Sunday, May 31, 2009

Of Texts & their Translation

Aristotle said Abortion is murder, writing so in his own Greek for his elite male students to read. We read between the lines that such real Abortion may not have had much at all to do with females, which are only mutant males without penises caused by mothers who failed to perform properly in the act of procreation.

Joshua and Aspasia said something else, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and Plato and others. Theirs is an interlation. The writers are translating the speeches of the speakers. It's more than simple transposition, more than a transcription of talk to text. Otherwise, the former really would only be the transliteral, transliterated "Jesus" of Christians only and not of the Jews all learning to mispronounce the transliteration, "raca." Otherwise, the latter really would only be "Aspasia," a non-Greek member of the Hetaera and not a Warmly Welcoming Woman, a rhetorician worthy of the history textbooks. So what have they said, the lot of them? "Murder is Anger at anyone as close as your brother." Murder is condeming speech in anger and curses even at your enemies. What if we didn't read, and weren't changed by our listening to, them?

My Baby Boy

I'm singing John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" this morning. My baby is celebrating his twentieth birthday today. We watched two decades worth of family videos yesterday late into the next early morning hours with friends and family. He's home from college for the summer. I'm so proud of my son.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

You Are A Radical Relativist!

In this post, I'd like to expose you: You are a radical relativist! Before you deconstruct me, take a look at yourself. Listen to your own language. Okay, I'll help you out: listen to mine. These are "true" statements, of mine:
  1. I am a linguist.
  2. I am a native speaker of Vietnamese.
  3. I am a native speaker of English.
  4. My Vietnamese is Southern Vietnamese; my southern Vietnamese is Saigonese; my saigonese is 5-toned only.
  5. My English is Southern American English; my southern american english is Texan probably only less drawled than my maternal grandfather's.
  6. Blue is not green.
  7. Xanh is the Vietnamese word for blue and for green.
  8. Xanh is xanh; xanh is not not xanh.
  9. I am a fan of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue."
  10. I am someone who almost entitled this post "Tangled Up in Green."
  11. Noam Chomsky is more clever than he thinks he is by creating his novel utterance: "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."
  12. "Colorless green" is still a color.
  13. "Colorless green" is an illustration of much much more than just abstract grammar categories or than unbounded nonsensicalness otherwise.
  14. The river I step into is still the same river.
  15. A pile of grain is a heap.
  16. You and I are much much more forgiving and forgiven than we can even imagine.
  17. Abortion is murder.
  18. Abortion is a woman's legal choice in the United States of America.
  19. I am a feminist.
  20. You are a radical relativist!
With these 20 statements, I'm trying to show that we all (yes, you and I also) use language to chunk up our reality. I've been reading comments from some of you at this blog this past week. Posting on Anne Carson writing on adjectives was only the beginning of my response.

We construct and we deconstruct our realities by language. Benjamin Whorf began talking about that. Brent Berlin and Paul Kay chatted about everyone else chatting about colors. Ed Sapir took it all further. Kenneth Pike even further. These guys are feminists. Now, I hear you all saying to me: No way. So I'm asking you, No way What? And most of you say, No way these fellows were women activists. They are linguists. And some of you linguists say, Yeah, and they are structuralists. And I ask, Did I say that?

You see what we're doing, don't you? We're not listening to each other! We're talking past one another. We're assuming linguistic categories differently. "Women, fire, and dangerous things," are not all the same thing in English we all agree until we start reading that huge book of George Lakoff. He is not a feminist but a feminist taunter, I say. And while you're choosing words with which to protest, I add: "And Ernst-August Gutt, whom bible translators are looking to today to appropriate so-called 'Relevance' Theory for their work, is not a feminist either." What? most of you reply while still thinking of how women like Claudia Camp and Frances Young can so easily not be the feminists that Phyllis Trible is.

You are thinking their positions, and your very own, are not radically relative. Right? You love your own language and how it chunks your own reality for you. You love to see how awfully my language chunks your own reality. Which is Reality. And so you say so really in the space of a blog comment box.

But, my friend, think again please. You are a radical relativist!

