Wednesday, January 30, 2008

“Our First Woman President”

Toni Morrison was perhaps the first to say that “Bill Clinton is our first black president.” Now that she endorses the Senator from Illinois, I've been asking whether she may be able some day to say that “Barack Obama is our first woman president.”

Now Aristotelians seem to want to explain away such words. In fact, we’d all do well to hear what Morrison says, but let’s first listen to why an Aristotelian won’t.


The Aristotelian first classifies Morrison and her text. For example, the Aristotelian writer for an Oxford University Press encyclopedia concisely captures her this way: “Morrison, Toni (b. 1931), novelist, essayist, editor, short fiction writer, lecturer, educator, and Nobel Prize laureate.” Her text? “African American literature.” And sometimes, “literary criticism.” Hence, perhaps here, “political commentary” by a mere “novelist.”

What Morrison is not, and what her text is not, must also be very important, therefore. She’s not a political authority. Neither do her words constitute an authoritative text on presidents. Besides, Bill Clinton is not black, and Barack Obama is not a woman. The most extreme binary classification is this: Morrison is not a writer inspired with something like plenary inspiration. Her words are not God’s words.

(The extreme classifications may, for the Aristotelian, suggest a sort of Platonic ideal with a sliding scale. But don’t think the binary principle of non-contradiction is entirely lost. Aristotle didn’t completely abandon all he heard from Plato. Neither do contemporary Aristotelians. For instance, although Aristotle’s pure logic is not enough for Eleanor Rosch, prototype theory is just fine. And if Rosch won’t admit it, Aristotle did write some about “more or less” and did not just use pure “either or.” Likewise, George Lakoff would reject Aristotle’s pure method of objectivity, especially cold objectivity as Platonic Noam Chomsky uses it to view syntax abstractly; Lakoff nonetheless more-or-less-coldly observes metaphors we live by, a real specialty of Aristotle. In addition, Richard Rhodes gets a preacher to preach as if against Aristotle: “We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead. Words should express ideas, not originate them.” But Rhodes and Aristotle together could care less about translation of words, because meaningful, prototypical, natural classes are the really important thing and are, for Rhodes at least, what makes prototypical translation possible, if you’ll pardon the circularity of the argument.)

So, a quick review of the Aristotelian’s method: first, the classification by binary features; second, the classification by hierarchy. What Morrison is (not), and what Morrison does (not) mean, maps her naturally, and in the extreme as below the man whose words mean what God’s words mean. (The Aristotelian rhetorician would say, then, that all of a sudden we’ve got an enthymeme: that what Morrison says is rhetorically not important, at least when compared to what God says. But let’s get back to words, to meanings, to logic.)

There are other things going on here for the Aristotelian logician, so let’s listen a bit more.

Because Morrison’s words are so like the man’s words that are God’s words, there has to be further distancing from her and her text. The Rhodesian Aristotelian does that this way:

>first classification as in “God’s meanings, naturally, are not Morrison’s” and “We’ve got a category mismatch here, a big issue in translation.”

>second hierarchy as in “In fact, it takes some significant training to get to recognize the differences between first order communication and second and third order communication. Literary critics, who should know better, are actually the worst. If they understood these distinctions even a little we never would have gotten into this post-modernism mess.”

>therefore if Morrison has written “Bill Clinton is the first black president” or writes someday “Barack Obama is the first woman president,” then we may just dismiss her and her meanings. Fair enough, the first order stuff, those words she uses, might be observed as “not for the faint in heart.” Okay, fine, it may appear she’s writing “in a stream of consciousness mode” and using “the kind of extreme terms Jesus did.” But come on, folks, “it’s the meanings that are important and that the words are only tools to get to the meanings.”


Jesus isn’t the only one who throws stories beside the stories of the one who has ears to hear (otherwise rendering deaf those who would claim to hear and making blind those who claim to see). C. S. Lewis isn’t the only one resisting Aristotelian modernism and saying (as an outsider reflecting on somebody else’s psalms): words have “second meanings,” which also means that what anyone’s words mean is always more than what he or she only intends them to mean. Kenneth L. Pike isn’t the only one who says (going beyond Rosch with the very first words of his Introduction to Linguistic Concepts): “When [a] man studies ‘things,’ he injects part of himself into their definition. What is a chair, if there is no [hu]man to sit on it? A flute, with no player? A concert, with no listeners? A saw, with no carpenter? The relevance or intended use of a thing is part of its nature as experienced by us—a component added to it by its designer or user or deduced by an observer. . . . [T]he observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data. . . . The beginner’s ear [because she or he is an outsider] may play tricks on [her or] him and [may] refuse to listen at all, and ‘tell’ [her or] him that the words sound the same. . . Seeing or hearing or learning is facilitated when the observer has a stake in the outcome.”

Morrison has a stake in the outcome of her words. If they make you laugh, then you get them. They get you too. If you’re listening to her say that “Bill Clinton is the first black president” or hear her say “Barack Obama is the first woman president,” then you begin to affect her words and her words begin to become part of you. If you’re American and a voter, then there’s a stake in the outcome of Morrison’s words for you. If you’re black, then yes a stake. If you’re a woman, then yes a stake.

But even if you’re not any of those, you can listen from any of “several cultures” to “an old woman. Blind but wise. Or was it an old man? A guru, perhaps. Or a griot soothing restless children.” Or is it not Morrison? Or not God? And if you listen closely, to this parable, to someone else’s story thrown beside your own, then what? What’s “the end?” You may know who’s saying this to you: “I trust you now. I trust you with the [thing] that is not in your hands because you have truly caught it. Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done - together.” You may get these words: “we are our brother's keeper; we are our sister's keeper; . . . we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

Update: Girl with Pen

Monday, January 28, 2008


Here are some random thoughts around “autism” overlapping with some random thoughts around “feminism,” “rhetoric,” and “translation.”


Some time back, we looked at the implications of this statement:

Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor at Cambridge University and one of the world's leading experts on autism, had an intriguing hypothesis. Autism is far more common in males than females. Those afflicted with the disorder, including those with normal or high IQ, tend to be socially disconnected and clueless about the emotional states of others. They often exhibit an obsessive fixation on objects and machines. . . Mr. Baron-Cohen suggests that autism may be the far end of the male norm -- the “extreme male brain,” all systematizing and no empathizing. He believes that men are, on average, wired to be better systematizers and women to be better empathizers. He presented a wide range of correlations between the level of fetal testosterone and behaviors in both girls and boys from infancy into grade school to back up his belief.

The extreme male brain is hard-wired autistic, so says the expert. Are women who are extreme feminists and not autistic of the same mind as the male expert?


My friend Jason would know. He’s a Ph.D. candidate in rhetoric who has some personal interest in autism. The dissertation research he’s doing shows how disparate the voices, and how few people are listening to one another on the subject. Rhetorician Krista Ratcliffe (keynote speaker of the most recent Feminism[s] and Rhetoric[s] conference) has offered “listening rhetoric” as a way to investigate what’s going on in autism. Just as Ratcliffe a self-identified white woman listens in (as in her Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness) so does Jason, a self-identified father. (Interestingly, the one who’s learned to listen to horses, namely the horse whisper Monty Roberts, offers techniques for feminist rhetorical listening for autistic children.)


