Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Day

a day
to go away
and for my son's birthday
Can I return much later?

Then said the teacher
(in Avalon to the pupil so wee, asking
"Can I go out, please?")
"You can but you may not."

a way
to go away
and for long summer days
May I return much later?

dear reader

This morning, she and I are talking, like we enjoy doing so much. She's on her way to run while it's still 72 degrees Fahrenheit this Texas morning. I'm sitting here looking at a friend's note on a draft of my dissertation: "My favorite passage," he's rather generously noted. So, rather randomly, I throw it out into our conversation:

"My thesis is this: Translations of Aristotle's Rhetoric have been ostensibly faithful to Aristotle's authorial intentions; but a feminist translation shows that rhetoric is translational and feminist, even when Aristotle intends to theorize it, to define it, otherwise. Something like that. Sure, I define feminism in opposition to sexism, but I'm undefining definition as something more than mere opposition and binary. Feminism is not just the avoidance of sexism; it is the voicing of the unvoiced. It it the translating of the untranslated. It is the speaking of the speakeresque. . . So, to be very clear, the feminist translating does not reverse the sexism in the text, but rather it opens the text up to alternate readings not constrained by a sexist intention, a masculinist logic, or an elitist's language."

She replies by saying she'd picked up a couple of books I bought for our daughter and suspects they suffer from the Donna Jo Syndrome. Anne Lamott and Donald Miller don't so suffer, she says. And she explains more as I impatiently keep demanding that she get to the point. Donna Jo, one of our good friends, uses more words than she needs to. Oh, I reply. I'm thinking something else to myself but not saying it to her: that in Bird by Bird Lamott herself advises writing shoddy drafts. It's actually the writer's word that sort of rhymes with shoddy. I'm writing one bird after another here, and when someone writes in the margin that it's a "favorite," well. Okay. Yes, and who has to read this stuff anyway? Four professors on a dissertation committee, people who make their living professing things like classical rhetoric and feminist rhetorics and writing tutorial theory & practice and new testament greek and feminism. So I return to talking with her, to listening to her, and she's saying, she this best friend of mine who makes her living by writing professionally and winning awards and cash prizes, that she will be back soon before it gets to be 74 degrees Fahrenheit, on this Texas morning. I pledge to run our dog, named Bear, to the Trinity River, just as soon as she gets back.

And I go back to that friend who'd written the "favorite" comment. He'd asked, "Why, if it's a methodology--in addition to being activism--does it have to be called 'feminism'?" It doesn't, I want to say. And he's gone on, "Why the 'fem' when both men and women can employ the methods?" To which I say (to myself), "Yes, Why?" But "fem" I remember is no simple abstraction. "Feminism," I say, "who defines that? Who gets to say what the Feminine is? Now, tell me about your mother. Simply now, please define her for us. Write a dissertation."

She's back. It's after 8am and up to 74 degrees of Texas heat. She remembers talking with our daughters when they were out together last night, "I meant to tell you." One of them has told her (the one who just graduated elementary school), "Our class is R-rated," which translated means that there's some profound promiscuity going on. "But Jake [one of the boys] texted Susan [one of the girls in class] from Arizona saying that he's thinking of turning his life over to Jesus. Isn't that weird." She tells me that she asks our daughter, "Why is that weird?" And our day moves on. I'm going to run that dog, Bear, to the Trinity.

So I write to you now, dear reader. What sense does that make?

it's The End of the world (as we know it) and I feel fine

καὶ διαγενομένου τοῦ σαββάτου Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Ἰακώβου καὶ Σαλώμη ἠγόρασαν ἀρώματα ἵνα ἐλθοῦσαι ἀλείψωσιν αὐτόν

2 καὶ λίαν πρωῒ τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων ἔρχονται ἐπὶ τὸ μνημεῖον ἀνατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλίου

3 καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἑαυτάς τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον ἐκ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου

4 καὶ ἀναβλέψασαι θεωροῦσιν ὅτι ἀποκεκύλισται ὁ λίθος

ἦν γὰρ μέγας σφόδρα

5 καὶ εἰσελθοῦσαι εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον εἶδον νεανίσκον καθήμενον ἐν τοῖς δεξιοῖς περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν

καὶ ἐξεθαμβήθησαν

6δὲ λέγει αὐταῖς μὴ ἐκθαμβεῖσθε Ἰησοῦν ζητεῖτε τὸν Ναζαρηνὸν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον ἠγέρθη οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε ἴδε ὁ τόπος ὅπου ἔθηκαν αὐτόν 7 ἀλλὰ ὑπάγετε εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ καὶ τῷ Πέτρῳ ὅτι προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε καθὼς εἶπεν ὑμῖν

8 καὶ ἐξελθοῦσαι ἔφυγον ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου

εἶχεν γὰρ αὐτὰς τρόμος καὶ ἔκστασις

καὶ οὐδενὶ οὐδὲν εἶπαν

ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ

It’s come to that Seventh Day when Mariam from Magdala, Mariam of Jacob’s family, and Shaloma have been to the market for perfumes to go slather him with.

It’s very early on this one Seventh Day when they go, when on the memorial cave the sun’s just risen.

They’ve talked among themselves: “Who’s going to roll the boulder for us out of the doorway of the memorial cave?”

Looking up, they see that the boulder’s been rolled.

There it was, in fact, massively huge.

Going into the memorial, they observed a youth sitting on the righthand side of a white wrapped up robe.

They were freaked out.

He talks to them: “Don’t freak out. Joshua who you’re searching for who’s from Nazareth who was strung on a cross, he’s gotten up. He is not here, look. The place where he was positioned. The other thing is this. Set off to say this to his apprentices (even to Rocky): “He’s gone off ahead of you all, right into Galilee, where he’ll be observed, just as he said to you all.”

Going out, they ran from the memorial grave.

What they had, in fact, each of one them, were the shakes and weak knees.

Nobody said anything.

Terror had them, in fact.

[UPDATE: there's this alternate updated ending that ends with something like "Amen." It's to tidy up the terror in the text; it's the textual war on terror, if you will. But don't updates, like this one, somehow detract as alternates, unless we stay open to what might have been, which changes what is (as we know it)? If everybody thought that was the original ending, or the final one, then I would just translate that "The End."]

Friday, May 30, 2008

in a Compromised Light

My Sense of Having
Been Required to
Present Myself in a
Compromised Light

That sense is back. I don’t like having to get what I’m writing in my dissertation, of having to conform myself, into dissertation form. Not two years ago, after the three days of all-day writing for my qualifying exams, the committee met with me for the orals. And each professor told me it was my best writing. By my standards it was my worst. What they meant was I had been clear, less playful with the words as when I had written for them in their courses, now more conscious of them for the exams’ sake. One bright spot, for me, was that Dr. Hogg had given a question in which she asked me to critique Nancy Mairs’ assertion that males tend to write and to live in a binary dimorphic way, while the world in which women speak and live and write is in many respects rather polymorphic. So I told a story for that last, final exam, hoping not to undo what my professors later told me I had done in those first five exams. I wrote a biography that was an ethnography that was a Ph.D. exam. And Nancy Mairs, in my memory of one of her best lines by my standards, the one below which ends a story with a beginning, appeared in the epigraph. She writes as most academics don’t or won’t and therefore can’t,

___ I remember walking out of my oral prelims to find my husband waiting, a bottle of Drambuie hidden in a paper bag for a toast.

