [and before I can finish, he says he hasn’t], then would you expect the translators to have been Scientists or Artists? That is, should the translators use their heads and precisely name in the target language those words as equal to the source English words? Or should the translators be Artists who use their hearts and stomachs to unname the source English words as various different, not necessarily equal-in-form or equal-in-concept, target language words?”

How would you have answered this question? Lightman, without batting an eye, responds: “both.” It’s the correct answer, but he is saying, don’t you see, that he wants translators equally to be scientists and artists. As a scientist talking with us, he has to say Science is NOT equal to Art. But as an artist who wants his novels to be read, and appreciated, he believes he can say, with equal credulity, that Science IS equal to Art.

Can Lightman have his cake of Science-and-Art Difference but eat it as Equivalence too?
A good, pure scientist like Aristotle, would answer: NO!

(This might be equal to saying, “You can’t eat your cake and then have it too,” which is how I’d reverse the difficult saying to make more English sense. But, for Aristotle, I’d be playing and saying too much with language.)

For didn’t Aristotle warn us all of difficult sayings (in the Rhetoric, Book III, Chapter 5, Verse 6)?

ολως δε δει ευαναγνωστον ειναι το γεγραμμενον και ευφραστον:
εστιν δε το αυτο,
οπερ οι πολλοι . . . ουκ εχουσιν, . . . ωσπερ τα Ηρακλειτου
τα γαρ Ηρακλειτου . . . το αδηλον

What is written ought to be, on the whole, equally both easy reading and easy listening.
This is, in fact, an equivalence,
which much writing does not have, including the writings of Heraclitus.
For Heraclitus’s writing is unclear.

Now, to be clear, Aristotle is picking on the punctuation problems of Heraclitus. But we do remember other Heraclitean difficulties that are not the equivalent of easy reading and easy listening. Here’s the famous example (never mind Herclitus’s Greek writing itself or it’s bad punctuation):

“You cannot step into the same river twice.”

For translator Brooks Haxton, this is not equal to his translation. Haxton's translation goes like this:

The river
where you set
your foot just now
--is gone.
those waters giving way to this,
now this.

But Haxton is looking for English that is equal to the Greek. Fortunately, his publisher agrees to show Herclitus’s Greek side by side with Haxton’s English in Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus. So Listen to Haxton write clearly (like a Scientist) in English about his translation choices:

“My rephrasing tries to clear away distractingly familiar language from a startling thought. It seems unlikely to my mind that the ancient authors who refer to this idea [such as Plutarch, translating it the now-familiar way] quote Heraclitus exactly” (page 96).

So listen again to Haxton wanting (like an Artist) for you the reader, the listener, to get a severe “startling.” Is Haxton really after exact equalness between the Greek quotation and some familiar English? No. If the punctuation problems distracted Aristotle’s eye, then the familiarity of language should not distract our ears. Rather, Haxton has to clear away certain equivalences in our heads, so that we also get something in our hearts and in our stomachs too.

There is a way around, or a way through, this huge issue of equivalence. I really do think it can be clear. I really do think Lightman is brilliant, that he can insist we use our heads and / or our hearts and / or our stomachs in translation. The crucial issue is personal perspective and willingness to change.

Let me say that again, just to be clear. The crucial issue is dynamic subjectivity.

Let me say that again three more times. Rather, in three different ways, let’s hear the same thing from Jacqueline Jones Royster and from Lydia He Liu and from Kenneth Lee Pike. I’ll paraphrase so that it’s me, not them, saying exactly what they say. They’ve changed me!

Royster writes an incredible history of black women in the United States. She entitles it, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. (The same-stream-changing-stream allusion to Heraclitus here is purely accidental on my part). The incredible thing is Royster writes not only as a mainstream scholar but also as one of her own subjects, one of the literate, socially changing African American women in the traces of the stream of history. This book is equal in impact to one of Royster’s much shorter works, her article, “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own.” In the essay, Royster notes that many scholars of black women are not all black and not all women; and yet she argues that the subjective perspective is the only one that really counts if we are to talk across the different disciplines and / or to listen to those who are not necessarily scholars.