Oh, if anyone cares, my translation for the Greek word we translate as “rhetoric” is “speakerism.” But we might as well look at “translingualism” as another way of conceiving “translation”; Lydia H. Liu says that the Chinese translingually appropriated western modernism (as if one hosts a guest, not as if one targets another). But I’ve digressed before I got started. In Parade magazine yesterday, there’s the word “epidemic” used again for “autism,” which is something Jason is quite interested in; we get our English “epidemic” by transliterating Greek again, when we could have just translated it as “what’s come on the people.” What’s come on us is the notion of autism. But guess who first coined that word? Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, at least in translation by Ralph Manheim: says Freud: “. . .both of them pounced on me, insisting that I should replace the word `sexuality' with another (on the model of autism . . .)” (page 85) and “. . . True, he wants to call it something different, for fear of offending the squeamish, perhaps sexity, on the model of autism” (page 87) and Jung replies “. . . Bleuler's `Autism' is very misleading and extremely unclear theoretically. ‘Shallow’ is probably the right word for it” (page 217). But all this talk would bring us back to what Michelle Ballif has said about Freud and Aristotle; and the talk about Aristotle brings me around all over again to feminism, rhetoric, and translation, asking questions about hard-wired brain-science mindsets, and about listening, and about more inclusive more egalitarian perspectives half of us pretend not to have.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Feminist's Regress

I want to talk some about feminist methods and ask what they mean for translation. And whether Aristotle or any other white male (like me) is above them.

Patricia Bizzell is on to something when she identifies “Feminist Methods of Research in the History of Rhetoric” and asks “What Difference Do They Make?” Feminist methods include the traditional methods but go beyond them as well. The difference, simply put, is that traditional methodology has to assume that the researcher can remain coldly objective about history and its nature, that these can be mapped by Aristotelian tools of the either / or binary of non-contradiction which leads logically to a hierarchy of what’s most important and, therefore, who’s most important, and necessarily why they and not the other are most important. Bizzell says feminist methods are different because they also work out of, and actually work out, subjectivity in research and in the writing of history.

Bizzell, you remember, asks us to look at afra-feminism. We could look at afra-feminism rather coldly and objectively. If you were not born African (American), and if you were not born a woman, then how else would you look at the methods of afra-feminism? You might start by looking at an African American feminist like Jacqueline Jones Royster. That’s what Bizzell does (and she’s not herself African American), and it’s what Bizzell gets you and me doing. Royster (a historian and also one being storied in history) writes herself into her research for the history of “literacy and social change among African American women,” which is the subtitle of her book entitled, metaphorically, Traces of a Stream.

And, kindly, Royster acknowledges the possibility that you and I may not be an African American woman changing with respect to literacy and society. That is, What if we’re in the majority? What if we’re not in that stream, even as a trace? Royster writes the answer subjectively in a little article she entitles, “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own.”

There, in addition to the metaphors of “voice” and “hearing” and “not your own,” Royster talks about the imperative of subjectivity. She says so much more than this, but at least she says this (on the first page):

“Using subject position as a terministic screen in cross-boundary discourse permits analysis to operate kaleidoscopically, thereby permitting interpretation to be richly informed by the converging of dialectical perspectives.”

Now I hope you and I can catch how important “discourse” and “dialectic” is for Royster, and for us. We’re talking about talking together. And Royster is saying something like this: “If you’re not a woman, and if you are not African American, and if your not an African American woman in the history of literacy and social change, and then if ‘you’ write about ‘us,’ what do ‘you’ think ‘we’ hear?” If “we” (non-African-Americans, and especially non-African-American non-females) are honest (which usually requires subjectivity), then we may want to admit we’ve never ever even imagined what “they” (the African American women whose history we’re writing as if objectively) think and feel and hear and see and have experienced. Now, I want us to notice something. The “not” is very very important here. But’s it’s not Aristotle’s “not.” It’s not an exclusionary “not.” Why not? Well, for Aristotle, logic and nature are the first principles. They do not change, and the observer can not change them. And the observer himself can not change from either his nature or from his logic. If nature and logic put certain classes above, then so be it. If free Greek males are by nature and by logic above slaves and barbarians and females, there can not be a contradiction. Kal-eido-scopic means one and only one thing, and not the other. For Aristotle, it is “good form (as in natural beauty)” imposing itself on “the form objectively seen (not just Plato’s ideal)” through a “method of non-contradiction about what’s seen.” Now, immediately, you yourself (whoever you are) should recognize a problem. First, I’m speaking for Aristotle (and I’m a barbarian, not a Greek). Second, Aristotle never played with a kaleidoscope, and the majority of us did. Third, if Aristotle were to write the history of African American women changing with respect to literacy and society, then he’d have to change quite a bit. He’d have to get to the place where he might actually allow a barbarian black female whose history is one of natural-class enslavement to say something, to talk with him. He might have to listen to her. And she might not use his language, his logic, or even believe what he does about his nature. So we’re talking about talking together. And now we’re beginning to talk together a little about translation.

Before we go much further, let me also put in a little plug for Gloria L. Schaab, S.S.J. She’s beginning to take a little heat for her latest book The Creative Suffering of the Triune God: An Evolutionary Theology. Many traditional readers are going to go after it coldly, objectively, knowing that to talk about it rather than just to talk down about it they are going to have to change. Aristotle won’t touch it: its nature is unfixed, its god is not pluralistic enough, and he understands everything his teacher Plato already warned about poetry and pathos and their non-logical epistemologies. So that’s the cold, objective review: it’s “not,” therefore don’t bother. But, before Schaab got into such hot water, before she even got her Ph.D., her scholarship was evolving this way: she wrote a very important article entitled: “Feminist Theological Methodology: Toward a Kaleidoscopic Model.” She begins by quoting Mary Daly saying “One of the false gods of theologians, philosophers, and other academics is called Method. It commonly happens that the choice of a problem is determined by method, instead of method being determined by the problem. . . . The tyranny of methodolatry hinders new discoveries. It prevents us from raising questions never asked before and from being illumined by ideas that do not fit into pre-established boxes and forms.” Later on, Schaab has us listening to Regina Bechtle who asks, “It it possible to be both a woman and a Christian at the same time? Is the Christian message good tidings or bad news for women? Can a feminist theologize as a Christian?” Then Schaab herself asks us about what “has been postulated”: “that one is born a female, is raised feminine, and chooses feminism.”

So traditional method of research in history, of research in theology, might answer coldly and objectively. One is either born female or male. One is either raised feminine or one is not. One either chooses feminism or one does not. There is difference. There is mappable hierarchy. Aristotle observes that, in nature, males are over females. That masculinity and feminity are observable not as social constructs but as strength over weakness. As for feminism? It’s “pish posh” (like slick sophism and contradictory rhetoric) below the rules of philosophical syllogistical logical dialectism (to risk redundancy but to make the point unequivocally).

So what are humans born male without having been raised femininely to choose? How are we to translate all this? How am I?

I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis who resisted modernism a good bit of his life. He wrote two autobiographies, Surprised by Joy and A Pilgrim’s Regress. The former was titularly at least a play on words (because he used “joy” to mean many different things and “Joy” was the name of his wife who also surprised him in many different ways. The latter self-history was a play on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. We all know that is analogy; and the title’s words share alliteratively an initial “P” and an ending “s” for a bit of word play that Lewis loses with the “R” of regress. So what?! So, this: a decade after the second autobiography is published, Lewis responds to critics who have complained that the book is very very obscure. Lewis writes a long apology (a defense and an explanation) in which he retreats from many things he says earlier. Lewis retreats to modernism, to the Aristotelian principles of non-contradiction. He allows himself to go coldly objective about his own story, and to acquiesce to critics who haven’t taken time really to listen to him. He gives himself great grief over having a very unique story; and he expresses much regret for having used “the word ‘Romanticism’ . . . to describe the experience which is central in this book” and for having given the same word “(unintentionally) ‘private’ meaning,” as if Lewis didn't really believe that words do have unintended second meanings and as if he didn't believe that readers really could take time to listen and to care about what he wrote and even how it wrote it and what all that could mean to him and might mean to them.

