Friday, October 31, 2008

Jesus S(L)aves

Jesus S(L)aves is a bad pun for a title to continue a series of posts. At the end, here, I'll link to the previous posts. But I'm trying to say a few things about how language and translation can foster slavery or can help to free slaves. I mean that both metaphorically and literally. (I mean no disrespect whatsoever to those who love Jesus. But "what's in a name," I'll ask here below.)


cartoon caption: "'Slave Market. Buy One, Set One Free!' Apparently it's some sort of humanitarian special offer."

Sexism goes hand in hand with racism and race-based slavery. In the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible, sexism and slavery hardly give way to egalitarianism or to abolitionism (until the bibles are read richly with various "second meanings" and not just The logical intention of some presumed singular author--such as God, who is male or neutered like the Wizard of Oz). And, in the United Kingdom and the USA, slavery (up through the 19th century) and sexism have been quite compatible (with Western-culture defenders of race separations and of female subjugations often arguing from the Bible). And in ancient Greece and ancient Rome (through the collapse of their empires), slavery and sexism are, together, the status quo.

Why? Well. Likely, it's the force of masculinist logic.

Aristotle not only gives his stamp of approval to slavery and to sexism (by owning people and by silencing women) but he also develops slavery and sexism out of his phallic logic of ethnocentrism, his purist logic. By logic, Aristotle perpetuates (1) misogyny and gynophobia; perpetuates (2) suspicion of rhetoric and hate of punning; and, of course, perpetuates (3) the denigration of the impure and lesser races as natural-born slaves out of his deep fear of darker-skinned peoples.

The fairly simple game of logic is this: define by the binary; classify by the hierarchy. The straight and rigid syllogistic process starts with the cold, objective, obvious "given" of nature, and moves, orderly through the sequenced premised statements, to the invariable conclusion. Aristotle, by logic, excludes the middle: there must be either the right answer, or what is NOT right (i.e., therefore "wrong"). Whatever is NOT the conclusion is ILLogical. Whatever is of "nature" (i.e. "physics") is supreme--the facts of nature always derive everything that must come "after nature" (i.e., "metaphysics"). Logic is all very thought through; it's very rationale; it can be taught in an undergraduate course in the UK and in the USA. I know, I took such a course. I learned logic under the very same professor who taught my father logic years before.

By his logic, Aristotle concludes:
that females are botched males, and that some humans are natural born slaves;
that logic itself is better hierarchically than poetry and rhetoric and parable and hyperbole and the super-natural and dialectic; and
that his elite Athenian Greek language is the central language for the world.

By logic, it is not extreme, then, for Aristotle's student Alexander the Great to conquer the world. (Aristotle's students are only males and only of the Greek race and only of the elite class). In fact, world domination by educated Greek men is logical. It is not extreme, by logic, to call for the major texts of the world to be brought to Alexandria to be translated into Greek.

cartoon caption: "Dog / Cat Dictionary. Not too difficult, says the one dog to the other, trying to find 1:1 correlations between pictured cat words : pictured dog words"

Translators today use Aristotle's logic, especially translators of the Bible who want its ostensibly-singular meaning to be pure.

So when someone like Mike Sangrey at the Better Bibles Blog concedes that the biblical texts are polysemous, he says something like this: "So, yes, the original pun adds significantly to the understanding of the text." But his logical conclusion is this: "it is better to understand the meaning of the text" or, in other words, "In any case, the fact of a pun in the original doesn’t mean we have to come up with a pun in English. The goal is to bring over the meaning from the original and into the English." What Sangrey means by "meaning" is that the text has one and only one (main) intention. And to translate is to map (in "dynamic equivalence") that singular meaning from Greek (or Hebrew) into English. In the event of a pun, which Aristotle also detests, Sangrey concludes that the goal of the translator is still singular. Hierarchically, the one and only certain meaning of the text (as the translator puts it in the "target" language) is "better" than reproducing a pun (in that "target" language). Before any of us protests "How fun is that?," we may want to recognize that Bible translation by Aristotle's logic is pretty serious business.

Ironically, human language and what we do with it is not like logic. For the ancient Greeks, human language practice is λόγος (or “logos”); in contrast, Aristotle names his observational procedure λογική (or “logic”). Logos is a pun with many meanings. Logic, in contrast, forces one reasonable meaning, the only meaning allowed.

Ironically, the texts of the authors of the Hebrew bible and the Greek-written bible is written in human language, not in logic. Ironically, as Willis Barnstone recognizes, "Much of the Old and most of the New Testament is disguised translation, and so the Bible passes uniformly as a sacred original."

Ironically, linguists who are bible translators resort to Aristotle's logic rather than to the kind of logos practices of the first translators of the bible. The first translators were the Jews who were forced to translate their scriptures from Hebrew into Greek by conqueror Alexander's lackey Egyptian king in Alexandria. The later translators were the Jews who used Greek to write the letters and prophecies and histories called the "new testament." These translators of the bible texts used logos principles in defiance of Aristotle's logic.

Ironically, linguists who use Aristotle's logic read the text univocally. Wayne Leman of the Better Bibles Blog has said, "I don't think that Paul wrote ambiguously. I am suggesting that we today do not always understand what Paul meant by what he wrote. (Lack of clarity is technically different from ambiguity.)" And Leman has said to me (I just can't find the quotation now) that he thinks it doesn't matter what translation methods were used by the first Jewish translators of the Hebrew scriptures. Dynamic equivalence the preferred logic today, assuming the original text has its meaning and the target the equivalent meaning.

(To be clear, neither Sangrey nor Leman is either sexist or pro-slavery! All I'm saying is they, like Aristotle, reduce logos to logic; and they reduce pun to one, and translation to "the equivalence" of the one meaning.)

Since Leman brings up Paul, I think it's fair to look at just how ambiguous Paul could be.

But first, let me say how different Jesus is from Aristotle. Jesus is the one his student John calls the "logos" (not the "logic"); and Jesus uses methods of ambiguous puns, dangerous extremes (hyperbole), of subjective comparisons (parable, or fable), of the supernatural (and not just nature and meta-nature), of graceful poetry (not always prose), of rhetoric (as in his preaching and teaching), and of dialectic (which sounds a lot like Socrates and Aspasia, a woman). Since I mention a woman, Jesus was womanly and treated females with the utmost respect (not just in contrast to the Jewish and Greek and Roman men around him). Jesus also confused the categories of "teacher" and "learner" and "friend," and "master" and "slave," and Paul says he actually became a slave. Before we look at Paul more, I should say that Barnstone thinks that the logical translation of the English "Jesus" is actually a Christian-racist move. To make him "Jesus" and not (ambiguously) "Joshua" (or "Yeshua"), and to make his mother "Mary" and not (ambiguously) "Mariam," is to rob them of their Jewish identities. The common Jewish names tended to have meaning(s). Saul, for instance, connotes the first failed king whose name means, roughly, "prayed for." But Paul, in Greek, also means something like "small," or little.

Paul, some say, makes a big deal out of this. Paul changes Jewish sects from the "Pharisees" (or Barnstone says from the "Prushim") to the learners of "Yeshua," and this seems a lot more lowly and less kingly, hence the name change from Saul to Paul.

Now a couple of other bibliobloggers have called one little text by Paul particularly radical. It was his subtle-antislavery text. Unfortunately, Christians in the UK and in the USA who read it translated logically and unambiguously also fail to read it in all it's fullness.

Here's how David Ker describes the text of punchy puns by Paul:
We talked a bit about Paul’s teaching on men, especially the idea of the pater-familias who ruled his house in New Testament times with a heavy hand. The little book of Philemon seems pretty dull to us today, but it must have been dynamite in Colossae. It would be hard to imagine a master taking back a runaway slave without punishment and even being asked to call him brother.
Here's how Ben Witherington III, getting into rhetoric a bit, describes Paul's text:
C. Beyond the Basics—Cultural Scripts and Ancient Persuasion The psychological dynamics of any given culture are not only unique and particular, they are often difficult to assess. For example, what is considered humorous in one culture may well seem offensive in another, and likewise what is considered persuasive in one culture may seem unconvincing in another. It’s not just a matter of trotting out ironclad rules of universal logic. The issue is culture specific. I say this now because a fair bit of the rhetoric of the NT, will seem manipulative to us in our post-modern situation. It will look like emotive arm twisting, as we shall see when we examine in some detail Paul’s tour de force argument in Philemon.