Lydia He Liu also writes social history, but of Chinese who have appropriated the modernism of the West. Her works include: Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity—China, 1900-1937 and The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations (Post-Contemporary Interventions) and The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern Worldmaking. One might say Liu’s research is the equivalent of post-colonial studies, but was China ever a colony of any Western empire? No. And Liu, who is Chinese writing in English in a superpower in the West, notes that the subjective history of the Chinese gives them much agency in deciding what is equal and what is lesser. Even Liu’s own conception of translation takes on this subjective perspective. She rejects the notion of “equivalence” as anything more than an imagined ideal in translation, in which the “target” language must be “equal to” the “source” language. Deconstructing this whole modern construct of objective “translation” and “equivalence,” Liu asks which language is to be favored? Thus, she reconstructs subjective “translingualism” in which the “host” language and the “guest” language do best by interacting together to effect change and permanence.

Kenneth Lee Pike discovers what it’s like to be an insider and an outsider. These two are not equal. And Pike says and demonstrates that either the subjective insider or the would-be objective outsider has varied perspectives. Personal perspective, says Pike, is not equal to calculating logic. No, person is above logic.

Pike has been reading creative and artsy and difficult scientists like Albert Einstein. First, such physicists observe that Light has the properties of a wave, as it travels in vibrating frequencies. Second, such scientists also observe that Light has the properties of particles, since it appears to have mass with its energy. Third, such physicists likewise observe that Light has properties relative the field of other things, to space and to time, and it helps us formulate and extrapolate useful notions like the Theory of Relativity. Fourth, such physicists say that subjective perspective (i.e., whether it’s wave or particle or field; and where one stands or rides) makes critical differences in the observer and in the observed. These three alternative perspectives on the properties of Light (i.e., wave or particle or field) are not equal perspectives. And the subjective perspective of the scientist, whichever is chosen, actually changes the scientist.

In Pike’s terms, the “emic” insider perspective and the “etic” outsider perspective are not equal. To become an insider, one has to change. And one really can learn.

(Wave: “Green” is not equal to “blue” in my English until it’s “xanh” in my Vietnamese; or a fading “green” is what has been happening to my socks as the color is getting washed out over time. Particle: “Green” is the color that my roommate in college could not see on the squares of his red and green plaid shirt; he is colorblind. Field: “Green” socks do not go with those pants, Dad – is what my children sometime have to tell me kindly, because I am fashion-blind. By starting as an outsider, a Vietnamese learner of English can learn “green,” and a college roommate can mark the corresponding “green” checks, and I can work on being less nerdy with style of dress. The real fun or the real disturbing thing, depending on your perspective, is that my observing changes me. Your observing changes you. Pike the linguist, and his colleagues, Richard E. Young the rhetorician and Alton L. Becker a linguist and teacher of freshman rhetoric, certainly understood this when they co-wrote Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. None of the three ever looked at his own specialization again without reconsidering it or himself in light of the others.)

The crucial issue is dynamic subjectivity. Whether any two things are equal (in dynamic equivalence or otherwise) is always subject to what the person holds them to be. And to let go of that hold is -- invariably, humbly, ambiguously -- to discover and to change.

Translating feministically is discovery and change. It is to name (as a scientist might), but to name such unnamed things as misogyny and slavery. It is to mark the subjective positions of all going inside or out. It is to be part of the we who hold these truths to be equal, that all men and women are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. It is to regard (as an artist might) the body, as the embodiment of my beliefs, those things I can’t help but believe because of my body. It is to imagine my language and the language of other’s I’m translating as carried metaphorically by where my heart goes, where my mind goes, where my soul goes, where my strength goes. It is to care for the other’s language as equally as I care for my own.

Related conversations:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Best Teachers

On Monday, one of my teachers passed away. On the same day, another of my mentors “no longer with us” joined me by video to help me teach a class of aspiring language teachers. The former is Mildred Godwin Taylor, who lived 93 years on this planet. The latter is Kenneth Lee Pike.

Both teachers in very personal ways continue to teach me. For instance, Aunt Mildred and Dr. Pike renew my reluctant respect for Aristotle (if only in this respect):

As of Monday, I’m reminded that 17th century Lincoln School Headmaster John Clarke opined that “Alexander was right in claiming that he had owed more to Aristotle his teacher than to Philip his father.”

Is this all that different from Philip Yancey’s learning from Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) the value of giving personal and public credit to one’s best teachers? Yancey, “recovering from church abuse,” is inspired by Rogers to write the book Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church. The author details all that he’s learned from Martin Luther King, Jr., G. K. Chesterton, Paul Brand, Robert Coles, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mahatma Gandhi, C. Everett Koop, John Donne, Annie Dillard, Frederick Buechner, Shusaku Endo, and Henri Nouwen.

Now I’m challenged to do this if just briefly in a blog post. And I’d like to make it a meme:

Who are the thirteen teachers who have most personally influenced you and how?

Would you share your baker’s dozen of mentors with the world?

Here, in some chronological order, are my teachers and the greatest bit of what each one has taught me:

1. Mom, taught me to read and, then, still teaches me to learn from good *teachers.

2. Dad, teaches me the measure and the capacity of a man.

3. Aunt Mildred modeled humility and service to students, even a 16-year-old atheist who watched her enjoy and contemplate her incarnate God.

4. Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος models humility and service to many, translating a 16-year-old boy out of his atheism into enjoyment and contemplation.

5. Dr. Richard Cutter taught me enthusiasm in learning Greek by his electric eccentricity in teaching.

6. Julie, my best friend and life partner, teaches me to live passionately with honesty.

7. Dr. Kenneth Lee Pike taught me good language and behavior for being an outsider and an insider (either one moving towards the other).

8. Schaeffer, my one and only son, teaches me to be loyal to friends and to enjoy one’s compulsions.

9. Hallie, my eldest daughter, teaches me to talk thoughtfully with high ideals.

10. Amelia, my youngest daughter, teaches me to laugh a lot.

11. Dr. Charlotte Hogg teaches me feminisms and rhetorics of those in the margins from my places of privilege.

12. Dr. Richard Leo Enos teaches me rhetoric of the Greeks and Romans by his own masterful rhetoric of complex simplicity.

13. Dr. James Reeves teaches me how the ceiling on my spiritual maturity is my social-emotional immaturity (and that there are twelve steps ahead).

*My other teachers, the other top 13 my Mom by teaching me to read taught me to learn from, include these I’ve never met: Anne Lamott, Anne Carson, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Nancy Mairs, Edith Schaeffer, Francis A. Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Dallas Willard, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Now I tag these friends:


In a late update, I tag some very interesting bloggers:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

ABCs of DE

This post is to look at 1) Assumptions, 2) a Berth, and 3) a Consequence of what some are calling Dynamic Equivalence (and Formal Equivalence). Hence, the ABCs of DE(&F). I almost entitled it “All Work and No Word Play” but didn’t really want to play Aristotle’s game. And I would, rather, like to have fun talking with and listening to Rich Rhodes, David Ker, John Hobbins, Suzanne McCarthy, Elshaddai Edwards, Wayne Leman, Bob MacDonald, Peter Kirk, Mike Sangrey, Stephen (aka Q), Glennsp, and Mike Aubrey.


Aristotle acts as if he were Eugene Nida. That is, he is rightly concerned about corruptions and misappropriations of the original Greek language, except he neither knew Nida nor lived long enough to read the wild Hellene translations and texts we call the New Testament. So to straighten out the untamed poets of his day, and their old mothers and ancient fathers, Aristotle writes the Poetics, which he references a few times in the Rhetoric.