But fortunately, Lewis unwittingly also uses the feminist mapping method. (Shall we say he regresses to feminism?) Although he’s tidying up all the “problems” of being obscure with his own history (being born male and raised masculinely), Lewis adds this:

“The map on the end leaves [i.e., the end pages of the book] has puzzled some readers because, as they say, ‘it marks all sorts of places not mentioned in the text’.” And his (chosen feminist methodological) retort is this: “But so do all maps in travel books. John’s route [i.e., the protagonist’s route] is marked with a dotted line: those who are not interested in the places off that route need not bother about them. . . If you like to put little black arrows [i.e., in various places] . . ., you would get a clear picture . . . as I see it. You might amuse yourself by deciding where to put them—a question that admits different answers. . . But I don’t claim to know; and doubtless the position shifts every day.”

Now, here’s a man telling his own history but listening to other men claim they don’t understand. So he says, by a feminist method of subjectivity: “What do you think? But don’t try to be cold and objective and unchanging about everything.”

Which takes us back again to another man (aka Jesus) whose story only comes to us through translation, and whose translated words are what we’ve called kaleidoscopic parable, hyperbole, repentance, miracle, and other such discovery and change in ostensibly-objective nature.

Which brings us forward to another man (i.e., Kenneth L. Pike), who’s collaborated to write Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. And to write of translatable language and understanding this way: “person (and relation between persons) is given theoretical priority above formalism, above pure mathematics, above idealized abstractions. A person, as observer, has choice. The observer changes and is change by observing.”

What I’m trying to do here is to show that nature will not confine men to Aristotelianism or traditional methodology in history writing, in theology construction, or in translation. Passionate subjectivity is key. Humility and ambiguity have to be acknowledged. We can call this a feminist method. We can allow women and men equally to participate in feminist methods. And we can see already how three men (namely C. S. Lewis, Jesus, and Kenneth L. Pike) who use language and are written of in language do begin to help us talk, in cross-boundary discourse with the other, even in translation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Know Your Abortion Histories

Yesterday, my daughter spoke up freely. She made her choice to speak out on abortion in her school in America in an essay turned in on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.


But long ago, daughters as they were schooled in the democratic Athens and in the republican Rome didn’t have such free speech. (They didn’t have free choice for abortions either; but more on that in a moment).

Now, the Greek men did allow more women more opportunities to write and to speak publicly. Today, for example, we can read Sappho (and even Aristotle on Sappho as he has to fawn some over her) and, through Plato, we can read of Diotima and we can read Aspasia (who may have taught Pericles how to speak and Socrates how to dialog).

But the Roman males shut all that down, making outlaws of females who chose to write or to speak. (One of the best histories on this to date is Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold).

The legal code in the empire of Rome simply reflected the common practices of Roman men. Glenn puts it this way: “A particular point of Roman male pride seems to have been the deliberate exclusion of women from civil and public duties; and in the first centuries of its history, Roman law reflected rigid legal inequalities between males and females” (page 61).

(One Roman male was also a Jewish male who was also a Christian male. Parenthetically, here, I’m mentioning Paul/Saul of Tarsus to highlight the male Roman influence on the silencing of women. The multilingual, multicultural, multi-citizened, multi-monotheist Paul in his famous letter to the Roman church gave many instructions; but Paul didn’t have to instruct the women in Rome to be silent; by practice and by law, females were not allowed freedom of speech. Paul did, nonetheless, feel compelled to have to teach women in Corinth to be silent in the churches, as if they didn’t get the Roman practice. Paul also had his multilingual, multicultural, multi-monotheistic disciple Timothy instruct women to be quiet. Timothy had trouble giving up his Greek roots, so Paul got him to identify more with his Jewish side, and his new Jesus-following side, by getting his penis circumcised. Just to be clear, however, Paul frees slaves. Curiously, however, Paul writes to the Jewish Christians in Rome in the Greek language, saying there there are two kinds of humans, Jews first and then Greeks [but in his Jesus, there are neither the necessary distinctions between slave and free nor the must-have inequalities between male and female]; both kinds of humans [Jews and Greeks] have [for the Roman Paul] a more liberal practice and legal code than do the Roman males with respect to females writing or speaking in public; but in Rome to Romans, there’s no need to state the obvious: women don’t and shouldn’t have free speech. So when in Rome, . . .; and when elsewhere in the Roman empire, . . . )


What does all this have to do with abortion? Plenty. Just as Greek and Roman males prohibited the practice of free speech for females, so they prohibited their abortion practice too. Neither Greek nor Roman males allowed mothers to choose abortion. No, it was the men who chose abortion for the women.

In Section VI of his majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, Mr. Justice Harry Blackmun makes this very clear: “Greek and Roman law afforded little protection to the unborn. If abortion was prosecuted in some places, it seems to have been based on a concept of a violation of the father's right to his offspring. Ancient religion did not bar abortion.” Women must be silent, for the gods and goddesses are silent, on “the father’s right” to choose “his offspring” or to abort it prematurely when the law allows it. Mr. Justice Blackmun also has made very explicit that “abortion was practiced in Greek times as well as in the Roman Era, and that ‘it was resorted to without scruple.’”


The men with “scruple” were few, according to Mr. Justice Blackmun’s history in Section VI of his Roe v. Wade decision. And yet he does praise two Greek males with “scruple”:

First, there is the “Ephesian, Soranos, often described as the greatest of the ancient gynecologists,” who “appears to have been generally opposed to Rome's prevailing free-abortion practices. He found it necessary to think first of the life of the mother, and he resorted to abortion when, upon this standard, he felt the procedure advisable.”

And, second, there is Dr. Hippocrates who wrote “the famous Oath that has stood so long as the ethical guide of the medical profession.” Hippocrates is “the great Greek (460(?)-377(?) B. C.), who has been described as the Father of Medicine, the ‘wisest and the greatest practitioner of his art,’ and the ‘most important and most complete medical personality of antiquity,’ who dominated the medical schools of his time, and who typified the sum of the medical knowledge of the past.”

Although Mr. Justice Blackmun gives praise to Dr. Soranos and Dr. Hippocrates in his Roe v. Wade decision, the American Supreme Court Justice effectively silences both Greek physicians in their teaching against the Roman and the Greek male practice of abortion. “Ancient attitudes” such as Dr. Soranos’s, “are not capable of precise determination,” asserts Mr. Justice Blackmun. And of the protests of Dr. Hippocrates, he complains: “The Oath varies somewhat according to the particular translation.” Let’s come back to the question of translation in a moment.

Let’s now get to the burning question Mr. Justice Blackmun rushes to: “Why did not the authority of Hippocrates dissuade abortion practice in his time and that of Rome?”

How would you answer that question in light of the male Greek and Roman practices and laws against free speech for females? Or in light of the fact that it was Greek and Roman males, not females, who had the choice to abort?

My guess is you would not have answered it how Mr. Justice Blackmun answers it. You probably would not have turned to Mr. Ludwig Edelstein, Ph.D., but that’s what Mr. Justice Blackmun does. The Justice reads from the classics scholar’s book: The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1943). And the male Justice quotes the male scholar, putting his opinion into Roe v. Wade this way:

The late Dr. Edelstein provides us with a theory: The Oath was not uncontested even in Hippocrates' day; only the Pythagorean school of philosophers frowned upon the related act of suicide. Most Greek thinkers, on the other hand, commended abortion, at least prior to viability. See Plato, Republic, V, 461; Aristotle, Politics, VII, 1335b 25. For the Pythagoreans, however, it was a matter of dogma. For them the embryo was animate from the moment of conception, and abortion meant destruction of a living being. The abortion clause of the Oath, therefore, “echoes Pythagorean doctrines,” (p132) and “[i]n no other stratum of Greek opinion were such views held or proposed in the same spirit of uncompromising austerity.”

