Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eye-Popping Post!

Two semesters before I started learning ancient Greek, I started learning modern Japanese. My roommate was from Japan, and got frustrated with me for using おめでと (or 御目出度) to mean literally "eye-popping." In Japan, of course, "omedeto" is the phrase for "congratulations," not for "eye popping" of any kind. But my other Japanese friend on campus named himself "Earl Farley" using American English sounds for "R" and "L" and "F" for which there are no equivalents in Japanese. We loved to play with each others' language, Earl Farley and eye-popping me.

Today, Wayne Leman has this great discussion going following his interesting post at BBB, "This post will open your eyes." The example he gives is from Matthew who is, I think, probably using a Greek-translated Hebrew idiom. But the conversation opens with John Hobbins' wonderful question about whether the BBB blog has mainly "promoted the dynamic translation philosophy." John confesses he's looked for some "positive information regarding the literal translation philosophy."  UPDATE:  ALTHOUGH JOHN HOBBINS DOES PROTEST DE TRANSLATION IN THIS POST, HE CLARIFIES HERE THAT IT'S ANOTHER JOHN WHO MAKES THESE COMMENTS THAT I'M REFERRING TO.

I told my story of wordplay with the Japanese (and Earl's with our English) because I'm making the point here that literal translation often offers the most word play. And the original native speaker doesn't always get to decide how others play with her language. Nor does the linguist or scholar always get to decide what plays best.

Since we're talking about the limits of "dynamic translation philosophy," here's a bit of helpful insight from translator Reynolds Price, from pages 20-22 of his Three Gospels:
Despite such a likably humane doctrine as what might be called the universality of the human heart in all times and places, it remains beyond doubt that human beings alive on the same day in the same city block—not to speak of different countries and centuries—will witness, reflect on, and respond to equal stimuli in ways as divergent as an infant’s and a leopard’s. Can any of us claim seriously to feel at all confident of sharing the feelings of a poor Roman Jew—or a Roman’s senator’s well-heeled wife—as they sat together in a threatened domus ecclesia (a house church) in the mid-sixties AD and listened as Mark or some literate friend read the agony scene in Mark’s gospel—Jesus terrified in the lonely hours before his arrest—while, a few yards away, Nero’s or Galba’s police combed the streets fro bodies to feed an imperial craving for scapegoats? Or try imagining the contrary pulls on a young Greek sailor as he paused near the harbor in Ephesus by the great temple of Artemis with its many-breasted statue of the goddess, and then chose to follow a gently importunate man from the Jesus sect up a blind alley into a dim room to hear the ancient Beloved Disciple recount Jesus’ fourth and last appearance after death. Now try to convey your imagined experience to others less resourceful than you.

Such exercises are both entirely legitimate and also laughable; they smack more of the ludicrous Hollywood fumblings in Quo Vadis or Ben Hur. In fact, we have no firm notion of how it felt to exist in Rome, Palestine, or Asia Minor some two thousand years ago—burdened with all the assumptions and hopes of our past lives. . . .

Archaeology has often made it possible for us to imagine clearly enough the look of ancient life. What is certain to be lost forever is the feel and the tone of specific moments in prior centuries—the million unexamined assumptions that underlie the thoughts and actions of a particular human being at a given moment. Especially irrecoverable are the thoughts and choices, the fears of and reliance on the realms of angels and demons, of that large majority of people who never read or wrote a word but were sure that they lived at the momentary mercy of overlord, goblins, not to speak of an unimagined world of microbes. Nonetheless, in an understandable effort to bridge the chasms between our minds and those of the gospel writers—as well as he minds of their subjects and their audiences—translators who convince themselves of possessing access to the psychic atmospheres of the first century have frequently lurched into slangy or loose-mouthed approximations that ring suspiciously wrong and pretend to strip from their subjects the immoveable screens of age and distance.

Attempts to find, for instance, what some leading students of modern translation have called a dynamic equivalence for first-century Greek are logically suspect in the extreme but have been pursued so often by individuals and groups that we now have in English several popular versions of the gospels that constitute what are well-intended but almost certainly major distortions of their originals.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Falling off a blogroll

I hope you keep track of who blogrolls your blog.  For me, it's always an honor to see this blog rolled on yours.  Yes, an honor!  Conversely, to be dropped from your blog roll is quite a drag.  So, I've got a couple of questions for you that may take some brave candor to answer:

1.  Whose blogroll has your blog fallen off of?

2.  Whose blogroll would you like to see your blog added to?

My answers?  Well,...

1.  With no explanation (but with tons of speculation on my part), Aristotle's Feminist Subject has fallen off of the blogrolls at:
2.  I would love to see my blog added to these rolls:
  • the five linked above (won't they have this blog back or at least explain the reason for the fall off the blogroll?)
  • b l o g o s (but I guess I should roll blogos first right?)
  • Suzanne's Bookshelf (even though she announced it's no longer going)
  • The Rosewater Chronicles (some pretty clever stuff with a very picky blogroll)
  • Velveteen Rabbi (but I may have to "convert" to something)

Global Cancer for Thanksgiving

The Islamic terrorists in Mumbai targeted Westerners and wealthy Indians. . . . But really, did anyone doubt for a moment that, in addition to Americans, Europeans, and wealthy Indians (both Hindu and Muslim), that these barbarians would kill all the known and unarmed Jews they could find? . . . .

Have the Princes of Saudi Arabia, the mullahs of Iran, the imams of Cairo, Baghdad, and London, the various Palestinian factions condemned the carnage? Did I miss it? Have moderate Muslims and prominent anti-racists and anti-colonialists condemned the carnage as a racist, colonialist act? (I know, I know, if people of color are doing the shooting, the deaths of brown-skinned people do not seem to matter to them quite as much). . . .

As I previously wrote, Islamic fundamentalists have declared a major, global war against the West and against non-Wahabi Muslims. To date, the world has refused to treat the Islamic/Islamist assault as the full-fledged religious war that it really is. No, it is not a traditional war which means that we will require non-traditional, as well as traditional means to fight it. . . . 

I have a long-time friend and colleague who left America to run an orphanage for girls in India, in Kolkata. (Like Mumbai, which used to be called Bombay, Calcutta has now become Kolkata.) She is a physician and her name is Michelle Harrison. Here is what she just wrote me.

“It’s a metastatic cancer that needs surgery and chemo, but the world still thinks some meditation and deep breathing will make it go away.”