For instance, in what we call “Book III,” Aristotle writes:

ἤρξαντο μὲν οὐ̂ν κινη̂σαι τὸ πρω̂τον, ὥσπερ πέφυκεν, οἱ ποιηταί: τὰ γὰρ ὀνόματα μιμήματα ἐστίν, ὑπη̂ρξεν δὲ καὶ ἡ φωνὴ πάντων μιμητικώτατον τω̂ν μορίων ἡμι̂ν: διὸ καὶ αἱ τέχναι συνέστησαν ἥ τε ῥαψῳδία καὶ ἡ ὑποκριτικὴ καὶ ἄλλαι γε. ἐπεὶ δ' οἱ ποιηταί, λέγοντες εὐήθη , διὰ τὴν λέξιν ἐδόκουν πορίσασθαι τὴν δόξαν, διὰ του̂το ποιητικὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο λέξις, οἱ̂ον ἡ Γοργίου, καὶ νυ̂ν ἔτι οἱ πολλοὶ τω̂ν ἀπαιδεύτων τοὺς τοιούτους οἴονται διαλέγεσθαι κάλλιστα. του̂το δ' οὐκ ἔστιν, ἀλλ' ἑτέρα λόγου καὶ ποιήσεως λέξις ἐστίν.

And John H. Freese translates:

The poets, as was natural, were the first to give an impulse to style; for words are imitations, and the voice also, which of all our parts is best adapted for imitation, was ready to hand; thus the arts of the rhapsodists, actors, and others, were fashioned. And as the poets, although their utterances were devoid of sense, appeared to have gained their reputation through their style, it was a poetical style that first came into being, as that of Gorgias. Even now the majority of the uneducated think that such persons express themselves most beautifully, whereas this is not the case, for the style of prose is not the same as that of poetry.

Note Aristotle’s assumptions: that poets may have and may mimic “style” but they are “devoid of sense.” If we apply binary features to some of this, we can “translate” the articulations this way:

Poetry = + imitation; + art; + popular; but - sense; - originality; - beauty
Prose = - imitation; - art; - popular; but + sense; + originality; + beauty
THEREFORE (syllogistically): Poetry (bad)  Prose (good)

Then Aristotle continues by assuming his “divide-and-conquer” binary method:

καὶ ἔτι τέταρτον τὸ ψυχρὸν ἐν ται̂ς μεταφοραι̂ς γίνεται: εἰσὶν γὰρ καὶ μεταφοραὶ ἀπρεπει̂ς, αἱ μὲν διὰ τὸ γελοι̂ον ̔χρω̂νται γὰρ καὶ οἱ κωμῳδοποιοὶ μεταφοραι̂σ̓, αἱ δὲ διὰ τὸ σεμνὸν ἄγαν καὶ τραγικόν: ἀσαφει̂ς δέ, ἂν πόρρωθεν, οἱ̂ον Γοργίας “χλωρὰ καὶ ἄναιμα τὰ πράγματα”, “σὺ δὲ ταυ̂τα αἰσχρω̂ς μὲν ἔσπειρας κακω̂ς δὲ ἐθέρισας”: ποιητικω̂ς γὰρ ἄγαν. καὶ ὡς ̓Αλκιδάμας τὴν φιλοσοφίαν “ἐπιτείχισμα τῳ̂ νόμῳ”, καὶ τὴν ̓Οδύσσειαν “καλὸν ἀνθρωπίνου βίου κάτοπτρον”, καὶ “οὐδὲν τοιου̂τον ἄθυρμα τῃ̂ ποιήσει προσφέρων”: ἅπαντα γὰρ ταυ̂τα ἀπίθανα διὰ τὰ εἰρημένα. τὸ δὲ Γοργίου εἰς τὴν χελιδόνα, ἐπεὶ κατ' αὐτου̂ πετομένη ἀφη̂κε τὸ περίττωμα , ἄριστα τω̂ν τραγικω̂ν: εἰ̂πε γὰρ “αἰσχρόν γε, ὠ̂ Φιλομήλα”. ὄρνιθι μὲν γάρ, εἰ ἐποίησεν, οὐκ αἰσχρόν, παρθένῳ δὲ αἰσχρόν. εὐ̂ οὐ̂ν ἐλοιδόρησεν εἰπὼν ὃ ἠ̂ν, ἀλλ' οὐχ ὃ ἔστιν.

And Freese says Aristotle says that (in English) this way:

The fourth cause of frigidity of style is to be found in metaphors; for metaphors also are inappropriate, some because they are ridiculous--for the comic poets also employ them--others because they are too dignified and somewhat tragic; and if they are farfetched, they are obscure, as when Gorgias says: “Affairs pale and bloodless”; “you have sown shame and reaped misfortune”; for this is too much like poetry. And as Alcidamas calls philosophy “a bulwark of the laws,” and the Odyssey “a beautiful mirror of human life,” and “introducing no such plaything in poetry.” All these expressions fail to produce persuasion, for the reasons stated. As for what Gorgias said to the swallow which, flying over his head, let fall her droppings upon him, it was in the best tragic style. He exclaimed, “Fie, for shame, Philomela!”; for there would have been nothing in this act disgraceful for a bird, whereas it would have been for a young lady. The reproach therefore was appropriate, addressing her as she was, not as she is.

Now see how Aristotle attacks Gorgias, that sophist poet first disparaged by Plato (Aristotle’s teacher). And remember how Plato coins the word “rhetoric” first to call Gorgias a teacher and user of that “so called rhetoric.” And recall how Gorgias, indeed, does string his readers along with his four-point multi-modal Praise of Helen, acquitting her as would Barry Scheck, Robert Shapiro, Peter Neufield, F. Lee Bailey, and Johnnie Cochran, Jr. all wrapped up in one person, until he much more like Marsha Clark casts doubt on the whole case with his very last word (play): παίγνιον. So notice how Plato hated poetic whip-lash, and how he got his student Aristotle, likewise, to teach against it in his own Rhetoric.

But does Aristotle follow through with his own assumptions? Can he practice what he preaches? Oh no. Actually, he might say in English, “Fie,” for he useth the “inappropriate” high metaphor of bird droppings to attack the use of metaphors and its users. What’s that stuff, now, on his assumptions? (“Fie” really is better than “It hurts me” or even “ouch”).

What’s the application to Dynamic Equivalence and its Formal equivalent? Well, were getting a letter or two ahead of ourselves.


Certain Big sailing vessels we call “English translations” make up an armada that’s called “The Bible,” which must dock in a single port, or berth, we call (in English) “the Word of God.” (Pardon me; I just committed the sin of using way too many Ss in that last Sentence. Look ahead:) The navy, logically, will speak a single language, because it is the Word. And the sailor can, reasonably, assume general universal linguistic absolutes regardless the specific deck or ship.

Now, to be sure, those sailing from the berths around Alexandria may be suspect. For they drift more toward Athens than Jerusalem. So get the drift (the epic “drift away”) from just a couple of couplets of well-grounded Hebrew:

ב בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא, יַרְבִּיצֵנִי; עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי.

ג נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב; יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק, לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ.

2 εἰς τόπον χλόης ἐκεῖ με κατεσκήνωσεν ἐπὶ ὕδατος ἀναπαύσεως ἐξέθρεψέν με

3 τὴν ψυχήν μου ἐπέστρεψεν ὡδήγησέν με ἐπὶ τρίβους δικαιοσύνης ἕνεκεν τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ

Why do the translators slide the parallelism of the poem upon the middle ἐπὶ? How it turns upon (i.e., ἐπέστρεψεν) the Soul (i.e., τὴν ψυχήν); how Greek its Justice (i.e., δικαιοσύνης); how epic and wandering its Odyssey (i.e., ὡδήγησέν). Surely the English is more accurate: “He leadeth me beside . . . He leadeth me in . . . (No?! Where’d we get that parallelism then?!) We hear the poets (not King David and not those of King James) paddling, playing, passing to another place, to other people, whose names we hear in perverted unberthed nonAngloSaxon dreams.