Dr. Edelstein then concludes that the Oath originated in a group representing only a small segment of Greek opinion and that it certainly was not accepted by all ancient physicians. He points out that medical writings down to Galen (A. D. 130-200) “give evidence of the violation of almost every one of its injunctions.” But with the end of antiquity a decided change took place. Resistance against suicide and against abortion became common. The Oath came to be popular. The emerging teachings of Christianity were in agreement with the Pythagorean ethic. The Oath “became the nucleus of all medical ethics” and “was applauded as the embodiment of truth.” Thus, suggests Dr. Edelstein, it is “a Pythagorean manifesto and not the expression of an absolute standard of medical conduct.”

Now, I wonder what would have happened if a woman had spoken up at this point? Yes, I know: 1943 is much earler than 1997. 1943 is when Mr. Edelstein, Ph.D. offers his theory of how minor the voice of Dr. Hippocrates must be. 1972 is when Mr. Justice Blackmun reads us Mr. Edelstein’s classic-scholar theory. But it’s not until 1997 that Ms. Cheryl Glenn, Ph.D. is finally able to speak out for Greek and Roman minor voices, namely the rhetorical voices of females. Rhetorician Glenn writes Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, beginning to give females an equal voice in their history, which is our history, the histories of men and women.


Remember how Mr. Justice Blackmun suggests that “The Oath [of Hippocrates] varies somewhat according to the particular translation”? Well, translation, like history writing, seems to be skewed towards Greek male and Roman male ways of understanding. I’m suggesting, like Glenn does, that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero and Quintilian have created “the Tradition” and that our translations (following the epistemologies of these men) have helped to perpetuate “the Tradition.” If we must rewrite our histories more inclusively, more equally, then it takes lots of reworking, and sometimes much regendering. How then if we must retranslate some of the texts of “the Tradition”? Fortunately, some are doing that with the Jewish and Christian male-dominant scriptures already. What now of some of the classical Greek and Roman documents on which we base so much of our practice and so much of our law?

Mr. Justice Blackmun makes this simple assertion:

“The Oath varies somewhat according to the particular translation, but in any translation the content is clear: ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion,’ or ‘I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.’

And the Justice's conclusion about the Oath is rigid: “This, it seems to us, is a satisfactory and acceptable explanation of the Hippocratic Oath's apparent rigidity. It enables us to understand. in historical context, a long-accepted and revered statement of medical ethics.”

Now the male Justice for the male court majority has justified his views by the voice of the male classicist again. The rigid translations that we’re given are are those of Mr. Edelstein, Ph.D. But what we don’t get is even the excerpt of Dr. Hippocrates’s Oath alongside the translations. So here it is: οὐδὲ ὑφηγήσομαι ξυμβουλίην τοιήνδε. Ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω.

And completely missing from Roe v. Wade is this very important question: Is the Oath only made to other men? Surely Hippocrates wouldn’t make a pledge to women, right? Surely he must only be writing to other males, to only men gynecologists, to midhusbands alone (and not to females or to midwives), right? No. Wrong. And wrong again. The physician’s vow is to men and to women, and most equally also to gods and to goddesses. (If Mr. Justice Blackmun is rightly observing the American constitutional separation of church and state by keeping out the theology here, then he’s perhaps right on other grounds—silent indeed—to reject the Oath of Dr. Hippocrates. But ignoring the silenced women, in voice and abortion choice, in Greece and in Rome, Mr. Justice Blackmun turns away from the inclusive and egalitarian Dr. Hippocrates and turns to the very sexist Greek and Roman males, who silence women and who abort babies by the father’s choice).


Let’s pause here now to read the Oath, to consider its equality, and to reconsider how it might be retranslated to recognize its gendering against the male-only Greek and Roman choices. On the day after the 35th year, here’s the text silenced through the translation of Mr. Edelstein Ph.D. and through the majority opinion of Mr. Justice Blackmun:

Ὄμνυμι Ἀπόλλωνα ἰητρὸν, καὶ Ἀσκληπιὸν, καὶ Ὑγείαν, καὶ Πανάκειαν, καὶ θεοὺς πάντας τε καὶ πάσας, ἵστορας ποιεύμενος, ἐπιτελέα ποιήσειν κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν ὅρκον τόνδε καὶ ξυγγραφὴν τήνδε.
Ἡγήσασθαι μὲν τὸν διδάξαντά με τὴν τέχνην ταύτην ἴσα γενέτῃσιν ἐμοῖσι, καὶ βίου κοινώσασθαι, καὶ χρεῶν χρηίζοντι μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι, καὶ γένος τὸ ἐξ ωὐτέου ἀδελφοῖς ἴσον ἐπικρινέειν ἄῤῥεσι, καὶ διδάξειν τὴν τέχνην ταύτην, ἢν χρηίζωσι μανθάνειν, ἄνευ μισθοῦ καὶ ξυγγραφῆς, παραγγελίης τε καὶ ἀκροήσιος καὶ τῆς λοιπῆς ἁπάσης μαθήσιος μετάδοσιν ποιήσασθαι υἱοῖσί τε ἐμοῖσι, καὶ τοῖσι τοῦ ἐμὲ διδάξαντος, καὶ μαθηταῖσι συγγεγραμμένοισί τε καὶ ὡρκισμένοις νόμῳ ἰητρικῷ, ἄλλῳ δὲ οὐδενί.
Διαιτήμασί τε χρήσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων κατὰ δύναμιν καὶ κρίσιν ἐμὴν, ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν.
Οὐ δώσω δὲ οὐδὲ φάρμακον οὐδενὶ αἰτηθεὶς θανάσιμον, οὐδὲ ὑφηγήσομαι ξυμβουλίην τοιήνδε. Ὁμοίως δὲ οὐδὲ γυναικὶ πεσσὸν φθόριον δώσω. Ἁγνῶς δὲ καὶ ὁσίως διατηρήσω βίον τὸν ἐμὸν καὶ τέχνην τὴν ἐμήν.
Οὐ τεμέω δὲ οὐδὲ μὴν λιθιῶντας, ἐκχωρήσω δὲ ἐργάτῃσιν ἀνδράσι πρήξιος τῆσδε.
Ἐς οἰκίας δὲ ὁκόσας ἂν ἐσίω, ἐσελεύσομαι ἐπ' ὠφελείῃ καμνόντων, ἐκτὸς ἐὼν πάσης ἀδικίης ἑκουσίης καὶ φθορίης, τῆς τε ἄλλης καὶ ἀφροδισίων ἔργων ἐπί τε γυναικείων σωμάτων καὶ ἀνδρῴων, ἐλευθέρων τε καὶ δούλων.
Ἃ δ' ἂν ἐν θεραπείῃ ἢ ἴδω, ἢ ἀκούσω, ἢ καὶ ἄνευ θεραπηίης κατὰ βίον ἀνθρώπων, ἃ μὴ χρή ποτε ἐκλαλέεσθαι ἔξω, σιγήσομαι, ἄῤῥητα ἡγεύμενος εἶναι τὰ τοιαῦτα.
Ὅρκον μὲν οὖν μοι τόνδε ἐπιτελέα ποιέοντι, καὶ μὴ ξυγχέοντι, εἴη ἐπαύρασθαι καὶ βίου καὶ τέχνης δοξαζομένῳ παρὰ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐς τὸν αἰεὶ χρόνον. παραβαίνοντι δὲ καὶ ἐπιορκοῦντι, τἀναντία τουτέων.