Palestinian and other Islamist terrorists have often chosen Jewish holidays to either launch a war or a homicide bombing against Israel. These massacrists struck Mumbai on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, a venerable American holiday. I do not think this fact should be overlooked.


from Phyllis Chesler: The Thanksgiving Day Massacre in Mumbai

Friday, November 28, 2008

post-Thanksgiving: translating

So when traveling to Jerusalem,
he’s going across the border
between the West Bank
and that Shiksa District;

he’s going right into some shtetl,
met by ten men with AIDS who are
standing a good way off from him
shouting at the top of their voices:

“Your Honor (of Good Standing),
Pay Attention to Our Case!”

He looks at them
and says
“Travel on now: Fardrai zich deyn kopf!
Show yourselves to the Official Kohenim."

So while heading up there,
they are cured.

Then one of them looks:
sure enough, completely healthy.
Turns around with this huge voice:
Gives God credit;

Falls face down
at his feet:
Gives him thanks.
--a Shiksa’s boy, no less.

Then Joshua retorts,
“Weren’t ten cured?
Then where’s the nine?
Is the only one found turning around giving due credit to God this bastard?”

He says to him,
“Stand up like you’ve come back to life.
Travel on now.
You’ve been rescued by your own beliefs.”

καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ πορεύεσθαι εἰς Ἰερουσαλὴμ
καὶ αὐτὸς διήρχετο
διὰ μέσον Σαμαρείας
καὶ Γαλιλαίας

καὶ εἰσερχομένου αὐτοῦ εἴς τινα κώμην
ἀπήντησαν αὐτῷ δέκα λεπροὶ ἄνδρες
οἳ ἔστησαν πόρρωθεν
καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες


καὶ ἰδὼν
εἶπεν αὐτοῖς
ἐπιδείξατε ἑαυτοὺς τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν

καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ὑπάγειν αὐτοὺς

εἷς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν ἰδὼν
ὅτι ἰάθη
ὑπέστρεψεν μετὰ φωνῆς μεγάλης
δοξάζων τὸν θεόν

καὶ ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον
παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ
εὐχαριστῶν αὐτῷ
καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Σαμαρίτης

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν
οὐχὶ οἱ δέκα ἐκαθαρίσθησαν
οἱ δὲ ἐννέα ποῦ
οὐχ εὑρέθησαν ὑποστρέψαντες δοῦναι δόξαν τῷ θεῷ εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀλλογενὴς οὗτος

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ
ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Help me, help me, help me

Thank you, thank you, thank you

--These are the "best prayers" one can pray,

says Anne Lamott in her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

and she opens with an epigraph, an apt poem,

THANKS by W. S. Merwin


with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping o­n the bridge to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water looking out

in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a country up to its chin in shame

living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the back door

and the beatings o­n stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with crooks in office with the rich and fashionable

unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us

our lost feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like the earth

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Poems for Isaac: for Every One That Heareth

וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־שֶׁם־בְּנֹו הַנֹּולַד־לֹו אֲשֶׁר־יָלְדָה־לֹּו שָׂרָה יִצְחָק׃
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה צְחֹק עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים כָּל־הַשֹּׁמֵעַ יִצְחַק־לִי׃
And Sarah said: 'God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.'

Sometimes it's the end of a poem, the punch-line, that starts us.  If you will, it starts us off laughing (even making us ashamed at ourselves for something, like listening in the first place, and then laughing involuntarily in public, or as if in private, desiring that we be different somehow). What if hope, change, our conversion - not just to "being better" but to "being together better beings" - came from this listening, translating process? A few days ago, Rachel Barenblat, Anne Carson, and Paul Celan started this process, for me anyway. Today, it seems, we continue with them. Listen (but please only listen if sexual language -- "the seed of Abraham" -- and the laughter it -- "Rebecca's Isaac" -- might invoke doesn't offend you):

PULLING THE STRINGS by Rachel Barenblat

Trickster Rebecca, I wish you'd known better
than to pit your sons one against the other

like Isaac and Ishmael, jostling and angling
for the lone blessing in their father's hands.

If you had taught your bookish son, the one
who stayed in the tent weaving stories

and your rough red-bearded hunter
whose heart chafed against being indoors

to see one another as sides of the same coin
think how much drama we could have been spared!

Then again, blind Isaac may have seen more
than we know. He tried twice to shame Jacob into truth.

God must have told you we need this tension
to shape the Israel we're meant to become.

GOD'S NAME by Anne Carson

God had no name.
Isaac had two names.
Isaac was also called The Blind.

Inside the dark sky of his mind
Isaac could hear God
moving down a country road bordered by trees.

By the way the trees reflected off God
Isaac knew which ones were straight and tall
or when they carried their branches

as a body does its head
or why some crouched low to the ground in thickets.
To hear how God was moving through the universe

gave Isaac his question.
I could tell you his answer
but it wouldn't help.

The name is not a noun.
It is an adverb.
Like the little black notebooks that Beethoven carried

in his coatpocket
for the use of those who wished to converse with him,
the God adverb

is a one-way street that goes everywhere you are.
No use telling you what it is.
Just chew it and rub it on.

HAUT MAL von Paul Celan

von den Goettern Befleckte:

deine Zunge ist russig,
dein Harn schwarz,
wassergallig dein Stuhl,

du fuehrst,
wie ich,
unzuechtige Reden,

du setzt einen Fuss vor den andern,
legst eine Hand auf die andre,
schmiegst dich in Ziegenfell,

du beheiligst
mein Glied.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh

O irredeemable
beloved, sleep-attacked,
tainted by the gods:

your tongue is sooty,
your urine black,
your stool a bilious liquefaction.

like myself,
you use
foul language;

you put one foot before the other,
lay one hand atop the other,
burrow into goatskin,

my cock.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Niko Boris and Heather McHugh

. . . .

my dick.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Rochelle Tobias

. . . .

my virile member.

HAUT MAL translated into English by Brian Lynch and Peter Jankowsky

. . . .

my phall.

