Monday, February 11, 2008

Translation: "Logical" Case I

I. Aristotle

Let’s lay out some evidence.

We recall that Aristotle wrote this: ἔστι δ’ ἀρχ τη̂ς λέξεως τ ἑλληνίζειν. It’s this key sentence in the 5th chapter of the third book of his Rhetoric in which Aristotle defines a goal of logic. Depending on our goal, we could translate the first part of the sentence into English this way: “There is a top goal for a text:” We’ve already noted that the last phrase has been variously translated as “correctness of language,” or “grammatical correctness,” or “purity.”

Sounds like Aristotle is after some good stuff. We’re talking rationality. Definition by binary. Hierarchy by binary. logic. correctness. purity. the top goal. Good rules for text authorship. (Remember, rule 3 of 5? “avoid ambiguity”). Good rules for translation. But remember, because we’re looking for the really good, let’s put person above logic. What’s the person Aristotle up to with his logic? We’ll come back to the key, meaningful sentence above in a minute. For now, let’s back up a bit:

Here’s Aristotle in his first book of the Rhetoric, Chapter 9. (as translated and transliterated by George A. Kennedy, whose case we’ll review in Section VI below.) Aristotle is defining terms again:

Prudence [phronēsis] is,” he defines logically, “a virtue of intelligence whereby people are able to plan well for happiness in regard to the good and bad things that have been mentioned earlier.”

And drawing conclusions, he adds:

“for it is clear that things productive of virtue are necessarily honorable. . . things for which the rewards are a kala, especially those that bring honor rather than money; and whatever someone has done not for his own sake. . .”

And as he conclusively defines, Aristotle is also classifying by hierarchy:

“Again, one quality or action is nobler than another if it is that of a naturally finer being: thus a man's will be nobler than a woman's.”

To define and to classify hierarchically is Aristotle’s game. And it helps Aristotle assume or presume (and pretend) that he’s coldly objective. When he finally and conclusively comes to his subject, “woman,” he finds that his binary logic and our observed nature finds “man” not only to be “a finer being” but also a “nobler” being than “woman.” The goal of objective hierarchy is part and parcel of his method. In other words, Aristotle’s define-and-classify method suppresses feminine discourse; and his divide-and-conquer goal suppresses women and their voices.

So now let’s come to some conclusions of Aristotle’s own. First, woman is less noble and less fine than man. Second, non-Greeks are lesser than Greeks. Third, translation is not good. Sexism? Okay. But racist elitism? What? And textual authoritarianism? What? How does Aristotle get those second and third conclusions? He does so by his top goal for a text: which is τ ἑλληνίζειν. We like to pretend that the accurate translation of τ ἑλληνίζειν might be “correctness of language,” or “grammatical correctness,” or “purity.” But to get to such subjectivities, we have to assume that we Barbarians are equal to those ancient Greeks. Aristotle says just the opposite. We have to imagine that “purity” is something the author of the Greek text we’re reading really wants for us to imagine. It’s not. (Kennedy actually has to transliterate τ ἑλληνίζειν and to add special translation notes for his readers: “To Hellēnizein, or Grammatical Correctness. . . what Aristotle calls ‘speaking Greek,’ by which he means observance of the rules of grammar and the conventions of idiom of the language, but much of what he says really relates more to clarity than to correctness.” We’ll come back to the case of Kennedy, his own logic over rhetoric; )

We’re now more than a little suspicious of Aristotle. But what I really want us all to see is this:

(A) Aristotle can’t get around translation.

(B) Aristotle can’t get around feminine discourse (aka Dame Rhetoric).

(C) Aristotle can’t get around the positive influence of women on men either.

(A) Aristotle continues by quoting the female poet Sappho. And in quoting her poetry, he quotes a dialog (as between Alcaeus and Sappho). And in quoting the dialog, Aristotle adds to and interprets the text, translating it from her less clear language to his τ ἑλληνίζειν, an admittedly all-Greek new text but a translation of female to male register and of clarity of nothing else:

ὥσπερ καὶ Σαπφὼ πεποίηκεν,

εἰπόντος του̂ ̓Αλκαίου

θέλω τι εἰπη̂ν, ἀλλά με κωλύει


αἱ δ’ ἠ̂χες ἐσθλω̂ν ἵμερον ἢ καλω̂ν
καὶ μή τι ει
̓πη̂ν γλω̂σσ' ἐκύκα κακόν
̓δώς κέν σε οὐκ εἰ̂χεν ὄμματ',
̓λλ' ἔλεγες περὶ τω̂ δικαίω.

(B) Aristotle can’t get around feminine discourse (aka Dame Rhetoric). He has Sappho’s poetry interpret his logic (both Aristotle’s definition and hierarchical classifications and also Alcaeus’ poor example of τ ἑλληνίζειν).

(C) Aristotle can’t get around the positive influence of women on men either. He has the woman Sappho say something corrective back to the man Alcaeus.

Ready for case number II? Here it is. (And here's the prologue and intro).

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