What’s the application to Dynamic Equivalence and its Formal equivalent? Well, were still getting a letter or two ahead of ourselves. As the sheep are bleeting, which one-eyed shepherd is calling now?


It’s Cyclops calling after Odysseus on the poetic (word playful) Odyssey. The giant (not Goliath) wants an answer and needs a Dynamically Equivalent translation. If only he had two eyes to match the two ears:

Κύκλωψ, εἰρωτᾷς μ' [ὄνομα κλυτόν, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ τοι
You ask me my famous name, Cyclops? Then I’ll tell you,

ἐξερέω: σὺ δέ μοι δὸς ξείνιον, ὥς περ ὑπέστης.
but give me a guest gift, just as you promised.

Οὖτις ἔμοιγ' ὄνομα: Οὖτιν δέ με κικλήσκουσι
My name is Nobody. And they call me Nobody,

μήτηρ ἠδὲ πατὴρ ἠδ' ἄλλοι πάντες ἑταῖροι.
my mother and father and all my comrades as well.

But “Nobody”?!

No: Οὖτις is Ὀδυσῆι. And that’s both a pun and a metaphor. When the Cyclops hears it, with a single lens, he dies. That’s some consequence.


Wikipedia writers write it this way (click here). Which is equal, dynamically if informally, to how Willis Barnstone puts it. Barnstone’s own The Poetics of Translation (which is not equivalent to Aristotle’s own The Poetics) goes like this:


The question of equivalence is central to all translation theory. It is our word for describing the victory of translation. . . . (233).

So by eliminating very literal and very free translation from his premise of equivalence, [the theorist] renders [the] vision of equivalence disturbingly prescriptive.

More acceptable is the notion that although some translation, perhaps even the greater part of literary translation, desires correctness, justice, and the presumed equality of equivalence, other kinds of translation do not share those virtuous aims, and their aims are also legitimate. In a word, translation writing is no more a one-eyed traveler than is other writing. . . . (235)

Now parables should not be explained. The parable is the explanation, as the poem is the poem, not its paraphrase. When, as in religious hermeneutics, a solution or guide is imposed on a text, when “The Lord is my shepherd” takes us to dwell in eternal reward rather than to live the rest of our lives loyally in the temple around the block, this is exactly what we of faith desire and gain from the text. . . . (256)

The Italian maxim traduttore, traditore (translator, traitor) is in the end correct. It is on target, to use the discipline’s favorite metaphor. I had promised myself I would not utter this formula of betrayal in the course of this book. Now I betray that vow with the perverse and pleasant notion that I am translating the evil maxim into a prescription for imaginative translation.

If one aims at absolute reproduction, one lies absolutely; if one betrays the absolute, however, one approaches the truth of literary translation. How can faithful reproduction be false and betrayal truth? When a translation passes as original, it is profound betrayal. It is making a Briton pass as French, and, as we know, weather, food, and kisses belie the notion of English and French sameness. Translation offers neither identity nor total synonym across languages. Its art lies in the betrayal of the absolute, in necessary difference. (259)


At the risk of seeming dogmatic and jaded with terminological quibbling, I wish to offer a few prescriptive comments on whether translation is a science or an art, or worse, whether it is a craft.

Art contains craft, but craft does not necessarily contain art. If literary translation is to be classified at all, it must be as an art in its activity and its product. To translate a lyric poem is an art, and a lyric poem, an art object, must result. The art of translation also participates in all the other arts.

As for being a science too, why not? Yet, more interestingly, why yes? (232)

The recent conversations about DE(&F) are here and here. And Hobbins, so far, has been the only brave (betrayer) of just talk.