Friday, October 17, 2008

Language Matters

“Language” and “translation” tend to be unquestionably “male,” rigidly ‘logical,” and typically “ethnocentric.” In other words, linguists and translators tend to be phallogocentric. We could name names, but we’d just make notable scholars and translators of the Bible and of the Koran and of Aristotle embarrassed or angry or both I suppose.

Oops! I just named Aristotle. He didn’t flinch at using the term φαλλικὰ (phallikā from which we get “phallus”) to name certain things in his theoretical system of knowing. And he made up the word λογική (logikē) to define and to classify his method of definition and classification. And he called his “non-extreme,” “normal” elite Greek male lifestyle κέντρον (kēntron, or centric).

Aristotle never intended “τὸ ἑλληνίζειν” (tō Hellənīzein), or pure Greek language, to be ours in any way. In other words, his “normal” language protected him and his kind from women and from barbarians like you and me. If his student Alexander the Great would commission a translation, then of course it would always have to be into Greek, and never into a lesser mother tongue.

So, what’s normal for you and me? After millennia, don’t we need alternatives to Aristotle’s system of phallogocentrism that seeks to dominate the feminine, the rhetorical, and the marginal?

Feminists have begun to call Aristotle out. Feminists have begun to re-conceive both “language” and “translation” in various different ways. Here is an academic-English translation of Western feminist Hélène Cixous’s zany French, which she (with Eric Prenowitz) translates from the colorful Brazilian Portuguese of Latin American feminist Clarice Lispector:

phallogocentrism - “a system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity.”

So take a second; go ahead, permit yourself. Below is a comparison of how we usually look at language and translation, but how it can be different. (three pages from a draft of my dissertation. That’s all I’ve got right now):

No comments: