Saturday, December 20, 2008

je commence

Today is commencement for me and a whole host of other learners. My family and close friends will be there. Dr. Charlotte Hogg will hood me, and I publicly join the ranks of the once male-only elite of the Academy. (Proudly, I graduate from the first Male and Female College opened west of the Mississippi River not long after the bloodiest -- and racist -- war of the United States, late, in 1873). She's the one who introduced me to the rhetorics of women writers, to feminist methodologies, to Nancy Mairs and Jacqueline Jones Royster and Cheryl Glenn and Aspasia and a whole host of others typically silenced, though not silent, because they live in bodies that have been sexed female. She's the one who suggested I might follow through with my own critique of the world of men who have followed Aristotle, I speaking as a man, as a feminist, by a dissertation. As a self-proclaimed "(sometimes) reluctant academic," she agreed to chair my dissertation committee. Coincidentally(?), she's the one who introduced me to blogging, which has introduced me to some of you, my favorite bloggers. She is the professor who's started me on this journey, learning with, from, despite, because of. Commencement always has this personal irony for me. It comes at the end as the beginning begins. This is my last post here at this blog this year (2008). The past posts and the current comments section remain open. Emailing is another way, if you wish, to keep conversations going or to close them, if you must. I will continue reading your blogs, as you inspire, incite, and encourage me in many ways.

I leave you now with the words of one of the best Greek translators and poets the world will ever hear. As if, prose.


page 119 of
Men in the Off Hours

by Anne Carson:

(2nd draft)

saison qui chante saison rapide

je commence

Beginnings are hard. Sappho put it simply. Speaking of a young girl Sappho said, You burn me. Deneuve usually begins with herself and a girl together in a hotel room. This is mental. Meanwhile the body persists. Sweater buttoned almost to the neck, she sits at the head of the seminar table expounding aspects of Athenian monetary reform. It was Salon who introduced into Athens a coinage which had a forced currency. Citizens had to accept issues called drachmas, didrachmas, obols, etc. although these did not contain silver of that value. Token coinages. Money that lies about itself. Seminar students are writing everything down carefully, one is asleep, Denueve continues to talk about money and surfaces. Little blues, little whites, little hotel taffetas. This is mental. Bell rings to mark the end of class. He has a foreskin but for fear of wearing it out he uses another man's when he copulates, is what Solon's enemies like to say of him, Deneuve concludes. Fiscal metaphor. She buttons her top button and the seminar is over.


If you asked her Deneuve would say Take these days away and pour them out on the ground in another country.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Miss Piss Tiss

I intend this post to be about my "translation values" -- so what do I mean by the title, "Miss Piss Tiss"?

What I really want to hear is what you mean by that title?  Are you a 2nd-wave feminist pissed off that anyone still uses "Miss"?  Are you a Christian whose web browser blocks posts with words like "Piss" in them "to protect the kids from Internet foulness" (never reading [1] how the Christian Chaucer has men saying "Of Eua first pat for hir wikkednesse Was al mankynd broght to wrecchednesse. . . Socrates hadde with his wyues two. . . Xantippa caste pisse vpon his heed" or [2] how the Bible, Wycliffe's anyway, has 4 Kings xviii. 27 saying something about "the men that sitten on the wal, that thei ete her toordis and drynke her pisse")?  Are you Matt Le Tissier, a little in Cockney shock that anyone would confess how they are "dying for a matt le tiss"?  Are you N. T. Wrong or some other biblioblogger hiding who you really are so that you can talk without subjectivity about the one and only thing Paul must mean in any particular context when he writes (mostly in the objective genitive) the Greek word, pistis?  Oh, are you a Relevance Theory "linguist" who does not want to miss πίστις, which would be to commit sin, to "miss the mark" of the sanctified Original-word πίστις with your target-phrase made rigid now by the authorized field-test (which is also to unwittingly miss that Sappho never uses πίστις and is, moreover, to care less that field-testing among the Other, less-relevant half of the population would show more sensitivity towards co-incidental phallicized English such as target and Original and is, furthermore, to completely miss what Ms. Karen H. Jobes, Ph.D. means by simultaneous interpretation as a metaphor for better Bibles translation)?

Well now, haven't we gotten silly?

In all seriousness, Carolyn Osiek, Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament, was a most helpful member of my dissertation committee, most careful to check my English translatings of Aristotle's Greek.  At my defense, she asked me to share my translation values. 

I wish I'd read (and said to Osiek and the rest of the audience) what John Hobbins wrote today.  

But then again, Hobbins has some funny reads of what Osiek writes.  It's even more laughable and strange because this blogger friend of mine, on the one hand, calls for conversation between egalitarian and complementarian debaters but, on the other hand, regularly silences another blogger friend of ours because she's a woman, speaking her mind on the very issue he says he wants conversation about.  (Poor Hobbins.  He's taking a beating today, not for his sexism, but from Peter Kirk and from Mike Aubrey because they think he's too like women, picking and choosing what he likes so subjectively and hardly playing their game in a more manly way, a way that determines conclusively what the man's text must mean.  The former actually calls out Julia Smith, calls her translation down and out). 

What does that last paragraph have to do with my translation values?  It's personal.  Both the digressive paragraph above and my translation values are to highlight what can be very personal.

So when Hobbins entitles his post today, "You need an excellent translation to understand the Greek New Testament," then I'm going to ask personal questions!   I may ask them of him, and I may ask them as if overhearing by myself:

"How do you know what I need, sir?  Why do I need to understand the Greek New Testament?"

I'm also going to wonder something Phyllis A. Bird wonders:

How is it that our translating need be more than, quite personally, "to overhear an ancient conversation, rather than to hear [one]self addressed directly"?

"I am not certain," Bird adds, "that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard." 

Now I hear the logical protests.  Yes, I overhear you all, some of you anyway, mumbling and grumbling out there that there is either (A) understanding or there is (not A) not understanding.  And, therefore, we all must conclude (have to come to this conclusion):  

If one doesn't understand, then one must misunderstand.  

Miss Piss Tiss, I reply.  And so do Krista Ratcliffe, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and Kenneth L. Pike -- three rhetoricians whose respective work has added value to the translatings in my dissertation.

(Ratcliffe rightly notes that Aristotle has excised "listening" out of his rhetoric theory, and she rightly recovers the lost art of eavesdropping on a conversation not meant for you or me.  

Royster correctly shows how “Using the 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” -- Aristotle wasn't so rich, nor is his son, that pretender, "logical Western objectivity."

Pike profoundly says that we do best when, in our translating, "person [and relation between persons] is given theoretical priority above formalism, above pure mathematics, above idealized abstractions." Why? "A person, as observer, has choice.” And any “theory [as part of the translation values of any person] is part of the observer; a different theory makes a different observer; a different observer sees different things, or sees the same things as structured differently; and the structure of the observer must, in some sense or degree, be part of the data of an adequate theory of language. A particular language, of a particular culture, in relation to a particular person with [her or] his particular history constitutes an implicit theory for that person." And "the observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.”)

To be clear, I don't remember saying any of this in answer to Osiek at my dissertation defense.   What I'm personally concerned about is that we're so steeped in the culture of Aristotle's logic that we feel that alternative voices are the demons of mis understanding.  We so desperately want to overcome our barbarisms, our babel.  

Bible bloggers and translators really want Saint Paul to overcome his babel too.  My translation values say, "Let him babel.  For his Jesus so babbled in parables, in hyperbole, in translations and transfigurations and supernatural transformations, in feminisms, in rhetorics, in dialectics, in barbarisms, in solecisms, in so many things that Aristotle would object to.  So why should we so object?  Let the great Bible tower fall, for all have fallen short."  Why do we have to understand or to misunderstand all of that?

Do we have a clue why polyglot George Steiner defines polysemy in his book After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation?  How can he define that word, that babel concept, this way? (page 35):
Polysemy, the capacity of the same word to mean different things, such difference ranging from nuance to antithesis, characterizes the language of ideology.
I imagine it's something personal, something to do with the fact that Steiner's mother tongues are not only English but also German and French and that he learned to read Homer's Illiad in Homer's Greek at six years of age.  Steiner knows, from experience, what overhearing is all about.  This starts to get even more personal when Steiner says, "even direct quotation is set alight by context (eg, when St.Paul cites Euripides)" (Grammars of Creation, page 96).

Steiner hears this too, subjectively eavesdropping as an etic outsider so personally albeit himself a Jew, like Jesus, like Paul:
Jesus' discourse in parables, his statements of withdrawal from statement--of which the episode in which he writes in the dust and effaces his writing is the emblematic instance--give to linguistic verticality, to the containment of silence in language, a particular impetus. As do the constantly polysemic, stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles. It is these parables and indirect communications, at once more internalized and open-ended than are the codes of classical rhetoric, which beget the seeming contradiction of enigmatic clarity, the "comprehendit imcomprehensible esse" celebrated in Anselm's Proslogion. In turn, from these dramatizations of manifold sense, evolve the instruments of allegory, of analogy, of simile, of tropes and concealments in Western literature (though here also there are obvious and indispensible classical sources). (page 75)
Did Steiner overhear what he writes from the polysemic "second meanings" of Englishman, C. S. Lewis?  Lewis, as an outsider reflecting on the Jewish Psalms, makes this comment about the Jewish Jesus and then about the Jewish Paul:
He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the "wisecrack". He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be ‘got up’ as if it were a ‘subject’. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, ‘pinned down’. The attempt is (again I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian [albeit a formidable Jew]) that of lucidity and orderly exposition. (Reflections on the Psalms, page 113)
Maybe Lewis had been reading another Jew, a Peter, who writes of reading his dear and loved brother's writings:
ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος κατὰ τὴν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν ὡς καὶ ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς [Παῦλου] λαλῶν ἐν αὐταῖς περὶ τούτων ἐν αἷς ἐστιν δυσνόητά τινα ἃ οἱ ἀμαθεῖς καὶ ἀστήρικτοι στρεβλοῦσιν ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφὰς πρὸς τὴν ἰδίαν αὐτῶν ἀπώλειαν

Our dearly loved brother Paul, in the wisdom that has been granted to him, has also written to you all even as he speaks of these matters in all his letters; but places in them are hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable distort, as they do the other writings, to their own personal destruction.-- 2 Peter 3:15-16
So when men continue to argue over what Paul must singularly mean by writing πίστεως (Ἰησοῦ) (Χριστοῦ) in each singular context, then there's avarice in their logic. They're afraid to misunderstand, afraid to confess that Paul here and there might be too "hard to understand" for them. They don't want to appear unlearned or to seem unstable. They equate distortion with subjectivity, with ambiguity, with polysemic phrasing that might knock them off their high places.

And Steiner adds:
[V]erbal discourse. . . is handcuffed to the avarice of logic, with its ordinance of causality, with its (probably crass) segmentation of time and perception into past, present, and future. Identity principles, the end-stopping of sentences (mathematical proofs can be of infinite length), axioms of continuity, render speech and writing, however polysemic our words, however subtle and animate with fantastication our phrasing of the imaginary, despotic. We speak in (rich) monotones. Our poetry is haunted by the music it has left behind. Orpheus shrinks to a poet when he looks back, with the impatience of reason, on a music stronger than death. (Errata, page 73)
And Hobbins adds [with -- Miss Piss Tiss -- me]:
An excellent translation of the Bible will be intelligible on its own [because personal outsiders are listening in and are making meanings that are quite meaningful].   [And since Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and English are all polysemic, human translators may always -- whether wittingly or unwittingly--] stretch the resources of the English language beyond the bounds of [so-called] “normal, idiomatic English” in the interests of bridging the distance separating one cultural context from another, and, in the process, draw attention back to the [ostensibly logical] argument, [the always discernible] structure, and [the polysemic] language of the source [guest] text [of the Jew who has written, a text that is politely, and personally now, hosted into English by later Jews or Hellenes or other goyim].

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Love: from the Blogroll

Merry Christmas! (From a Jew) by 

A Holiday Story of Profound Forgiveness by 

When Words Don't Work

What do you do when words don't work?  
This is a tough one for lawyers, politicians, teachers, preachers, rabbis, professors, spouses, parents, lovers, partners, and especially for the bibliobloggers wanting to settle the issue of what Saint Paul surely must have meant when he wrote πίστεως (Ἰησοῦ) (Χριστοῦ).

When words didn't work on a horse, someone put bullets in it. 
I'm telling you the truth. I was running with my dog near the Trinity River the other day when we found the animal shot dead. It's not so unusual to see horses and riders around in this section of Cowtown [i.e., Fort Worth, Texas "Where the West Begins"]. What is strange --downright shocking even in these parts -- is to see an abandoned dead horse with oozing bullet holes in it.  Honestly, I have no idea whether whoever shot the horse said anything to the animal first.  I am sure that shooting a horse dead and leaving the corpse is not a good thing at all. (Of course, a good neighbor has now called the authorities, who will look into it and who will use words, we hope, and some force, if necessary, to make our "neighborhood" safe for beings of all kinds.)

Words and horses don't always mix.
In the context of my true story, you probably don't want to hear any of those horse proverbs. (You probably do want to hear the rest of the story, like the authorities have apprehended the horse killer). But we do share these words, which suggest words don't always work and perhaps some other force, a forcing of some sorts, might work more: 

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
--John Heywood

"Don't beat a dead horse."
--John Bright

"Females are not always able to conceive from the male (wherefore men put the horse to the mare again at intervals). Indeed, both the mare is deficient in catamenia, discharging less than any other quadruped, and the she-ass does not admit the impregnation, but ejects the semen with her urine (wherefore men follow flogging her after intercourse)."

"Not just horses, but humans too, thrive in a cooperative and safe environment and falter in a climate of fear and submission."
--Monty Roberts

What are these words of Aristotle, and what's he forcing instead of "mere words"?
The first two quotes above (from Heywood and Bright) are part of our "cultural literacy."  The second two deserve a little more explanation. First Aristotle. 

Aristotle gives the world the first purely logical science on animals, especially on horses, especially on bred female horses that don't get along with his logic of nature.  What we barbarians tend to take from all that is logical in this way:  the words father Aristotle writes he intends, and what he intends we ought to be faithful to, too, especially when we translate these words he writes into standard English.  Yeah, I know.  That's pretty abstract stuff.  Seems like it has little to do with Aristotle's sexism, his fear of females, his intention to keep woman stuff from polluting the nature of the Greek man.  Actually, what Aristotle writes about submitting females, even female horses, has a good bit to do with his logic, the logic many use to argue for meanings of words and to translate those words.

But hold on.  Aristotle is trying to deal with several word-and-force problems at once.  Sure he's using words about horses.  But to get to these words about horses, in the very same context, he uses words about "geometric proofs."  And right before he uses those words about geometric proofs, he straightens out the Greek problem of fickle, womanly language called "logos."  I kid you not.  The quote above is embedded right in all this.  (On the downside of the quote, Aristotle goes on to conclude, by logical proof, that human females [i.e., bred women] are to blame for mutated babies when and because the women fail to engage in the sex act properly.  This supports his other conclusion that females in general are mutated males.  All of this is in his book we call the Generation of Animals).

We may want to remember some of Aristotle's "cultural literacy."  What really troubles Hellene men is why their most beautiful legendary woman, Helen, would run off with the Trojan.  Historian Bettany Hughes remembers how some of the Greek men dealt with this:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
Gorgias's joke is poetry (confessed word-play of a slick sophist) and a good part of it rhymes: 

"ἢ βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα, 
ἢ λόγοις πεισθεῖσα." 

(Rosamond Kent Sprague translates these words beautifully as 

"or by force reduced 
or by words seduced" 

The words offer a couple of possible answers to Why, Oh Why would she abandon a Greek man for a barbarian?)

Aristotle, aware of the seduction of words (λόγοις πεισθεῖσα /lógois peistheísa/), prefers the force of abstract logic.  Just before writing those horse words as quoted above, and just before the stuff about the geometric proof, Aristotle uses the following words as if to force his point:
Perhaps an abstract proof [λογικήlogic”] might appear to be more plausible than those already given; I call it abstract [λογικήlogic”] because the more general it is the further is it removed from the special principles involved. It runs somewhat as follows. From male and female of the same species there are born in course of nature male and female of the same species as the parents, e.g. male and female puppies from male and female dog. From parents of different species is born a young one different in species; thus if a dog is different from a lion, the offspring of male dog and lioness or of lion and bitch will be different from both parents. If this is so, then since (1) mules are produced of both sexes and are not different in species from one another, and (2) a mule is born of horse and ass and these are different in species from mules, it is impossible that anything should be produced from mules. For (1) another kind cannot be, because the product of male and female of the same species is also of the same species, and (2) a mule cannot be, because that is the product of horse and ass which are different in form, and it was laid down that from parents different in form is born a different animal. Now this theory [λόγοςlogos”] is too general and empty. For all theories [λόγοιlogoi”, plural for “logos”] not based on the special principles involved are empty; they only appear to be connected with the facts without being so really. (Generation of Animals; emphases added; page 747b)
Translator Arthur Platt attempts here to be faithful to the nature of Aristotle’s original Greek words.  Methodologically, he's following Aristotle, who attempts to be faithful to the nature of animals.  Platt makes his “an abstract proof” dynamically equal to Aristotle's “logic”; he makes his "theory" the dynamic equivalent to Aristotle's “logos.”  Platt’s rendering is not an entirely bad translation except that the relationship between the old “logos” and Aristotle’s new “logic” is lost.  And the translator fails to recognize the sexual / sexist issues for Aristotle.  Platt downplays Aristotle’s misogyny as developed by his logic.  He does not bring across into English the fact that Aristotle is both arguing for logic and also arguing by logic so that he can denigrate the female.  Platt also ignores: (A) the misogyny of Aristotle's Greek male culture in which boundaries mean control and by which logical, separational binaries keep females in their place below men; (B) Aristotle’s own gynophobia in his other texts; (C) the denigration of females throughout this text, his Generation of Animals; (D) his male only audience for his texts including this one; and (E) the technical sexist suffix in “logic” that puts the word in binary, oppositional contrast with “logos.”  To be sure, Platt is not the only man that has translated this passage who follows Aristotle's logic but who misses so much anyway.

Aristotle is trying to force with words, without seducing, the way men have to force a bred mare when she isn't cooperating.  He calls that logic, which it is.

Hélène Cixous and Clarice Lispector call it phallogocentricism, which it is.  Likewise, Nancy Mairs, as I've said before, recognizes how rigidly masculinist the separational binary is (in contrast to afrafeminism and womanism, for example, with implications for your words and how they force when you feel like you've got to get your reader to submit).

Who is Monty Roberts, this one who treats horses and humans with such care?
Monty Roberts is the real life "horse whisperer."  He was made famous by the Queen Elizabeth II for whom he trained horses.  She urged him to write his story, which he has.  He has revolutionized "horse breaking" -- rather, he has eliminated the "breaking" of wild horses by force.  I know because my father-in-law, a horseman, has seen Roberts and other such horse "gentlers" right here in Cowtown -- and "nobody breaks horses anymore the old fashioned way."  The traditional way of breaking a horse was perfected by Monty Roberts's father and other men.  They'd take a wild horse, rope it, tie it up, tie it down, whip it, and beat it into submission.  The process took around 6 weeks before a human could saddle the animal and ride it.  In contrast, Monty Roberts's technique is to love on the wild horse, to listen to it, to gentle it, to join up with it, to "hook on," and so forth.  In just half an hour, the horse trusts the human enough to allow a saddle, a bit and bridle, and a mutually-agreed upon ride.

Little Monty, when a boy, not only saw how his father brutalized horses to break their bodies and eventually their spirits but the youth also experienced his own abuse at the hand of his daddy.  When the words of Monty's father didn't work, then there was force, beatings.  Today, in contrast to such brutal "parenting," Monty Roberts and his wife have been foster parents to numerous children from abusive homes.  Perhaps Roberts will revolutionize parenting just as he's revolutionized horse "breaking."

I'm bringing up Roberts and horse whispering in the context of words and force beyond words for several reasons.  

First, his gesturing reminds me of the kind of very kind language learning of Kenneth L. Pike.  Pike's method of translation has been called the "monolingual demonstration" because in around 30 minutes he learns the language of another with whom he's never spoken before -- and he learns it in her language alone, not in his.  He learns by listening, by gesturing, very much like Roberts's method for learning from the wild horse.  Very different from Aristotle's own imposition of precise logic.  In fact, Pike's sister Eunice V. Pike has said:
Impressive, but not perfect, some people say. . . . Ken has been doing the demonstration once almost every year for more than thirty years.  Therefore some of the student who take the second year course saw the deomnstration the previous summer.  I am told that a second year student may advise those in the first year, "Be sure you go to the monolingual demonstration; it is good for your morale.  You may end up feeling that you are smarter than Pike."  That is, if they sit up front and listen carefully, they may disagree with the way he records a sound or two.  Their conclusion:  they heard better than Pike.  Wow!  ("Language Learning by Gesture" in Ken Pike; pages 132-33)
One demonstration I saw Pike give was with a guy who speaks one of the languages I speak (a language Pike had never heard). From the beginning, Pike warned the audience in English that the demonstration was subject to errors.  And sure enough, the very first interaction Pike mistakenly thought was the other person's greeting. "hello" or something, when it was his telling Pike his name.  At the end of the demonstration, Pike did take questions from those who would be "logical" and more precise with words. But then he'd startle everyone with one of his own poems.  Aristotle would have hated such imprecise, ambiguous, and playful language. Seems that linguists who once looked to Pike (and compositionists and rhetoricians too) have abandoned such rich methodology, as Aristotle would.  Likewise, Bible translators today in the organization Pike was once a part of have turned back to "logic," to the Aristotelian logic of Relevance Theory and precision techniques such as "field testing" of ideal English words to purify the Word from Biblish and Englishes of the marginalized.

Second, I mention Monty Roberts because he goes beyond either "seducing words" or "reducing force" as the only options to Aristotle's phallic-centric-logic.  This "logic" is hardly an option since it has, from its beginnings, been a "reducing-seducing word-with-precise-force"

Gorgias joked that Helen had two other alternatives to being 
(1) "by words seduced" or 
(2) "by force reduced." 

She might actually have been 
(3) by luck (or gods) possessed, or 
(4) by love well-blessed. 

Of course, Gorgias's Greek word for "love" -- i.e., "erotic" -- rhymes with the Greek word for "rhetoric" -- which makes the forth possibility particularly womanly.  (Funny to Gorgias because "anathema" to men).

In blogging, I've tried to suggest that this stuff all the way from Gorgias to Monty Roberts is so very old and so very new.  Two other examples should do it:

>>Mark's Jesus of long ago suggests that his key parable covers four possibilities:

(1) a seed/word may fall by the wayside (beside the point precisely where it must fall to "get words right.")
(2) a seed/word may be forced to stop growing, "never freed" from hard rock or the Sun's heat.
(3) a seed/word may try to negotiate for a win-win by "ever submitting to that more dominate other" of thorny, flowerless plants.
(4) a seed/word may join with the fertile Mother-earth soil in a transforming pregnancy that gives birth to more than the father solely intended or could envision.

>>Cultural / social anthropologists recently have claimed that our human cultures tend to be cohesive around
(1) guilt - the rule of Law (both the letter and the spirit, secular or religious)
(2) fear - the force of punishment
(3) shame - the private-public inter-actions of the ego with the collective
(4) love - rare stuff indeed, a self-transforming wanting of the best for the other and a self-changing doing of all possible to see that the other gets the best (actually, I've never seen an academic in anthropology talk about this)

What do we do when we think we've got all the Truth there is to know?  
We can (1) tell, (2) force, and (3) negotiate, or we can (4) listen, learn, and humbly change with love.  That last alternative gets pretty subjective.  It may be what your mother, your sister, and even you have chosen to do.  More.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

my life partner just sent me this

Her unambiguous caption:

"Why men can’t take messages."

What πίστεως means to a 10-Yr-Old Girl

Very little.  That's what πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ means to a ten-year-old little girl, whose parents are splitting up after two decades of becoming one because one of them has chosen to covet another's spouse, to commit adultery, to bear false witness, and to kill the other with the crime of hate (never mind the idolatry of holiday rituals and such like flowers to the bereaved). 

"The meaning of that genitive case of old Greek of men then and now?" asks Nancy Ziegenmeyer, Honorata Kizende, Claudine Mwabachizi, Matthew Weiner, Patricia Wettig, Eve Ensler, Geneva Overholser, Jeffrey Gettleman, and some of you, and me.

But the arguing goes on up through Χριστmas.  There is more here than just a silly rhetorical enthymeme as the body of proof.  There is pure logic.  Scholars: behold, the sequitur of the syllogism, the reason for (the season of) the debate --
MAJOR PREMISE: . . . the dispute is bigger than mere points of grammar. Most of these phrases occur in passages which are central to Paul’s theology (Rom 3-4 and Gal 2-3).

MINOR PREMISE:  The topic is central to our interpretation of how Paul understood salvation. And Paul’s ideas are fairly much central to Christianity itself,

CONCLUSION:   so it fundamentally affects the Christian concept of salvation. It has been suggested, with little exaggeration, that the debate has the potential to “lay the groundwork for an entirely different paradigm in the theology of the New Testament” (Sigve Tonstad, “ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: Reading Paul in a New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40.1 (2002): 37-59).
And we're promised not just "1 reason" but "100 reasons." Here's that first one:
MAJOR PREMISE:  It is generally agreed that the meaning of πίστις ranges from faith/trust/confidence to faithfulness/trustworthiness, encompassing a fair few other meanings ‘inbetween’. Like all attempts at translation, there is no 1:1 correspondence between πίστις and any one English term.

MINOR PREMISE:  If a word takes a wide variety of meanings according to various contexts, it can still quite plausibly take one of those meanings in one particular context. . . . The term πίστις can simply mean either “faith” (e.g. Mk 11.22) or “faithfulness” (Rom 3.3), depending on the (so important) context.

CONCLUSION:  So it is, rather, a “semantic” fallacy to insist that it must mean both in any given context. . . . [Therefore,] the objective meaning (having human faith in Christ) [and NOT the not objective meaning (i.e., a subjective meaning)] is, on examination, the main gist of the phrase in Paul’s writings.
Here's the second:
MAJOR PREMISE: Proponents of the subjective genitive interpretation sometimes cite the work of [a couple of other scholars] in order to demonstrate that the predominant meaning of πίστις is “faithfulness” in the Greek Old Testament and Hellenistic Jewish literature.

MINOR PREMISE:  While there is a presumption for “faithfulness” in the overall statistics, there is no such easy presumption in respect of the New Testament occurrences of πίστις, given that the New Testament usage demonstrates a marked increase in the use of the term to denote “faith/trust in”. . . . [And] the meaning of πίστις as “faith/trust in” . . . is beginning to emerge in 4 Maccabees, Philo and Josephus . . . [a]nd already in the Qumran interpretation of Habakkuk 2.4, a passage central to the discussion of πίστις Χριστοῦ in Romans and Galatians, אמונה denotes “trust in” or “loyalty to” the Teacher of Righteousness (1QpHab 8.2-3).

CONCLUSION:  This trend continues in the New Testament writings, where Jesus is the recipient of human trust and faith.
Hello?  Are you still awake?  What's going on here?  It's the game of logic.

In other words, the game played so seriously is this: "get it right."  Yes, use logic if you have to. Be coldly objective whether siding either with objectivity or with subjectivity. Get it right, dammit. (Oh, don't say "dammit" -- not necessarily because that's not the Christian thing to do, but it sounds so pathetic, so illogical. And father Aristotle would not approve.)

Since you've let me bring up Aristotle again, can we remember how for him "logic" was the only game in town?  Logic let Aristotle get the facts right, presumably, without too much of a hint of "pathos." What rhetoricians say he said about "ethos" was a better way to argue than "pathos."  Far and away better than either "pathos" or "ethos" for Aristotle, however, is "logos." But that's all still "rhetoric," the stuff of the womanly Speakeristas.

Aristotle invented logic, and as far as I can tell actually even coined the term λογική /logikē/, which he began using to separate his teachings from those of his own teachers, Plato and Socrates.  Logic was NOT EITHER "rhetoric" OR its "antistrophos" called "dialectic," a partial "corrective" to "barbarisms" and "solecisms" and "poetry" and "sophistisms" and such sloppy, subjective stuff that even foreigners and women might use.

Logic was NOT "logos" and especially not "dissoi logoi." The absolute power of reason was NOT cultural relativism. (Notice, I'm using past tense as if we have not appropriated "logic" today, but we have.)

The strategy of logic is to "get it right." To get to the facts. To separate out the bias, the subjectivities, to get at the true nature of the thing in itself.

The strategy of logic is what Robert E. Quinn calls "the telling strategy." It's the mathematician's and logician's game of using statements, one following another, to drive home a conclusion. Linguists use "logic," and call it "description" NOT "prescription." Christian apologists use "logic," and call it "propositional Truth" for the "absolute" nature of the "Word of God." Modern modernists have used "logic," and call it objectivity (as opposed to relativity, subjectivity, and post-modernism that ought to die once a modernist spoofs the pedantic scholarship in a pomo journal--even though spoofing is not necessarily logic or very modern at all). Logic is the "contingency difficulty" or the "epiphenomenal difficulty" that anti-modernist George Steiner says poetry readers sometimes have. (Sometime, I'd like to say something about what Steiner says about "the constantly polysemic stratified techniques of semantic motions in the Pauline Epistles." Steiner suggests that Paul writes like the translators of Jesus have him speak: in parables. And Mark's Jesus, at least, warns against the contingency or epiphenomenon of a seed "falling by the wayside" -- which is the absolute horror of the telling strategy of logic.)

The strategy of logic is what parents sometimes try on their teenagers, not remembering they once were teenagers too who by and large could care less for logic. (I got my first taste of logic in Geo-metry class when I was pubescent adolescent and so couldn't bring myself to take "pure logic" until a wiser post-Sophomore post-teen in college). When logic fails, parents resort to other strategies of commanding obedience, such as forcing and negotiating (also known as bribery or spoiling). There's another strategy I should mention, a better one, a feminist strategy. But that'll have to wait for another day -- or at least for a few more paragraphs.

I guess I should say a couple of other things about Aristotle's use of logic. But then I want also to acknowledge a few (somewhat related) comments from blogger friends.

Aristotle wanted his disciples "to tell" the facts, and to tell them objectively, syllogistically.  But the secret is his "logic" often failed.  Thus, he'd resort to other strategies, like distorting logic and forcing the facts of nature.  Since we're talking about his logic, note what historian Edward Schiappa has said:  
Aristotle consistently sought to contrast his philosophical system [of logic] with that of his predecessors even if the contrast required distortion of his predecessors’ doctrines. . . . Aristotle reduced the origin of rhetoric to the study of probability, thereby accommodating the history of rhetoric to his own system of logic and giving his own treatment precedence. . . . [and in defiance of facts, he] fictionalized some of his own history of presocratic philosophy in order to offer his own as the final solution. . . . Aristotle [would] argue from an either/or logic [to contrast the method of the sophist] Protagoras [who] used a both/and logic. . . [a non-logic that was to Aristotle dangerously] rich and variable enough to be capable of multiple—and even inconsistent—[and nature-distorting] accounts. . . . Aristotle’s comments in the Metaphysics [were made even though they] contain a similar distortion [as the one he makes with history]. Aristotle argued that if two parties disagree about what-is and what-is-not, one of the parties must be mistaken (1063a). (Protagoras and Logos: A Study in Greek Philosophy and Rhetoric, page 52)
Logic becomes so important to Aristotle that he is willing to “fictionalize” history and to “define” rhetoric so that history and rhetoric favor logic and are subservient to logic.  So what?  So, for the creator of the method that bible scholars still use today to argue by, logic was not enough.  The strategy of telling what the facts are and are not is not enough.

So Jane says "Balancing feminism and faith . how do I do that?
IT's a bit like breathing I suppose .."  

And Dan adds: "there is not one answer that the authors agree on to the question of 'can i be a feminist and love god?' but the answers are great." He's pointing us to My Red Couch: And Other Stories on Seeking a Feminist Faith, which is "a collection of narrative essays written by and for a 'young, feminist, Christian' audience. . . . [essays that] bring a 'complex, nuanced, and less polemicized feminism' to the struggle to integrate feminist ideology with Christian faith and life."

Both Jane and Dan, to me, seem to answer Joel's question, "Postmodernism is not a problem, is it?" No, postmodernisms are solutions to modernism. They can be deconstructions of the constructed logic of modernism. They can be counter-speak of the syllogistic statements that purport to give "the right answer," the one-and-only-one correct conclusion, as opposed to the not right answer, the wrong one.  

We quickly add that postmodernism depends on modernism, which means it'll probably be the perpetual motion machine Jacques Derrida described it as.  I'm just grateful to females courageous enough translate the bible, rhetorically too.  Julia Smith did, and makes meanings with her readers (as the Greekish Paul does with his) by her "literal" renderings of πίστεως Ἰησοῦ as "faith of Jesus." Note how the ambiguity of her English is a different ambiguity of Paul's Greek, and yet they are counter-logical ambiguities all the same. (UPDATE: one of you sends me this, which shows that Julia Smith was ahead of some current self-identified postmodernist thinkers, who, looking to "Francis Watson, Paul, Judaism, and the Gentile: Beyond the New Perspective, p. 255). . . submit that this warrants a return to the translation of the 'faith of Christ' in Bible translations in order to keep the gentive deliberately ambiguous (much like the 'righteousness of God')"). Thanks to Suzanne for reminding readers of the availability of Smith's Bible. She's also given us a window into her "egalitarian church" where "the staff are all men" and where she feels no need for that "logic" of female representation through "affirmative action"; as importantly! Suzanne gives some suggestions for snacks in her "brief Christmas notes." These are the important things for my 10-year-old niece this holiday season, believe me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

pedantic post on πίστεως

The really serious bibliobloggers are looking at this Greek word πίστεως. Well, the funny biblioblogger named N.T. Wrong is anyway: 100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive. Those who think that he's real, that he's really writing a book for real publication, and that Jesus is real are getting really excited.

What's their real question and his?  
Did Paul write in Greek to mean Jesus himself has real saving "faith" 
OR did Paul mean that others should have real saving "faith in Jesus" 
(OR is there "some other genitive meaning")?
So why should I get involved?  I shouldn't.  But Aristotle already wrote about this stuff, sort of. It's a philological mess now.  Pedantic.  