Translation Snobs: "Saving Faith" and "Geometric Proof"

1Tim. 5:11-12
ESV But refuse to enroll younger widows, for…they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.
Comment: Pistis doesn’t mean “faith” here, but a pledge made to the Lord (BDAG). The ESV sounds like the widows’ remarriage results in apostasy.
TNIV …they have broken their first pledge.
NRSV …having violated their first pledge.
Keep that faith to yourself!
Rom. 14:22 ESV The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.
Comment: The ESV seems to be discouraging believers from sharing their faith. But the word pistis here refers to personal convictions about food and drink, not about saving faith.6
TNIV So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.
REB If you have some firm conviction, keep it between yourself and God.
--Dr. Mark Strauss

Using an Aristotelian conception of causality which depends on distinctions between potency and act, identity of actual cause and actual effect, and the distinction between kenesis and energeia, removes apparent ambiguities and inconsistencies from Aristotle's account. For example, pistis does double duty as one of three modes of proof alongside ethos and pathos, but these three, only one of which is called pistis, are also collectively called pisteis. That "logical" source of proof is also called logos and ta pragmata. As a source of proof, pistis is a potentiality; as proof, it is actuality. The enthymeme is called the body of proof. . . . When I offer you a geometric proof, you don't have to like it, remember it, act on it; all that is necessary for my successfully performing the act of proving is that you recognize that that is what I'm doing. Proof is something I do in discourse.
--Dr. Eugene Garver
If you've made it through the two quotations above by the two Ph.D.s, Mark Strauss and Eugene Garver, then you may have noticed something. First, they are experts on the Greek word πίστις, which they both transliterate pistis. Second, they are making very clear to us naive English readers of the New Testament and of Aristotle's Rhetoric just what pistis means and should not mean in various contexts. Third, either the contexts or the two experts themselves (Strauss and Garver, both with high doctorates) will not agree on the technical meaning of pistis. For Strauss, the default prototypical meaning of pistis is "saving faith" that Christian "believers" have. For Garver, the default prototypical meaning of pistis is "geometric proof." (The sources for these quotations are Strauss's paper, "Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version" and Garver's book, Aristotle's Rhetoric: An Art of Character.)

Do you get the problem? Two experts disputing with other experts in their respective areas of expertise the meanings of a single Greek word. Two different disputes with two very different precise results. Funny thing is, us naive English readers and the original naive Greek readers can laugh that our "belief" and their "πίστις" hardly must mean the things Dr. Strauss and Dr. Garver insist they must mean.

Just to be clear, I don't imagine for a minute that either Ph.D. is mean spirited. Rather, each thinks he's being really helpful. They each recognize that πίστις is a hugely significant term in the New Testament and in Aristotle's writings. But by narrowing down the precise or idealized meaning, they would rob us readers and translators of meaning making.

It'll take another post or two, but I think we all can think of πίστις in lots of exciting ways. Less snobbish experts like Krista Ratcliffe and Albert Einstein and Kenneth Pike and Jacqueline Jones Royster would allow any of us to view πίστις very subjectively, as wavy or like some particular thing or as a relative of sorts. I might even say that these experts would let us view the word believingly.  And I just may tell you some of my πίστις stories: of falling in love, of encountering a snake on a path, of my dog getting bit twice by a beaver near the Trinity River, and of Amelia meeting Martha Stewart two weeks ago. Maybe you'll believe me now that I have a Ph.D. --- hmmmm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Picture My Defense

As promised, here's my handout for my defense. Hope you find it interesting, even relevant to you in some way.

My dissertation advisor and committee chair, Dr. Charlotte Hogg, advised that my defense "must sparkle with clarity and coherence." (She'd become nearly accustomed to my writing otherwise.) And my reader-group colleagues, Jason King and Moriah McCracken, some of the best and clearest and most coherent writers I know, gave me pointers all that week up to the defense. Moriah had tracked with personal stories, and encouraged me and my family with the implications of the dissertation even in the blogging here. I decided, in my defense, to tell stories, as bookends around this handout I'd made: in a quaky voice unworthy of our president elect, I began by quoting Barack Obama telling the story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a woman, a black woman, giving voice in government, and telling the story of his daughters now having hope. And one of my daughters, Amelia, was in the room, so I expressed my hopes for her and her sister in relation to their brother. We talked of Aristotle's persistent influence on the silence of women in Western cultures.  (Amelia was "Helen" in her school play "Troy" and she happily stapled the handout together the night before and colored the little cartoon on the second page, as you see it below). After speaking for 25 minutes, running through the handout, I quoted Nancy Mairs telling her story of "defending" her "dissertation," a violent separating but a narrative that ran back and forth, sort of like mine. The committee members asked such wonderful, thoughtful and thought-provoking questions. And they did so for more than an hour before Dr. Hogg invited questions from the audience. My wife, who culled my project into the two word phrase "Aristotle Exposed," and who teaches me many things about writing well and good and many things if I'd just learn, was in the room. My mother, who had taught me to read, also was there, listening. My brother from London was there, and asked a couple of questions, following up on our earlier conversations about the project. Then my Dad spoke. "Kurk, I have a problem," he started. (I'll let you imagine what he asked--but it certainly did reveal a lot, I thought, about the unmarked positions of patriarchy). Later, he and Mom each emailed to say they were proud of me. I was thrilled and honored that so many showed up with so much intellectual curiosity and willingness to listen to one another in this process.

Picturing Posts: Seeing this Blog

The Rocking, Driving, Slamming Women of Saudi Arabia

They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album cover photographs. Even their jam sessions are secret, for fear of offending the religious authorities in this ultraconservative kingdom. But the members of Saudi Arabia’s first all-girl rock band, the Accolade, are clearly not afraid of taboos.
--The AccoLade on MySpace and FaceBook, and their music for download.

A Saudi woman has posted a video of herself driving on YouTube in an effort to urge the Saudi government to expand the rights of women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Wajeha Al-Huwaider has a driver's license, but she is only allowed to drive in rural areas of Saudi Arabia. She said that restriction "paralyzes half the population." She wants authorities to let women drive in Saudi cities.
The Jeddah United women's basketball team trickled onto the court, each player wrapped in a black abaya and head scarf. Within minutes, the women had shed their cloaks and were in uniform – white pants and jerseys with their names in red – practicing layups, passes, and foul shots. The team, made up mostly of Saudi students and housewives, is preparing for a local tournament this month. But what the women would really love to do, many said, is compete internationally and represent their country abroad, something Saudi Arabia does not permit.
--"Saudi Arabia's Underground Women's Basketball Scene"

Saudi women are being kept in perpetual childhood so male relatives can exercise "guardianship" over them. . . . Saudi women have to obtain permission from male relatives to work, travel, study, marry or even receive health care. Their access to justice is also severely constrained. . . . The Saudi establishment sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Saudi clerics see the guardianship of women's honour as a key to the country's social and moral order.

Saudi boys are raised, essentially, to believe that they are the center of the universe. They're fussed over not just by their own mothers, but by all of their father's wives in the harem.   As with the breast feeding, much of this intensive communal care can leave a strongly erotic aftertaste in the boy's memory. For example, a common way for the women to stop a baby boy from crying is by caressing and stroking his genitals. Such practices have been credited with contributing to the way that Saudi men tend to view women as mere sex objects, placed on this earth solely to gratify the men's physical appetites.