(PS: Now lest anyone accuse me, with the post, of some sort of titular play on David Letterman’s game “Know Your . . .,” let me respond by saying, “I’d never thought of that, until now.” My daughters and I are still hoping that the professional women and men on strike from their writing will get the raises they deserve before the Oscars. And we're pulling for Diablo Cody, Ellen Page, Jason Reitman, and Juno.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. is no Aristotle

Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary,

the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon?

and are not his sisters here with us?

This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is no Aristotle. Sure, in America where we once forgot we’d fought long and hard to free ourselves from the tyrannies of slavery, he gets his day.

But King is way too subjective, too unoriginal, too fragile, too emotional, too rhetorical, too ambiguous, too dependent on the actions of his followers, too dreamy, too loving, too much willing to distract us with his too-often abused and his too-often imprisoned and his also-murdered body.

Listen to him if you dare.

Read him if you will.

Remember him if you can.

He’s one of Phillip Yancey’s unlikely teachers (with a dozen others).

He’s one of Robert E. Quinn’s extraordinary masters (with Jesus and Gandhi).

He’s Keith D. Miller’s voice of deliverance (with others whose mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers were enslaved). Listen.

Listen also because he’s Theodore Pappas’s plagiarist who’s literally no “Martin Luther” but is rather America’s progaganda minister in the culture wars.

When I first read Pappas a decade ago (before I’d read Yancey or Quinn or Miller), I decided I’d hear out King on his own terms. So I read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail and found it to be very much like the gospels of Jesus Christ. Here’s the way they’re alike: they allude to and quote and paraphrase the ideas of others (kind of like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friends like Frederick Douglas do with the revolutionary declarative egalitarian theological ideas of Thomas Jefferson). There are variant texts out there. I found at least three strains of the "Letter" in publication, two different versions published by King himself (one in the Atlantic Monthly of August 1963 now excerpted here on the Atlantic's web site and another revised by him and his editors for a book in which he compiles some of his writings and speech transcripts). And there are textual mistakes in the variants, both little things like misspellings and big ones in which different words and paragraphs are changed so that the texts in certain ways could well be of interest to lovers of the Q theory and fans of the lost gospels of “Jesus” and paid subscribers to J.D.E.P. except that M.L.K. Jr. won’t as quickly give them tenure or technorati ratings. And there are different versions of how the “original” letter was written down and eventually copied for publication. This should excite historians of text. But the thrilling thing is that Pappas hadn’t uncovered any of this “evidence” for his more willing, more explicit, more damning, more arrogant, more Aristotelian part in the culture wars. And I’ve sat on it silently for years now, waiting for much time to pass, telling only a few friends who understand Aristotle. We are trying to understand (with Yancey and Quinn and Miller) Jesus. And King. But we keep finding that Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. understand us better than we’re understanding them. My humble advice after all these years is this: listen. (Listen even if it sounds like great demands on you: “change your minds” and “believe” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”)

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Some want to engage Jesus in their own ideas. Others call that “dangerous” and want their present ideas of history to preserve him (as my mother preserves the figs falling from her tree in glass jars, I suppose).

For example,

“WWJD? What would Jesus do? Would he encourage or prohibit women from having authority over men? In the work place? In universities? In Bible schools? In Christian colleges? In synogogues? In the church? In parachurch organizations, such as missionary groups? / Why or why not? / Remember, be nice to each other; it's the biblical thing to do.”

Similarly, Dr. Sam Lamerson of Knox Theological Seminary in Florida ask about “Jesus’ Use of Comedy to Combat Religious Errors”:

“In his talk Dr. Lamerson will examine Jesus' use of comedy (in the Aristotelian/Aristophanic sense) as a tool for exposing the political or religious errors of his day. Dr. Lamerson will show that Jesus did indeed engage in the use of comedy. After defining comedy, Jesus’ use of this tool in parables, short sayings, and actions will be pointed out and examined for principles that might be transferable to the Christian combating errors in the public square today.”

So before we go on to those seeing this engagement as dangerous, do you see what these engagements of Jesus are doing? Do you notice the extra-Jesus appeals to “the biblical thing”? And can you imagine that I got quite excited to hear that some expert is claiming that a political religious Jesus applies the comedy that Aristotle uses in examinable principles that Christians today can use as weapons? (On the latter, I’ll have to ask the one on my dissertation committee who did his dissertation on humor in Aristotle’s rhetoric.)

Now, beyond the Jesus tangled up in our ideas is the Jesus preserved in our dangerous history jar.

For example, Loren Rossen relays this from William Arnal:

“If a Greco-Roman sage can be pressed into secular service, or used to validate liberal Christianity, a Jewish prophet serves more oblique agendas: insulating Christianity against anti-Semitism while, paradoxically, able to reinforce Christian supersessionism at the same time. In either case, says Arnal in The Symbolic Jesus, the figure of Jesus becomes a screen on which to project contemporary debates rather than a subject of genuine historical inquiry. The invective from both sides of the debate proves it. The Hellenized Jesus has even been denounced as an implicit (if unintentional) resurrection of the Aryan Jesus of Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Jesus gets panned, in turn, as a patronizing stereotype of modern Jews. Arnal's dangerous idea is that none of this matters. Even if Jesus turned out to be a Nazi's fantasy, a "pure Aryan", it would be irrelevant, because we don't need Jesus to serve as a precedent for us in today's world.”

And Rossen also agrees with this from Andrew Criddle:

“Jesus and Paul have more to offer women than many of the orthodox are comfortable with, but the idea has been way overblown. We know Jesus was publicly involved with women; that Paul got women active in the church (Phoebe was a deacon; Prisca helped with his Gentile mission). But none of this has anything to do with egalitarianism on Jesus' part. Ideas about social equality originated with the Enlightenment and were first put into practice with the American and French revolutions. Jesus maintained a hierarchy in which he stood at the top, twelve special men stood below him, and others below them in turn, some of whom, yes, included women. Oppressed women would have naturally found his apocalyptic message attractive, where there would soon be a reversal of fortunes. Jesus and Paul made more room for women than many in their age. But that's not saying too much by our standards.”

But then there’s Albert Molher turning to Darrell L. Bock and Daniel B. Wallace to preserve Jesus in the jar of history another way:

“The most hard-core forms of postmodern thought are generally limited to academic campuses, but the postmodern worldview is trickling down in various forms to the popular level. While postmodern literary theorists debate the meaning of ‘totalizing metanarratives,’ at the level of popular piety we see the widespread substitution of ‘spirituality’ for biblical Christianity. / In this sense, spirituality is a project centered in the self and constantly negotiable -- more about ‘meaning’ than truth. / Biblical Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. Thus, Jesus does not need to be ‘humanized.’ / Christianity and Jesusanity tell two different stories and represent two very different faiths. As Bock and Wallace explain: Both of these stories afford Jesus a great deal of respect, but they are very different stories in regard to his importance. Jesusanity fits the postmodern mind and the postmodern mood, but it cannot save. We really do not know what Christianity is if we do not also understand what it is not.”

So, for Rossen, “we don't need Jesus to serve as a precedent for us in today's world,” not for race or for religion or for our post-Jesus Enlightenment standards. Likewise for Mohler, we don’t need Jesus for humanization or for the meaningful postmodern moodiness of Jesusanity. Yeah, I know Rossen and Mohler do stuff Jesus into history very very differently. But don’t you think they do a fine job, both of them, of engaging objectively Aristotle’s binary to keep the past Jesus pure in the present?

