Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Translation: "Logical" Case V

V. Mi Tres Amigos

David Ker, Richard A. Rhodes, and Wayne Leman

(a trio of linguists who are Bible translation guides)

I have started this particular case study a thousand times. It’s most difficult for me. It’s the most difficult, I imagine, for David Ker, Wayne Leman, and Richard A. Rhodes (even if they haven’t waited to see what I’d write here).

Let’s try this opener: One Patricia posted one series of jokes, which Google Alerts sent to my email sometime around precisely 5:10am Central Time U.S. this morning. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is the question. The answer varies by person. “Aristotle” responds to the question this way, according to his particular variant of the right answer: “It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.” Dr. Phil, Oprah, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Albert Einstein (to mention a few) also give their answers. In this particular case study, I give my answer and give away the answers of David, Rich, and Wayne.

No. Let us try again. It’s not that we shouldn’t attempt humor (but my daughters tell me I really shouldn’t, and my wife says I should trust them, and my son’s away at college so his consenting opinion doesn’t count anyway).

I do have this conviction that a case study is a parable. (Now I have this conviction that that last sentence contains at least one metaphor). Would you, then, let me start over with the previous case studies, and not be so eager to provide you with a “laugh track” along the way? Or to give the punchline so prematurely. Or to give it away at all? In any case?

As public as a blog post is on the Internet in the world wide web, please factor this also. David, Rich, Wayne, and I have had some rather private conversations. Yeah, facebook and/or email and/or blog-comment exchanges and/or mutual friendships and mutual teachers (both the living and the “no longer with us”) and/or talk about shared experiences in foreign lands with foreign tongues. Some of it’s profoundly personal; most of it’s part and parcel of the inside joke; all of it I pledge here publicly to keep in confidence. Those of you who are “in recovery” will understand and appreciate the value of “safety” in telling your story to others, to friends. All the rest of you can just ask any one of us “offline” so to speak, and we’ll put you “in” dialogue around what some of us have meant by that. In any case, again, I am being absolutely sincere in asking (as per Donald Miller’s prologue) your kindness. Regardless, you have my kindness. It’s really all you deserve and, much more, all I have to offer you.

I almost entitled this particular case study (my parable) something snobby like “Aristotle is a Pharisee.” (Now I’m going to do the candidate-Mike-Huckabee thing of reporting what I won’t report. He didn't trash other candidates for president. And I won't trash that other man Aristotle, or those other men, the Pharisees). I mean, on Aristotle, I'd never say in public that we should look at how the Pharisees mistreated women (as they prayed the daily prayer of thanks to God for creating them male and not female, and as they set up kangaroo courts with real rocks to trap and to execute adulteresses but not their adulterers). Look how they looked at the “nature” of things to divide into holy and hierarchical categories. Look how they’d come into darkness (whether at night to ask questions or at night to kiss as betrayer or in blindness while kicking against the goads). Look how they’d turn to text, to God’s words as God’s Word to them, to justify their patrilineal purity. Look how they’d refuse translation (and won’t we imagine they despised the LXX, as some today still do calling it coopted by anti-Semites of the Jesus-following sort?). Look how they’d use logic, the binary, to divide the world into two races, the circumcised Jew first, and then the Greeks (and, as noted, the males first and then the females). Then, I remembered, that the Aristotelians reading this would remember that Aristotle came before the Pharisees. I didn’t like the title “Aristotle is Abraham.”

So let’s try something else. My daily readings of Madam Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon require too much silent meditation. Unless any one of you wants to talk about what she might mean (in translation by François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon) when she speaks (through him to us English readers) of the Souls of the dead: “During their passage through the Way of Faith, they had nothing distinct, for distinctness is entirely opposed to Faith, and they could not enjoy anything of that sort, having only a certain generality as a foundation upon which everything was communicated to them.” And Julie’s rememberance of something this morning requires, just questions: she tells me she heard on the radio yesterday this clip of Dr. Laura Schlessinger telling a father who was not willing to confront his son that he (the father) was “talking like a little girl.” (Now, is that what we’re talking about?)

The other way I started my day is the way I think I’ll begin this post. Before I got to Patricia’s joke, I was looking at some Greek translation, that of Mark (or is it Peter) and of Matthew. Both tell a couple of stories (in Greek) in more or less the same sequence. I say it’s in translation too, because they have Joshua (aka Jesus) speaking in Greek. At least the first version (at verse 26 of chapter 7 of Mark) has him speaking, it seems, to a woman who is Greek: ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς. But even if she’s having to speak his mother tongue, the text is not in Mary’s Aramaic, it’s translated into Greek. And Joshua is persuaded by her womanly rhetoric (emotional, subjective, marginalized, at-the-end-of-herself pleas and all—not to mention a twist on some rather elitist exclusionary logic that he expresses first. Remember the Pharisees?). So the other thing that gets twisted around in the very next story is Joshua changes nature. We label that “miracle” because we have faith in constant logical nature (even if we’re evolutionists). But here the unthinkable happens. (Yes, I agree. A Jewish Rabbi talking in public with a foreign woman in the other’s language about her daughter with a Greek deity incarnated deep inside her is pretty unthinkable. And Mark adds the spit, and the Aramaic talking up at the sky and his Greek translation of all that. Unthinkable. It’s absolutely as amazing as the two story tellers say the crowd watching finds it to be). But Joshua goes on, and he’s sighing more, and saying he’s feeling something deep in his gut (which the story tellers tell us is σπλαγχνίζομαι, which some English translators have told us is profound “pit-y” or just “compassion.”) He sees a crowd with deep hunger and feeds each one more than was naturally there to begin with.