(At least Wrong warns readers about the pedantry, calling it a "rather esoteric, subtle, and arcane grammatical dispute."  

And I've already tried to say, again and again, that Aristotle didn't want us native-speakers of barbarian mother tongues to be messing around with his elite language for the boys at the Academy.

Haven't I also warned, again and again, that New Testament scholars and translators don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that philosophers don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that rhetoricians don't want others messing around with their Greek?  And that classicists don't want others messing around with their Greek?)

Pedantic is what this stuff is.  And, therefore, it's vastly important to Greek New Testament scholars and to Greek Rhetoric scholars too, for two different reasons.  NT scholars want the Greek word to mean "faith."  Rhetoric scholars want the Greek word to mean "proof."  (Philosophers care about other more important things, and classicists have a critical story or two to tell.)

It's a mess before anyone starts arguing about the "genitive" case (i.e., πίστεως), which is how Jesus gets dragged in.  So would I surprise you if I said women got dragged into the conversation a lot earlier than Jesus did?  Except, in contrast to the genitive question for Jesus, there was among Greek men no question as to whether women could have "faith" or "proof" or anything so valuable that men had.  The question, rather, was whether men can believe women, period.

You want examples, don't you?  

In his Anabasis, Xenophon tells of how his namesake character would not believe the man Eucleides:
ὁ δ’ αὐτῷ οὐκ ἐπίστευεν . . . .
And Eucleides would not believe him. . . .

ἰδὼν δὲ τὰ ἱερὰ ὁ Εὐκλείδης εἶπεν
and when Eucleides saw the vitals of the victims, he said

ὅτι πείθοιτο αὐτῷ μὴ εἶναι χρήματα.
that he was well persuaded that Xenophon had no money.
(lines 7.8.2-3
translated by classicist Carleton L. Brownson
with one little change by me).
Okay, fair enough.  That example had nothing to do with women.  I was just trying to show different Greek words in narrative context, where one man couldn't believe another and where "persuasion" (i.e., as in "rhetoric") was at play but is something altogether different from "belief."

Now to women.  In his Work and Days, Hesiod writes to men telling them how to trust their "brothers."  But then he transitions to how they ought not to believe women:
πίστεις δ' ἄρα ὁμῶς καὶ ἀπιστίαι ὤλεσαν ἄνδρας
Certainly trust [believability] and distrust [unbelievability] prove equally fatal to men.

μηδὲ γυνή σε νόον πυγοστόλος ἐξαπατάτω
Don't let a wily, wheedling woman who wiggles her bottom

αἱμύλα κωτίλλουσα, τεὴν διφῶσα καλιήν:
Wholly befuddle your wits: her purpose is rifling your pantry.

ὃς δὲ γυναικὶ πέποιθε, πέποιθ' ὅ γε φιλήτῃσιν.
One who is persuaded by a woman is persuaded by cheats and deceivers.
(lines 372-375
translated by classicist Friedrich W. Solmsen
with a couple of small changes by me).
And then there's this from Homer's Odyssey (lines 455-56 with a translation by classicist James Huddleston, with a touch-up by me):
κρύβδην, μηδ' ἀναφανδά, φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν
Take your ship to your beloved fatherland

νῆα κατισχέμεναι: ἐπεὶ οὐκέτι πιστὰ γυναιξίν.
secretly, not openly, since there's no way now to believe in women.
Then we fast forward past Aristotle (and Plato and Socrates).  We find, then, there's John's Jesus who does this (2:24 my translating):
αὐτὸς δὲ Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἐπίστευεν αὐτὸν αὐτοῖς 
Joshua himself, nonetheless, did not believe himself [believable] to them
διὰ τὸ αὐτὸν γινώσκειν πάντας
because he himself knew every one [of these mortals]
And Matthew translates Jesus, who exclaims (15:28):
ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὦ γύναι μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις
Joshua said to her, "Oh wow, woman. That belief of yours is huge!"
While earlier Matthew's translated Jesus exclaiming this way (9:22):
ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς στραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν εἶπεν
Joshua, however, turning, looked for himself and said

θάρσει θύγατερ ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε
"Dauntless Daughter! That belief of yours rescued you!"

καὶ ἐσώθη ἡ γυνὴ ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης
Indeed the woman was rescued from that point in the season on.
Timeout for a minute. Let's rewind again. Greek men writing and Greek men speaking are hardly used to finding women believable. Men don't believe women, and men don't believe in women either. Men might be believable to one another on the other hand.  So John writes to say that mortal men are falling all over themselves in belief of this guy Joshua. And yet, he (the Joshua man) treats them like other men have treated women: he doesn't believe those other guys falling for him, and he doesn't believe in those men (because, John says, he "knows" all mortals). But he (the Joshua) does believe women, and does believe in women (which the examples from Matthew show).

So we're going to have to get to Jesus and Paul's genitive for Bible translators.  I promise we will.  Just believe me.  But let's work through Aristotle and his teachers and their translators first.

Here's Plato's Socrates in the Philebus (as also translated by philologist Harold N. Fowler all on his own):
διὰ δὴ τί μάλισθ’ ὑπολαμβάνεις με δεῖξαί σοι τὴν ἐν τῇ κωμῳδίᾳ μεῖξιν; 
Now why do you particularly suppose I pointed out to you the mixture of pain and pleasure in comedy?

ἆρ’ οὐ πίστεως χάριν?
Was it not for the sake of convincing you?
Notice how the genitive form stumps this translator-scholar! All of the sudden, there's the meaning "convincing" (as in "persuasive" and "proof") for πίστεως for Fowler. Who cares what Socrates meant when it's Plato writing about him. What I mean by that is, "Why would Plato have his teacher's character in this dialogue change the meaning of the Greek word in this context from 'Was it not to gain the favor of your belief' to how Fowler means it?" What's wrong with Plato's Socrates meaning, "Was it not to gain the favor of your belief" for "ἆρ’ οὐ πίστεως χάριν"?  (And can I persuade you by some proof to believe that a New Testament scholar-translator would want that to be "Was it not for the sake of grace through faith?"  Let's do that another day; can we?)

Now, we're ready for Aristotle.  Here's his Athenian Constitution (line 18.6, as also translated by philosopher H. Rackham):
καὶ πείσας αὑτῷ τὸν Ἱππίαν δοῦναι τὴν δεξιὰν πίστεως χάριν
and induced Hippias to give him his right hand as a pledge of good faith.
So we notice here that there is "faith," but "good faith" as a "pledge," which is more like "convincing persuasive proof" (even πείσας or "induction") than like "grace through faith"; and neither of those is like "the favor of belief."  In other words, the philosopher and the New Testament scholar tends to depart from the classicist.  Three different directions for the same word in the same context.  But why?  Doesn't the philosopher know Aristotle?  Yes, he does.

The rhetorician also knows Aristotle.  In the Rhetoric, as translated also by rhetorician George A. Kennedy, there's this:
ἐνθυμημάτων . . . ὅπερ ἐστὶ σῶμα τῆς πίστεως
enthymemes, which is the body of persuasion
Let's jump back over to the Bible now. It's only Wisdom of Solomon (3:14), not the bible really is it? And yet, look at the same language but how different the translating by the King James translation team: 
καὶ εὐνοῦχος ὁ μὴ ἐργασάμενος ἐν χειρὶ ἀνόμημα μηδὲ ἐνθυμηθεὶς κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου πονηρά δοθήσεται γὰρ αὐτῷ τῆς πίστεως χάρις ἐκλεκτὴ καὶ κλῆρος ἐν ναῷ κυρίου θυμηρέστερος

And blessed is the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity, nor imagined wicked things against God: for unto him shall be given the special gift of faith, and an inheritance in the temple of the Lord more acceptable to his mind.
Here there's now "faith" where once there was "proofs" (and "imagined wicked things" where once there were "enthymemes," and "gift" where once there was "grace" and "favor" in other contexts).

What are men like Aristotle and men like Paul and their translators doing with Greek?with the genitive form πίστεως?  

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can you love God and feminism?

Jessica Valenti wants to know. She's Executive Editor of the blog feministing and a prolific author. She's asking questions honestly as an outsider to religion, as "not a religious person - [if] raised with a healthy dose of agnosticism (though [her] parents are Buddhist and [her] extended family is Catholic)."

She's reading about and watching "the True Woman conference," saying it "doesn't seem anti-feminist," at first glance. She notices, in fact, that the "main promotional video has a sisterly kind of vibe - it's all about loving God and living a good life."

However, upon more thorough analysis, she's asking if this is all Christianity is. She's highlighting the curious arguments of the conference organizers, saying "it seems just wrong to me to suggest that a woman can't value her independence and the rights our foremothers fought for and also love God."

More of Valenti's questions: "How do you balance your feminism with your faith? How can women who are involved in organized religions that promote patriarchy and traditional gender roles change the existing power structures?"