(My mom adds sugar to her fig preserves, but hey they do have a consistent taste I’ve grown to love, and they look beautiful, and last practically forever). (Un)fortunately, Jesus was no Aristotle (despite how biblical or humorous or racially motivated or gender-observing or “truth-telling” Aristotle was). No, Jesus comes to us through fragile humanized translation (albeit in Aristotle’s mother tongue) and then in what we’ve come to know as hyperbole and parable and miracle (more like my daughter’s spanish language translation of Harry Potter than like her physics textbook). So, I'm wondering if Woody Allen's Frederick in “Hannah and Her Sisters” wasn't smart to say: “If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up. So, can't we stop? Can't we start wondering whether we’re stuck today with our dichotomous (aka our Aristotelian) ways of translating (ησος)?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tekmērion: a technically unambiguous text but a sure sign of nothing

I’ve got some explaining to do.

First, the self-identifying feminists on my dissertation committee have asked me, “Are you coining ‘feministically’? It has the pejorative connotation. You know, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, ‘Man cannot speak for woman.’ Will you be able to heed that?”

Second, a linguist blogger friend has challenged me saying, “I believe the evidence is overwhelming that texts are far less ambiguous than you make them out to be -- and far less dependent on intertextuality -- otherwise literature would not be translatable.”

Third, my good friend yesterday requested an explanation asking, “Why do you have to call yourself a ‘feminist’? I have this reaction to the word, and it has so much negative baggage. ‘Feminism,’ but come on, any ‘-ism’ is so reductive and limiting. ‘Communism,’ ‘Marxism,’ even the less charged ‘egalitarianism’ or less social ‘trinitarianism’ limits.

I’ve given them all straightforward answers. But there’s more. It seems crooked at first, but it’s not. It seems silly but if you keep reading you’ll see some serious translating, feministically. I’m asking these questions now first:

Are texts really ambiguous and dependent on intertextuality and untranslatable? Are words connotative of some nature, whether a sexed body or a gender-hardwired brain or some negative thing? Won’t you let me dodge (just a moment longer) your questions about categorical mismatch? Would you listen if I told you stories instead of propositions?

Sometimes when I teach adult learners of the English language I’ll show them the old lady / young lady optical illusion. But first I’ll cut off the corners of the picture and make it into a circle and wad it up and throw it at a startled student. Invariably, everyone laughs involuntarily to my great relief, and the student unfolds the paper, orients it, and begins with the others in the room to describe what they see: “it’s an old woman.” “it’s a young lady, see?” And when pressed, they go on. “No, no dog.” “no airplane.” And when the questions are more open ended, asking what else they observe, it gets quiet. But then there are comments about the clothing and about the race of the women and about their class and their ages and their hair and about the artist’s intention, and about mine.

One of my teachers used to say this in a different sort of class: “What we need is ‘radical relativism within rigid restraints’.” My teacher was quoting Nelson Goodman.

(But a scholar on objectivism and the problems of relativism came to the campus where I work now. When we talked, he objected to the statement on the grounds that Goodman was playing with words for alliterative impact but had no idea, really, what real relativism is. “What he means is ‘pluralism,’ the visiting scholar told me, and he mailed me a published article he’d written on that very topic to prove it to me.

((The funny thing is that I was once a visiting scholar at a very pluralistic campus. A friend, a member of the religion department there, invited me to speak, as a linguist, in a lecture series on “religion and _______.” Now the school had ‘Christian’ as one of its names but in its marketing it was invariably just “C,” kind of like the “F” in KFC just because “fried” is starting to have so many negative connotations for the body. (“Christian” University connotes “bible college” and other unhealthy such things I suppose). Anyway, I asked the audience of religionists to define “religion.” Silence. Then a smart-alecky grad student pipes up with “The True definition is . . .” which trailed off into his laughter and everyone else’s including mine. The professor of Islam finally gave the serious answer: “Religion cannot be singularly defined.” So I asked if they’d let me offer a definition of “language,” the topic of my talk. And I quoted or paraphrased or translated Noam Chomsky: “The human faculty of language seems to be a true 'species property,' varying little among humans and without significant analogue elsewhere.” I went on to center my talk around Goodman’s famous statement, insisting that we humans need both radical relativism and rigid restraints. Afterwards my friend protested saying he’d spoken with an elephant named Emily in India through a human interpreter. Language, you see, for him didn’t need the human restraints.))

But if Goodman uses ‘relativism’ when another scholar says he means ‘pluralism,’ what did you think he means? What do you believe really?)

I don’t believe a word or a text of words is ambiguous. Rather, we human beings supply the radical relativism. And we offer the rigid restraints as well. But some, and Aristotle is classic here, want to believe the text and that nature (with no regard for humanity or our bodies and our minds and our spirits) is rigid and restrained. Aristotle never met Albert Einstein. He never met Werner Heisenberg either. But that’s some imaginative radical relative fantasy to arrange such a meeting.

John Henry Freese and George Alexander Kennedy did meet Aristotle’s text. They then “translated” it. But they focused on rigid restraints, on the alphabet of the Greeks, on transliteration as if somehow to preserve the lack of ambiguity in the text. So here’s from Book I, chapter 2 (page 1357a). First Freese, then Kennedy. Then you’ll read Aristotle’s words, and next to it a translating rhetorically, feministically:

[16] As to signs, some are related as the particular to the universal, others as the universal to the particular. Necessary signs are called tekmeria; those which are not necessary have no distinguishing name. [17] I call those necessary signs from which a logical syllogism can be constructed, wherefore such a sign is called tekmērion; for when people think that their arguments are irrefutable, they think that they are bringing forward a tekmērion, something as it were proved and concluded; for in the old language tekmar and peras have the same meaning (limit, conclusion).

16. In the case of signs [sēmeia], some are related as the particular to the universal, some as the universal to the particular. Of these, a necessary sign is a tekmērion, and that which is not necessary has no distinguishing name. 17. Now I call necessary those from which a [logically valid] syllogism can be formed; thus, I call this kind of sign a tekmērion, as though the matter were shown and concluded [peparamenon]. (Tekmar and peras [“limit, conclusion”] have the same meaning in the ancient form of our language.)

[16] των δὲ σημείων τὸ μὲν ούτως έχει ως των καθ' έκαστόν τι πρὸς τὸ καθόλου, τὸ δὲ ως των καθόλου τι πρὸς τὸ κατὰ μέρος. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν αναγκαιον τεκμήριον, τὸ δὲ μὴ αναγκαιον ανώνυμόν (5) εστι κατὰ τὴν διαφοράν. [17] αναγκαια μὲν ουν λέγω εξ ων γίνεται συλλογισμός: διὸ καὶ τεκμήριον τὸ τοιουτον των σημείων εστίν: όταν γὰρ μὴ ενδέχεσθαι οίωνται λυσαι τὸ λεχθέν , τότε φέρειν οίονται τεκμήριον ως δεδειγμένον καὶ πεπερασμένον: τὸ γὰρ τέκμαρ καὶ πέρας ταυτόν εστι κατὰ (10) τὴν αρχαίαν γλωτταν.

[16] As to signs, some are related just as each and every thing is to the universe, while others just as the universe is to the part. The forceful ones are the sure-signs. (Those which are not forceful are the ones carried through and yet unnamed). [17] Now, I call the forceful ones those birthed from an arrangement of statements: thus, such a sign is a sure-sign. In fact, when someone thinks there’s a decisive statement, they think it’s carried forward as a sure-sign, something as if it were shown and limited; and “sure,” in fact, is “limit” from the beginning in the mother tongue.