Meanwhile, girls are taught to understand and accept that their existence has no meaning whatsoever, except as it relates to the men in their family. When a girl is young, her parents are merely ashamed that she wasn't a boy. Her main role is to help care for her brothers. Later, however, the parents will be anxiety-ridden over the possibility that she might bring shame upon her family. Just as a mother will later be called after her son, so are girls called after their father. If Fatima's father is named Abdullah, she will be known as Fatima bint Abdullah, "Fatima, Daughter of Abdullah," until the day she has a son. . . . (page 173)

I explained, too, how Byzantium was basically Greek in culture, so it also shouldn't be a surprise that the most important part of the Byzantine influence on Islamic civilization came from Byzantium's Greek past. This may seem like a bit of mystery at first. But in a second, you'll probably agree that, in fact, you already know roughly what I mean. After all, what do you think of when I say the word "Greek"? Socrates, right? Plato? Aristotle? All those guys. Philosophers and other intellectual pioneers that we've all heard of. Well, they were the ones who influenced Islamic thought. Most important was Aristotle, but the Arabs also took up the work of mathematicians like Euclid, physicians like Galen and Hippocrates, and scientists like Ptolemy. These ancient Greek sages were still being studied in school when the Arabs conquered Byzantine lands in the Middle East. Eventually the Arabs realized they had a treasure trove of knowledge on their hands, and they began to promote further research on it. A leading example of this is the early ninth-century Abbasid caliph al-Mamun. He was once thought to have set up a research facility in Baghdad called "the House of Wisdom," especially to translate works on science and philosophy from Greek into Arabic. (page 37)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Speakeristas and Abortion

At another blog, some of my blogger (Christian) friends are having a conversation about (A) religious egalitarianism as opposed to (B) activist feminism.  Abortion seems to be one of the divides that separates these groups of people in two.  Who listens compassionately?

Let me just review some history to show the muddle men have made of this.  I'm not talking about mankind but males.

First, the man Aristotle does write in his Politics something that looks like an anti-abortion statement: "an abortion must be induced before the onset of sensation and life."  Aristotle seems to side with Hippocrates and his oath; and with anti-abortionists today.  However, in fact, Aristotle argues for infanticide when the baby is defective; Right-to-Life, anti-abortionists don't argue this.  And he writes also that females born are defective males; Right-to-Lifers don't address whether females are equal to males.  And he does not allow females to voice their opinions about their abortions or anything else; Right-to-Lifers say the pregnant woman's voice must be silenced only in favor of the fetus.  And Aristotle says that life or the soul is already in the sperm; Right-to-Lifers say that life begins at conception or very soon afterwards.  Aristotle also claims that sperm, of course, is male; that adultery is always wrong for the wife but is mainly wrong for the husband if he can't keep it a secret or if he's cheating when his sperm is most potent; and that premarital sex is fine but homosexual intercourse is not.  My suspicion is that Aristotle is motivated by fear of females and wants to keep them logically and politically separate from males.  Of course, these concerns of Aristotle do not seem to square very well with either Right-to-Lifers or Right-to-Choicers today.

Second, the man Solomon does seem, by conventional wisdom, to care about both a woman's rights and the right of a child to life.  Here the King does listen to two speakeristas, pleading their case.  Listening to women seems wise enough.  You know the famous story in the Jewish scriptures (I Kings 3:16-27).  However, in fact, this man is not completely unbiased, having 1000 virgins all to himself (700 wives, and 300 concubines).  Is perhaps this baby he's trying to save his?  

Third, the men on the U.S. Supreme Court listened to a speakerista named Jane Roe.  Again, this seems wise.  She tells them her name is really Norma Leah McCorvey and that she's been raped and wants to abort the fetus legally.  They are Christian men (three Presbyterians, two Methodists, an Episcopal, and a Lutheran) and two men who do not publicly claim that faith, but their majority decision to say Yes to the choice of this woman, and to women, is not based on Christianity but on the past practices of the male-only democracies of Greece and Rome.  (And the two dissenters--the Lutheran and one of the nonChristians--do not appeal to religion either but rather to the desire to keep the choice in the hands of "the people and to the political processes the people have devised to govern their affairs."  Of course, "the people" were mostly male gynecologists, husbands, boyfriends, and men who were local jurymen, lawyers, lawmakers, and judges).

Fourth, the men who are Christians today who call themselves heads of their wives want to listen now to that speakerista named Norma McCorvey because she has become one of them. You know her story of repenting of being
a ninth-grade dropout, [with] a tough life, [having] suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, [having] spent some time in reform school in Gainesville, Texas, and [being] raped as a teen-ager. [Then having a] husband whom she married at age 16 [who] later beat her. [And of having struggled herself with] alcohol and drug abuse, and [who had] experiences with lovers of both sexes
She tells how she regrets leaving "[h]er first child, Melissa, [to be] raised by her mother; her second child [to be] raised by the father, and [having] agreed that [she] would never contact [this daughter]." She remembers how "[s]he drifted through a series of dead-end jobs, including work as a bartender and a carnival barker [and how once] she went public with her story, she worked in several clinics where abortions were performed and did some public speaking, garnering publicity and a little bit of celebrity."  The men now forgive all because she has made a different legal choice, but the choice that supports theirs not to have to listen to speakeristas all the time.

What if men listened more to women?  What if "Christian egalitarians" listened more to "the politics of feminism"? Could there be more culture peace and less culture war?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

one of our oldest arguments

I can tell by the way my mother chews her toast
whether she had a good night
and is about to say a happy thing
or not.

She puts her toast down on the side of her plate.
You know you can pull the drapes in that room, she begins.

This is a coded reference to one of our oldest arguments,
from what I call The Rules Of Life series.
My mother always closes her bedroom drapes tight before going to bed at night.

I open mine as wide as possible.
I like to see everything, I say.
What’s there to see?

Moon. Air. Sunrise.
All that light on your face in the morning. Wakes you up.
I like to wake up.

At this point the drapes argument has reached a delta
and may advance along one of three channels.
There is the What You Need Is A Good Night’s Sleep channel,

the Stubborn As Your Father channel
and random channel.
More toast? I interpose strongly, pushing back my chair.

Those women! says my mother with an exasperated rasp.
Mother has chosen random channel.

Complaining about rape all the time
I see she is tapping one furious finger on yesterday’s newspaper
lying beside the grape jam.

The front page has a small feature
about a rally for International Women’s Day—
have you had a look at the Sears Summer Catalogue?

Why, it’s a disgrace! Those bathing suits—
cut way up to here! (she points) No wonder!

You’re saying women deserve to get raped
because Sears bathing suit ads
have high-cut legs? Ma, are you serious?

Well someone has to be responsible.
Why should women be responsible for male desire? My voice is high.
Oh I see you’re one of Them.

One of Whom? My voice is very high. Mother vaults it.
And whatever did you do with that little tank suit you had last year the green one?
It looked so smart on you.

The frail fact drops on me from a great height
that my mother is afraid.
She will be eighty years old this summer.