If the text is "dynamite" and is "not just a matter of trotting out ironclad rules of universal logic" but is exhibit A for a "fair bit of the rhetoric" and "emotive arm twisting," then the logical translation fails to show that. Paul is small. Philemon is the affectionate loving one who owns a slave. The runaway slave is Onesimus, who's name is a pun on "useful." "Useful" is a pun on what we have come to know as the word "Christ" or "Christian" or "little Christ." The belly ache for Paul is love for other people. And there's so much more to get here that logic does not get.

Paul's Greek is punny and liberating literally. Some time back, I tried to show some of that too, in literary English also. By logic in the USA, there's something different from the pun. By logic, there's slavery, even in the "translation" of the "new testament" and the "old testament." By logic, there's "separate but equal" between former slaves and their owners.

So what I'm trying to show now, through this series of posts, and lots of words, is how puns mirror good translation, and good translation mirrors feminist rhetorical discourse.

The Birth of 'Frankenstein'


The Birth of 'Frankenstein'

A new edition of the novel sheds light on the Shelleys' collaborative relationship

Nobody shouts "It's alive!" in the novel that gave birth to Frankenstein's monster. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, does not feature mad scientists messing around with beakers in laboratories, nor does it deliver any bug-eyed assistants named Igor. Hollywood has given us those stock images, but the story of the monster and his maker owes its essential power to the imagination of an 18-year-old woman and the waking nightmare she had by the shores of Lake Geneva one rainy summer almost 200 years ago.

If, that is, you believe that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley really was the genius behind one of our most enduring tales of existential horror. Almost from the moment that it was published anonymously on New Year's Day 1818, Frankenstein had readers and critics arguing over its origins. Early rumor held that it wasn't Mary Shelley but her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who deserved the credit. (Or the blame; some early readers were outraged by the novel's idea that a man could play God and create life.) Even after the couple confirmed Mary's authorship and her name appeared on new editions in 1823 and 1831, some critics held on to the idea that Percy was the guiding spirit behind Frankenstein....

That's where the debate heats up. How much of a participant was Mary Shelley's better half? Should Percy be considered a co-creator of her masterpiece? Was he a co-opter of her genius? Was he Mary's Svengali, her Max Perkins, or merely a good copy editor?

Thanks to the dogged textual work of a scholar named Charles E. Robinson, a professor of English at the University of Delaware, readers will now be able to see for themselves what Mary wrote before she turned it over to Percy's editorial ministrations....

In her introduction to the 1831 edition, Mary Shelley claimed the novel as her own. She also acknowledged that Percy's influence on it was very real. "I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it was presented to the world," she wrote. (She went on to add, however, that the preface to the first edition — ostensibly written by the author — was Percy's work "as far as I can recollect.")

In the eyes of some contemporaries, Mary's gender was enough to disqualify her as Frankenstein's author. "The first reviews were completely unprepared to entertain the possibility that the anonymous author of such a heterodox, nearly blasphemous work (it had trouble securing a publisher) could be a young woman," wrote Wolfson in "Reconstructing Frankenstein," a 1998 review of Robinson's Frankenstein Notebooks....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Puns, Translations, Females, Slaves, Bibles

This is a continuation of two earlier posts on puns, translations, females, slaves, and bibles.


cartoon caption: "Gene, I've never met a female that wasn't a double crosser."

Cartoonist Dan Reynolds provides the art above here--and Suzanne Jill Levine, in that first post, got us thinking about translating puns with her translation of the impossible Italian pun traduttore, traditore [meaning “translator, traitor,”], which she puts in English as "wordplay, an identity in sound, a similarity in difference, [that] forces the translator to transloot, to be a traitor." In that second post, Levine gets us listening to Plato and Socrates; and Anne Carson has us overhearing Aristophanes and Aristotle; and Katharine Kittredge lets us eavesdrop more on these guys and on Jonathan Swift whose pun Gulliver's [gullible] Travels got the reader travelling through his novel wondering whether they are as prone to the jokes.

(Remember the Laputan women, who are "la puta," the whores much less reasonable than their men. And that one woman, the wife, from Swift's Juvenal's tale runs off with the slave. There is so much English, British, and Roman male punning here that we need a graduate course in literature to get at most of it. The pun becomes an inside joke, a test of cultural literacy, a snobbish means of inclusion into the gentleman's club. That's The Gentleman's Club, you know.)

But, in this post, I want to look at how puns function for women and for abolitionists in the bible.

Let's start with quotations from two scholars. In her book, Translation and Gender: Translating in the "era of Feminism", Luise Von Flotow-Evans talks about (1) how wordplay is valuable to women. And in her book, Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission, Sherry Simon shows (2) some of the ways feminist translators translate wordplay.

Von Flotow-Evans notes:
For 1970s feminist writers such as Mary Daly or France Théoret, women live in exile in patriarchal language; punning expresses their pain, but it is also a way to fight back. Translating puns, on the other hand, has proven to be a form of ‘pun-ishment’ in much feminist work.

Mary Daly’s book Gyn/Ecology (1978) is full of wordplay on aspects of American culture; she invents neologisms such as ‘the-rapist’, ‘bore-ocracy’ and the ‘Totaled woman’ to refer to more or less familiar ideas and then to undermine them with humour, irony, and anger. The implication is that therapists work for patriarchy, keeping women in check by the age-old method of sexual violence or the threat of it; the bureaucracy bores people into passivity and exists to maintain its boring self; the ‘Totaled woman’ is the finished product of fashion-magazine designs but is closer to being ‘totaled’ the way a car is after a crash. These and many other of Daly’s puns work remarkably well in English. In the German translation, however, they are the source of serious problems.

cartoon caption (male therapist to female client): "I'd like you to look at some inkblots. They're on my bedroom ceiling."

For one thing the cultural situations are different. Therapies of various kinds were not as widespread a social phenomenon in 1970s Germany as they were in the USA, and the issue of sexual and emotional abuse of women patients by their [male] psychotherapists had had no exposure at all. This issue has only begun to be addressed in Germany in the 1990s. More problematic, however, is the fact that the linguistic aspects of the puns just don’t work in German. In German ‘therapist’ is Therapeut and ‘rapist’ is Vergewaltiger. The same problem arises with the ‘Totaled woman’. The ‘total’ fashion look might translate as ganzheitlich weiblich or durchgestylt, while a car that is ‘totaled’ has suffered a Totalschaden. Again there is not immediate linguistic relationship that can be exploited. The same goes for Daly’s term ‘womb-tomb’ for ‘spacecraft’. The German translator is hard put to find something as succinct and homophonic. Her translation Metterschoβ-Grabstätte is a literal rendering. (21)
So, on the one hand, puns are punctuation of the discourse of women. On the other hand, translation is punishment--and I'm going to say, it is the "masculinist" translation methods of "dynamic equivalence" (or "literal equivalence") that is the punishment of women and their puns here. (Please let me come back to that notion of "equivalence" as "sexist" in a moment, and do note that the art I've placed within the quotation above is from cartoonist J. C. Duffy).

Simon explains how translator Deborah Jenson has managed to include wordplay in her English translation of Hélène Cixous' French wordplay. Simon notes:
According to Jenson, the reader [of works by Cixous] is responsible for discerning the several meanings which are suggested, but can also let them "lie dormant" (Jenson 1991:195). It is because Cixous' writing should be understood primarily as poetry that its "untranslatability" is to be respected. There can be no equivalence for words which gather connotative force as they advance through the text (ibid.: 195). Jenson herself uses endnotes rather than extensively (though reluctantly, as they "interrupt the musical flow of the test") to underline, in particular, the omnipresent Cixousian stylistic device of homophony. For instance, Jenson, in her translation "Coming to Writing," leaves the word languelait in the English text, but in a footnote explains that "languelait" is a phonetic spelling of anglais (English) which produces a pun combining langue (language) and lait (milk) (footnote 11). A play on demain (tomorrow) and deux mains (two hands) is rendered by [Jenson as] "twomorrow." A play on grammaire and grand-mère with reference to the big bad wolf is given as "gramma-r wolf"; the confusion of mère (mother) and mer (sea) are given as "sea-mother" (ibid.: 8, 22, 23). . . .
The idea of writing as a process of discovery which escapes the control of the author recurs often in the essays of Cixous. "Writing advances in the dark," she says. "One cannot know." "Écrire chemine dans le noir vers ces vérités. On ne sait pas. On va" (Cixous in Rossum-Guyon and Diaz-Docaretz 1990: 34-35). This weakening of the authority of the author creates an uncomfortable situation for the translator, whose position is structurally tied to that of a strong author. (100-01)
Note, however, that although the translator is uncomfortable, is in-pain, she may still create a new original (i.e., translated text) in-a-pun. To be clear, Simon is not suggesting that Jenson's feminist way of translating Cixous is the only (feminist) way to translate. Nonetheless, Simon shows that Jenson shows how wordplay in translation, with "no equivalence for words which gather connotative force as they advance through the [author's original] text" is possible, perhaps is the only possibility.

I want to go back to Levine's assertion: "Language is already always a betrayal, a translation of the object it intends, pretends to re-create. Mythology claims that Satan fell from grace because of his games with God’s sacred words. . . . The all-powerful word has a life of its own. . . . the wordsmith in God, . . . incarnated the Word" (14). I am not trying to suggest that Levine is saying that God is female, but that wordsmithing is feminine, perhaps feminist, and abolitionist.

Here's how Willis Barnstone puts that in his book, The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice (in his own word play with "Thirteen [i.e., unlucky] Quick Looks at Sacred Originals," of which I offer my top ten):
  • All originals are sacred in the eyes of the translator.
  • All translations are profane in the eyes of the world.
  • But at times translators forget, suppress, or conceal the original, thereby making a profane transformation into a sacred original.
  • Much of the Old and most of the New Testament is disguised translation, and so the Bible passes uniformly as a sacred original.
  • Keep track of Ezra Pound's deceits and win an apple. . . .

  • cartoon caption: "Now hold it right there, Eve. I wear the plants in this family."

  • Between the original [Hebrew scriptural] text and its translation is a familial tie of holy father to secular children. . . .
  • Eve has given the world her gift of translation. A translator steals and gives.
  • Eve is the mother of translation. She transformed forbidden fruit into knowledge, secret sperm into children, and the text of her story into us.
  • Eve's word continues when her offspring read her meaning through their eyes.
  • Eve doesn't mind a reader who steals what she has stolen. Fulfilled as mother of the world, she laughs when her children arrogantly make her invisible translation their own immaculate and holy creation. (81-82)
If there is something in divine language that is multidimensional, that is translational, that is punny, then there is something in every mortal's language that is divinely plural, humanly incarnate, born of a mother.

Here's the way J. William Whedbee, in his book, The Bible and the Comic Vision, puts the pun-pain-punishment relationship of men and women in the Bible:
A hallmark of biblical comedy is the surprising roles that women often play over against the male protagonists. Beginning with mother Eve, women especially live by wit and wisdom to fulfill their function as symbolically captured in the pun involving Eve (havah="life") who is the prototypical "mother of all living" (hay). Hence, as already noted, Eve is counterposed as the strong, active one over agains the passive, compliant, comical Adam. The various women of Genesis, Exodus, Esther, Job, and the Song of Songs continue to embody this drive to give birth to new life and then to nourish and protect it. We can draw a comic arc among Eve's daughters that stretches from Sarah who laughs with embarrassed skepticism at the promise of life but who then laughs joyfully over the birth of her son "Laughter," to the mother and sister of Moses who conspire together with Pharoah's daughter in defiance of her father's decree to save Moses from a watery grave, to Esther who plays the clever and courageous heroine who rescues her people from Haman's genocidal plan and helps to institute the festival of Purim, to Job's wife and daughters who play peripheral, albeit striking roles in the story of Job, and finally to the fabled Shulamite who becomes the more dominant speaker and lover in the Song of Songs, a woman who both playfully subverts the domineering presence of the royal lover and powerfully affirms the "love that is strong as death" (8:6) (281-82)
Notice the need for word play, for pun, in naming, from original to translation.

So now, I've run out of time for today. (Later, perhaps, I'll get to the abolitionists, and their need for pun, for translation of wordplay). I have to leave you now with a long quotation. Perhaps it's the keynote of this post. It's Von Flotow-Evans again; this time, she's discussing the problem of masculinist translation of the Bible:
Rewriting Existing Translations: The Bible

. . . . In a brief manuscript text entitled ‘Names and Titles’, Eugene Nida, famed American Bible translator and translation theorist, has commented on [certain] types of linguistic changes. . . as generally impracticable. . . He gives the feminist views relatively short shrift, ignoring the careful argumentation in the introductions to [Joann] Haugerud’s work [The Word for Us] and the Inclusive Language Lectionary. He proposes that the problems are cultural, not linguistic, and . . . he asserts, the Bible needs to be read in the context of the chauvinist male-dominated society in which it originated, and which has been perpetuated by the church. . . .

The point about the chauvinist patriarchal aspects of the society which many of the biblical texts originated is doubtless true. It is, however, also true that over the course of one thousand years of rewriting and translation by the Church, these texts have been subject to ‘patriarchal’ translation. . . . Feminist translators do not seek to change historical fact, [but rather] they want to overcome some of the patriarchal excesses imposed on the Bible through translation.

Nida’s. . . point that an institution can reform itself without linguistic changes contrasts sharply with the approaches of feminist translators who posit a close link between the language used to describe God and patriarchal culture. . . .

[T]he male biased vocabulary used for God is seen to have an important influence on patriarchal social structures that assign authority to human males. The fact that such language also reflects the patriarchal bias of the societies that are the sources of the Biblical texts is acknowledged by these translators. Yet they view the Bible as a book that is used for contemporary religious instruction and worship, a book that must speak to ‘young and old, male and female, and persons of every racial, cultural and national background’ (Inclusive Language Lectionary, Preface). The contemporary context in which ‘mutuality and coequality are important in the Christian church’ (Inclusive Language Lectionary, Appendix) thus justifies these new translations. This can be seen operating in the following excerpt (from the Book of Genesis), which includes a translator’s note:
Then God the Sovereign One said, ‘it is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make a companion corresponding to the creature.’. . . So God the Sovereign One caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human being, and took a rib out of the sleeping human being and closed up the place with flesh; and God the Sovereign One built the rib which God took from the human being into woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh
she shall be called Woman
because she was taken out of Man.’***
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh. And the man and woman were both naked, and were not ashamed.

***This literary pun on ‘man’ (ish) and ‘woman’ (ishshah) intends to show relationship rather than biological origin. The relationship is one of equality: ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ (Inclusive Language Lectionary, Lent 1)
This reading of the well-know creation myth amply demonstrates the effect of inclusive language. God is no longer ‘the Father’, and human beings, not ‘men’, are being created. In the first paragraph, ‘God the Sovereign One’ and ‘God’ appear four times; no pronoun ‘He’ is used to avoid repetition. Moreover, the translator’s note places the emphasis on the relationship between the sexes rather than on any essential biological qualities. The re-translation thus deletes the male bias and patriarchal authority and seeks to establish a sense of inclusive mutuality considered more appropriate to the context of the late twentieth century. The fact that this text may be difficult to read says more about religious traditions and reading habits than about appropriateness of the translation. (56-57)

When the First Voice Heard is JUST One's Own

The title of this post is a play on another; it's the twisting of another's title, of her voice. Some of you may know Jacqueline Jones Royster and her article, "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own."
Royster is a woman, an African American, a rhetorician, a literary scholar, at least. And she's at least also one of those "very literate ladies," if I were to repeat one of the descriptive phrases that one of my male rhetoric professors uses for women rhetors when he writes an ostensibly pro-feminist article on "The Archaeology of Women in Rhetoric."