___ “How did it go?” he asked.

___ “I passed!” I told him, and burst into tears. As a younger woman, I’d believed that opening oneself up to experience—all experience—offered the greatest opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth. Now, suddenly, I saw that there are some experiences one simply ought never to have, and prelims constituted such an experience for me. Over time, my humiliation—my sense of having been required to present myself in a compromised light I would never have chosen, any more than I’d have chosen to strip my misshapen body to its skin, even less—faded, of course. But a sliver of grief remains lodged near my heart.

___ I was surprised, then, rereading years later the essays written for the exam, that their tone hardly sounds bleak or distressed. On the contrary, the voice is breathless with excitement, with exertion, with laughter, but not with anxiety. This woman sounds like she’s having as good a time as I always do when the world drops away and I am left alone with language. Listening to her, I am carried back to a little room with one high window where I hunch intently at a grey metal desk under fluorescent flicker, sucking at cigarettes and red cans of Coke, pushing my fountain pen across sheet after sheet of yellow legal-size paper . . . and sure enough, I’m having a wonderful time.

___ “Self. Life. Writing. Self-life-writing. Selflifewriting,” the first essay of my prelims began.

Oh my! Opinions are subjective. Oh my!

"Opinions are subjective," complains a writer. And so she goes on:
"whenever an opinion is a wrong one, it typically defies the rules of logic."

What's your opinion about that?

"By contrast, interpretations of [a text] are potentially less subjective insofar as they are guided—and guarded—by the tools of historical and literary analysis."

So how do you interpret that?

But above all (and not to be confused with your subjective opinion or your wondering and wandering interpretations), there's "truth itself. . . [which has at the pinnacle] biblical truth which, of course, is inherently reliable and inherently authoritative since it is inspired by God.”

If you get your logic, and it's rules, and your history and literature, with their tools, and grab onto the set of texts given mother nature's nature which is Father God's CPR, then you cannot go wrong. Wrong, of course, is the very opposite of being right. But that's just Aristotle's opinion. What if he's sometimes subjective?

I'm glad the speaker and writer Sarah Sumner has some other opinions.

Laughing at Your Blog? A Truth or Dare Meme

1. What gets the biggest laugh about how you blog?
2. What gets the biggest laugh about what you blog?

Your readers won't tell you to your face, so you may just have to drag your imagination out of denial. This is an open meme, if you can play. Would you dare post, honestly, on 1. and 2.?

(Don't wait for your friends or the researchers to tease this out of you!)

One of my friends on campus who's doing Ph.D. research on blogging, met with me in my office yesterday.

Involuntarily, he laughed (talking about my blog):

"What I find most interesting is your readers' comments to you! It's fascinating that there is anyone on the planet who can talk feminism and rhetoric and translation all at once."

He was laughing at my blog's what. Was he also laughing at me and you too? Are we also The Who?

But by far his biggest "LOL" literally to my face, right in my ears, was on my blog's how. Here's what he tried to tell me:

"Some of your posts are two (chuckle) . . . are two thousand (snicker) . . . are two thousand words long (guffaw). Are you trying to be blogger counter cultural? Do long posts (just smiling now, but a repressed smile) really win you readers? Do you think the world audience is really that patient? That understanding?"

(Which sent me into a bit of slump trying to answer.
I kept wondering about Aristotle's comments on audience,
and what it would have been like if he'd been able to blog his long treatise called the Rhetoric.
And whether university professors of "rhetoric" could assign their graduate students to read his blog.
And about the women, whom Aristotle's blog leaves out, reading his many posts.
And whether anyone who didn't read his Greek would use google translator tools online or alta vista's babelfish.

Now I'm just humming Larry Norman again:

nothing really changes
everything remains the same
we are what we are, till the day that we die

would aristotle be an acid head?)

Who's reading now, and will you play along? Dare you.?

Thursday, May 29, 2008


Sweetbitter things today:

Our youngest daughter graduates from elementary school.
Our eldest daughter didn't make a high school team she tried out for and she's been talking through it with friends and family.
Our son is home from college but looking for work as he hears that one of his good friends may need a heart transplant.
We've had to say goodbye in a memorial, a true celebratory tribute, to a friend and colleague who passed away from injuries from an auto accident just last month.

reminding me that, in his Symposium, Plato has one of his characters, the man, the physician, saying:

στι δ
χθιστα τ ναντιώτατα, ψυχρν θερμ, πικρν γλυκε, ξηρν γρ, πάντα τ τοιαὰῦτα·

Now the most contrary qualities are most hostile to each other--cold and hot, bitter and sweet, dry and moist, and the rest of them.

It's almost as if we cannot change. As if we're in denial about something that Sappho sings. Here's how she and Anne Carson put that:

It was Sappho who first called eros "bittersweet." No one who has been in love disputes her. What does the word mean?
____Eros seemed to Sappho at once an experience of pleasure and pain. Here is contradiction and perhaps paradox. To perceive this eros can split the mind in two. Why? The components of the contradiction may seem, at first glance, obvious. We take for granted, as did Sappho, the sweetness of erotic desire; its pleasurability smiles out at us. But the bitterness is less obvious. There might be several reasons why what is sweet should also be bitter. There may be various relations between the two savors. Poets have sorted the matter out in different ways. Sappho's own formulation is a good place to begin tracing the possibilities. The relevant fragment runs:

ρος δατ μ λυσιμλες δνει,
γλυκπικρον μχανον ρπετον

Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me
sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up
_____________________________(LP, fr. 130)

It is hard to translate. "Sweetbitter" sounds wrong, and yet our standard English rendering "bittersweet" inverts the actual terms of Sappho's compound glukupikron. Should that concern us? If her ordering has a descriptive intention, eros is here being said to bring sweetness, then bitterness in sequence: she is sorting the possibilities chronologically. . . But it is unlikely that this is what Sappho means. . . Love and hate bifurcate Eros. . . . Paradox is what takes shape on the sensitized plate of the poem, a negative image from which positive pictures can be created. Whether apprehended as a dilemma of sensation, action or value, eros prints as the same contradictory fact: love and hate converge within erotic desire.

How She Has to Learn Hebrew

Mary Douglas, anthropologist, opens her essay “Why I Have to Learn Hebrew: The Doctrine of Sanctification” with the question “Why?” (HT John Hobbins). Hers is an excellent question, but I also want us to come around to another: “How?”

First, let’s talk about her “Why?” question. We’ll use some technical anthropological and linguistic jargon. And I do apologize for that to readers who are on the outside of this kind of “academic” culture, and even the subcultures of anthropological linguistics and second language learning and acquisition.

Second, let’s talk about “How?” How can she learn Hebrew?

I may just mention how we work with adults learning English here at Texas Christian University. I might as well say something about how I learned English, Ebonics, and Vietnamese as a child; and Indonesian, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, and Cherokee as an adult. The most challenging language, by far, has been “academic English.” Let me speak some of that a bit now before getting to the fun “How.”

First, here’s how Douglas begins with why. She starts in with a personal non-academic voice to begin her academic essay:

In her old age, my grandmother started to learn Spanish because she wanted to be able to read Don Qixote in the original. My father was derisive: She was giving herself airs, it was absurdly ambitious, she was too old to learn a new language, and so on. Now, here am I, at an even more advanced age than she was then, preparing to learn Hebrew. It is crazy; at least my grandmother had a good basis of Latin and French, but my linguistic qualifications are weaker. It will be painful and a failure; why do I want to try?

Douglas uses the essay, in part, to explain to other academics how she’s after the system of thought constructed in Hebrew by the Hebrews for the cultural notion, or doctrine, of what we technically call “sanctification” in English. She goes on: “If I knew Hebrew, I could read the whole of the Pentateuch to see if the words that have been rendered in English as . . .” and “I might find a gamut of different Hebrew terms that have been gathered together by being rendered in terms of . . . where a nuanced range of words distinguishing sacred from profane, hallowed from unhallowed, consecrated from secular, may be more accurate.” In summary, the “Why?” is to get at the accuracy of English renderings of Hebrew words which have been constructed in a system of Hebrew thought and culture. Douglas’s suspicion, her hypothesis from her position as a Hebrew language outsider, is that “sanctification” assumes the binary at least of “sacred from profane, hallowed from unhallowed, consecrated from secular.”

Now, before we get to the simpler question of “How Douglas can learn Hebrew,” let’s continue with more anthropological and linguistic and academic questions. Here’s one:

How can Douglas test her hypothesis about the binary nature of a Hebrew notion from her own position of observing outsider?

Here’s how. Douglas has to work out her own binary splits imposed by academic culture. (I’m tempted to say something about Aristotle here but will hold off). First, there’s the non-academic / academic split. For example, Douglas has that non-academic voice in the first paragraph of her essay, which sets her up to talk in her academic voice for the rest of the essay. Second, there’s the objective / subjective split. In other words, as an academic at large, she has to hide in some places where she really stands as an academic—she has to pretend objectivity. For example, when writing of a particular English word to note that it “does not prejudice the interpretation” of the Hebrew words, Douglas adds: “Needless to say, this reading would make a lot of difference to feminist complaints against sexist prejudice in the Bible” (page 157). Do notice that Douglas feels no need to say, at this point, whether she is a feminist who has had a feminist complaint.

Academic culture does not smile on subjective feminists or their complaints. But Douglas does get to take her subjectivist position publicly in the Academy. Here’s how:

Douglas is a professional learner, an anthropologist who is a field worker, an ethnographer, an observer of human behaviors that include language as part and parcel of cultural systems. Nonethless, she does not have to be always an “objective” observer. In fact, it is widely acknowledged (and was even protested by anthropologist Marvin Harris) that she took an “emic” and not an “etic” approach to understanding others’ cultures and languages. She is a contructivist. She admires Nelson Goodman and writes an essay to include in a book she co-edits in order to honor Goodman. And in another book Implicit Meanings, she gives this definition that acknowledges that and some “How” language is learned: Language, for example, learned and spoken by individuals, is a social phenomenon produced by continuous interaction between individuals” (page 52).

We should wrap this up (this jargon laden discussion I mean), and get on with talking about “How Douglas has to learn Hebrew.” But let me interject a couple more things. First, the “emic” and “etic” terms are coinages of linguist and anthropologist Kenneth L. Pike, who used the former term (emic) for the subjective and insider perspectives, and the latter term (etic) for more objective and outsider perspectives. Remember, Douglas used the subjective and insider perspectives in her field work. She and Pike both loved Nelson Goodman. Pike loved to paraphrase a statement from Goodman’s book, Ways of Worldmaking. It goes like this: “What we need in our learning and our knowing is ‘Radical relativism within rigid restraints.’” Now, I should add one more little technical thing. Pike strongly believed, and he wrote in Linguistic Concepts, that “One approach to studying language emphasizes that man [or woman] as a user of language affects the nature of the units of his [or her] language. His [or her] reactions to language become part of the data for the study of language, because described expectations of his [or her] reactions are part of the definitions of the structure of language.” I don’t know if Pike and Douglas ever met. But I think she would agree with him when he says, “the observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.”

(Pike, I have said elsewhere, uses a “How” that is similar to the afrafeminist methodologies of Jacqueline Jones Royster; click here to enter another jargon laden subculture).

Second, then, let’s talk about “How?” How can Douglas learn Hebrew?

Is how Douglas learns really as unfortunate as she predicts from the outset that it will be? Remember, she says: “my linguistic qualifications are weaker. It will be painful and a failure.”

This is quite an astonishing self-assessment and prediction, if it’s not hyperbole. But I think Douglas knows going in that “the observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.” In other words, she’s going to change Hebrew by learning it. Of course, she must change too.

There’s no law that tells her What she must learn to “learn” Hebrew.
There’s no enforcement officer forcing her to Do certain drills or exercises a certain way.
There’s not even a living speaker of ancient Hebrew to negotiate with her various meanings.
Rather, there is a good bit of listening, hypothesizing, observing, reading, did I say guessing, failing, and hurting she must do. She may listen to texts and she may read living and dead experts. But she cannot stay the same person and still learn Hebrew. The how requires adult human conversion to one profound degree or another.

Now this is completely different from how Noam Chomsky and Stephen Krashen conceive of language acquisition. (Should we throw Plato and Aristotle in with these guys?) Those men aren’t really after change in the learner so much. No, in fact, they tend to say things like “competence” in “language” is innate. It’s so “natural” that the “natural approach” to “acquisition” really doesn’t require a “teacher.” The deep structure of “language” can be abstracted out and then reapplied to any situation in “performance.” I could go on, but we are doing the academic speak again, and Robert de Beaugrande has this wonderful published article in which he does that so much better. (The article talks a little bit too about how “emics” and “etics” and other things Pike talked about really do help you learn language faster and better. You have to be willing to go places, and talk to people or listen actively, and to get your hands dirty, and to fail, and to change yourself from your own subjective position.)

So I’m going to be a little clever here to get us to imagine better language learning. I’m going to stop for now by quoting Pike. (But do you see what you are doing? You are looking at little bits of alphabetic English on a computer screen or printed page. Really, do you see what you are doing by “reading” so subjectively, so amazing.) This is Pike’s kind of language learning, and it’s the “How” that I’ve learned by and that learners here at TCU best learn by. It is the kind of learning, subjective life changing observing, that Monty Roberts used to learn the language of horses. It’s how Mary Douglas learned cultures, and even the Hebrew language. It is ambigous and humble.

Pike says this (and pardon the academic speak—it is you reading after all):

“In a shared physical-social environment, a person can learn to speak a language without an interpreter. This implies the presence of a shared capacity to learn cross-culturally and to transmit names, social structure, and worldview.”

He is not saying that there is no teacher needed in acquistion that is natural. No, he admits to the pain and the possible failure in such learning. He is saying that the learner is the teacher in the “shared physical-social environment.” Pike is saying that such learning . . .

begins with intersubjectivity, with people working together; but in addition it ties people and things into a package as a starting point. It thus rejects the possibility of starting with abstract minds without reference to the physical world. And, similarly, it rejects the possibility of beginning philosophically with the minimum units of the physical world which may be inaccessible to us in terms of common sense experience. So our [learning] experience is important as being possible—and it delays the necessity for the discussion of ultimate starting points if they are to be stated in terms of presuppositions from mechanism, theism, pantheism, animism, or other postulated sources. It begins with the possibility and relevance of human behavior in physical context. (He elaborates more here in Conviction 1.2.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Churches of Lesbos

Dear theist (especially Christian theist),
I grew up in Việt Nam singing from Thánh Ca in church. When my Texan parents took my siblings and me "home" to America for visits, we'd sing from the Baptist Hymnal. Did we know anything of Sappho, of her influence on us?

Dear feminist,
I am still fascinated by adult human conversion. The most profound changes have come for me, and for our fathers, when we and they have deeply listened to the other openly with audacious hope. Have the newer hymns of the Church of Agia Paraskevi been forgotten?

So, my friends, can we hear stories, our stories of transformation?
What about hymns and Sappho?

Let's listen: Over Sappho, over Lesbos Greece, over the Christian Church, there's been a clash. It's a loveless gong and a clanging cymbal sounded above the songs directed to the sky. It's a burning and a burying. A silencing of histories and of identities, of persons, like you and me. Shall we remember and respect?


Sappho's poem is generally titled the "Hymn to Aphrodite," although it is occasionally listed in some texts as "Ode to Aphrodite." The hymn is a genre that expresses religious emotion and is most often designed to be sung. Sappho's poem almost certainly was performed in this manner. Later hymns, for example those created during the Middle Ages when the creation of hymns became an important expression of religious fervor, were the sole genre of Christian religious expression. In Sappho's time, the hymn was no less fervent. Greeks believed in their gods as fervently as do Christians, who believe in their god and church as an absolute power. Sappho's hymn is analogous to a prayer. She pleads with her goddess, Aphrodite, to intercede on her behalf. She opens the poem with a request for help, moves quickly into recalling past instances when the goddess has helped her, and concludes with an acknowledgement that she and her goddess are united as allies. A careful study of Sappho's "Hymn to Aphrodite" acknowledges its place as a forefather to the later hymns of the Christian church.


Sappho was a Greek poetess and teacher at a girls school on the Island of Lesbos during the 6th century B.C. The exact dates of her birth and death are unknown. Her lyric poetry was so exquisite that Plato called her the “tenth muse.” Much of her poetry was about both the ecstasy and pain of love, which was virtually unknown in poetry until that time. She also wrote hymns of praise to the Greek Goddesses, particularly Aphrodite.

Not much is known about Sappho’s life, and only a few of her works remain.

Early translators, disturbed that many of her passionate love poems were addressed to adolescent girls, simply changed their gender in translation to fit their world view.

Sappho’s books were burned by Christians in 380 A.D. at the insistance of Pope Gregory Nazianzen. The rest of her works may have been destroyed in 1073 A.D. when Pope Gregory VII ordered another book burning.

A Greek court has been asked to draw the line between the natives of the Aegean Sea island of Lesbos and the world’s gay women. . . . One of the plaintiffs said Wednesday that the name of the association, Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, “insults the identity” of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians.

“My sister can’t say she is a Lesbian,” said Dimitris Lambrou. “Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos,” he said.


A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity/deities, a prominent figure or an epic tale. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος hymnos "a song of praise". . .

Christian Hymnody. Originally modeled on the Psalms and other poetic passages (commonly referred to as "canticles") in the Scriptures, it is generally directed as praise and worship to God. Many refer to Jesus Christ either directly or indirectly.

Since the earliest times, Christianity has sung, "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," both in private devotions and in corporate worship (Matthew 26:30; 1 Cor 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:13; cf. Revelation 5:8-10; Revelation 14:1-5).


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sappho, the Bible, and Feminism

This post is an update of the previous one. Nathan Stitt in a comment there kindly directed me to Mary Barnard's Sappho: A New Translation. So now (in addition to those five wonderful translations of Sappho by Edmonds, Cox, Reynolds, Barnstone, and Carson) you readers here get Barnard, Richmond Lattimore, Jane McIntosh Snyder, Diane Rayor, and Josephine Balmer. I'm putting Barnard last because she does some surprising things--you'll see why her English makes us keep Sappho's hymn going.

Now before I get to that let me also update something one principled feminist has said: "I do think that it is entirely appropriate for feminism to drive scholarship." Suzanne McCarthy goes on to explain, in Bible scholarship, how feminism has made some difference.

There have been other moments in blogging in which feminism and Bible scholarship have seemed like oil and water. I do hear my friends all around and on both sides (as if we must split) saying things like: "if it weren't for those feminists, . . . " and "if it wasn't for all the Bible believing Christians I know . . ."

One of my friends, today, has agreed to let me post some of his comments. I'm going to do this without any comment myself right now (but just want to say that we both feel a strain on our friendship). I do want to get on to the Sappho translations below. So here goes and thanks, my friend who has disagreement with me. He writes today:

"Please feel free to quote my e-mail to you, as long as I remain an anonymous (Christian male) voice crying in the wasteland.

I'm glad we can disagree and be friends. What kind of relationship would we have if we could not negotiate a theoretical difference? I say theoretical because, as you suggest, we will never know with certainty Aristotle's heart, both his struggles and virtues. We know many of his intellectual virtues, and they are justly earned.

Now let me say that I do feel offended by the train on which you are riding, but after eight years in higher education I am almost desensitized to it--people will do what they want to do. Specifically, I resent the postmodern and feminist program of attacking male heroes in all spheres of life in an effort to discredit their great contributions to culture by minimizing their known virtues and genius and by magnifying any probability of vices. This includes the Greeks as well as Hebraic heroes. I welcome and enjoy the unearthing and creation of female heroes, but I do not welcome the slander campaigns against their male counterparts. Would they condemn men that women may be justified? (applying Job 40:8). Are not the labels 'dead white males' and 'sausage party' intended to offend? Do they really value ethos that much? Does ethos discredit logos in their eyes? If they were really cultural relativists, as they say they are, would they judge past persons by their own standards? If they admitted to holding certain transcendent standards, then it would be more intellectually respectful, and we could talk about historical sensitivity.