Samhita's post "The sleepwalking defense?" and David's "There’s no escape from your husband", made me think, again, of Anne Carson's poem "The Glass Essay", and the bit of encoded argument, recurring, excerpted above. I know a man, a family guy, who raped a woman while "sleep walking." The guy's walking around today, "awake." The rest of us? What comes in poetry? And who listens? Is it really much of an argument? However old it is, when will it stop. Like I said, some things make me think, but some things make me sink.

Friday, November 21, 2008

They "Passed" Me

They are

my dissertation advisor and committee chair,
Dr. Charlotte Hogg, Associate Professor of English and Director of Composition,

and committee members,
Dr. Ann George, Associate Professor of English,
Dr. Steve Sherwood, Director of the William L. Adams Center for Writing, and
Dr. Carolyn Osiek, Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament.

Julie (my wife), Amelia (one of our daughters), my mother and father, and one of my brothers were there with my graduate student friends, a work colleague, and one of the other faculty members in the English Department. It was a "great" moment!

Dr. Osiek emailed me afterwards to say "It was fun being there this afternoon" and to continue a conversation we'd started in the "defense." It really was fun. Maybe later I'll post the handout if you want in on some of it. I feel a lot lighter now. Aristotle's one heavy dude, my son would say.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Facing the Music: the Diss Defense

How do you dress for a dissertation defense?

when it's less than a week from today? and between now and then you've got to run an orientation for new students? fight the annual departmental budget fights with the university controller? get in the spring faculty appointments to the dean and the provost? have a normal weekend with family and friends? get to the other dean the college draft of the dissertation knowing that the committee has found it relatively dense and muddling and lengthy? and you just want to blog about the wonderful things that professor Hawhee and professor Mountford are talking about and doing as the latter "mixes historiography with ethnography" to overturn Aristotle's documented influence on our societies such that we've all conspired to silence women in the pulpit and in the pews and even (thanks Deborah) at Huffington Post?

Last time I put on a good face for something, it was this one:

And my Episcopal priest friend steps out of his car that dark night with, "What kind of social statement are you making now?"

I replied that it had been my university service earlier in the (Halloween) day, when as part of the "community relations" committee of the "staff governing body" I did my part to make a few school kids happy. The students of the school run by our college of ed dress up themselves and go trick or treating safely on campus. I was told by the committee chair to dress "not too scary" but some of the teachers scowled at me anyway. And yet the down syndrome kids just loved the make up, and the older kids kept debating whether I was a clown or if it really was the Joker. In the neighborhood, one uncostumed boy told me he'd be right back, and a few minutes later, a proud looking batman showed up. I didn't try to explain anything to my friend the priest as kid after kid, with knowing chuckles, kept saying to me through their own masks, "Why so serious." He had not ever let his kids trick or treat before, so this was quite a conversion experience.  (Our daughters are good friends at the private school, and mine invited his over for the event).

Which takes me back to when I was a (younger) kid growing up in South Viet Nam, and my (Southern Baptist) missionary parents let my siblings and friends and me run a neighborhood haunted house in their Center (for literacy and for printing and for sewing classes) in Ba Ngoi (where we lived in Cam Ranh Bay). I'd hung on to my glow-in-the-dark skeleton costume (from America), and wore it. At the right moment, around the second turn in the haunted house, I'd pop up out of a grave and scare the bejeebers out of grown men and women interested in seeing what American missionary kids did for entertainment. It was horrifying, mainly because all my friends believed in ghosts as resurrected phantom ancestors who must be appeased daily by incense burning and veneration and such. Some of them saw their uncle Minh in me the animated glow. Needless to say, we Americans were run out of the country shortly afterwards, and I claim my responsibility for that. Which is why I keep going back from time to time under the guise of a scholar doing English language and sociolinguistic work. That's particularly horrifying in itself. But then that's another story altogether.

I've been facing the music and putting on faces all my life, I suppose. To prove that, my parents sent me this photo of me that they took back when we lived in Sai Gon (which is now Ho Chi Minh City).

If you have any better ideas for how to dress for my defense, then by all means, leave me a comment. 

The only thing I have to add, before I go away from blogging again, is that I think we all wear faces, don't we? I mean would you look at how Rafael dresses up his only woman (Hypatia) in his School of Athens? And guess who he has front and center? You're right, it's Aristotle. So that kind of makes not only me but also her his feminist subject. And don't be fooled into thinking that you're not Aristotle's barbarian subject either.

If you have any pearls of wisdom, then by all means leave them here.  I leave you all now, until . . . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aristotle Hates Barack Obama

Aristotle's major premise:
"Men like the sophists are fools to embrace paradox and to get others to do so 
(and I hate them for that)."

Schaeffer's minor premise:
"Barack Obama is a person who embraces paradox and encourages us to do so.  (See more below)."

Aristotle's conclusion:
"I hate Obama 
(because he's like the sophists, and all such fools embrace paradox)."

Get Aristotle's logic, his chain of reasoning, his conclusion? 
Here's more from Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics:
ἔτι ὁ σοφιστικὸς λόγος ψευδόμενος ἀπορία· διὰ γὰρ τὸ παράδοξα βούλεσθαι ἐλέγχειν, ἵνα δεινοὶ ὦσιν ὅταν ἐπιτύχωσιν, ὁ γενόμενος συλλογισμὸς ἀπορία γίνεται· δέδεται γὰρ ἡ διάνοια,ὅταν μένειν μὴ βούληται διὰ τὸ μὴ ἀρέσκειν τὸ συμπερανθέν, προϊέναι δὲ μὴ δύνηται διὰ τὸ λῦσαι μὴ ἔχειν τὸν λόγον. συμβαίνει δὴ ἔκ τινος λόγου ἡ ἀφροσύνη μετ’ ἀκρασίας ἀρετή·τἀναντία γὰρ πράττει ὧν ὑπολαμβάνει διὰ τὴν ἀκρασίαν, ὑπολαμβάνει δὲ τἀγαθὰ κακὰ εἶναι καὶ οὐ δεῖν πράττειν, ὥστε τἀγαθὰ καὶ οὐ τὰ κακὰ πράξει.

Again there's the difficulty raised by the fake-out argument of the sophists. The sophists wish to show their cleverness by trapping their adversary with a paradox, and when they're successful, their resultant chain of reasoning ends in a deadlock: the mind is shackled, being unwilling to stand still because it can’t approve the conclusion reached, and yet being unable to go forward because it can’t untie the knot of the argument. Didn't I already say these men are fools?
Here's more from Frank Schaeffer in his HuffPo blog post "President Obama: Bad News For the New Atheists and Other Fundamentalists":
Into the all or nothing culture wars, and the all or nothing wars between the so-called New Atheists and religion the election of President elect Obama reintroduces nuance. . . .