On page 37 of her own article, Royster writes, “I claim all my voices as my own very much authentic voices, even when it's difficult for others to imagine a person like me having the capacity to do that.” She's pointing out that men, that white men, that other scholars "speak" for her and for other women, other African American women, other African American women both scholars and laywomen who are all "literate."

Royster is not trying to deny anyone voice, not even a white male his voice. She'd just like to remember hearing her own mother's voice, and to hear her in scholarship. She'd like there to be some “home training” and at least “politeness.”

Royster asks: “How do we translate listening into language and action, into the creation of an appropriate response?” And her article opens by her beginning to say something in answer:
[I]n terms of my own need to understand human difference as a complex reality, . . . I have concluded that the most salient point to acknowledge is that ‘subject’ position is really everything. 
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. Subjectivity as a defining value pays attention dynamically to context, ways of knowing, language abilities, and experience, and by doing so it has a consequent potential to deepen, broaden, and enrich our interpretive views in dynamic ways as well. . . . In a fundamental way, this enterprise supports the sense of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies as a field of study that embraces the imperative to understand truths and consequences of language use more fully. (38)

I'm going to end this post by saying I'm tiring of hearing my own voice all the time. When I talk with others about feminisms and rhetorics, it's usually been a kind of singular male talk. There's been recent talk with John Hobbins (Ancient Hebrew Poetry), and David Stein, and ElShaddai Edwards (He Is Sufficient), and David Ker (Lingamish), and James McGrath (Exploring Our Matrix), and Wayne Leman (Better Bibles Blog)--all men, much about women and discourse and their voices. Do you hear what we're doing? So "objectively?" Oh, by the way, I'm a man, a Euro American, a linguist, an second-language-learning expert, and a fledgling rhetorician and composition scholar. Some call me a feminist too. But the point is not my subjective position, or all my voices either, is it? The point is what abstract logic gets at, and coldly observes.

Here's a sample of that logic from my blogger friend John Hobbins, who deserves a reply to his response to me (but I'm just not sure where or how or whether to begin). John says,
Kurk [which is my nickname, the aka for J.K. Gayle],

Your question is an interesting one, but I don't think it would play out the way you seem to suggest.

That is, you assume that if we had more feminine voices from antiquity, beyond Enheduanna and Sappho and the Pythian priestess, we would have access to vastly different conceptions of God and the good.

I doubt this. You underestimate the power of transmitted form and content in traditional societies.

If you look to an age like our own, in which feminine voices are a commonplace, is it the feminine which stands out, or the irreducibility of each and every singular voice, male or female?

Consider the following (male) authors associated with the Shoah: Frankl, Wiesel, Levi, and Kozinski. Consider the following (female) authors: Stein, Hillesum, Frank, and Weil. Each of these voices is irreducibly singular. Irreducibly male or female, to be sure, but maleness or femaleness is simply not the voices' most salient characteristic.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think your "-centric" categories are helpful in making sense out of these authors, male or female.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that feminist interpretations of either the male or female authors just mentioned have elucidated the authors so much as provided a mirror on which to observe reflections of the feminist thought of interpreters.
I think I'd said a couple of things like this: "I wonder how Suzanne and other women (should they ever be present in our conversations equally) might answer, or ask (if an important question at all). In a male-dominate world, whether post-biblical or NOT, I wonder what Eve might say (about her God and his gender(s))?" Suzanne, of course, is Suzanne McCarthy (Suzanne's Bookshelf), who had already said in the conversation at John's blog, "I believe the equal function of woman must be protected first in order to have any open discussion of gender."

She was speaking for herself, subjectively, and replied to John as follows:
[John:]Since I imagine we are around a coffee table, with Suzanne, Peter, Kurk, David Stein, and Iyov present, ....

Let me [Suzanne] express my regrets.

[John:]I would also add at this point, just to liven up the conversation, have you read your Mary Daley? [sic]

Yes, I [Suzanne] have.
I [J.K. Gayle] take that to mean that the first voice she heard was not her own. In other words, we men talk about and talk over and talk past, with so much objective logic, that we don't hear the voices, all of them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Translooting the Woman (Pun in Greek)

"Translooting the Bible (Puns)" was the title of one of my posts yesterday. Today, I want to look at the sexist, masculinist methods that constrain pun translation in the Bible.

Before even considering the Bible, which I'll do later this week, let's look at the Greek traditions that intersect with it. The Jewish Bible, of course, was first translated into Greek from Hebrew (as the Septuagint, or LXX). And then the Christian part of the Bible (or the New Testament) was written in Greek with much of the dialogue in the narratives translated from a little Roman-Latin and a lot of Aramaic-Hebrew. So the look over at Greek is helpful when considering the early sexism.

"Puns discover a coincidence, a potential affinity, a homonymy already latent in language," says translator scholar Suzanne Jill Levine. Levine hints at the sexism surrounding puns, and finds Plato's Socrates pushing against them:
They place sound above meaning, and yet point to hidden semantic bonds between words. While puns leap out spontaneously in (and especially between) languages, the suggestion of causality between pun and pain, half-hiding and half-revealing itself, seems, according to Walter Redfern, "like wit to wed the dissimilar.'" Freud made us see that jokes signal something censured, that witty and "ready repartees" are often acts of revenge. Puns hide (hence reveal) pain and, as Shakespeare proved, are seriously laughter-provoking; we wield puns in order to provoke outrages. "Crime and Puns," used by Nabokov in his own translation of his novel Despair (1966), and added to Three Trapped Tigers, is no joke: Puns are punishment. "Pun" has evolved from "pound," meaning "to mistreat words": Have we discovered here the etymology of Ezra's patronym? Socrates pinpointed language's unstable polyvalence in his aporiae, exposing how words like pharmakon (meaning both "remedy" and "poison") undermine [Aristotle's] logic, subverting our complacent dependence on an inert relation between word and idea, language and thought. (Subversive Scribe 13)
Anne Carson is more direct about the sexism in Greek, and about Aristotle's roles:
Aristotle tells us that the highpitched voice of the female is one evidence of her evil disposition, for creatures who are brave or just (like lions, bulls, roosters and the human male) have large deep voices. If you hear a man talking in a gentle or high-pitched voice you know he is a kinaidos (“catamite”). The poet Aristophanes put a comic turn on this cliché in his Ekklesiazousai: as the women of Athens are about to infiltrate the Athenian assembly and take over political process, the feminist leader Praxagora reassures her fellow female activists that they have precisely the right kind of voices for this task. Because, as she says, “You know that among the young men the ones who turn out to be terrific talkers are the ones who get fucked a lot.” This joke depends on a collapsing together of two different aspects of sound production, quality of voice and use of voice. We will find the ancients continually at pains to associate these two aspects under a general rubric of gender. High vocal pitch goes together with talkativeness to characterize a person who is deviant from or deficient in the masculine ideal of self-control. Women, catamites, eunuchs and androgynes fall into this category. Their sounds are bad to hear and make men uncomfortable. Just how uncomfortable may be measured by the lengths to which Aristotle is willing to go in accounting for the gender of sound physiognomically; he ends up ascribing the lower pitch of the male voice to the tension placed on a man’s vocal chords by his testicles functioning as loom weights. (Glass, Irony, and God)
Carson says more about Aristotle's influence with respect to women and translation and their disparagement:
Females blurt out a direct translation [i.e., as with a pun] of what should be formulated indirectly [as by a syllogism of logic] . . . . [S]ince woman does not bound herself, she must be bounded. The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman [according to Aristotle] sophrosyne means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others. (Men in the Off Hours 142)
Katharine Kittredge gets to some of the influence of ancient Greek males on Roman and modern men. A forked tongue snake may pun with Eve in the beginning of the Bible; and the origin of puns among the Greeks (and the copycat Romans) seems to involve something similar:
Punning was often compared to the splitting of a bird's tongue, after which it sings twice as much, as the flow of meaningless babble is doubled. In [Jonathan] Swift's prefatory verse to his Ars Punica, he imitates the original two-sexed human described by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium. Swift describes the mythological birth of a pun as a double-sexed creature whom Jove eventually splits with a thunderbolt in an attempt to silence it. Unsurprisingly, the "Thing" merely "PUNN'D as much again" (56-57), as Jove relates to Pluto:

And ever since, your
Men of Wit,
Until they're
Cut, can't PUN a bit.
So take a
Starling when 'tis Young,
And down the middle
slit the Tongue,
Groat or Sixpence, 'tis no matter,
You'll find the Bird will
doubly chatter.
Upon the whole, dear Pluto you know,
'Tis well I did not split my Juno!
For had I don't when e'er she'd scold me,
She'd make the
Heavens too hot to hold me. (60-65)

Jove seems to have considered "splitting" Juno with one of his thunderbolts when she last scolded him, but he realizes that, like the bird's tongue, her scolding might be doubled. Thus Swift links the double language of a pun with the volubility of a woman. The "splitting" of a woman, arguably visible in her genital structure, doubles her garrulity just as the splitting of a word into a pun doubles the significance.
(Lewd and Notorious 73-74)

What I'll do in another post is try to show the associations by men between women and puns in the Bible. If we have time, we'll try to show how translation, like punning (and especially translation of puns), is important to women and to feminine discourse. Likewise, for groups oppressed by slavery and / or by racism, puns--even in the Bible--are important. Hence, translators who neglect or ignore or refuse to translate puns tend to work in masculinist and oppressive paradigms.

John McCain's Air Quotes

John McCain has finally put the concerns of women where they belong: in derisive air quotes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Translooting the Bible (Puns)

A couple of Bible bloggers are musing about translation of puns: ElShaddai Edwards and Mike Sangrey. Later this week, I'll post something on the sexist, masculinist methods that constrain pun translation in the Bible. Today, here's a bit of a primer on the translation of puns from Suzanne Jill Levine, and her book, The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (pages 14-15):
Language is already always a betrayal, a translation of the object it intends, pretends to re-create. Mythology claims that Satan fell from grace because of his games with God’s sacred words, as Borges claims in his venomous article, “The Art of Verbal Abuse” (which I translated for Borges: A Reader, an anthology with a pun in its title):

The particle ël was trimmed off the angel Satenaël, God’s rebellious first-born. . . . Without it, he lost his crown, splendor, and prophetic powers. . . . Inversely, the Cabalists tell that the seed of the remote Abraham was sterile until they interpolated in his name the letter he, which made him capable of begetting. (48)

The all-powerful word has a life of its own, beyond good and evil, according to Nietzsche, another punster. “In the beginning was the pun,” quipped Beckett in Murphy. St. Augustine was perhaps the first to recognize the wordsmith in God, who incarnated the Word in the speech-less (infans) infant Jesus.

One of the first puns Freud ponders . . . is the well-worn traduttore, traditore, meaning “translator, traitor,” the most oft-used cliché in translation debates, betrayed of course in translation. The pun is the meeting point not only of two meanings but of two intimately related linguistic processes, wordplaying and translating.

The wordplay, an identity in sound, a similarity in difference, forces the translator to transloot, to be a traitor. Translating forces the writer / translator to displace an original meaning, or effect, onto words other than the original term: Supplementary meanings are brought in, the focus of the original statement somehow diverted. Traditore pushes toward traduttore in sound but pulls in the opposite direction in meaning. Translation intends fidelity but perpetrates infidelity. And yet, as with puns, where the accent falls on a rediscovered familiarity between two distant terms, so does good translation seek out, stress the common but hidden bonds that may exist between two languages, two cultures, two poems, two puns. Through its synonymous movements, translation too lays bare a potential of the original text in another language.

The translator of puns, a tinkerer with a musical ear, makes use of her language and its possible associations with the language of the source pun and, as Pound advised, selects the living part.

Can (Black) Men REALLY Be Feminists?

"The black men who contributed to this book overwhelmingly concur that feminism provides benefits in their lives that make them better people. The way they behave now, in private and in public, suggests that they really are feminists. Most of us can gain insights into alternative ways of being through their stories of challenge and change.

As we saw from the narratives of participants in this study, popular notions of masculinity set men against one another and against women, which inevitably leads to conflict and, all too often, violence. Almost any man can identify with the emotionally, spiritually, and even physically crippling effects of that kind of masculinity. Indeed, a system based on male domination is problematic, divisive, and self-destructive for those who seek social justice on behalf of African Americans, and for the good of society as a whole. The experiences these men recount are not entirely confined to African Americans--they occur to men in any patriarchal society, regardless of race, sexuality, or class."

--Aaronette M. White, "Can Black Men Really Be Feminists?"
Ain't I a Feminist?:
African American Men Speak Out

on Fatherhood, Friendship, Forgiveness, and Freedom, page 192.
(HT Samhita Mukhopadhyay, at

"Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy."
--bell hooks, "Feminist Politics: Where We Stand"
Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics, page 1.

"So for the record, I am a feminist. My daughter is, too."
--Leonard Pitts Jr., "Prepare yourselves, readers, for liberal use of the 'F' word"
The Miami Herald
(also linked here)

A Convenient "Feminist" Politician

Sarah Palin has two different answers for whether she's a feminist.

The McCain-Palin team knows that reducing people to a single word is demeaning, and that voters like Joe the Plumber don't like it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Translation: Your Mama Music from James Taylor

A friend gave me James Taylor's new CD "Covers" this weekend at her husband's birthday party (which, because of her gift, doubled as a getting the diss-draft-to-committee party for me too. Anyway). The whole "album" makes me think about "translation." One thing JT writes on the insert is this:

I've always thought that
writing an original song and reinterpreting
someone else's were similar processes; just
as making music is a lot like listening to it.

One of the tunes he sings with Caroline Taylor is "Sadie," by The Spinners. You can listen to that "original" on youtube here. And you can listen to the free snippet of the JT translation here at Starbuck's And JT's producers let you hear and watch him and his band make "Sadie" here at his official web site

Pay close attention to what JT says on his video:

Sadie is sort of an odd tune to choose. It’s a Spinners’ tune, and uh I assume that it’s uh about Philippe Wynne’s mom. In a post-Freudian world, people are sort of phobic about singing songs about Mom. But we always loved it because it’s a great choral song.

But doesn't that make you remember him singing about his own Mama, in Portuguese, in "Only a Dream in Rio." Remember?

Quando a nossa mae acordar
Andareimoz au sol
Quando a nossa mae acordar
Cantara pelos sertao
Quando a nossa mea acordar
Todos os filios saberao
Todos os filios saberao
E regozilarao

I think it was Milton Nascimento or Fernando Brant or James Taylor himself who offered this translation:

Quando a nossa me acordar
When our mother awakes
Andaremos ao sol
We shall walk in the sun
Quando a nossa me acordar
When our mother awakes
Cantar pelo serto
She shall sing in the wilderness
Quando a nossa me acordar
When our mother awakes
Todos os filhos sabero
All her children shall know
Todos os filhos sabero
All her children shall know
E regozijaro
And they shall rejoice

So here's Sadie again, translated, reinterpreted, especially as you listen. Listen / make music / remember your mother in this "post-Freudian" world:


In a world like today
Its a rare occasion to be able
To see young mothers like the ones
That were around when I grew up
But they live on in memory
To quite a few of us
And this song is dedicated
To those who cherish that memory

Early one Sunday morning
Breakfast was on the table
There was no time to eat
She said to me, Boy, hurry to Sunday school

Filled with her load of glory
We learned the Holy story
Shell always have her dreams
Despite the things this troubled world can bring

Oh, Sadie
Don't you know we love you
Sweet Sadie
Place no one above you

Sweet Sadie (Well, well, well)
Living in the past
Some times it seems so funny
But no money will turn your life around

Sweeter than cotton candy
Stronger than papas old brandy
Always that needed smile
Once in awhile she would break down and cry

Some times shed be so happy
Just being with us and daddy
Standing the worst of times
Breaking the binds with just a simple song

Oh, Sadie (Oh, Sadie, baby)
Don't you know we love you (Shell love us all in a special way)
Sweet Sadie (Well, well, well)
Place no one above you

Sweet Sadie (Sweet Sadie livin in the past)
Living in the past
Oh, she's never sinnin
In love she's always winnin, yeah

Sadie (My, my, my, my, my)
Don't you know we love you (I love you, mama)
Sweet Sadie
Place no one above you (I just cant forget)

Sweet Sadie (How you gave me love, oh, Lord)
Living in the past
If there's a heaven up above
I know she's teaching angels how to love

Sadie (Its a mean world without you)
Don't you know we love you
Sweet Sadie (All the love you showed)
Place no one above you

(Warner-Tamerlane Publ. Corp. (BMI))

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Translation: You-Dependent, Never-Gone-Entirely

. . .
All along you know that they will disperse once they're out of your vision, but they will never be gone entirely, because you saw them. The leaves show you how water is like the wind, because they do what streamers do in a breeze. The garlands are a translation of this material; autumn leaves, transposed to water, still flutter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anne Carson and Anne Lamott on Resurrection

Listen to silly Anne Lamott and foolish Anne Carson, wanting hoping desiring so gullibly to keep open the historic and literary possibilities of resurrection, as women see it. The one Anne speaks of Jesus, the other Anne of another Greek-fabled drama, Alcestis in Alcestis by Euripides.