Now, what explaining is left to do?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Unequal Future: Alarms in the Academy (then in your Home)!

What contrasts! Here are two unequal perspectives on women and men in American universities (and on what that may mean to you).

Today, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. sounds the alarms on his blog:
There's "the emergence of a new American matriarchy"! "Ideological feminism can only applaud this reversal of history. Yet, truth be known, even many social liberals must find the trend worrisome." What now about the "biblical model of marriage and gender relations" and "the rightly ordered family and church"? "What about our own sons? Are they being encouraged toward education and leadership in the home, the church, and the culture? If not, we will surely reap what we sow." And "In reality, most people are likely to experience the intuition that this is not a good development. A look into the future is truly troubling."
"Is Matriarchy the Shape of the Future?"

Today, blogger telbort alerts readers at "Feminist Philosophers":
"We know things were bad for women and minorities in philosophy thirty or more years ago. We also know from Sally Haslanger’s paper that they aren’t all that good now. But reading some of the comments coming from those that aspire to staff philosophy departments for the next thirty years, the future doesn’t look all that rosey either." And still we hear "a lot of white male philosophers . . . complaining that women and minorities who get these jobs are doing so purely by dint of their gender or race and at the expense of their more qualified white male counterparts ('Its reverse discrimination I tell ya'). And the men are still arguing these claims: "girls can’t do metaphysics" and "the real reason women aren’t getting jobs easily and need 'reverse discrimination' to help them out is because hard-core philosophy is abstract, and women prefer things with material results."
"The Future State of Equality in Philosophy"

Whose rhetoric is closer to yours? Whose reality? Whose future? Is there some false binary here, some false binaries? How will the shape of the American university shape where you live?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Of "Mice" and "Mystery" and Men who don't translate

Richard Rhodes, a UC Berkeley linguist, has posted about how Bible translators have not gotten the “secret” when they “for centuries have happily read Greek μυστριον and translated mystery” in each instance in the New Testament. I am generally most grateful for his observations. But when I point out that LXX translators used the Greek word to translate the Hebrew word meaning “secret,” Dr. Rhodes ignores the point of how problematic a Greek alphabetic transliteration of the Hebrew would have been. Instead, he lists words borrowed into English; and he gives this reply on transliteration:

“That's not the problem. The problem is that once borrowed the word takes on a new life of its own in the new language. Like mystery did in English, because we already had a word for secret, and because our linguistic forebears were so hopelessly influenced by Greek philosophy that they bought into the whole mind/spirit is holy/clean, body is corrupt/dirty thing. So having a word for things that are beyond the comprehension of the human mind was an attractive way to think about the holiness of God.”

What Dr. Rhodes may not see is how influenced he himself is by Aristotle’s philosophy. Intellectuals and Bible scholars generally seem to be unwittingly and subtly persuaded by the thought and method of that most important Greek man. I’ll post again soon on how prone to elitism such Aristotelianism can be. The quick summary by the “either / or” method makes translation prone to transliteration (as it makes “rhetoric” prone to “logic” and the concept of woman prone to sexism).

Now, I want to show here how Aristotle uses μυστήρια in his treatise, the Rhetoric. And I want to show the problems with the Aristotelian method applied to translation of this phrase there. So I’m posting John H. Freese’s 1926 translation, then Huge Lawson-Tanred’s 1991 translation, and then George A. Kennedy’s translation. Next I show Aristotle’s Greek, and finally give a translation (mine) that refuses to transliterate.

But first, let me say that I’m not accusing Dr. Rhodes of sexism, or rhetoric, or elitism. I’m only saying his Aristotelianism doesn’t yet acknowledge the problem of transliteration by focusing on the commonality of loan words or their value. (There is much value to loan words, and much fun with them too: note the link to the Greek words borrowed into English at the bottom of this blog; and note this newest borrowing of English into Chinese.) And Dr. Rhodes’s conception of how “our linguistic forebears were so hopelessly influenced by Greek philosophy” overgeneralizes Aristotle if it doesn’t escape his method.

So now, here is μυστήρια by Aristotle (in English “translation”):

The second kind of fallacy of diction is homonymy. For instance, if one were to say that the mouse is an important animal, since from it is derived the most honoured of all religious festivals, namely, the mysteries.

Another form of false enthymeme is that by homonymy, such as saying that a mouse is a major animal, as from it comes the most respected of rites. For the mysteries are the most respected of all rites.

Another [verbal fallacy] is by use of homonyms, as saying that a mouse [mys] is a worthy creature from which comes the most honored of all festivals; for the [celebration of the Eleusian] Mysteries is the most honored of all.

Here’s how Aristotle writes it:

ἓν δὲ τὸ παρὰ τὴν ὁμωνυμίαν , τὸ φάναι σπουδαι̂ον εἰ̂ναι μυ̂ν, ἀφ' οὑ̂ γ' ἐστὶν ἡ τιμιωτάτη πασω̂ν τελετή : (15) τὰ γὰρ μυστήρια πασω̂ν τιμιωτάτη τελετή.

Here’s a translation into English (which refuses translation as mere transliteration but retains as much word play as the translator can pass along):

Besides that there are the alike names: Declaring that a “seeker rat” is important because it’s derived from the all-honored rite; when, in fact, “the Secret” is the all-honored rite.

What’s the Secret? Do you get it?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Aristotle's Sexism: the Two Best Contemporary Resources

Some of you have asked offline: "Where's the definitive proof Aristotle was sexist?"

The two best contemporary works I've read that answer this question are the following:

Feminism In Greek Literature From Homer To Aristotle (first published in 1923) by F. A. Wright
The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 Bc-Ad 1250 (1997) by Prudence Allen

Allen thoroughly reviews everything extant that Aristotle ever wrote or said (or was quoted as writing or saying) about women. She carefully identifies how Aristotle's statements on woman relate to four categories important to his predecessors: Opposites, Generation, Wisdom, and Virtue. Then Allen summarizes for us, and comments on, what Aristotle has said:

1. The male is separated from the female, since it is something better and more divine in that it is the principle of movement for generated things, while the female serves as their matter.

2. A woman is as it were an infertile male.

3. The female is as it were a deformed male.

4. The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled.

In these statements the superior valuation of man over woman is explicitly stated. However, it is also present in the theory of contraries and in other aspects of Aristotle’s thought about sex identity. Aristotle stands out from his predecessors in that he gave a complete rationale for his theory of sex polarity. He developed reasons and arguments for the philosophically significant differentiation of the sexes and for the superiority of man over woman. Therefore, he is correctly identified as the founder of the sex polarity position. . . . [H]e also laid the groundwork for another theory of sex identity in his philosophy of definition. (page 121)

Wright gives direct quotes of all the salient texts of Aristotle on "women." Then he ends his book by saying:

. . . In every department of civilized existence the influence of Aristotle must still be taken into account, and his judgment of women's positions in society--a view sincerely held and on the whole most temperately expressed--has had far more effect on the world than have the idealist theories of Plato. . . . In Aristotle's time, for reasons which this brief survey of Greek literature has, perhaps, made plain, the facts of women's nature were certainly not sufficiently comprehended. . . [A]ny true appreciation of a woman's real qualities, . . . Aristotle, by the whole trend of his prejudices, was opposed. His mistake was that he failed to realise the moral aspects of feminism. A nation that degrades its women will inevitably suffer degradation itself. Aristotle lent the weight of his name to a profound error, and helped to perpetuate the malady which had already been the chief cause of the destruction of Greece. (pages 202, 222)

[update:  other works by others are here.]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Far too

For far too long, far too many of us have believed far too much of what Aristotle believed and taught on slaves, women, and children:

"It is clear, therefore, that some men are by nature free and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right."