Great questions worth asking.

χ-mas posts

Like so many of you, I get tense around Christmas. I feel it in my body.

For my ten-year-old niece, this is going to be an unforgettable holiday season because her parents just signed divorce papers, and this weekend already she had to put a publicly-inebriated parent to bed, with the help of that parent's "lover" who precipitated the split up.  And the little girl has already delivered Merry Christmas presents to us from that parent, perhaps in anticipation of the fact that we'll not all be together this year.  My niece has told my daughters that if she ever has to run away, she wants to come live with us.  Incarnation gets a new meaning.

So I hope you'll understand some of my pathetic reflections on 3 blogposts I read this morning. I was still shivering from the cold winds when I saw them.


The lightest post, in all the most positive refreshing ways, is Charlotte's Holiday Lights.  She gives us various delights in and her gripes about Merry Christmas lights and all. As I find myself agreeing with her about inappropriate symbols (like "wrong time" reminders of the "traumatic crucifixion" and of the post-shroud "resurrection"), I wander into remembrances of our recent shrouded Texas history of burning crosses.  And I sense in my cinched-up neck muscles this bemusement from somewhere about the future of our planet and how awfully un-green the present blast of lights is.  To fight my cynicism, I smile to myself, at myself: "The Grinch is Green."


The most challenging post is James K.A. Smith's.  He's copied for us John D. Caputo's essay, "Why the Church Deserves Deconstruction: A Preface to the Chinese Translation."  This is Caputo's own preface to the Chinese edition of his book What Would Jesus Deconstruct?  The challenge isn't in the translation at all because Caputo writes the essay in English mostly.  I really really want more of us to get the bit of French he leaves us with:  Viens, oui, oui.
But we ought to at least get Caputo's play on WWJD as a rhetorical trope, which he explains. Another thing he says is . . . and hear this in Caputo's own words:
That I am writing these pages on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, an African-American with a suspicious sounding name, as the forty-fourth president of the United States is the result of a number of convergent forces. It is due to the collapse of right wing economic greed in the United States–the effects of which are felt most severely on the poor, the least able to endure it, of course–about which the Christian Right has been scandalously silent. It is a tribute to the disillusionment with the older and reactionary leaders of the Christian Right by young Christians who desire to return to the authentic spirit of peace and justice of the gospels. But it is also a tribute to progressive political figures like Mr. Obama who gave their political vision a religious heart, who spoke in terms of faith and hope. . . . I am saying that progressive leaders should recognize the prophetic import of biblical religion. The very idea of a democracy, the risk and the hope that is embedded in this idea, is that the chords of peace and justice will be struck by giving a hearing to a polyphony of voices, of men and women, black and white, of whatever lineage, western or non-western, including both religious and secular voices. The faith of a responsible Christian in the postmodern world is that wherever there is peace and justice, there the sweet, strange and compelling words of the Sermon on the Mount are resounding.
I still hear my wife (while listening to our pastor preaching the "unto the least of these" bit from the sermon on the mount in church yesterday) whispering to my son (just back from college): "Isn't that the bit that Barack Obama quotes so much?"  I guess I'll let us ponder how Smith's post is not a "wrong time" message.


The third post is the most shocking, for me anyway.  It has this eye-catching title, "Christmas: The Time for Feminism."
Just when I'm settling for Caputo's "hermeneutics of deconstruction" and thinking of how Rich Rhodes accuses me, from time to time, of going postmodern on readers at BBB, I read this post, by Polycarp (a new blogger friend). Turns out, as I'm thinking at Christmas of never blogging again, Polycarp has been reading my blog for a year.  He's now confessing he's not a feminist and yet, and yet I say, he kindly asks his readers to read translation, Matthew's and mine and Miriam's.  He suggests:  "It might do us well to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, and perhaps the other women as we read this account.

And I smile (to myself again, at myself):  Josef didn't get to shop for Miriam at DSW Shoes, and neither one had a Zappos account.  Our neighbors, who are Jews, had our whole family over for dinner last night; it was a good time of reflecting on the holidays too, as we ate and laughed and felt tensions together.  They gave me a copy of Benyamin Cohen's My Jesus Year, and I've already gobbled down the first two chapters (laughing all the way).

  l' écriture feminine, the translation of the body, the tensions of Christmastime 

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Aristotle Looked Like

In every department of civilized existence, the influence of Aristotle must be taken into account, and his judgment of women’s position in society—a view sincerely held and on the whole most temperately expressed—has had far more effect on the world than have the idealist theories of Plato. . . . in [Aristotle’s] time the position of women could hardly have been altered for the worse, but by his blind followers in later ages [his view hardly budges since] his slightest word [is] regarded almost as inspired truth . . . . If he had been a little more of a poet and idealist—in other words, if he had not been Aristotle—he might have taken another view [on the need for women to be submissive to men] . . . . Aristotle’s influence in this matter has been an enormous hindrance to human progress.

--F. A. Wright 

Aristotle wore his hair short and had male pattern balding, I think.  This was his ideal hairstyle, and he railed on the Spartan men who in fact let their hair grow long and their women go wild.  Aristotle probably looked a little like Seinfeld’s George Costanza but with his glasses off. 

His ideal age for a man to marry a young girl?  Aristotle’s real, actual age.  The peak time of a man’s body and a man’s mind?  Yep, you guessed again: Aristotle’s real, actual age. The ideal system for a male-dominant household and for ownership of natural-born slaves?  Right again.  Aristotle’s system.

   Aristotle would have loved those lines from Alexander Pope (if he didn’t so hate poetry and barbarian mother tongues such as Pope’s English): 

“Whatever is [for Aristotle], is right [for nature].” -- which is a translation of Pope's "Whatever is, is right."

Here’s some evidence from Aristotle’s writings and his life:

“The front part of the head goes bald because the brain is there and man is the only animal to go bald, because his brain is much the largest and moistest. Women do not go bald."

--Aristotle, DE GENERATIONE, 784a (translated by A. L. Peck, 1943)

When he was around 37 years old, Aristotle married a girl named Pythias who likely was around 18 years of age; at that time, he wrote his treatise on Politics in which “he specified as the optimal nuptial ages thirty-seven for the man and eighteen for the woman” (Abraham Edel, Aristotle and His Philosophy,  page 14).  The implications are not missed by F. A. Wright, who declares, “The whole arrangement is obviously wrong” (213); and Wright explains:

The gap between husband and wife is far too great for any real physical or moral companionship.  The husband, moreover, remaining unmarried until the age of thirty-seven, can hardly be supposed to have escaped from the illicit connections which were allowed and encouraged. . . [and] to say that such an one is in his prime is surely to mis-state the case (213). 

In the Rhetoric (1390b), Aristotle did in fact say that the prime age for a man’s body is thirty-five but for his mind forty-nine.  At the time he wrote this, Aristotle was forty-nine and had already outlived Pythias, who would have been thirty.  They had a daughter named Pythias who would have been, at age twelve, approaching the baby-bearing age if still a few years from the optimal marrying age.

            Wright notes related personal issues:

The art of being a grandfather also under this system [of Aristotle’s] tends to disappear, for a man could hardly hope to see grandchildren of his own, if neither he nor his sons married till they were thirty-seven:  his daughters, of course, . . . on marriage passed altogether out of their father’s life (213). 

By Aristotle’s arrangement, then, his daughter Pythias and any grandchild she might bear would be under another man’s authority.  And it does not take much imagination to picture, through the years, the various problematic issues for a wife, a mother, a concubine, and a grandmother, who experience different translations and distanced relationships with respect to men.  It is important to consider the other women, children, and slaves in Aristotle’s life and their problems.  History does record that Aristotle fathered another child, a son named Nichomachus by a wife or concubine or slave named Herpyllis although the details are sketchy (Edel 14). 

And we do know that “[un]questionably,  Aristotle owned numerous slaves. . . [which he logically rationalized by] a kind of structural racism” (Neel, Aristotle’s Voice, page 19).  These are not unimportant facts when one is translating Aristotle’s Rhetoric rhetorically and feministically.  Jasper Neel, goes on to observe that “[i]n Aristotle’s system, soul is privileged over body, intelligence over emotion, humans over animals, men over women, and freemen over slaves” (26).  However, Neel claims “Aristotle did not need to spend much time on slavery in the Rhetoric because he had justified it in detail in the Politics, the master art in which his rhetoric is a subsidiary” (16).  For Aristotle, “rhetoric” does not have the status of other “arts.”  Neel adds, “And by now, of course, it is clear why we read the Rhetoric alone, pretending that it can be extracted from the political and social theories in which Aristotle embedded it. . . .  [T]hrough his eyes, things ‘make sense’ in a terrifying way” (18).   Our readerly pretense is that “rhetoric” does not need to fit in the context of Aristotle’s terrible, terrifying map of knowledge.  Neel specifies that Aristotle’s terrifying map of knowledge includes “[s]lavery, sexism, and racism [which together as a system] made perfect sense to Aristotle, even though he clearly knew persuasive and cogent arguments against them all” (25).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Translating Aristotle's Sexism: Part 3

The following is a sample of a few more of Aristotle’s biological and political writings.  It’s for the doubters.  And can many of us doubt his male-dominating influence on our persistently patriarchal cultures today?

Aristotle is writing to coldly observe what he sees in nature.  He is, in most cases, using logic to define and academic elitist language to classify.  The entire process of his describing is a male prescribing.  Excerpts of Aristotle’s Greek with my feminist rhetorical translating appear below.  But I have bracketed the technical transliterations or sexist terms usually included by masculinist translators.  This translating and bracketing serves as my only commentary on these passages.  The aim of including them here is to recognize that Aristotle was thoroughly phallic in his various writing.  By no means am I trying to be comprehensive with the selections.  I begin with his physical science first and then move to his social science writings.  The bracketed phrases below indicated the “traditional phallogocentric translation,” and what precedes the bracketed phrases is the contrastive feminist rhetorical translating.  For example, in the first set of tables below, the Greek word στέρα is presented followed by its traditional phallogocentric translation, “a hysteria,” which I bracket; then, both before the brackets and in a fuller context in another box, I show “a uterus” as a feminist rhetorical translating.  I give several tables in succession without commentary below.  My purpose is to illustrate Aristotle’s most blatantly phallic writings and how a feminist rhetorical translating recognizes and highlights the phallicism.

Το δ θήλεος διον μέρος στέρα, κα το ρρενος αδοον,

--Aristotle History of Animals 493a

a uterus, [a hysteria]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The respective part of a female is an emptiness, a uterus, and of a male is a spear, a penis.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


χουσι δ πλείους ο ρρενες τν θηλειν δόντας κα ν νθρώποις κα π προβάτων κα αγν κα ὑῶν·

--Aristotle History of Animals 501b

 humans [men]

 --traditional phallogocentric translation

Males have more teeth than females in the case of humans [men], sheep, goats, and swine.

 --a feminist rhetorical translating

Ο δ’ αλουροι οκ πισθεν συνίοντες, λλ’ μν ρθός, δ θήλεια ποτίθησιν ατήν· εσ δ τν φύσιν α θήλειαι φροδισιαστικαί, κα προσάγονται τος ρρενας ες τς χείας, κα συνοσαι κράζουσιν. 

 --Aristotle History of Animals 540a

 a sexual way [physically aphrodisiacal, peculiarly lecherous], and comes on to [wheedles] the male cat  with sexual advances, and cries out [caterwauls]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Cats do not come together in intercourse  from the rear with respect to the female, but the male stands erect and the female puts herself underneath him; and, by the way, the female cat is naturally attracting in a sexual way, and comes on to the male cat  with sexual advances, and cries out as they come together.

--a feminist rhetorical translating



στι δ κα δύσθυμον μλλον τ θλυ το ρρενος κα δύσελπι, κα ναιδέστερον κα ψευδέστερον, εαπατητότερον δ κα μνημονικώτερον,. . . . . Βοηθητικώτερον δ καί, σπερ λέχθη, νδρειότερον τ ρρεν το θήλεός στιν 

--Aristotle History of Animals 608b

more lying [with pseudo behavior], readier to deceive

manlier [braver] than the female. 

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The female is more dispirited and more despondent than the male, more shameless and more lying, readier to deceive and possessing a better memory for grudges

. . . . But as we have stated, the male is more able to help and is manlier than the female. 

--a feminist rhetorical translating


οικε δ κα τν μορφν γυναικ πας, κα στιν  γυν σπερ ρρεν γονον· δυναμί γάρ τινι τ θλύ στι τ μ δύνασθαι πέττειν κ τς τροφς σπέρμα τς στάτης

--Aristotle Generation of Animals 728a

[morphed] like . . . in form

[sperm] seed or semen.

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Now a boy is like a woman or wife in form, and the woman or wife is, as it were, a childless impotent male; for it is through a certain lack of ability that the female is female, being unable to concoct the nourishment in its last stage into seed or semen.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


δι γένος ε  νθρώπων κα ζων στ κα φυτν. πε δ τούτων ρχ τ θλυ κα τ ρρεν νεκα τς γενέσεως ν εη τ θλυ κα τ ρρεν ν τος χουσιν. βελτίονος δ κα θειοτέρας τν φύσιν οσης τς ατίας τς κινούσης πρώτης— λόγος πάρχει κα τ εδος—τς λης, βέλτιον κα τ κεχωρίσθαι τ κρεττον το χείρονος. δι τοτ’ ν σοις νδέχεται κα καθ’ σον νδέχεται κεχώρισται το θήλεος τ ρρεν· βέλτιον γρ κα θειότερον ρχ τς κινήσεως τ ρρεν πάρχει τος γιγνομένοις—λη δ τ θλυ. συνέρχεται δ κα μίγνυται πρς τν ργασίαν τς γενέσεως τ θήλει τ ρρεν· ατη γρ κοιν μφοτέροις.

--Aristotle Generation of Animals 732a

 [men] humans

[generation] birthings

the [definition] statement and the [form] visual,

 [cause] birth

mixes sexually [mingles]

 work of birth [generation]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

This is why there is always a class of humans and animals and plants. But since the male and female essences are the first principles of these, they will exist in the existing individuals for the sake of birthings. Again, as the first efficient or moving cause, to which belong the statement and the visual, is better and more divine in its nature than the material on which it works, it is better that the superior principle should be separated from the inferior. Therefore, wherever it is possible and so far as it is possible, the male is separated from the female. For the first principle of the movement, or efficient birth, whereby that which comes into being is male, is better and more divine than the material whereby it is female. The male, however, comes together and mixes sexually with the female for the work of birth, because this is common to both.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

In addition to observations in his physical-science writings, Aristotle says similar things in his ethical, political, and metaphysical works.  In these, Aristotle is also sexist:

ν ος φανερόν στιν τι κατ φύσιν κα συμφέρον τ ρχεσθαι τ σώματι π τς ψυχς, κα τ παθητικ μορί π το νο κα το μορίου το λόγον χοντος, τ δ’ ξ σου νάπαλιν βλαβερν πσιν. ν νθρώπ κα τος λλοις ζοις σαύτως· τ μν γρ μερα τν γρίων βελτίω τν φύσιν, τούτοις δ πσι βέλτιον ρχεσθαι π’ νθρώπου· τυγχάνει γρ σωτηρίας οτως. τι δ τ ρρεν πρς τ θλυ φύσει τ μν κρεττον τ δ χερον, κα τ μν ρχον τ δ’ ρχόμενον. τν ατν δ τρόπον ναγκαον εναι κα π πάντων νθρώπων.

--Aristotle Politics 1254b

the chief nature [physical properties]

the person [soul, psyche]

over the body [soma],

the statement [the rational element] over the passionate [pathetic, pathos]

broken apart [analysized].

humans [men];

[physical] nature

ruled [by man];

this principle [trope],

people or humankind [all men].

--traditional phallogocentric translation

And it is apparent that the chief nature born together is that of the person over the body, and the mind and the parts of the statement over the passionate is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the chief part of the inferior is always hurtful or broken apart. The same holds good of animals in relation to humans; for tame animals have a better nature than wild ones, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled; for then they are preserved or rescued. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; the one rules, and the other is ruled; and this principle, by force, extends to all people or humankind.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


πε δ τρία μέρη τς οκονομικς ν, ν μν δεσποτική, περ ς ερηται πρότερον, ν δ πατρική, τρίτον δ γαμική (κα γρ γυναικς ρχει κα τέκνων, ς λευθέρων μν μφον, ο τν ατν δ τρόπον τς ρχς, λλ γυναικς μν πολιτικς τέκνων δ βασιλικς· τό τε γρ ρρεν φύσει το θήλεος γεμονικώτερον, ε μή που συνέστηκε παρ φύσιν, κα τ πρεσβύτερον κα τέλειον το νεωτέρου κα τελος)—ν μν ον τας πολιτικας ρχας τας πλείσταις μεταβάλλει τ ρχον κα τ ρχόμενον (ξ σου γρ εναι βούλεται τν φύσιν κα διαφέρειν μηδέν), μως δέ, ταν τ μν ρχ τ δ’ ρχηται, ζητε διαφορν εναι κα σχήμασι κα λόγοις κα τιμας, σπερ κα μασις επε τν περ το ποδανιπτρος λόγον· τ δ’ ρρεν ε πρς τ θλυ τοτον χει τν τρόπον. δ τν τέκνων ρχ βασιλική· τ γρ γεννσαν κα κατ φιλίαν ρχον κα κατ πρεσβείαν στίν, περ στ βασιλικς εδος ρχς. (δι καλς μηρος τν Δία προσηγόρευσεν επν πατρ νδρν τε θεν τετν βασιλέα τούτων πάντων.)  φύσει γρ τν βασιλέα διαφέρειν μν δε,

--Aristotle Politics 1259b

what’s home-order-esque [economics, the science of household management]

the ruler-esque [despot, leader]

 the father-esque [paternal] relation,

the marriage-esque [conjugal]

these two at least [both]

rule [trope or mode of government],

City-state-esque control [political, republican government]

a kingdom [monarchy];

by nature [physically]

to command [rule hegemonically]

nature [physics] and the older [presbyterian] and fully developed [telos] younger and immature [a-telos]).

