Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What If: a Summary of My Dissertation (Story), so far

This dissertation offers the beginnings of a new and, I think, needed translation of an ancient Greek text into English. The text is the Rhetoric of Aristotle. This particular treatise has been translated at least nine different times, and I’ve looked at all of them and at Aristotle’s Greek. So what makes me want to try this again?

Well, I’ve been in grad school studying rhetoric where Aristotle’s this iconic figure and his Rhetoric is the book we’re all supposed to know and refer back to. From it, supposedly, we get the definition of “rhetoric.” We also get the definition of “enthymeme,” “logos,” “pathos,” “ethos,” “pistis,” “stasis,” and a whole host of such important things. Want to hear the definition of rhetoric? “Rhetoric is the antistrophos of dialectic.” Now, I’ve been reading Greek since undergrad school, about a quarter of a century now. And I’ve been to grad school before, for a Master oFarts in linguistics. Published and presented stuff internationally on research I did in other countries in other languages. I’ve been a college level writing instructor for more than two decades and have run English as a second language programs that long too. I can write simple, and simply, and clear. Did any of that prepare me for “rhetoric” and Aristotle? No.

Aristotle is a sexist and a bigot. He’s obsessed with animal sex, and he puts males over females. He puts logic over rhetoric, whatever that is. And if he had his way, none of what he wrote in “pure Greek” would ever get corrupted in translation.

So in grad school now we read Aristotle and his Rhetoric in translation. Except most of the time these translators just follow Aristotle’s logic faithfully. They don’t really want to translate; they just gloss over the Greek letters with their English alphabet. They also gloss over the fact that Aristotle writes women down and out of his texts. He’s got a daughter, and had one wife and then a concubine. He sees them all as botched, as reasons to watch the animals more. One of the women, finally, gives him a son. He writes a book of “Ethics” that he names after that boy. Won’t name his wives or his daughter. Why?

Now I’m finding that women are rightly pretty pissed at that. I am too. The whole idea that women are somehow lower than men, by Nature, is an affront to Mother nature. My wife and my son and my daughters now call me a feminist. My youngest daughter asks why all people aren’t feminists. Exactly.

Except there are men like Aristotle, men like his translators, men like my own dad. They see translation as following the original intention of the author and his text. Some women “submit” to that whole notion too. The text. Only problem is they think feminists are too shrill when calling this text, “phallogocentric.” A French feminist (woman) translates that word from a Brazilian Portuguese speaking feminist (woman) and lets an English feminist (man) with a Polish name make it English. (Hey, I learned not to “name-drop” in grad school, so email me privately if you want to hear my thoughts about the fab Hélène Cixous, the amazing Clarice Lispector, and the incredible Eric Prenowitz). They make “phal-” from Aristotle’s φαλλικὰ (“ph-a-l-l-ika”); “logo,” from Aristotle’s λόγος (or “l-o-g-os”) which he himself makes (by) his λογική (or “l-o-g-ikē” aka LOGIC). The centric thing? Well, that’s from Aristotle’s κεντρική (or “k-e-n-tr-ikē”). The Portuguese speaking Brazillian feminst (woman) calls all of that Aristotle’s “system of inflexible last judgment.” Icky stuff.

So, I’m writing a dissertation. It’s part and parcel of some system. Can’t figure out yet which one. If I had to write so systematically, I’d probably start chapter 3 (as I did a week or so ago in a draft, this shitty one that Ann Lamott told me to write) with a quote from an American feminist (woman). I read this for my qualifying exams, once upon a time. It goes like this:

According to Aristotle’s aesthetics, a narrative must be arranged according to some organizing principle. . . . Aristotle also offers us the classificatory system of binaries to help us order our stories, to order our experiences, to order ourselves. . . .But perhaps Woman can (un)speak in the unthought, not-yet-thought, non-spaces produced by alternative paradigms, by new idioms, by paralogical and paratactical and, thus, illegitmate discourses. What . . . if our narrative had no syllogistic, metonymic, linear or triangular structure? . . . What if Truth were a Woman . . . what then? Cixous replies, Then all stories would have to be told differently. . . .


Sue said...

Hey, good to see what you are really about.

Right now I am on to two topics. The first is stoicheia in Aristotle and Plato and whether it is letters or phonemes, and extractable or abstractables. So, then what does otiot (letters) mean in Sefer Yetzirah, letters or phonemes.

Then, the other is "tongue" lashon in Sefer Yetzirah. Obviously one of the copyists who added material to Sefer Yetzirah considered it a phallic symbol, that is clear. So is this because language lashon (tongue) is generative, like the phallus. Is this why some thought that God used language (the tongue) to make the world, because of its generative capacity?

So I am struggling with some Greek and some Hebrew, and since it is only a term paper I don't really have time to reread every reference in Plato and Aristotle to stoicheia and logos.

BTW, this is a language study, not a gender study, the phallic symbol just jumped off the page at me. Hey, I said, what are you doing here, I am trying to escape from writing about gender and want to write about language. No such thing, he said, as language without gender.

Fun, eh?

Anonymous said...

How useful and clear, this Cliffs Notes version of your dissertation. Woot!

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks so much for sharing some of your important work, and fun with it too! love the last lines in your comment, btw.

I'm just smiling!