[Obama is saying:] "I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy. . . ."

President elect Obama has said, and I paraphrase: Strip the human race of our spiritual language and what do we tell each other about hope?

As President elect Obama has pointed out, a world of all math but no poetry is not fit for human habitation. If everything feels flat and dull, stripped of mystery and meaning who will bother to do the science? Why bother, if all we're doing is serving those selfish genes for another round of meaningless propagation?

So does this faith always make "sense?" No. Because our perspective is from the inside, something like paint contemplating the painting of which it's a part. We're all in the same boat, all stuck on the same "canvas."

So let's admit we all share the problem that was best articulated by Darwin in his dairy: "Can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?"

As our new president recognizes, self-awareness and mortality are already such a mutually exclusive (and terrifying) contradiction that accepting a few more contradictions is par for the course! And President elect Obama has a generous enough spirit and a large enough intellect so that he can do with his spiritual life, what the Religious Right and the New Atheists have not done: understand that there is no shame in embracing paradox.

President Obama is about to make reasoned faith fashionable again. It's about time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Poems -- worth our reading

Without much ado
(and yet, below, just a bit of commentary from Anne Carson on Paul Celan's poem
and only a link to commentary from Rachel Barenblat herself on her own poem),
Two Poems -- worth our reading, rereading, remembering:


Keine Sandkunst mehr / No More SandArt   by Paul Celan

Keine Sandkunst mehr, kein Sandbuch, Keine Meister.
Nichts erwurfelt. Wieviel Stumme? Siebenzehn.
Deine Frage, deine Antwort. Dein gesang, was weiss er? 

No more sand art, no sand book, no masters.
Nothing on the dice. How many mutes? Seventeen.
Your question, your answer. Your song, what does it know?

(Carson on Celan's poem:
But suspended within the act of whitening is a terribly quiet pun. For one cannot help but think, watching "Deepinsnow" melt away, that if this poem were translated into Hebrew, a language in which vowels are not usually printed, it would vanish even before its appointed end. As did many a Hebrew.

In preparing his pun, Celan depends upon a very ancient Hebrew exemplar. It is in the book of Genesis (22:17) that God makes Abraham a promise: "That in blessing I will bless thee and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." In his lifetime Celan saw the seed of Abraham lose possession of the gate of his enemies and exchange the innumerability of sand for a specific number that is usually put at six million. By the odd mathematics of that time the number six million came to be equal to zero. Celan sets up a parallel mathematics of reduction, but he has replaced sand with snow and zero with a letter of the alphabet. Here is a short answer to his own epistemological question: what a poet knows is how to imitate the human zero with a poetic 'O!' Poetry is an act of memory that carves its way between sand art and snow art, transforming what is innumerable and headed for oblivion into timeless notation. Excising all that is not grace. But I wonder if Celan is not negating this poetic act even as he executes it, when he turns the last verses of his poem into an inside-out Hebrew lesson: here--unusually--it is the consonants that have to be supplied from memory. Here it is the full that thinks the void. How else to refer to the losses implied in these consonants. Or to the grace that poetry claims as its rate of exchange?
from Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan, pages 116-17)


SILENCE (VAYERA) by Rachel Barenblat

Abraham failed the test.
For Sodom and Gomorrah he argued
but when it came to his son
no protest crossed his lips.

God was mute with horror.
Abraham, smasher of idols
and digger of wells
was meant to talk back.

Sarah would have been wiser
but Abraham avoided her tent,
didn't lay his head in her lap
to unburden his secret heart.

In stricken silence God watched
as Abraham saddled his ass
and took Isaac on their final hike
to the place God would show him.

The angel had to call him twice.
Abraham's eyes were red, his voice hoarse
he wept like a man pardoned
but God never spoke to him again.

(Barenblat on Barenblat's poem:
This week's portion: silence
at her blog Velveteen Rabbit)

you, me, and that Policeman

at least a couple of us have knowledge of Him
                              or have had to get to know him:
I. Resident Policeman

To many people, conscience is almost all that they have by way of knowledge of God.  This still, small voice which makes them feel guilty and unhappy before, during, or after Wrongdoing, is God speaking to them. It is this which, to some extent at least, controls their conduct. It is this which impels them to shoulder the irksome duty and choose the harder path. . . .
(J. B. Phillips)


There is a cop who is both prowler and father:
he comes from your block, grew up with your brothers,
had certain ideals.
You hardly know him in his boots and silver badge,
on horseback, one hand touching his gun.

You hardly know him but you have to get to know him:
he has access to machinery that could kill you.
He and his stallion clop like warlords among the trash,
his ideals stand in the air, a frozen cloud
from between his unsmiling lips. . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

Have You Read This?

The Bible
Collected Works by Abraham Lincoln
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63
Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
"Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Tragedies ("Hamlet," "King Lear") by William Shakespeare

These are the works that Barack Obama says influence him. He told Katie Couric that "the bible is the book that shaped me and moved me the most. But, in addition to that, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon might be one of my favorite books." He suggests that he reads Shakespeare's tragedies annually. (Don't know if he reads in languages other than English, but some time back he told "The Hill" that he also speaks “Indonesian and a little Spanish.”)

Any guesses which English translation(s) of the Bible the Obama family reads? Barack Obama does read, study, memorize, and quote the Bible. As an epigraph of one of his own books, he has this: "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers." In speaking about the obligation to the needy, he quoted: "whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house on a rock . . . " and "I am my brother's keeper." And he ended his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination with this: "Let us hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess."

Others of Obama's favorite books (in English) are listed at And Michelle Obama's facebook site has this note: "We read a lot of kids books at our house. Recently, Harry Potter." I bet they read Where the Wild Things Are too.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sexism in the Bibliosphere

There are new "comments" guidelines over at Better Bibles Blog, some of which I've already transgressed and have been corrected for.  So if you find me writing about sexism in the bibliosphere, it won't be over there.  It'll be here.  So here goes:

When "past author" David Ker posts at BBB on an online bible version and notes aggregator, then "past author" Suzanne McCarthy makes this comment:
I have used the [tool] extensively on this blog. . . . I have never acknowledged that I use it. . . . The main reason is because of this note,

The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).

One of my goals in leaving the bibliosphere is to not have to interact with ideas of this sort again. I think women should be protected from this kind of thinking.
I am just posting here to agree that women should be protected from this kind of thinking. But I also want to say that men too should be protected from this kind of unmarked sexist thinking. It is a tragedy that the bibliosphere is full of men and women with such male dominant ideas. The idea of childbearing is an idea as godly as and as humanist as any of us will have, and yet it is the excuse for the bigotry that feminists -- like Mary (all the Marys and Miriams of the bible) and Jesus too -- work against.  And the reality of childbearing ought to prompt us, each one, into talking with our own mothers today, in profound gratitude, whether we are thinking men or thinking women.