Take your letter A, and it's shape. Write it by hand. Type it by finger. Did you write it the same way each time? Now teach it to a NON-native speaker of English, your English. Teach the fundamental absolute shape of the letter A in your alphabet to a native speaker and writer of Chinese. What is it? Do you see how many many different shapes you allow? Just for lower case? What if you chose the other shape of upper case? What if you've worn out the letter A on your keyboard. Wh^t if you h^d to use a different ch^r^cter for the letter ^? Do you see how toler^nt you h^ve been? How rel^tive! You r^dic^l! You w^nt your Chinese friend to underst^nd, don't you? Who t^ught you? Your mother? Your schoolte^cher? Remember how forgiving she was of you? Remember how forgiving you were of yourself?


My linguistics prof, Kenneth L. Pike, never called himself a feminist. Then again, he didn't call "emics" and "etics" what anthropologist Marvin Harris called these Pikean terms for "insider" and "outsider" perspectives. Pike was fascinated that scientists (the most rigid observers of all) could use variable language for "light." It's a "particle," it's a "wave," it's a "field." It depends on what's most useful. But Pike went beyond pragmatics. He'd always say, "person above logic." "Logic is formalism." "Persons and persons choosing radically relative perspectives are always above and prior to the formal rules they choose." "Okay, language may have some of the formal properties Noam Chomsky perceives it has, but language is also N-dimensional. N is infinite. We people are infinite in our choosings." Pike also told us his students of a moment when he was a student: One of his teachers one day was trying to overcome Plato's problem when he declared to the class, "What we really need in language is for one word to have one and only one meaning." (The teacher, I think, had been reading too much of Aristotle - but that is my aside to this little story.) Pike tells us his students how he responded to this teacher of his: "But sir," he protested, "how then would we learn language." Do you see how radical a question (how rhetorical!) it is?! Pike knows that learning language depends on it's N-dimensionality. If language for everyone is always and only chunked exactly the same way, then how will our mothers teach us? We need adjectives to modify our nouns. We need metaphors to give nuance to construct differently our worlds. Pike loved to quote Nelson Goodman saying, What we need is "radical relativism within rigid restraints." What most of us want to imagine most of the time (and it is absolutely pure imagination) is that there must only be rigid restraints. Thank God you are a radical relativist!

Friday, May 29, 2009

What is an adjective? (as if the question might be How are they glancing?)

What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives come from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitheton in Greek) is itself an adjective meaning "placed on top," "added," "appended," "imported," "foreign." Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are latches of being.

Of course there are several different ways to be. In the world of the Homeric epic, for example, being is stable and particularly is set fast in tradition. When Homer mentions blood, blood is black. When women appear, women are neat-ankled or glancing. Poseidon always has the blue eyebrows of Poseidon. Gods' laughter is unquenchable. Human knees are quick. The sea is unwearying. Death is bad. Cowards' livers are white. Homer's epithets are a fixed diction with which Homer fastens every substance in the world to its aptest attribute and holds them in place for epic consumption. There is a passion in it but what kind of passion? "Consumption is not a passion for substances but a passion for the code," says Baudrillard.

--Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, from page 4

Dr. King

Just got back from hearing my friend Jason defend his dissertation, "The Rhetorics of Online Autism Advocacy." The now Dr. King was brilliant. My favorite line: "Rhetorical listening is not a refuting of but a rendering of the ones I hear. I may choose a stance of openness towards any person, text, or culture in cross-cultural exchanges."

Reflections on Numbers 5, Ephesians 5, and other (sexist) Bible texts

I approach the question of sexist language in scripture as a feminist Christian drawing on a particular Protestant understanding of Scripture and on a faith that I would characterize as liberal evangelical. I have chosen to accept this heritage, in critical appreciation, as a faith tradition that has prepared me for, and I believe, compelled me to my present understanding. . . . The aim of the Bible translator, in my view, should be to enable a modern audience to overhear an ancient conversation, rather than to hear itself addressed directly. . . . It is not the translator's duty to make her audience accept the author's message, or even identify themselves with the ancient audience, except in the sense that any literary work invites identification with its subjects. I am not certain that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard. Much of an ancient work may remain enigmatic and uncomprehended because the experience and thought world of the ancient audience is foreign (as we recognized when we encounter such terms or usages as firmament, leprous houses, teraphim, or bride price).
--Phyllis A. Bird, “Translating Sexist Language as a Theological and Cultural Problem,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 42 (1988), pages 89, 91-92.