I would say, if you can make a sound argument for your position, without relying on prejudices in your audience in higher education to justify your appeals and your inferences--which happens too often--then you will have put a more solid dart in the ethos of a sacred cow in Western civilization."
Certainly, I welcome any reader's comments on this anonymous open letter. Please know that you'll have to use at least a pseudonym because this blog was spammed again today, and I've had to restrict comments to those who will, like a human being, declare some kind of name.

Alrighty then. Sappho and more of her wonderful English translators:

Ο] μν ππων στρτον ο δ πσδων
ο δ νων φασ π γν μλαιναν
]μμεναι κλλιστον γω δ κν
ττω τς παται.

π]γχυ δ εμαρες σνετον πησαι
π]ντι τ[ο. γρ πλυ περσκπεισα
κ]λλος νθρπων λνα [τνδρα
[κρννεν ρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)


Some there are who say that the fairest thing seen
on the black earth is an array of horsemen;
some, men marching; some would say ships; but I say
_____she whom one loves best

is the loveliest. Light were the work to make this
plain to all, since she, who surpassed in beauty
all mortality, Helen, once forsaking
_____her lordly husband,

(Richmond Lattimore)


Some say that the most beautiful thing
upon the black earth is an army of horsemen;
others, of infantry, still others, of ships;
But I say it is what one loves.

It is completely easy to make this
intelligible to everyone; for the woman
who far surpassed all mortals in beauty,
Helen, left her most brave husband

(Jane McIntosh Snyder)


Some say an army of horsemen, others
say foot-soldiers, still others, a fleet,
is the fairest thing on the dark earth:
I say it is whatever one loves.

Everyone can understand this –
consider that Helen, far surpassing
the beauty of mortals, leaving behind
the best man of all,

(Diane Rayor)


Some an army of horsemen some an army on foot
and some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest sight
on this dark earth; but I say it is what-
ever you desire:

and it it possible to make this perfectly clear
to all; for the woman who far surpassed all others
in her beauty Helen left her husband --
the best of all men

(Josephine Balmer)


To any army wife, in Sardis:

Some say a cavalry corps,
some infantry, some again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is.

This is easily proved: did
not Helen --- she who had scanned
the flower of the world's manhood ---

choose as first among men one
who laid Troy's honor in ruin?
warped to his will, forgetting

love due her own blood, her own
child, she wandered far with him.
So Anactoria, although you

(Mary Barnard)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sappho and the Bible

Because there's been this subtle hint of a suggestion that translation scholarship may get tainted somehow if in any way motivated by "feminist presuppositions,"
and because that's already been reiterated rather loudly elsewhere ("Remember that"! like it's the Alamo or something),
I thought we'd best keep talking.

Here below is some of the work of some of the best scholars in the world translating a fragment of Sappho. And how do excellent and honest scholars do without feminist presuppositions when there's "scholarly" sexism and when it's Sappho? They don't do without them, that's how. However, for a few sexist "scholars" of the Bible who just think and argue about translation, a little Greek word becomes, in translation, a big sacred cow. (At stake for these male teachers is whether women today can teach men today in the church and whether Christian wives today get the exclusive role of submitting to their Christian husbands and whether the sacred Bible with its sacred cow Greek words and their sacred cow English translations can really endorse all of that with scholarship untainted by feminism). So with honest and purposeful motivation, with some serious attempt at a little humor, some of us who say sexism sucks also say today in English translation: "Moo!"

The particular Sappho fragment given below is from her Hymn to Aphrodite (whom Willis Barnstone calls Afroditi). I've clipped that in here below also because a certain Bible "scholar" is trying to make some fairly circumscribed assertions about "the Greek word aner" and about how feminist scholars allegedly and "[r]ecently, with no new evidence, but [applying] cultural pressure, . . . have discovered a new meaning, 'person'," which would overturn what "Greek scholars for hundreds of years have known," namely "that aner means 'man' not 'person.'"

If we're not too distracted by the agendas (both A. the sexist "scholarly" claims that feminists are wrecking scholarship not restoring it and B. the unnecessary concession to the sexist "scholars" that scholarship really best does do without feminist work), then you might just enjoy the translations below.

I've bolded a couple of key words under consideration. Look how the respective (honest, feminist) scholars have translated differently. Wonderfully differently!

νδρα, "one," "him," "man," "men / kin," and "husband."

νθρώπων, "mortal," "mortals," "other woman," "mortals," and "everyone."

Ο] μν ππήων στρότον ο δ πέσδων
ο δ νάων φασ π γν μέλαιναν
]μμεναι κάλλιστον γω δ κν
ττω τς παται.

πά]γχυ δ εμαρες σύνετον πόησαι
πά]ντι τ[ο. γρ πόλυ περσκόπεισα
κά]λλος νθρώπων λένα [τνδρα
[κρίννεν ρ]ιστον,

(Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite III, 1 and 2)


Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of horsemen, and some say a host of foot soldiers, and others again a fleet of ships, but for me it is my beloved. And it is easy to make anyone understand this. When Helen saw the most beautiful of mortals, she chose for best that one,

(J. M. Edmonds)


A troop of horse, the serried ranks of marchers,
A noble fleet, some think these of all on earth
Most beautiful. For me naught else regarding
___Is my beloved.

To understand this is for all most simple,
For thus gazing much on mortal perfectino
And knowing already what life could give her,
___Him chose fair Helen,

(Edwin Marion Cox)


Some say nothing on earth excels in beauty
Fighting men, and call incomparable the lines
Of horse or foot or ships. Let us say rather
Best is what one loves.

This among any who have ever loved
Never wanted proof. Consider Helen: she
in beauty no other woman came near
Left the finest man

(Margaret Reynolds)


Some say cavalry and others claim
infantry or a fleet of long oars
is the supreme sight on the black earth
I say it is

the one you love. And easily proved.
Did not Helen who far surpassed all
Mortals in beauty desert the best
of men, her kin,

(Willis Barnstone)


Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot
and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing
on the black earth. But I say it is
___What you love.

Easy to make this understood by all.
For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
___Left her fine husband

(Anne Carson)


update to clarify: aner and andra are (transliterated) variants of the Greek word νδρα

update to link:

Sappho, the Bible, and Feminism

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rahab's in Rehab and Aristotle's Watching

For some tabloidic reasons that may be obvious, I'm not going to say much more here on two blog posts of yesterday.