City-state-esque control [Politics, republican government]

nature [physical properties]

patterns and statements [schematics and logistics, or insignia and titles]

statement [logos, speech]

relationship [trope]

The rule [of the father]

affection [philea] and of seniority [presbyter],

good form [kalos, finely]

father [pater] of men or husbands and of gods [theos],

by nature [by physics]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

And since, as we saw, what’s home-order-esque has three divisions, one the relation of the ruler-esque to slave, of which we have spoken before, one the father-esque relation, and the third the marriage-esque—(for it’s a rule over woman or wife and over children, these two at least as under freemen, yet not with the same sort of rule, but over the woman or wife as in the exercise of

City-state-esque control and over the children as in a kingdom; for the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female except in some cases where their union has been formed contrary to nature and the older and fully developed person than the younger and immature). It is true that in most cases of City-state-esque control the ruler and the ruled interchange in turn (for they tend to be on in equal level in their nature and to have no difference at all), although nevertheless during the period when one is ruler and the other ruled they seek to have a distinction by means of patterns and statements  and honors, just as Amasis made his statement about the foot-bath; but the male stands in this relationship to the female continuously. The rule over the children on the other hand is that of a king; for the male parent is the ruler in virtue both of affection and of seniority, which is characteristic of a kingdom or royal government (and therefore Homer by good form designated Zeus by the words of the father of men or husbands and of gods, as the king of them all women and men).  The rule that a husband has over his wife, a free person, is the same sort of rule that exists over free persons in a City-state.  For by nature [by physics], the kingdom ought to be this way.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

λλον γρ τρόπον τ λεύθερον το δούλου.  ρχει κα τ ρρεν το θήλεος κα νρ παιδός,. . .  .

στε φανερν τι στιν θικ ρετ τν ερημένων πάντων, κα οχ ατ σωφροσύνη γυναικς κα νδρός, οδ’ νδρεία κα δικαιοσύνη, καθάπερ ετο Σωκράτης, λλ’ μν ρχικ νδρεία δ’ πηρετική,

--Aristotle Politics 1260a

otherwise [troped, has no deliberative faculty at all]

custom-esque culture of good character [ethical arete, moral virtue]

all women, men, slaves, and free [all men]

the restraint [temperance]; manliness [courage]

Dike’s Justice [justice]

ruler-esque [archike]

server-esque [hyperetike]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The slave of the freeman or free woman, in fact, is otherwise; the female of the male has rule, as does a child. . . .

Clearly, then, the custom-esque culture of good character belongs to all women, men, slaves, and free but the restraint of a man or husband and of a woman wife, or their manliness and Dike’s Justice, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; his manliness is ruler-esque, but what she has is server-esque.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

Aristotle’s voice in these passages is that of the misogynist.  He assumes, reasons, and concludes that the male sex is superior to the female sex.

Nonetheless, a defender of Aristotle may claim that among scholars generally “[t]here is a great deal of confusion over what Aristotle says in his biological writings about females and whether what he says about them there is ideological”; this is what Robert Mayhew says in The Female in Aristotle's Biology (2).  And Mayhew argues that he himself can “determine” that Aristotle’s biological treatises “are products of honest science” and “not of bias and ideology” (2).  Moreover, a feminist may allow that “Aristotle is never dogmatic . . . and does not profess to give anything but the somewhat casual expression of his own personal knowledge and opinions”; this is what Wright says in Feminism in Greek Literature (218-19).  Wright adds that “[i]t is unfortunate that [Aristotle’s] experience of women was misleading, and that the problems of feminism do not always fall within the confines of science” (221).  

I think, to be fair, there should be a look at both Aristotle’s “ostensibly-honest” science but also at passages in which he seems “friendlier to females” than normally he seems.  Of course, there are only a few more-obviously benign passages by Aristotle on females.  These include the following:

νδρ δ κα γυναικ φιλία δοκε κατ φύσιν πάρχειν· νθρωπος γρ τ φύσει συνδυαστικν μλλον πολιτικόν, σ πρότερον κα ναγκαιότερον οκία πόλεως, . . .


ο δ’ νθρωποι ο μόνον τς τεκνοποιίας χάριν συνοικοσιν, λλ κα τν ες τν βίον· εθς γρ διρηται τ ργα, κα στιν τερα νδρς κα γυναικός· παρκοσιν ον λλήλοις, ες τ κοινν τιθέντες τ δια. δι τατα δ κα τ χρήσιμον εναι δοκε  κα τ δ ν ταύτ τ φιλί.

 --Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 1162a

an affectionate friendship [philea]

by nature [physicality];

a human being [a man]

naturally [physically]

City-state-esque [politicking]

 human beings [men]

 life [bios]

 these two . . . at least [both; necessarily the one is not the other]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

But a man or husband and a woman or wife seem to have an affectionate friendship by nature; for a human being, there is naturally a coupling together —even more than being naturally City-state-esque, inasmuch as the household is earlier and more forceful than the City-state . . .

human beings live together not only to create children in households favored together but also for the various purposes of life; for from the start the work is divided, and that of men or husbands and women and wives are different; so they help each other by sharing their individuality. It is for these two reasons at least, for utility and sweet pleasure, that there seems to be something special found in this kind of affectionate friendship.

 --a feminist rhetorical translating


διόπερ ο μν νδρώδεις τν φύσιν ελαβονται συλλυπεν τος φίλους ατος. . . .

γύναια δ κα ο τοιοτοι νδρες τος συστένουσι χαίρουσι, κα φιλοσιν ς φίλους κα συναλγοντας. μιμεσθαι δ’ ν πασι δε δλον τι τν βελτίω.

--Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 1171b

manly by nature [courageous physically]

affectionate friends [philea]. . . 

to copy [to mimick]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Therefore, those who’re manly by nature take on this blessed resistance to sharing their own pain with their affectionate friends. . . 

In contrast, women or wives and these different men or husbands favor mourning together, and are affectionate and friendly with affectionate friends and with sufferers together. However, it is clear that in everything one ought to copy the better sort.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

But even these passages (i.e., from the Politics and Ethics), that sound to Mayhew somewhat kinder to females. do not make the pro-Aristotle Mayhew retreat from his observation that “Aristotle’s conception of the female is, in general and in many details, false” [i] (2).  This exceptional concession for Mayhew actually supports the view of most people who recognize Aristotle’s misogyny and his pro-slavery views.  Most agree with F. A. Wright:  When Aristotle said “‘Women and slaves are inferior [to all men and especially to free men . . . ] by the conditions of existence as I see them: therefore they are inferior by the laws of nature’ . . . he was wrong in this matter” (Feminism In Greek Literature From Homer To Aristotle 219, 221).  An examination of Aristotle’s own phallic statements makes clear that his methods and his conclusions by them are suspect.

[i] Mayhew, in his The Female in Aristotle's Biology: Reason or Rationalization, does determine that “Aristotle’s conception of the female is, in general and in many details, false.”  His aim, however, seems to be to discredit other Aristotle scholars who find the Greek man to be a sexist misogynist.  Mayhew adds:  “But frequently, too little care is taken over rigorous scholarship on the part of some of his fiercest critics.  Often, there is little concern for what precisely his views are on a particular issue.  Nor is there much concern with presenting support for the claim that his arguments about females are little more than rationalization” (2). 

Mayhew would, rather, have done well to review Gareth B. Matthews’s “Gender and Essence in Aristotle,” which considers whether Aristotle intends a “Complementarity Theory” or a “Norm-Defect Theory” of difference between the sexes; Mayhews carefully examines all of Aristotle’s writings on the difference to show that sometimes Aristotle does not seem to speak of females as defective males.  But Mayhew also completely ignores the two best contemporary works that are concerned precisely with both Aristotle’s science and his philosophy on females and women.  The best works are the following books by two of the “fiercest critics” of Aristotle’s sexism: Feminism In Greek Literature From Homer To Aristotle (first published in 1923) by F. A. Wright and The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 Bc-Ad 1250 (1997) by Prudence Allen