"A husband and a father rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs: over his children it is a royal, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature."

Some 2,308 years or so later, senators in the U.S. Senate (led by co-sponsors Dianne Feinstein, Norm Coleman, John Cornyn, Richard Lugar, Barack Obama) unanimously voted for January 11 to be the U.S. National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Some, if far too few, will be aware today.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Natural Man, barbarian woman

The temperance and courage of men and women differ. For a man would be thought a coward if he had no more courage than a courageous woman, and a woman would be thought loquacious if she imposed no more restraint on her conversation than the good man; and indeed their part in the management of the household is different, for the duty of the one is to acquire, and of the other to preserve.

He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved. For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For she is not niggardly, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say, "It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians; " as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one. . . .

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.

--Aristotle, “Politics

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”

--Gloria Steinem, “Women Are Never Front-Runners

Monday, January 7, 2008

Uppity Denigration by “Translation”

Melvin B. Tolson teaches his students the dark meaning behind the word denigrate. Without the poet-professor’s lesson, of course, we would all know that the English translation of the Latin word denigratus is “To attack the character or reputation of.” Without the African American teacher’s lesson, we’d be stuck with this uppity highfalutin’ “translation.” But, rather eloquently, Tolson reminds his students so long ago (and us today thankfully) that in Latin niger is “black” and that de- + nigrare is “to blacken.”

(Tolson is wonderfully portrayed by Denzel Washington in “The Great Debaters,” a must-see film out in theaters. We went to watch the movie with one of our daughters this weekend here in Texas, where much of the tragic triumphant true story took place. It’s the story of white racism and sexism overcome by black educators and students in the 1930s. It's the story of the feminism of Henrietta Wells aka Samantha Booke, and of the civil rights for her and James L. Farmer, Jr., and of their debate-team classmates who make national headlines because of their ability to speak, which cannot be officially recognized because they are black. So back to Tolson’s lesson.)

Do you see what happens when a technicalized term goes untranslated? Do you notice that if an English word just “sounds like” a word in the original language, it’s an uppity term. This highfalutin’ phenomenon of just keeping the sound (i.e. “denigrate”) without fully translating the personally embodied meaning (i.e. “to make black”) is called transliteration.

Many Bible translators and many academic translators transliterate all the time. We might call them transliter bugs. When they transliterate, they sound good. They sound like they’re speaking Latin or Greek. What they’re actually doing is making a mess of the translation. They’re keeping us from really knowing what’s going on in that original language in the first place. This lets them assume they know what they’re talking about, unchallenged. But then they can trash each other over their ever-refined dogma and publications on their meanings.

Let’s look at some examples, one from the “Bible” and three from “rhetoric.” (I’ve put “Bible” and “rhetoric” in scare quotes here because you may know that these English words are really simply uppity transliterations and not personal or real translations. “Bible” could be translated from the Greek as “book” and “rhetoric” as “speakerism”; but then Bible scholars and rhetoricians couldn’t as easily debate the meaning of the “Bible” and “rhetoric.”) Actually, the theological word (and “theo – logic - al” is another uppity transliteration) I’d like us to look at is “baptize.” And the philosophical (yes, you guessed it “philo – sophic – al” is another uppity transliteration) terms from what they call “rhetoric” are “ethos,” “pathos,” and “logos.” When theologians and philosophers want to make these terms “sound” Greek, and debate the words in highfalutin’ ways, then they won’t translate βαπτίζω, θος, πάθος, or λόγος.

So let’s do two things with “baptism” and “ethos, pathos, logos.” First, let’s look at a good translation of the Greek into English. Second, let’s look at how wildly varied and amazingly technical the uppity transliterated meanings of have become.

First, then, here’s Richmond Lattimore’s English translation of βαπτίζω, θος, πάθος, or λόγος in passages from Homer’s Odyssey:

As when a man who works as a blacksmith plunges a screaming great ax blade or plane into cold water, treating it for temper, since this is the way steel is made strong, even so Cyclops’ eye sizzled about the beam of the olive. (9.391-394)

and they penned the sows for the night inside their accustomed places (14.411)

for her heart is urgent to find out from you about her husband, though she is suffering troubles. (17.554-555)

This is his daughter; she detains the grieving, unhappy man, and ever with soft and flattering words she works to charm him to forget Ithaka; (1.55-57)

Now most Greek texts, from Homer through the New Testament, in personal and embodied contexts, have fairly stable meanings for these four words. In other words, “plunges” is usually a very good translation of βαπτίζω; “accustomed” is a fine translation of θος; “suffering” is not bad for πάθος; and “word” works quite well for λόγος.

But, second, we have to be aware of what academic technicians do otherwise. Some Bible translator blogger friends (Wayne Leman, Peter Kirk, Doug Chaplin, and Henry Neufeld) are reviewing some of the issues with “baptist” and “baptizer.” And more on that in a moment.

For students trying to get a grip on what Aristotle was making of θος, πάθος, and λόγος, there is much confusion. (Scholars still struggle with his central terms in “The Rhetoric” as I’ve noted here). My favorite student web site on the confusion of “ethos, pathos, logos” due to transliteration is this one.

So now even more on the uppity combination of highfalutin’ “baptist, ethos, pathos, logos.” Here are three partial paragraphs published in Rhetoric & Public Affairs 7.4 (2004) 587-601. It’s past-pastor Present Professor Robert Stephen Reid’s article on “Being Baptist.” I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the highfalutin’ words as you note the ways the words are used so precisely and technically and abstractly.

As one who has been a Baptist pastor and now works as an educator, I have long since made my public peace with “being Baptist.” This identity is somehow core to who I have become, not only as a person of faith, but as a rhetorician and an educator. I do not promise that I will always worship God with fellow Baptists—we can be such a contentious lot—but I could no more deny that who I am has been shaped by Baptist ways of thought than Terry Eagleton would wish to deny his Marxist intellectual commitment or Judith Fetterley would wish to deny being a feminist. I am pleased to join with colleagues in these pages to reflect on the influence of our various denominational rhetorics as a source of intellectual invention. In what follows I provide a personal sketch of becoming and being Baptist and explore the central communicative assumptions of a constitutive Baptist rhetoric in order to describe for non-Baptists the often inchoate impulses that shape what it may mean to think like a Baptist.(587-88)

Note how Dr. Reid makes contrasts between “Baptists” and “Marxist intellectual” and “feminist” and “non-Baptists.” Could Dr. Eagleton read any material influences on the author? Might Dr. Fetterley encourage us to do a resistant reading of his piece here? How do you “non-Baptists” read this otherwise? Reid continues:

Where many traditions are willing to grant a pastor the authority to preach based on such external ethos as recognition of professional preparation, appointed positions, or the symbolic auctoritas of clerical vestments, authority is granted to Baptist preachers based on a single standard of internal ethos—the congregation's perception that the preacher can handle the message of the Bible faithfully in preaching. (588-89)

Say what? Are we talking about θος or something else we’ve become accustomed to, like, ethics or character or culture to prove an argument? Reid goes on:

If Baptist thought remains irrevocably fixed in a bygone era's strategies of persuasive invention, it is inevitable that pathos will be increased to supply the seeming deficit of a failed logos—the homiletic equivalent of the sermon manuscript with the scrawled marginal note "Weak point; pound pulpit." (597)

Don’t we doubt that Dr. Reid’s “fellow Baptists” are suffering if their words may fail them?

So we listen again to professor Tolson’s lesson on looking for the dark side of the uppity highfalutin’ transliteration. We return to our common need for personal, even embodied translation.