Now these stories have insiders and outsiders, central characters and the marginalized. The subjectivities are not unimportant. And I’m talking about your subjectivities and mine too, as we encounter the stories from within our very own stories. With the knowledge comes belief, profound stuff, inside stuff, stuff that unthinkably changes your very nature. None of this is anything much like Aristotle’s chicken crossing the road. And the only thing, really, that connects Bible translation with the translation of, say, Aristotle’s texts is that Aristotle has seemed to have had a bigger effect on contemporary translators than Joshua (or any of his translator story tellers) has had. The irony, of course, is that Aristotle despised translation. It is always second class to the Greek text (especially the Greek text authored by the free Greek male). So let’s qualify what I just said about contemporary translators. There are a few women, and men, on the contemporary scene who are conceiving of translation differently. (One of my friends, and maybe one of mi tres amigos, just emailed me an article written by translator Karen H. Jobes about the kinds of translation, of the Bible, that I’m calling more womanly, that use the kind of feminine, non-Aristotelian discourses we need to see more of. Just last sentence is the link to the whole article; and Professor Jobes, you remember, is the sole woman among the thirty men on the translation team for the New English Septuagint Translation).

But this case study is supposed to be about “logical” translation. And that sort of thing which David and Wayne and Rich are grappling with. One says: “Far better a translation that communicates as clearly as possible without creating deception (a la Challies) about what the original really says. . . We all long for a clearly communicative translation that richly reflects the beauty of the original message.” Another writes: “I would far prefer to call the original biblical texts themselves beautiful. The beauty of their figures of speech is found within their original languages. Figures of speech, for the most part, are language-specific. We can learn to appreciate their beauty by education, footnotes, other Bible resources that explain the meaning of the figures. But the purpose of translation is to enable a speaker of another language to understand the meaning of the biblical text, not to educate someone to the figures of speech uses in those texts.” And the third knows the precise name for everything linguistic (even “vagueness” and “ambiguity”) and is most willing to dialog with us rational people; for instance, here’s a request from a commenter on one of his posts, followed by his reply: [question] “I think I hear what you mean about the nuances in tone, phraseology, etc. But could you give me a non-scholar word or phrase for perlocutionary force?” [answer] “I was afraid that the technical terminology [in th post] would be a little off-putting, but there is no everyday word for perlocutionary force.”

And so I just wonder how Mark (or is it Peter) or Matthew or Karen H Jobes might translate David’s or Wayne’s or Rich’s English sentences into some classical (or common aka “koine”) Greek? Or in 1960s-70s Southern Vietnamese? Would deception be risked? Would the natural beauty of the English original sentences be retained? Could Mark (or Peter) or Matthew or Karen educate Greek speakers? Offer them footnotes and dictionaries and other resources that explain the meaning? Would their Greek translation help the Greeks of another day in another place to understand the meanings of any figures used in the original English? Would their Vietnamese have helped the Vietnamese who had to flee reeducation camps? Or why bother with the English figures if everything else, mainly the meaning of the text of David, of Wayne, and of Rich, is understood. How does Aristotle (or Ho Chi Minh) write the technical phrase “perlocutionary force”?

Let me just say I want to start all over, and that I’ll keep working on this case a long time. (Do understand that translation is a missionary kid who grows up in two cultures--her parents' culture and the others' culture where the skin and eyes of people are darker usually, so that her siblings and MK cousins learn to coin hybrid words of a third culture. And who's to say which is more original or beautiful or natural?) I’m most grateful to David Ker, Wayne Leman, and Richard A. Rhodes (who have given birth to translations and whose wives may have, like my mother, given birth to MKs) for their willingness to converse with any of us, much less with me about others’ misunderstood feminist translation methods (and how I think we men, including Aristotle and them, can’t get around the discourse).


One more case study at least to go. Ready or not, it’s linked here.

Here’s the introductory prologue, and Case I, and II, and III, and IV.


Anonymous said...

Putting me in the same movie with Wayne and Rich is just plain flattery. (Keep it up!)

That paragraph about the Greek woman talking to Jesus is fantastic.

The rest of what you're saying makes absolutely no sense but that's my fault not yours.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Because it was there.

Sorry, not very good. I'll have to ask my kids for a better one.

J. K. Gayle said...

Neither Wayne nor Rich is blogging in the blistering heat, sometimes by cell phone because the dialup is so iffy, in Mozambique, Africa, where to get a turkey or a even a chicken for Thanksgiving requires more than just a road crossing. And, oh, the blog design, with that little hippo and the professional-quality photographs and everything. What may come across as flattery is absolute admiration.

I don't think you should shoulder all the blame for anything not making sense. I usually blame every bit of my male logic on Pappa Aristotle. Why must we own (y)our part in sexism?

What really doesn't make sense is why Mark (or is it Peter) and Matthew (and is it Jesus too) discount women and children. Really, go back to those stories. What did they do back then? "Hey, all circumcised people who have been BarMitzvah'd stand up and be counted. The rest of you remain seated. Okay. That's 5000. Okay. That's another 4000. Now, in a couple of thousand years or so, we'll put all you Gents in the same movie with David Ker, Wayne Leman, and Richard A. Rhodes. J. K. Gayle? Forget your views, stand up fella, you have the right physique. Check, check, check, check. Hey, you over there, with the skirt, sit down, and be quiet, we'll call you ladies when we're ready for you."