PS some odd notes:

1) David Ker left the blogosphere "until next year" (i.e., 2009), only to return to his popular blogLingamish after the election last week to post on Why American Christians look so stupid and what you can do about it. 

2) Suzanne McCarthy, at Suzanne's Bookshelf, announced leaving the blogosphere when she said: "Like many others, I have run out of energy for blogging for a while." And yet, she's continued to post nearly every day since, making several of us happy I'm quite sure.

3) BBB doesn't have Ker or McCarthy anymore as anything more than "past authors," but the blog does have a new look and those new guidelines:
The Blog posts and comments should focus on Bible translation issues, not theology, ideology, or personalities. Practice healthy communication: (1) Support claims with evidence. (2) Do not question the intelligence, spirituality, beliefs, or motives of anyone, including Bible translation teams or those who post or comment on this blog. (3) Do not tell someone what they believe; rather, ask them if they believe something. (4) Comments should relate directly to post content. Comments which do not follow these guidelines may be deleted or sent back to the commenter for revision.
It will be interesting to see how long McCarthy's comment stays up as originally posted. When I started my comment in reply to hers over there, I immediately remembered the difficulty I'd had in trying to adjust to the new rules and the enforcement of the rules. That's one of the main reasons, here, for this post.

Obama's Rhetorical Impact on the French

Jane Stranz reports that Obama's victory even makes French papers write English headlines!

Stranz writes: "For proof that Obama's victory really is already having a profound effect look no further than Réforme which has even had headlines in English on its website this week - A President is born. This is unheard of."

So take a look inside.

"A Faith in Simple Dreams

When I was a child, I lived overseas for a time with my mother. And one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, explaining how its ideas applied to ever[y] American, black and white and brown alike. She taught me that those words, and the words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the brutal injustices we witnessed other people suffer during those years abroad.

I’ve been reminded of this recently as I’ve followed the brutal injustice surrounding Zimbabwe’s so-called elections. . . ."

"Quand j’étais enfant j’ai vécu pendant un temps seul avec ma mère. Et un des mes anciens souvenirs est celui où elle me lisait quelques lignes de la Déclaration d’Indépendance, en m’expliquant comment ses idées s’appliquent à tout Américain , qu’il soit blanc, noir ou métis. Elle m’a dit alors que ces mots, et les mots de la Constitution américaine, nous ont protégé de la brutalité et de l’injustice que les autres peuples ont subis.

Aujourd’hui j’ai vu la récente preuve d’injustice qui a suivi après la soi-disante élection au Zimbabwe. . . ."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

(hypothetical) equivalence

[O]ne does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change. 
--Lydia H. Liu, Tokens of Exchange, page 137

If it is true that the translator . . . in the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language and, moreover, if the needs of the translator and his/her audience together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text taken from the guest language, then the terms traditional theorists [in the West] use to designate the languages involved in translation, such as “source” and “target/receptor,” are not only inappropriate but misleading. 
--Lydia H. Liu, Translingual Practice, page 27

My youngest child has taken up learning Mandarin.  She is twelve going on thirteen; but the language is exactly 684 years old.  We know that because this particular Chinese originated with 中原音韵, which she calls "Zhōngyuán Yīnyùn" but which the translation scholars have rendered into English as "The phonology of the Central Plains" by 周德清.  She's mastered the piano, the ukulele, won the science project at school, has scored a few goals for her soccer team, and reads and writes English fluently; so I don't think she'll have much problem getting Mandarin. Besides, many of her grandparents' friends use the language here in the US, and so do many of her dad's students at the university, and so does her own friend, Mei Fuh, who goes by May.  She also checked out "Speak in a Week: Chinese" from the local library, and is now on day 5.  She's surrounding herself with all the right teachers.

I'm being a little silly here (although everything I've written so tongue in cheek is absolutely true).  You were being most serious when you started reading those italicized epigraphs, above, by Lydia H. Liu.  

Why is my being silly and your being so serious such different things?  Did you know that Lydia Liu was once twelve going on thirteen?  

What I'd like us English speaking westerners to notice is how we play such "important" games with "equivalence" in "translation."  "Christians" reading the "Bible" are the worst at it.  But "poets" like Robert Frost give "them" (or is that "us"?) precedence.  Remember how Frost said things such as "Poetry is what gets lost in translation" and then he insisted that "Two roads!" meant "one" thing and not the other!?  He was not fooling around.  He didn't bother with Mandarin either.

I'm writing discursively again, narratively, in a blog post.  It's a "parable." 

But my bible-translating blogger friends are writing much more clearly.  "Scholarly," we presume (neither poetry nor parable).

I'm wondering if anyone will notice.  I mean, Peter Kirk posts at Better Bible Blogs mentioning, "Craig Blomberg’s interesting defence of the rendering 'brothers and sisters' [in translation] . . . [which] touches on the gender issues"; but Kirk insists that Blomberg "also goes beyond them [i.e., those specific ho-hum points on gender issues in translation] to make [rather different and even] more general important points about Bible translation."

Now, if he dares, Kirk will come over here to this blog to defend his own intentions. Or some of you other readers will defend his author's rights. And, I agree, we have to listen to what he means, and not put proverbial words in his mouth (or in this case in his hand). But I want to protest. Isn't Kirk getting away with something?

Look how one writer (i.e., Kirk) "initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the" other writer (i.e., Blomberg) but how "the needs of the" first writer (i.e., Kirk; or is Kirk the second writer?) "and his . . . audience [i.e., that "audience" would be Kirk's readership with him] together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text" (i.e., the meaning of the original text of the first author).  Lest you missed it, I am quoting Lydia H. Liu, in English, from my epigraph above. Do you see what we've done? We claim to be so very faithful to the author and his (or her) intentions. But we always have our own intentions. And sexism doesn't need to be linked, always, to the more important points about Bible translation.

So let's keep going. Now biblioblogger Mike Sangrey is asking ("us"?) "Is it mean to not mean what you mean?" Sangrey is also quoting another author, Steve Runge, but decides what is most important that Runge says: "he talks about semantic meaning versus pragmatic effect. Translators need to get their minds around this. . . value of pragmatic effect." Sangrey ends up saying "the originally intended effect" is the most important place for translators to start because, in the end, "it’s vital to reproduce that effect." To get to all of that, Sangrey has been walking us through a text in which the author is interrupting his own narrative. (The author is also the translator of all the dialogue that Sangrey says he interrupts, but Sangrey doesn't bother to interrupt his own blog post text to get us to notice the translating. Rather, he gives us lessons on translating, which presumably starts and ends with the attempt to make equal in the target language some "intended" or "meant" original something of the "original" writer who is the only "author" to consider.) Sangrey means nothing like this: "This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change." And again, we're reading Liu in English but changing a bit what Sangrey means, as if he is not changing what Runge means, or what John means, who changed what Jesus means. (Oops, we're NOT to change what the man means, whoever he is, even if he does.)