imagine if our Torah said this
how different our story would be

When can I run and play with the real rabbis?
--Rachel Barenblat, Velveteen Rabbi


In contrast, not opposition, to these studies [by George Ridout, J. P. Fokkelman, Kiyoshi K. Sacon, and S. Bar-Efrat on the rape of Tamar], I employ a feminist perspective so that hermeneutical emphases differ even when literary observations concur. . . .

Death and silence are not, however, the final words of the story [of this other text on another woman]. . . . At the beginning of the postscript, the narrator reemphasizes her barrenness. "Now she had not known a man" ([Judges] 11:38c). The next three words have been translated almost unanimously through the ages as, "and it became a custom in Israel" (11:39d). The verb in the clause is a feminine singular form of be or become. Since Hebrew has no neuter gender, such feminine forms may carry a neuter meaning so that the traditional reading, "it became," is certainly legitimate--but it may not be perceptive. Indeed, grammar, content, and context provide compelling reasons for departing from this translation. After all, the preceding clause has she as the subject of its verb: "Now she had not known a man." An independent feminine pronoun (hî') accents the subject. Similarly, the feminine grammatical gender of the verb become may refer to the daughter herself. Further, the term that is usually designated custom (ḥōq) can also mean tradition. The resulting translation would be, "She became a tradition in Israel."

In other words, the postscript reports an extraordinary development. Whereas the female who has never known a man is typically numbered among the unremembered, in the case of the daughter of Jephthah the usual does not happen. "Although she had not known a man, nevertheless she became a tradition in Israel." In a dramatic way this sentence alters, though it does not eliminate, the finality of Jephthah's faithless vow. The alteration comes through the faithfulness of the women of Israel, as the next line explains. "From year to year the daughters of Israel went to mourn for the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite, four days in the year" (11:4). The unnamed virgin child becomes a tradition in Israel because the women with whom she chose to spend her last days have not let her pass into oblivion. They have established a testimony: activities of mourning reiterated yearly in a special place. This they have done in rememberance of her (cf. 1 Cor. 11:24-25). The narrative postscript, then, shifts the focus of the story from vow to victim, from death to life, from oblivion to remembrance. Remarkably, this saga of faithlessness and sacrifice mitigates, though it does not dispel, its own tragedy through the mourning of women."
--Phyllis Trible, "Tamar: The Royal Rape of Wisdom" and "The Daughter of Jephthah: An Inhuman Sacrifice," Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, pages 75, 106-07


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). . . . even direct quotation is set alight by context (eg, when St.Paul cites Euripides). . . .
--George Steiner, Grammars of Creation, pages 75, 96


This is not a work of scholarship. I am no Hebraist, no higher critic, no ancient historian, no archaeologist. I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself. If an excuse is needed (and perhaps it is) for writing such a book, my excuse would be something like this. It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

In this book, then, I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained, when reading the Psalms, with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. I am ‘comparing notes’, not presuming to instruct. . . .

He [Jesus] 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.
--C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pages 1, 113


As feminist readers recognize the effects of their work and meet the criticisms of their analyses brought by feminists and non-feminists alike, our interpretive processes mature and expand. Today there are countless readings that could be labeled feminist, even as there are countless ways that the term has been and can be defined. The feminist choir no longer sounds the single note of white, Western, middle-class, Christian concerns; 'feminist biblical studies' is now a symphony. It acknowledges the different concerns social location and experience bring to interpretation and recognizes the tentativeness and partiality of each conclusion: no instrument alone is complete; no two musicians play the music alike. Feminist readers of Christian origins are so diverse in terms of approach (literary, historical, sociological, text-critical, ideological, cross-cultural...), focus (imagery, characterization, genre plot, Christology, ethics, politics, polemic...), hermeneutics (of suspicion, of recovery), identity (Womanist, Latina, African, Evangelical, lesbian, Jewish, Catholic...) and conclusions--namely, it is just like most biblical studies and indeed most academic disciplines in the humanities and social sciences--that any single definition of what constitutes a 'feminist reading' is necessarily reified. . . .

What we discover is that the woman's words [of Matthew Chapter 15] are, in essence, a short lament psalm. Matthew has shaped her words to reflect the traditional, candid speech of Jews before their God.

The woman's words of address, petition, and complaint need no additional commentary. Verse 27, which I have labeled the motivation, deserves special attention, however. After the woman renews her address and petition in v.25, Jesus finally turns to answer her. His answer, however, is not to grant her request, but to provide a rationale for not granting it. In v. 23, he had told his disciples that his mission was only to Israel, and in v. 26 he reasserts that notion, this time in a more colloquial, proverbial idiom. Jews commonly used 'dogs' as an epithet for Gentiles, and Jesus may be quoting a maxim here. Whatever. . . . In response to the woman's unrelenting insistence, . . . Jesus' words give voice to what the woman's words have already demonstrated. . . . The text is neither a miracle story nor a saying of Jesus, but a story about robust faith that will not die, despite all odds against it. The vehicle Matthew uses to tell this story is Israel's lament psalm, the quintessential form of robust faith found in Scripture.
--Amy-Jill Levine, A Feminist Companion to Matthew, pages 14, 122-23


What Phyllis Bird said
(and what
Barenblat, Trible, Steiner, Lewis, and Levine said too
as I post up more translating of the translating of Numbers 5).
--J. K. Gayle

Thursday, May 28, 2009

feministing the bible, or, Bibling feminisms

When we read the phrase "feministing," we may immediately think of the blog (and the feminist bloggers of) So when you hear the phrase "Bible-ing," what (and whom) do you think of?

(I thought I'd throw that question in here - even though I'm mostly intending to write this post about feministing. Lately one of my blogger friends has been wondering about my being a feminist and about my being a bible blogger and about my ostensibly drawing a sharp binary distinction between the two. The labels are considerably difficult, and this certain accusation of his is as essentially just as troubling. If you've stayed with me this far, let me announce here and now that my title for this post is likely going to seem misleading. In reality, I'm probably going to say more about my boss and about her feministing than I am about the bible or anyone's Bibling. Nonetheless, we can always talk more later about those other things, or any of us can make the applications back to them in our thinking, in our feelings, in our relating with others, in our living of life. Do know that I'm writing with an intended degree of anonymity. But I want us to be as personal as possible, lest we find ourselves powering up on the high-horse of abstractions and pontifications.)

My boss does not call herself a feminist. She is a scientist, a professor, and now a high-level administrator in the university. However, when I've asked her about books on her shelves by feminist authors, she's said to me how concerned she is that women do not get the salaries that men do. I know she has daughters, but I've heard that she also mentors other women to negotiate more when offered less. Some of us figured that's what she herself was doing when it took an extra long time for her finally to accept the position she now holds. It's no accident, I think, that the director of the Women's Studies Program and the director of the Institute on Women and Gender Research both report to my boss. And now you know I direct another unit on campus, not those, and also report to her. When we have director's meetings, she gets us talking about our respective concerns, and she keeps us talking about issues of fairness, diversity, and even gender. Let me say one more thing about my boss in her private life off campus, and then I'll come back to her feministing. Do remember, please, that I'm trying to maintain a sure degree of anonymity.

My boss has never mentioned to me reading the Bible. To be fair, I've never asked her about all the books on her shelves. However, one of my employees has mentioned how active she is in the mainstream denominational local church of which he also is a member. What I know of my boss' politics, in as much as she's made them public, they are part and parcel of her feministing, which is decidedly biblical. Indeed, her bibling is feminist. She is as at home reading the Bible, I imagine, as she is if reading The Women's Bible, or Ms. magazine issues from any of the past four decades, or Manifesta.

In the most recent director's meeting that she called, my boss did not mention feministing or Bibling. Rather, she got us talking about being bosses. She had us reconsider the binary "management or leadership." She took us through a bit by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal (in their Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 2003) in which they review the literature. "Bennis and Nanus (1985)," they note, for example, "offer the distinction that 'managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing' (p. 21)." She discussed with us perceived differences between "Transactional leadership" and "Transformational leadership" - in which the former has the focus on "give and take within structures" and the latter the focus on "vision and motivation."

Then my boss started feministing. That is, she started asking us whether we thought we had to force such a choice.


It immediately took me back. We will come back to my boss' feministing. But it immediately took me back to Jesus - as Mark translates him, renders his Greek parables. And it took me back to Helen the whore - as Gorgias feels he has to praise her, to defend her. And to George Steiner the Jew, the literary critic. And to Robert E. Quinn, the white male non-feminist corporation guru, the deep-change and change-the-world professor. And to Patricia Bizzell, feminist (but "not a Catholic, not even a Christian" though working and teaching at Holy Cross while engaged as a student herself in the links between religion and rhetoric, especially Jewish rhetoric, at Hebrew College.)

What? you're asking. And I'm talking about real people, some somebodies. All of them are outlining choices, and not just a binary set of two from which each of us must choose the one. They may, in fact, be personal positions.

For example, Mark's Joshua (aka Jesus) tells a parable that seems to be the key (position) for all the parables: a sower sows seed which falls on different places and yields crops differently because of it. Likewise, Gorgias' Helen decides to leave the men of Greece: for various possible reasons some of which are more praiseworthy. Steiner comes across difficulties in poetry reading, some which are more profound than others. Quinn reviews the business management literature to discover that bosses typically choose one of several strategies for change. (Quinn also writes to disparage the views of a [not named] "woman at a professional conference who was on the cutting edge of feminist theory." But that's for another conversation.) And Bizzell reviews methods of writing the history rhetoric, suggesting that "masculinism" for feminist rhetoric purposes is not the only one. (Lots of rhetoricians, come to think of it, do what Bizzell does whether "feminists" or labeled otherwise, and I'm thinking here of Cheryl Glenn, Wayne Boothe, and Krista Ratcliffe in particular. Bizzell herself really likes Jacqueline Jones Royster, and come to think of it, so do I.)

The point of my reviewing all of this so quickly and so sloppily is this: these real human beings have reviewed choices in sets of 4. And the four line up remarkably. For example, Quinn even looks to Jesus (and to Martin Luther King, Jr. and to Ghandi) as the exemplar(s) of what he considers the best "change strategy." But to line this up further, we may just take the men mentioned above to see the parallels in "choices":

Steiner / Quinn / Jesus / Gorgias
poetry difficulty / change strategy / regula fidei / Helen's motivation:

1. epiphenomenal difficulty / telling strategy / the wayside / she was convinced by a man's speech;

2. tactical difficulty / forcing strategy / rocky soil hot sun / she was seized, raped, by men;

3. modal difficulty / negotiating strategy / weedy soil / she was commanded by the gods;

4. ontological difficulty / transformative strategy / good soil / she chose her love.

I think there's an argument to be made for viewing these choices epistemologically too: 1. Aristotle's logic; 2. Alexander the Great's conquest; 3. Plato's idealism; 4. Socrates' dialectic (which he learned from Aspasia, a prostitute, a non-Greek). I'm only mentioning this argument because so much of the Bible is in Greek. And when people are bibling these days, all too often they resort to one and only one epistemology. It's often either Aristotle's logic or something else. If it's Aristotle's logic, then, of course, everything else must be not logic, must be illogical. You can use a fancy Latin phrase like "regula fidei" to bound what must be meant and what canNot go into that Roman category either. (Romans always tended to take the Greek stuff to the Nth degree, didn't they?) The huge issues with aristotelianism, whoever is appropriating it, is that it tends to ignore what's really going on in a person (i.e., motivations of resentments, fear, shame, or guilt); more than that, Aristotle's method of "knowing" tends first to categorize in real artificial ways but it also then tends to put down "the other" in the automatic hierarchy. Anyone and anything Not close to one's own uppity categories is lower than one's own categories. I could go on. But I may be digressing a bit.


When my boss is feministing, she's not being bossy at all. She's not limiting herself or any of the rest of us to any one choice or to one pair of choices either. She's saying, "Consider which choices give you the best results in working with people. Transformation of yourself and with them is probably the best if you can do that some of the time. But work well and personally otherwise."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

preferences of the feministic Augustine

Warning: this is a pedantic post. It has Latin in it.

When I write the phrase "feminist rhetorical translating," most of you reading will think of that over and against just "translation." For, for most of us, most of the time, "translation" is not inherently gendered and is never to be either more or less persuasive or stylistic or whatever else we think "rhetorical" means. Translation then, is, of course, better than "feminist rhetorical translating." Translation is more "accurate," more "objective," more abstractively representative of the "original" - especially of the original "author" and his original "intention" for that original "text" of his. When it comes to the text of God, whether He's Allah or YHWH or Jesus, then there must be absolutely none of the feminist stuff - for translation ought to be purely a-rhetorical. (The corollaries are [1] God is not female, or [2] God is at least beyond gender, or [3] God always says what He [or It] means in ways that just translation will get right when the translator just gets out of the way.)

And yet, the other way of looking at that is to mark the usually unmarked, default mode. That is, "translation," just as it is by its very Nature, is "masculinistic." Just translation, as logical and as aristotelian as it must be, is just rhetorical. This process (i.e., this other way of looking) can be called de-construction and is suspect because the deconstructionist's post-modernism tends to become another construct. Which is why Jacques Derrida liked to spin his friends on merry-go-rounds finding that he got just as dizzy and why the brilliant Roland Barthes wrote Barthes on Barthes.

So is that all there is? Is that the way it is? Yes, it is. Yes it is unless, of course, one sits in on some voice lessons with Nancy Mairs. In Voice Lessons: On Becoming A (Woman) Writer, Mairs quotes John O'Neill talking about Michel de Montaigne. And then after the quotation marks, she goes on talking about Montaigne. (She might have easily talked about Saint Augustine of Hippo, and I'll explain in a moment. We're getting ahead of ourselves perhaps). Listen:
And as O'Neill points out, "Montaigne. . . rejected the easy assembly of philosophy and theology [both] careless of man's embodied state," aware that the "loss in scholastic abstractions is that they can be mastered without thought and that men can then build up fantastic constructions through which they separate the mind from the body, masters from slaves, life from death, while in reality nothing matches these distinctions."

Preference [is] for relation over opposition, plurality over dichotomy, embodiment over cerebration: Montaigne’s begins to sound like a feminist project. Which is not to say that Montaigne was a feminist. ("You are too noble-spirited," he was able to write to the Comtesse de Gurson when she was expecting her first child, "to begin otherwise than with a male.") But whether intentionally or not, Montaigne invented or perhaps renewed, a mode open and flexible enough to enable the feminine inscription of human experience as no other does. The importance of this contribution has been largely overlooked, perhaps because many of Montaigne's statements, as well as his constant reliance on prior patriarchal authority, strike one as thoroughly masculine. . . .
(pages 75-76)
If Montaigne didn't "invent a mode open and flexible enough to enable the feminine inscription," then I'm suggesting that Augustine did. Which is not to say that either of these men were feminists. (Shall we spend another post or even a few sentences here on the sexism of Augustine? Why not save that for another day? There's another quick story to share.)