First, when Suzanne McCarthy starts what Jane Stranz calls the rehabilitation of Rahab, some of us start humming, involuntarily, that addictive Amy Winehouse song and go back to black over at youtube. Rahab is the most interesting prostitute who ever lived because, like so many, she's become the heroine of many a man without any single one of them ever stopping for a moment to think of her ambiguity. I mean, think of it. Her name in Hebrew male terms means rachav, which in male English terms means "broad, large" and "sea demon" and the "proud one." But, if we're men, let's don't even think about her male Christian story, which must make us think about her sisters too. No no, let's get diverted by what Aristotle calls "natural gender" in English, and do the binary split of that from what men call natural "grammatical gender" in any language. Let's quickly forget about her, and go didactic. Then, guess what, no man has to talk about what he's done to her.

Second, since we've had to talk about Aristotle watching women in sexist ways, remember how Alison Motluck had to start her book review yesterday? (Oh, little ones, please divert your eyes now:)
There's a long-standing debate in sex research about whether female orgasm improves the chances of conception. Hippocrates thought it did; Aristotle disagreed. "You never see anything written about Mrs. Hippocrates or Mrs. Aristotle," Mary Roach writes in her entertaining new book, Bonk, "but I'd put a few drachmas on the former being the one with the spring in her step."
The really important thing Aristotle wants us to know is that he doesn't know her name. We might tell him it's "Rahab" but then again he wants to be definitive and we don't even know Rahab's sisters' names. (Some of the research secrets of men just have to stay hidden. That way they can insist on teaching as experts in grammar and in biology, about sex and women.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Women ski jumpers file lawsuit for Olympics inclusion

This just in from Shortly after women ski jumpers rallied in Vancouver this winter while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was in town, it looks like they're now filing suit against the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 Olympics.

click here for the rest of it.

Earlier this week, Sarah at Think Girl relayed this report from NYT:

The Starting Line: Where Women Are Still Barred From Olympic Participation.

(When David at Lingamish pigeonholed this blog as being at least about "Skiing naked down the slippery slope of rhetoric and feminishticism," this is what he meant.)

The Biggest Mistake of Bible Translators

The absolute biggest mistake that most Bible translators make is this. When their readers ask for bread they give them a stone. Sometimes, it’s a stoning.

What I mean by that harsh statement is this. Translators of the Bible tend to prefer to ossify the original. The original includes not only the ostensibly original “source” text but also these other things as well: the ostensibly original intention of the author; the ostensibly original “inspiration by God” of the writing; the ostensibly original “canon” of “All Scripture.” (But canon now means, not some long stick to measure by, but something that is closed; which implies All that is Not scripture.)

Another way we might put that is this: Lots of translators believe the Bible is some monolithic, inalterable product. No wonder they like to see translation as some kind of freeze drying method of preservation. Equivalence (whether literal or dynamic) between the ostensibly original “source” text and the “target” language text is the absolute end game. There is much sympathy with those Jews who do not really want their religious texts translated unless one will also spend hours, no a lifetime, studying the Hebrew scriptures. There is much understanding of the Muslims who demand that the Koran not be translated at all. There is unwitting identification with Aristotle who could care less for translation, unless it is made into Greek from the Barbarian languages (as were the Hebrew scriptures when commissioned by the lackeys of Alexander the Great who conquered the world for Greece militarily and set up a city named after himself to conquer the world intellectually for Greece as well). When it came to language, Aristotle, by logic, prescribed a monolithic inalterable product, the elite Greek, at the expense of his teachers such as Socrates and Plato and at the expense of his “language arts” enemies such as Isocrates, Gorgias, Heraclitus, Alcidamas, and the woman Aspasia, whom he silences by refusing even to name her. By logic, Aristotle intends cold objectivity in observing the subjects of “nature,” to define and to classify them on an epistemological map that puts right at the top the natural-born educated free adult male Greek who needs listen to no one else except unless to listen in order to gain more authority by which to speak and to be heard.

What are the problems with that then? There are absolutely no problems. None, that is, until the translator wants a Bible reader who can listen with ears to hear. Or wants himself or herself to have ears to hear.

Quickly now (because my fifteen minutes for this post are nearly gone), there are some notable, remarkable exceptions to the stone-cold tendencies of most Bible translators today.

Let’s remember a few:

First, we say with Jesus and with James K. A. Smith that interpretation is part and parcel of whatever the image of God on humans is. Before the snake and the humans started speaking different languages, the humans were naming and the snake wasn’t. The fall of interpretation comes after “the fall of man.” One story was beside another in the garden—this was a parable like those of Jesus, requiring interpretative personal interaction between a male and a female who were side by side.

Second, after Babel and before Pentecost, there was translation in the Bible. What we call Ezra 4:7 and 4:18 and Nehemiah 8:8 attest to that.

Third, the first translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, in Alexandria, were very very conscious (as their choices tell us) that Greek rhetoric could be used rather resistantly in translation, for translation. They were using the words in ambiguous ways, but permissible and personable ways too, like the ways Carolyn Custis James uses her English warrior for Ruth who was not always and only what others might lock down as only and always a mere help meet for the man, Boaz. And these are the ways Mary Sidney takes over the translation project when her brother passes away, making the sin sickness of David also leprosy, which was before AIDS, which the Countess might have made it today if we were still writing Shakespeakean sonnets to shake the womanizing King out of his complacency, and ours. They were comparing the Bible words to Greek poetry, the ways Sappho’s love poem with its co-warrior word speaks to Adam and Boaz and Solomon on Suzanne’s Bookshelf.

Fourth, the post-Pharisee, dual (Roman-Jew) citizen, Paul could use Greek rhetoric and dialectic in the Greek tongue in Athens on Ares’ Rock. He could also shift to spoken Aramaic and could read written Hebrew and likely was as facile in Latin. This was long before the United Nations and the simultaneous translators there whom contemporary Bible translator Karen Jobes is getting some of us to consider as a model.

Fifth, there’s Jesus again, who comes long before Kenneth L. Pike. Pike we mention again because he rightly insisted on putting person above logic. He wasn’t denying any of us that beautiful thing of Aristotle’s creation called “logic”; but he recognized that starting with formalisms, such as abstract logic, and math, and other such mechanizations finally locks down language learning and translation in such a way that almost no learning takes place and the translation that might grow into ears that might hear gets stunted by shallow rocks. So Pike would demonstrate profound listening to the other, in her language (not his) which he’d never heard before. And he would learn masterfully, on and by her terms. Then they’d talk together. And at the end of that “monolingual” demonstration—which was in one language, hers—he’d talk with anyone else who would listen, in their language, usually English. And we who pretend, usually, to speak Academic English (remember Aristotle?) would listen. Pike would usually end with non-academic poetry, not hoping we would all become literary critics, but rather hoping we’d remember to be personable before we were robots of logic.

Sixth, there are those other apprentices of Jesus, the flunkies, the men who abandoned him in his darkest hour. They’re his first translators, and he was insistent on that. They wrote what they heard him say, translated it into Greek, and made it very personal. They translated it into bread.