Euripides, of course, is that one of whom the Historian F. A. Wright, in his Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle says: “Euripides and Plato are almost the only [male] authors who show any true appreciation of a woman's real qualities, and to Euripides and Plato, Aristotle, by the whole trend of his [sexist, bigoted] prejudices, was opposed.” But I’m reading the “scholarship” of another “historian” (supposedly) who scoffs, like Aristotle, at true appreciation of a woman’s views. I’m talking about James F. McGrath and his newly published book The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith. McGrath is crying for reviews, but not this one here. In his book, again and again (on more than a dozen pages so far), McGrath feels like he has to pooh pooh the inclusion of women as credible witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. Not surprising. His historiography is straight phallogocentrism. What I mean by that is this. Hélène Cixous, in her book Stigmata: escaping texts, translates and quotes “Clarice Lispector, who did not think in terms of phallogocentrism.” Cixous points out that Lispector provides a definition of the term: “We have seen this before; it is the ‘phallocratic system’ . . . this is how she [Lispector] conceives of it: a ‘system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity’” (123). Now the English translation of Cixous’s French translation of Lispector’s Brazilian Portuguese has yielded the term. The three together have made “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); and “centric” from Aristotle’s κεντρική (or “k-e-n-tr-ikē”). McGrath, like father Aristotle, does not permit even a second of incredulity. He redefines “faith” and “history” under the guise of “religion.” Enough of that then.

Here’s Anne Lamott in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

I don't have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I'd like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday school, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you’re talking.

In Jesus’ real life, the resurrection came two days later, but in our real lives, it can be weeks, years, and you never know for sure that it will come. I don’t have the right personality for the human condition, either. But I believe in the resurrection, in Jesus’, and in ours. The trees, so stark and gray last month, suddenly went up as if in flame, but instead in blossoms and leaves--poof! Like someone opening an umbrella. It’s often hard to find similar dramatic evidence of rebirth and hope in our daily lives. (140).

Here’s Anne Carson in Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides:

What does Alkestis' resurrection mean for the sacrificial contract that Admetos had negotiated with Death? This question is never addressed in the play. Mathematically Death is down one soul; common sense (what the Greeks call Necessity) tells us such a situation can’t last. But Herakles seems a character able to override common sense. He releases Alkestis simply by choosing to do so. As if to say, within every death a life stands waiting to be set free, should anyone have the nerve to do it. As if to say, try looking deep into a house, a marriage, or an idea like Necessity and you will see clear through to the other side. Death, like tragedy, is a game with rules. Why not just break the rules?

Rules broken by Euripides in Alkestis include the rule of closure. What are we to make of the ending? Can we be sure the veiled women is alive? that she is Alkestis? that she will live happily ever after with her husband and children? Critics have doubted all these. There is a kind of nuptial drama staged in the final scene--perhaps a parody of the ancient Greek wedding, which centered upon an unveiling of the bride before the eyes of her husband and some exchange of words between them--that stalls oddly at its peak moment. Here the bride is unveiled to her husband at 971/1121 (or so it seems to me; critics doubt this too) but she will not be permitted to speak for three days due to her death-polluted condition. An eerie silence carries her into the big dark house of her unconventional husband.

I find I want to say less rather than more about Alkestis. Not because there is less in this play but because the surface has a speed and shine that evaporate with exegesis, like some of [Alfred] Hitchcock’s plots. Or a trembling of laughter, terrible if it broke out. (248-49)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Imprisoned, Dead, Speaking Out, Listen Up

An Afghan appeals court overturned a death sentence Tuesday for a journalism student [24-year-old Parwez Kambakhsh] accused of blasphemy for asking questions in class about women's rights under Islam. But the judges still sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
--Amir Shah reports Tuesday, October 21, 2008.

Gayle Williams, a 34-year-old dual British-South African national who helped handicapped Afghans, was shot to death as she was walking to work about 8 a.m on Monday, October 20, 2008. "Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman," says Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
--Amir Shah, AP writer, reports.

While the absence of a woman's point of view for over 1440 years since the revelation began, clearly needs to change, it must be acknowledged that there are many men who have been supportive of the view of women as complements to themselves, as the completion of their human unity. To them, I and other Muslim women are eternally grateful. They relate to women as the Quran and Hadith intended. The criticism women have is towards those men who are not open to this understanding, who are exclusive in opposition to the Quran and Sunnah's inclusiveness.

Clearly the intention of the Quran is to see man and woman as complements of one another, not as oppressor-oppressed or superior-inferior or thinking-feeling. Consequently, in the introduction and translation, I address a main criticism of Islam in regard to the inferiority of women, namely, that a husband can beat his wife (4:34) after two stages of trying to discipline her.
--Laleh Bakhtiar, Ph. D., speaks out when introducing her translation, "The First English Translation of the Quran (Koran) by an American Woman"

You can hear more of "this modern, inclusive translation [that] refutes past translations . . . used to justify violence against women": Click here to listen up, by reading the reviews and by getting and reading your own copy of "The Sublime Quran."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Last 2 Posts

Fair enough.  I need to explain, perhaps, what I'm intending by the last two posts.

Here's the more general context, and then I'll get to my last two posts specifically.  With my pair of posts, I'm trying to respond to the suggestions of two different bloggers that God doesn't need gender.  Or, rather, that we, in our talk about deity and other such personal things, can go "beyond gender."  These blogger dialogues get to more than just the question of whether the God, or even a god or goddess, is "he or she" or just "it."  The conversations betray the fact that our frame for the conversations, our methods for knowing and for talking, are primarily male.  (Even feminist scholars--such as Carol Poster and Gesa E. Kirsch and Joy S. Ritchie--can unwittingly find themselves in male-framed "beyond-the-personal" arguments and conversations, trying ironically to oppose the impersonal oppositional male.)  I'm trying to respond to the following:  (1) John Hobbins' post "Is the biblical God a persona beyond gender?" in which he is joined by Rabbi David E. S. Stein, discussing the latter's article “On Beyond Gender: Representation of God in the Torah and in Three Recent Renditions into English”; and (2) David Ker's post "Holy Spirit: it or he?" in which he concludes (in a concluding comment):
I favor "it" except for when "spirit" is a synecdoche for God or counselor, advocate, etc. then I would choose "he."

"She" is way too controversial for me and in fact I don't think it is really addressing the "genderlessness" of the spirit as a component of a person. Are my feet feminine and my arms masculine if I am a speaker of Spanish? Is my soul feminine but my spirit masculine?

They've kindly responded to comments I and others have made on their respective blogs. But I wanted to try to say something, differently.

So my last two posts take two different songs I heard on the iPod of one of my children. Listening, I didn't know the band singing was Relient K. I was listening in, not invited at all to listen. I was eavesdropping, overhearing, being a fly on the wall so to speak. My son didn't know I was checking out his music. And the boys who make up Relient K didn't write their songs for me. I'm not even sure who the audience is, or whether I'm "interpreting" their original lyrics by the original author's intentions.