So let me now do what Aesop and the Libyan (whom Aristotle disparged) had to do. It's what Jesus had to do too (or at least his translators had to do for him). Let me give the moral of the fable, of the parable, of that story always thrown beside our own story to effect an unequal change (in me, in us, YIKES).

The moral: "Equivalence" is always the creation of the translator. And, for the translator to pretend absolute faithfulness to the original author and the original text is one of the greatest (sexist, elitist) hypocrisies of the West.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Faith-Based Racism: A Difference After the Civil War

After the Civil War, I mean today, faith-based racism in the U.S. cannot simply hide behind the sermons of white preachers and their white-only congregations.

Listen, today, to the voices of African American pastors (some conservative pastors) speaking out publicly and nationally against racism in the Christian church:

"I think in the eagerness to protect the right to life issues, there were some things said, not about that issue, that were not always fair and that were insensitive that need to be rethought," said Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prominent African-American pastor and founder of The Potter's House, a theologically conservative megachurch in Dallas. "I would love to see black and white Christians find common ground, and a deeper understanding of each other's needs."

"What they did is insult our biblical understanding," said [Derrick W.] Hutchins, [a leader in the Church of God in Christ], who voted for Obama and has backed Democrats in past presidential elections. "The white religious right-wing determined that if you didn't vote for McCain, you were not meeting a standard of the Bible."

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, an African-American Methodist pastor from Houston, said that some white Christian conservatives had helped fuel false rumors that Obama was Muslim, by questioning whether he was truly Christian and calling his support for abortion rights "demonic" and "diabolical." Caldwell, an Obama supporter who backed President Bush in the past two elections, said other candidates have diverged dramatically from Christian teachings in their policies and personal lives and have not been maligned as Obama has. "Some members of the Christian community want to label him as the anti-Christ," said Caldwell. "What has he done to deserve that label, when none of his predecessors are so characterized?"

Bishop Harry Jackson, an African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and a McCain supporter, said questions about Obama's more liberal reading of Scripture was fair game. Jackson noted that Obama became an observant Christian through the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Videos of Wright's sermons that circulated widely earlier this year showed him cursing the government and accusing it of conspiring against blacks. Obama eventually left the church. "Many, many people question whether Barack Obama had been under a legitimate Christian leadership figure," Jackson said. "I personally never ascribed any vitriolic character assassination to it."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mahalia Jackson and Dr. Ann: Barack Obama's Rhetorical Mothers

To whom does Barack Obama owe his rhetorical abilities?  After his "Yes We Can" presidential acceptance speech, some are speculating without looking first to his mothers
  • Is his cadence the "cadence of the Bible"?  
  • Must we "[f]inally. . . give credit to the sermon style of the Black Church (which in Obama’s case, largely means that of Jeremiah Wright’s church)"?
  • Might it be Wright himself, as the Rev. Jim Wallis argues to Rolling Stone as early as the '04 DNC, asserting: "If you want to understand where Barack gets his feeling and rhetoric from just look at Jeremiah Wright"?
  • Could our next president be an imitator of Malcolm X for racist ends, as talk-show host Taylor Marsh has suggested?
  • Isn't it that "[h]e either deliberately or subconsiously, imitates the speaking style of Dr. Martin Luther King, whose style was grounded in the A-A church"?
Let's consider, initially instead, the womanly, rhetorical influences on King himself that are the same for Barack Obama.   Like King, Obama was greatly and deeply influenced by his own mother.  And both men are influenced by Mahalia Jackson.

King's mother was Alberta Williams King.  Biographer Keith Miller notes:
Not only was she an able parent and dedicated Christian, she also served as a church organist who communicated her love of music to her children, making sure that King, Jr., took piano lessons as a child. Years later King often spoke following performances by such stellar gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson and Cleo Kennedy. he encouraged group singing during protest rallies and called songs "the soul of the movement." Like folk preachers before him, including his father, he incorporated the lyrics of spirituals, hymns, gospel songs, and patriotic standards into his discourse. Plainly him mother encouraged his affinity for music and, along with her husband, helped foster the close relationship between they rhythms and content of King's oratory and the cadences and lyrics of religious songs. The metrical, rolling lines that make King's oratory memorable (e.g., "I have a dream," "Let freedom ring," "How long?") exemplify the forms of parallelism abounding in folk sermons. They also reflect the repeated refrains of spirituals, gospel standards, and hymns. The musical qualities of King's phrases are unmistakable. 
(Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Its Sources, page 64)
On the 45th Anniversary of King's "I Had A Dream Speech," we were reminded by witness Roger Witkins and biographer Taylor Branch of the direct influence of Mahalia Jackon on King's famous speech.

Now, let's consider Barack Obama and his rhetorical mothers.  Amanda Ripley, in Time magazine, tells "The Story of Barack Obama's Mother" whose name is Stanley Ann Dunham (Obama) (Soetoro), Ph.D.:
Ironically, the person who mattered most in Obama's life is the one we know the least about—maybe because being partly African in America is still seen as being simply black and color is still a preoccupation above almost all else. There is not enough room in the conversation for the rest of a man's story.

But Obama is his mother's son. In his wide-open rhetoric about what can be instead of what was, you see a hint of his mother's credulity. When Obama gets donations from people who have never believed in politics before, they're responding to his ability—passed down from his mother—to make a powerful argument (that happens to be very liberal) without using a trace of ideology. On a good day, when he figures out how to move a crowd of thousands of people very different from himself, it has something to do with having had a parent who gazed at different cultures the way other people study gems.
Obama himself supplies some of the details. Ripley quotes him:
"My mother, whose parents were nonpracticing Baptists and Methodists, was one of the most spiritual souls I ever knew," Obama said in a 2007 speech. "But she had a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution. And as a consequence, so did I."

In her own way, Ann tried to compensate for the absence of black people in her son's life. At night, she came home from work with books on the civil rights movement and recordings of Mahalia Jackson. Her aspirations for racial harmony were simplistic. "She was very much of the early Dr. [Martin Luther] King era," Obama says. "She believed that people were all basically the same under their skin, that bigotry of any sort was wrong and that the goal was then to treat everybody as unique individuals." 
Clearly, Barack Obama's mother Dr. Ann Dunham and Mahalia Jackson are his rhetorical mothers.  If you now have been moved by him, you have been moved by them.