Seventh, oops. I made a mistake. Worrying about origins, I forget to mention the very beginning translators of Jesus. There was this woman who was once plagued by a Greek deity or two. She’d heard him speaking Greek, this Jewish Rabbi, with a woman no less, an ethnic woman and then another. And she’d watched him melt at her rhetoric, her insistence that she (this ethnic woman and another one too) not be excluded from table scraps falling from the table of the children of the elites. You see, these mothers (the ethnic Greek speakers) had daughters who’d been caught by the Greek deities. And she’d seen him (the original woman I’m talking about); she’d seen him talking with those Greek deities too. The power of personal translation. Logic and target and source and stone cold accuracy of the original wasn’t the issue here. So, after he’d experienced the biggest change and bodily translation and transformation any human being will ever make, he trusted this one woman. He trusted her to translate his experience, and now hers of encounter with him after death, to those men hiding away up in a room. Fortunately, they listened. And learned that translation was personal. That’s how we have our daily bread.

(Update: Bread is what some of us men, and women too, bake in the kitchen.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Births, Babies, and Bastards: Just Words

Eliminating racism
Empowering women
--sign on the side of the ywca van west-bound on I-30 this morning in Fort Worth, Texas USA

The origin is a masculine myth. . . .
The question, ‘Where do I come from?’ is basically a masculine, much more than a feminine question. The quest for origins, illustrated by Oedipus, doesn’t haunt a feminine unconscious. Rather it’s the beginning, or beginnings, the manner of beginning, not promptly with the phallus, but starting on all sides at once, that makes a feminine writing. A feminine text starts on all sides at once, starts twenty times, thirty times, over.
--Hélène Cixous, “Castration or Decapitation?” tr. Annette Kuhn, Signs 7 (Autumn 1981): 53. fr. Nancy Mairs, “Essaying the Feminine,” Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer, 85

Around the blogosphere are signs of word birth, and questions of origins or of beginnings, with more questions about legitimacy or otherings.

  • April DeConick has begun a new word for better work in history writing. So far, the begininngs are here, and here, and here, and here, and here.
  • Some men (yes some of us men) are concerned about the origin of an old word. (Don’t ask us what haunts us, please; and you have to scroll down past the pics of one Mr. Bean to the real serious hauntings.)
  • Othering men (yes that kind) used original words to dis-empower women through words
  • Other othering men used others original words, not to eliminate, but to perpetuate the denigration of human beings of races "darker."
  • Jonathan Tilove more than a year ago wanted to know the origins of one of Barack Obama’s phrases.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Starting Line: Where Women Are Still Barred From Olympic Participation

Sarah at Think Girl relays this report from NYT:

". . . despite the Olympic Charter’s prohibition against any form of discrimination, including sex discrimination, a handful of countries bar women from participating in Olympic sports for cultural and religions reasons and will field male-only teams at the Beijing Games. Those countries include Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Other countries restrict women’s participation in sports that require 'immodest dress.' At the 2004 Athens Games, . . . Iran’s only female athletes competed in pistol and rifle shooting."


Of course, this continues the original tradition of the Olympics started by men for men only in Greece:

"The original Olympic Games (Greek: Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες; Olympiakoi Agones) were first recorded in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece, and were celebrated until AD 393. . . Paris was . . . the first Olympic Games where women were allowed to compete [in AD 1900]."

Nancy Mairs: on herself, Michel de Montaigne, and you

In my writing, I try to sustain a kind of intellectual double vision: to see the feminine both as that which language represses and renders unrepresentable by any human being, male or female, and as that which in social, political, and economic terms represents experiences peculiar to the female. I want my femininity both ways—indeed, I want it as many ways as I can get it. I am the woman writer. Don’t ask me for impregnable argument. As far as I’m concerned, my text is flawed not when it is ambiguous or even contradictory, but only when it leaves you no room for stories of your own. I keep my tale as wide open as I can. It’s more fun this way. Trust me.

Like the French feminists, I subscribe to the premise that the world we experience is itself an immense text that in spite of its apparent complexity has been made in Western thought to rest on a too-simple structural principle opposing reason to emotion, activity to passivity, and so on, every pair reflecting the most basic dichotomy—“male” and “female.” Like them, I seek to disrupt the binary structure of this text, or Logos, through l’écriture féminine, which “not only combines theory with subjectivism that confounds the protocols of scholarly discourse, it also strives to break the phallologic boundaries between critical analysis, essay, fiction, and poetry.”

Hence, I write essays in the Montaignesque sense of the word: not the oxymoronic “argumentative essays” beloved by teachers of composition, which formalize and ritualize intellectual combat with the objective of demolishing the opposition, but tests, trials, tentative rather than contentious, opposed to nothing, conciliatory, reconciliatory, seeking a mutuality with the reader which will not sway her to a point of view but will incorporate her into the process, their informing movement associative and suggestive, not analytic and declarative.

“If my mind could gain a firm footing,” writes Montaigne, “I would not make essays, I would make decisions; but it is always in apprenticeship and on trial.” In fact, the details of Montaigne’s life demonstrate that he was fully capable of making decisions; in his essays he set aside this capacity. “Thus his starting points are not intended to engage a war of opinions,” says John O’Neill of the Montaignesque writer, “they are rather subjunctive alliances for the sake of exploring what hitherto had been shared terrain. By the same token, the conclusions reached are not meant to be absolute, but only what seems reasonable as a shared experience.” And, as O’Neill points out, “Montaigne found thinking difficult because he rejected the easy assembly of philosophy and theology careless of man’s embodied state,” aware that the “loss in scholastic abstractions is that they can be mastered without thought and that men can then build up fantastic constructions through which they separate the mind from the body, masters from slaves, life from death, while in reality nothing matches these distinctions.”

Preference for relation over opposition, plurality over dichotomy, embodiment over cerebration: Montaigne’s begins to sound like a feminist project. Which is not to say that Montaigne was a feminist. (“You are too noble-spirited,” he was able to write to the Comtesse de Gurson when she was expecting her first child, “to begin otherwise than with a male.”) But whether intentionally or not, Montaigne invented, or perhaps renewed, a mode open and flexible enough to enable the feminine inscription of human experience as no other does. The importance of this contribution has been largely overlooked, perhaps because many of Montaigne’s statements, as well as his constant reliance on prior patriarchal authority, strike one as thoroughly masculine, and also because the meaning of essay has traveled so far from Montaigne’s that the word may be used to describe any short piece of nonfiction, no matter how rigid and combative.

“Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book,” Montaigne writes in his preface to the essays. “You would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Velveteen Jesus, or How Postmodernism Becomes Real

This is in response to someone’s pigeonholing email question: “Are you really a Christian, a feminist, a postmodernist, or . . . ?”

Here’s a short response: “I’m only really just glad you asked in email, so respectfully, and privately. (Do feel free to reply here publicly, or to continue the email dialog).”

Here’s the long response:

One of my wife’s friends recommended to her the book, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, which seems to me at first glance an adult’s version of Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real. I’m imagining a sort of postmodernist’s guide to the galaxy of Christianity and a Christian’s guide to the galaxy of postmodernism.

For some reason, in my “quiet time” this morning, I thought about that. I was reading in the gospel of Mark and came across this reply of Jesus to a public pigeonholing question:

γ εμι κα ψεσθε τν υἱὸν το νθρπου κ δεξιν καθμενον τς δυνμεως κα ρχμενον μετ τν νεφελν το ορανο

While I was thinking about repainting and Elvis and was chasing other real metaphorical rabbits, like your email, it dawned on me that Aristotle almost never answered in the first person like Jesus did. But then again, I’m not sure Aristotle said what Jesus said, did what he did, or was questioned as he was. Jesus was so much more blatantly subjective than Aristotle. And Aristotle was not always as pigeonholed as Jesus. Aristotle was much more the pigeonholer, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, seems to me Mark is translating an inside joke here between this Joshua (of Nazareth) and the religious leaders who are trying to pigeon hole. Somehow, the subjectivity gets him into loads of trouble, painful stuff.

Now, one of my favorite Bible translators seems not to be a Christian, but neither was Jesus. So I think we might as well see how Willis Barnstone translates Mark’s Greek translation. It’s that Greek blurb earlier in this post, or Mark 14:62 in your Bible, which Barnstone puts this way:

Yeshua said,
I am.
“And you will see the earthly son
seated on the right of the power”
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Now, Barnstone gives us English readers something Mark doesn’t give us Greek readers: a footnote. It goes like this: Lines 1 and 3 of Hebrew scripture cited are from Daniel 7.13, and line 2 from Psalms 110.1. I presume Mark’s readers might know the Hebrew scripture references, albeit perhaps in Greek translation. At any rate, the Hebrew, and the Aramaic Jesus presumably speaks, and the Greek, and now the English all give us some sort of residue of the inside joke.

In this, there’s the kind of cultural literacy going on that some of the reporters speculated about recently when U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama started asking supporters to get their friends, relatives, and even their “cousin pookie” to vote. (That was before all the Reverend Jeremiah Wright strange-brew brouhaha, which seems to be to many now, no laughing matter).

So now the finger points to me, at me. Okay, it is your private email to me. But it is letting me know that I’m working here and doing rhetoric research at a university (with “Christian” as its middle name), where there was that recent stir over whether the divinity school faculty members here had any business at all, once upon a time, inviting the Reverend Wright to campus for an honor, for helping his church help people who really needed it, once upon a time. Stranger than fiction. “So, what are you doing there? And who do you think you are? And where do you stand on Christianity, on feminism, on postmodernism?”

Let me just say this. Can I ask this of us? “Let’s not talk like the disembodied head in That Hideous Strength, you know, in that novel C.S. Lewis wrote. Remember it took all the imagination he could muster to get his evil characters imagining, in the “Moonlight at Belbury,” that they should “Learn to make our brains live with less and less body; learn to build our bodies directly with chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce ourselves without copulation.”

See what happens? The body is for sex, for race, for person, for brain, for food and food for thought both. That’s extremely utterly personal stuff. So let’s take care lest we pigeon hole it, or lop it, or the like. Let’s re-member it. We are created equal, male and female, in his image; he said, Let us create them.

Other things can happen from time to time, even when “Christians” try it. When there are attempts to pigeon hole someone, without listening to him or to her, when making them into just a head.

Once upon a time, a visiting Scholar to TCU, to our divinity school got something published in our magazine. He came as a distinguished professor-in-residence at Brite Divinity School and president emeritus of the Cambridge Theological Federation in England. And he wrote the cover article which he entitled “Questioning Faith” and which he ended “some of the foundation is firmly laid.” To me, he was trying to use velvet to make Jesus real for everyone. The scholar made Jesus out to be some disembodied head, and completely ignored what all of my friends of various bodies (male, female, “red and yellow black and white”) believe about this person.

So I wrote a response, which says I suppose as much about me and my Christianity, feminism, and postmodernism. Here’s what I said (and let me just say in this headnote that I’m the “guest linguist” I mention here):

The journalists from the Dallas Morning News aren't yet asking, "Does Brite Divinity School teach only humans?" or "Are non-humans excluded from the list of 'acceptable' students?" Nonetheless, the press could be concerned.

First, very many religious people understand the problem of "species-ism." (The problem has been carefully reported by a Hindu student in one of my writing classes.)

Second, there is university research on the intelligent communication of pygmy chimpanzees, challenging the widely-held view that only humans are capable of language. Third, at least one well-respected TCU Religion Professor has conversed (via a human interpreter in India) with a pachyderm named Emily the Elephant; privately, he now questions to me the assertion of linguist Noam Chomsky that "The human faculty of language seems to be a true 'species property,' varying little among humans and without significant analogue elsewhere."

Public questions about lines of discrimination can be dicey in America, where the intolerant elite rudely draw hegemonic lines. So there's no surprise when several TCU Religion professors and students couldn't or wouldn't answer the question, "What is religion?" (a question posed by a guest linguist talking with the religion department on "Language and Religion"). To define 'religion' might be to exclude any one of the various religions represented by the audience. And it's no surprise that Brite distinguished Professor-in-Residence Kenneth Cracknell gives Universalistic answers to a Dallas Morning News reporter's questions ("Questioning Faith," Summer issue).

Universalism's "Christian theology of religion" works to show that "[the Christian] God will find many non-Christians 'acceptable.' " Its concern is to erase those "strange" lines "that Christians throughout their history have spent so much time" drawing and redrawing as "middle walls of partition." But how strange this Universalism would seem to the religious Buddhists and Confucianists and Taoists and Moslems and Animists and syncretistic Hindus I've met in Viet Nam, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Most would describe their respective faiths as "a million miles away" from any absolute drift towards a trinitarian god whose sole door to the afterlife is Jesus Christ, even if that Christ is "unknown" or "latent." These individuals do pray: to ancestors, or to a plethora of spirits and gods, or to the One God whose chief prophet supercedes Jesus, or to no god at all.

Could a Christian deity be tricking all religious non-Christians into praying to him and thereby surreptitiously drawing them closer to him than many Christians? No, the trick is the Euro-centric construct of a small society of professors in North America.

My non-Christian friends in Southeast Asia would find the Universalist meta-narrative suspect. My Christian friends are suspicious too. The Universalist excludes the views of many, many others by imposing an either-or choice: Either there's a snobbish bigot of a God who "condemns the great majority of humankind to hell" just because they won't buckle under and "believe in Jesus Christ"; or there's a smiling wimp of a god who glosses over even the most heinous evil of the most wicked persons -- especially if they're a part of "a fast-growing religious community" of some sort -- so that "absolutely no human being . . .is outside [this god's] convenant."

Let the reporter ask, "Is the Universalist's the only way to legitimately read the Bible?" But whisper your answer to Emily.