What I hear when listening to the one song and then the other is something that reminds me of my own relationship with my fathers. I have a birth father, a man I love who was not an easy Dad when I was a boy. Because I went off to boarding school as a kid, I have other fathers, and sometimes I hear and read the language of God as Father. I have friends, cousins, brothers and sisters, and a spouse who have and who have had similar kinds of fathers. Many of us are children of the Christian clergy, of pastors, and preachers, and missionaries. We hear and read stories such as the Prodigal Son and the loving Father, which has not always been our experience, at least the "loving Father" part. Some of us have been prodigal children--children who have left forever by committing suicide or by running away or by dwindling away in acts of "acting out" in different ways, and children or adults who have returned in various ways.

Some of us have walked through Twelve Steps. This is a different sort of "recovery" work than academics, especially feminist academics, must do. And yet "recovery" in many contexts gets one to acknowledge the body, and its pain, and how it was silenced, gendered, marked and unmarked. (Some feminist scholars, like Beth Daniell, are in recovery work both in the academy and "in meetings." Other feminists, like the grad student doing research on AA at a conference I recently attended, say that Twelve Steps--especially because God, the male, is the higher power and male-ish hierarchy--are patently anti-female). The Steps are very difficult in that they require safety, and anonymity, and feelings not necessarily analysis, and most of all community. They are also almost invariably indirect methods to something else.

This is some the indirectness I'm after in those last two posts. C. S. Lewis talks of deep change being the difference of a direct coat of paint and furniture stain. Kenneth L. Pike would tell a poem at the end of his monolingual demonstration and the subsequent lecture because poetry is as indirect. Eve Ensler writes the Vagina Monologues, translated now in forty five different languages and performed in more than one hundred different nations, to change the world? Yes, and to change the rapist and the men who have grown up after committing incest, and of course then to help the victims, (y)our sisters, mothers, wives, aunts, grandmothers, granddaughters, and daughters.

So my last two posts are monologic dialogues for indirect change, if possible somehow for recovery. At the end of her Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, Cheryl Glenn talks about having to "share an incredible sadness, for the recuperation of past women's voices is a work of morning." And, she continues,
We survivors-scholars-women-men often grieve, especially if we are exploring periods or individuals for whom records are scarce. But we must experience and then move beyond grief over irrevocable loss and move beyond a yearning for the actual person whose remains will never adequately represent her.
Notice that in her moving "beyond" there can never be a moving beyond the personal, the pathos, the gendered. For it's the fuller gendered person who is being recovered.

I'm also playing, in my last two posts, with my own fictional/factual literal/figural contrasts: the father is prodigal, and abba is (m)othering. Sloppy ambiguous experiential in-progress human language helps.

with our (m)Othering abba

Let it all out
get it all out
rip it out remove it
don't be alarmed
when the wound begins to bleed

cause we're so scared to find out
what this life's all about
so scared we're going to lose it
not knowing all along
that's exactly what we need

and today I will trust you with confidence
of a man who's never known defeat
but tomorrow, upon hearing what I did
I will stare at you in disbelief
oh, inconsistent me
crying out for consistency

and you said I know that this will hurt
but if I don't break your heart 
then things will just get worse
If the burden seems too much to bear
the end will justify the pain it took to get us there

and I'll let it be known
at times I have shown
signs of all my weakness
but somewhere in me
there is strength

and you promise me
that you believe
in time I will defeat this
cause somewhere in me
there is strength

and today I will trust you with the confidence
of a man who's never known defeat
and I'll try my best to just forget
that that man isn't me

reach out to me
make my heart brand new
every beat will be for you
for you

and I know you know
you touched my life
when you touched my heavy heart and made it light

to the Prodigal Father

Don’t know why I have to be the one to change when Dad hurts me, I told my sponsor. Yeah, I know Anne’s Pastor Veronica says, “When someone is acting butt-ugly, God loves them just the same as God loves the innocent.” But, like Keith writes, My “fear may be that God, like some cosmic rapist, is going to come into the innermost parts of our lives and control our every move or thought or stop us from doing or thinking anything that is fun, or send us off to a dangerous or primitive mission field, or force us to sell our home and give the money to the poor, or tell us to become a rigid narrow Christian (or an Episcopalian or Baptist or Catholic or charismatic or whatever the scariest thing to you is).” Besides, whenever I try to take Step 9, he comes at me, wanting to “dialogue,” and it just goes something like Relient K’s “Which to Bury; Us or the Hatchet” (with Dad doing the SCREAMO PARTS IN RED):



No, I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you
Know I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you
Cause you took this too far, too far



No, I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you
Know I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you

Your wisdom always chooses
These black eyes and these bruises
Oh the heartache, as they say,
Never completely goes away

Your wisdom always chooses
These black eyes and these bruises
Oh the heartache, as they say,
Never completely goes away

No, I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you
Know I don't hate you
Don't want to fight you
Know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't like you
Cause you took this too far

I heard that its me we should blame!
“What happened to us?”
Why didn't you stop me from turning out this way?!

You know that I don't hate you
You know that I don't want to fight you
You know I'll always love you
But right now I just don't.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Last night, we watched Mad Men episode 12. We love advertising (and Julie is an award winning copywriter), but there's something else, something very disturbing right here where we live. Look at the tv.

The show's creator Matthew Weiner gets right to the sexism in the male dominant world of American advertising in the '60s. When a male copywriter is out, Peggy Olson steps up and pitches an account with a "love" slogan to a couple of men; winning the campaign, she announces herself as a "copywriter" and asks the boss Roger Sterling for the office that another man had vacated long before. Sterling comments that young women are getting aggressive and tells her she has more "balls" than some men. (She gets the office.) The show cuts to Joan Holloway (an office manager for the agency) walking in with her new fiance: "So you're the one who got our Joanie," Sterling says to the man, indicating also that he knows a couple of other things about Holloway. Full of jealous rage, the fiance gets her alone in an empty office and rapes her.

It's just a tv show. And we used to watch thirtysomething too. Another tv show about ad men, through the late '80s and early '90s. More sexism then too. It's no accident that real life Nancy Ziegenmeyer chose actor Patricia Wettig to play her in the tv film based on her book, Taking Back My Life. (Wetting had won three Emmys and a Golden Globe for playing Nancy in thirtysomething). Ziegenmeyer is a victim of rape. She went public with the rape after reading an article Geneva Overholser wrote as editor of the Des Moines Register in which she asserted: "As long as rape is deemed unspeakable, the public outrage will be muted as well." At the end of 1990, before Ziegenmeyer's book or the tv movie, People magazine reported Ziegenmeyer's story, and noted that "approximately 100,000 women are raped each year in the U.S."

How many women now are raped in the U.S. every year? The FBI, Department of Justice web site has updated the numbers: Why so many? Why even one? Why? Why? Who? Who? Who? Who? And do you know what happened to the man who raped Ziegenmeyer? What if she'd been silent? Who next?

I know you know someone who was raped. I do! Maybe it's you. Why?!!!! How can any of us be silent?

Yesterday, in the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman begins the story:

Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.

“There was no dinner,” she said.

“It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.”

The audience, which had been called together by local and international aid groups and included everyone from high-ranking politicians to street kids with no shoes, stared at her in disbelief.

Gettleman goes on to report on the rape epidemic in Congo. Somehow, even with the color pictures in the black and white newspaper, the voices of women and men seem quiet here in the U.S. The women in Congo are speaking out, with effect:

After years of denial and shame, the silence is being broken. Because of stepped-up efforts in the past nine months by international organizations and the Congolese government, rapists are no longer able to count on a culture of impunity. . . . 
Few are more passionate than Eve Ensler, the American playwright who wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” which has been performed in more than 100 countries. She came to Congo last month to work with rape victims.

“I have spent the past 10 years of my life in the rape mines of the world,” she said. “But I have never seen anything like this.”

She calls it “femicide,” a systematic campaign to destroy women. . . .

“The details are the scariest part,” Ms. Ensler said.

At the event last month, many people in the audience covered their mouths as they listened. Some could not bear it and burst out of the room crying.

One speaker, Claudine Mwabachizi, told how she was kidnapped by bandits in the forest, strapped to a tree and repeatedly gang-raped. The bandits did unspeakable things, she said, like disemboweling a pregnant woman right in front of her. “A lot of us keep these secrets to ourselves,” she said.

She was going public, she said, “to free my sisters.”

Believe it or not, Gettleman writes this story yesterday to celebrate the positive. His article's entitled, "Rape Victims’ Words Help Jolt Congo Into Change." This time last year, Gettleman could only report: "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War."

So what? Well, if you've made it this far through this blog post, then I'd say you may be one who can help effect change. Did you see and hear what Weiner, Overholser, Ziegenmeyer, Wetting, Ensler, Gettleman, Kizende, and Mwabachizi have been doing and saying? What more can you and I do and say? Don't think we can make much of a change? Do you know how many women were raped, by the men, in your country last year? Do you think you cannot help change this horror?

The Silence of (Rahab and) the Joshuas

The majority of bible translators today know better than the first authors and initial translators of the texts of the bible. Or they think they do.

Most bible translators today don’t follow the Hebrew authors and translators of the Jewish scriptures. Instead, bible translators now tend to follow the philosopher Greeks: they follow Plato in idealizing and Aristotle in rationalizing. It’s a Western culture coup d'état.

In general, English translators today idealize not only (A) the texts (as The “Holy” Bible) but also (B) their own logical methods of translation (which they see as their obedient “faithfulness” to the “original” texts and authors, whom they idealize as “the Author”). They have been disciples of the semi-platonic Jerome or Martin Luther who tries to protest not only the Pope but also Aristotle. They have been much more recent followers of the platonic, neo-Aristotelian Noam Chomsky or Eugene Nida or Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson or Wayne Grudem or John Piper or the various theo-logical committees of the big bible publishing houses.

Specifically, they can both (A) silence a woman (Rahab) who speaks in the Hebrew and (B) sacrifice the richness of Jewish history (in Joshua) for Christianized disambiguity.

(Oh, and the vast majority of bible translators today are men. They are not women. Women tend to be more open to different translation methods and necessarily alternative ways of looking at the texts. One woman even looks for evidence that the unnamed authoress of the book of Hebrews is a woman. But perhaps I digress; perhaps.)

Let’s look at two textual examples: Joshua 2:14 and Hebrews 4:8.

Joshua 2:14 goes like this:

וַיֹּאמְרוּ לָהּ הָאֲנָשִׁים נַפְשֵׁנוּ תַחְתֵּיכֶם לָמוּת אִם לֹא תַגִּידוּ אֶת־דְּבָרֵנוּ זֶה וְהָיָה בְּתֵת־יְהוָה לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְעָשִׂינוּ עִמָּךְ חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת׃

The very first bible translators were Jews, true insiders to their own texts (unlike bible translators today). And yet, they were “commissioned” to translate by a goyish Egyptian king who was the lackey of a goyish Greek world conqueror. (I’m talking about the legend of king Ptolemy Philadelphus II and Alexander the Great and the translators of what has become known as the Septuagint, or the LXX). So they were more faithful to the Hebrew than to the Greek. And they still translated Joshua 2:14 this way:

καὶ εἶπαν αὐτῇ οἱ ἄνδρες Ἡ ψυχὴ ἡμῶν ἀνθ' ὑμῶν εἰς θάνατον. καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν Ὡς ἂν παραδῷ κύριος ὑμῖν τὴν πόλιν, ποιήσετε εἰς ἐμὲ ἔλεος καὶ ἀλήθειαν.

It appears that these original translators “changed” the text. But isn’t that what translators do? Let me step aside that rhetorical question just to explain. In English, the Hebrew was translated the following way by the “commissioning” of British emperor James I, whose translators also had access to the LXX and to Jermone's Vulgate and to Luther's Bibel:

“And the men answered her, Our life for yours, if ye utter not this our business. And it shall be, when the LORD hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee.”

But in English, the Greek LXX alone was translated this way by Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton by himself:

“And the men said to her, Our life for yours [even] to death: and she said, When the Lord shall have delivered the city to you, ye shall deal mercifully and truly with me.”

Do you see the difference? The original Jewish translation of the Hebrew into Greek (or the LXX which Brenton turns to English) is different from the James I English translation. The Jews have “καὶ αὐτὴ εἶπεν” (for which Brenton has “and she said”) for the original, ambiguous Hebrew phrase “אמֶר.”

Now, to be fair to the King James Commission on The Translation of The Holy Bible, they may just be following Saint Jerome or the rogue Martin Luther, who fail to give the prostitute Rahab her say. Who do you think your favorite Bible’s commission is faithful to, which platonic idealist who silences the woman, that is? (Of course, the LXX Commission, and Sir Brenton, let Rahab speak in Joshua 2:14 in the original Hebrew text and in the Greek and in the English translations).

So let’s quickly run back to the New Testament and to the book of Hebrews and to Hebrews 4:8.

To be sure, all the writers of the New Testament (all men, except perhaps for that unnamed authoress of the book of Hebrews)—all of them really like the translators and the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. The New Testament writers without fail also write in Greek, and when they quote the Old Testament they quote the Greek translation. That’s not to say they don’t like the original Hebrew text; they do. It’s just to say, every single writer of the New Testament chooses to write in Greek, and chooses to read also the Greek translation when quoting from the ancient Hebrew scripture.

Not surprisingly, when recording what first century Jews said in Hebrew or Aramaic, the New Testament writers—every single one of them—translated the Hebrew speech into Greek. And when the speech was ambiguous, which Hebrew and most any language is from time to time, the New Testament writer-translators were good enough to let us readers sort things out.

So here’s what the writer of the book of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:8:

εἰ γὰρ αὐτοὺς Ἰησοῦς κατέπαυσεν οὐκ ἂν περὶ ἄλλης ἐλάλει μετὰ ταῦτα ἡμέρας

Now, notice bible translators today have tended to split over the ambiguity here. But it seems that Saint Jerome and the protesting Martin Luther parted ways here too. And since, many bible translators follow either the one or the other, we get the split.

Here’s Jerome and then Luther (but go on to check how your favorite Bible translation gives way to the one or the other):

nam si eis Iesus requiem praestitisset numquam de alio loqueretur posthac die

Denn so Josua hätte sie zur Ruhe gebracht, würde er nicht hernach von einem andern Tage gesagt haben.

The quick thing to note is that Jerome makes Ἰησοῦς Iesus but Luther makes him Josua.

Now, of course Jerome can tell the difference between “Jesus” and “Joshua” and so can the writer of the book of Hebrews. But the unnamed, anonymous writer of the book of Hebrews wants to keep the language in Greek as ambiguous as it is in Hebrew. She gives the reader of her Greek and the earlier Hebrew quite a bit of credit. (Okay, I’ll give you that—there’s no rigid evidence that the writer of Hebrews is “she”; and yet “he” sure writes and translates as openly as a “she” might).

But Jerome and Luther have to disambiguate, which is what bible translators today do. They want the ideal text to say one thing and one thing only. And if there’s a choice left to the reader, well the translator gets to decide for her. (In this way, Jerome and Luther are not only Platonists, they are also Aristotelians. They want the ideal Text, and they want it to say One thing and NOT another thing).

So to be clear, Jerome turns Joshua into Jesus, and Luther turns Joshua into Joshua. Most bible translators today follow either the one or the other.

But the writer of the book of Hebrews lets Jesus be Joshua also. She trusts the early translators, you know, the ones who let Rahab speak in Joshua 2:14. She trusts us the readers to see the ambiguity, to interpret for ourselves, and to hear the various voices in the text, not just Jerome’s voice or Luther’s voice.

(Now I do know of two English translation teams who have decided to translate both Joshuas in the Greek text Hebrews as "Joshua." They are Jewish groups, and I'll not name them here because they do have bias that they confess, which may just distract from the point of this post. Their bias is not platonism or neo-aristotelianism, however. And, as mentioned before, the translator and translation theorist Willis Barnstone, who is a Jew, not a Christian, translates the Greek Ἰησοῦς as Yeshua).