When I was doing Ph.D. coursework in Classical Rhetoric, one prof assigned Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana, Book IV (translated by Thérèse Sullivan, excerpted in Patricia Bizzell's and Bruce Herzberg's The Rhetorical Tradition). Bizzell and Herzberg point to the standard translations: "D. W. Robertson (1958)" and "R. P. H. Green (1995)" while noting that "Sister Thérèse departs from the standard translation of the title, On Christian Doctrine, which we use throughout. She renders it as On Christian Teaching to emphasize the rhetorical activity Augustine discusses." And these three translators also all look back to the English translation by Philip Schaff and J. F. Shaw (1887). My rhetoric prof and classmates were more interested in what Augustine was saying about rhetoric, remarkable stuff, as an early mix of pagan and Christian learning than about how he was saying, so it seemed to me. So via Interlibrary loan, I ordered Sullivan's Commentary with a Revised Text, Introduction, and Translation, which was her dissertation at Notre Dame in 1930. She describes her commentatary as "an investigation of Augustine's rhetorical theory, and . . . a study of his own language and style." (For anyone interested, that prof of mine and some of those classmates have beautifully republished Sullivan's work and several essays in The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo.)

If you're still with me, I want you to listen in on what Sullivan does with translating. Watch how she translates the very rhetoric of Augustine on translation.

First, to note the difference, here's Shaw's translation. Then Sullivan's. Then Augustine's ambiguous rhetoricky text in which he's not only talking about an original author (i.e., the Prophet Amos - unnamed in the context below) but also about the Jewish translators of Amos into Greek and how rhetoricky that ambiguous text is (even though Augustine is saying he's going, instead, with the Christian Latin-translation translator Jerome. Oh, and I've bolded the stuff for the contrasts.)

And one more thing, Sullivan gives this footnote: "non autem, etc.: this is treated as a separate sentence by the Benedictine editors, but there is no need of considering it thus, as elliptical, since it clearly follows closely upon hoc faciam, etc., above." This bit of pedantry is showing how multidimensional, how robust, Augustine's Latin as he writes about Greek and Latin and translators and translations of a Hebrew speaking, rigidly-written-down Prophet. There's no need, she's also saying, for her the translator to commit what Robert Alter calls the "heresy of explanation."

So here goes:
SHAW'S TRANSLATION: I see, then, that I must say something about the eloquence of the prophets also, where many things are concealed under a metaphorical style, which the more completely they seem buried under figures of speech, give the greater pleasure when brought to light. In this place, however, it is my duty to select a passage of such a kind that I shall not be compelled to explain the matter, but only to commend the style. And I shall do so, quoting principally from the book of that prophet who says that he was a shepherd or herdsman, and was called by God from that occupation, and sent to prophesy to the people of God. I shall not, however, follow the Septuagint translators, who, being themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their translation, seem to have altered some passages with the view of directing the reader's attention more particularly to the investigation of the spiritual sense; (and hence some passages are more obscure, because more figurative, in their translation;) but I shall follow the translation made from the Hebrew into Latin by the presbyter Jerome, a man thoroughly acquainted with both tongues.

SULLIVAN'S TRANSLATING: And so I see that I must say something also of the eloquence of the Prophets, greatly cloaked as it is in a metaphorical style. The more, however, that they seem obscure by the use of figurative expressions, the more pleasing they are when their meaning has been made clear. But I must quote some passage wherein I may not have to explain what is said. Wherefore, I shall draw especially from the book of that Prophet, who says that having been shepherd and herdsman, he was by divine appointment taken and sent to prophesy to the people of God: but not according to the Septuagint translators, who even themselves, working under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, seem for this very reason to have expressed some things in a different way, in order that the attention of the reader might be rather directed to a study of the spiritual sense–and thus some of their passages are even more obscure because more figurative–but rather as the translation has been made from the Hebrew into the Latin language, done by the presbyter, Jerome, himself a skillful expounder of both tongues.

AUGUSTINE'S PREFERENCES: Certe si quid elus proferimus ad exemplum eloquentiae, ex illis epistolis utique proferimus quas etiam ipsi obtrectatores eius, qui sermonem praesentis contemtibilem putari volebant, graves et fortes esse confessi sunt. Dicendum ergo mihi aliquid esse video et de eloquentia prophetarum, ubi per tropologiam multa obteguntur, quae quanto magis translatis verbis videntur operiri, tanto magis, quum fuerint aperta, dulcescunt. Sed hoc loco tale aliquid commemorare debeo, ubi quae dicta sunt non cogar exponere, sed commendem tantum, quo modo dicta sint. Et ex illius prophetae libro potissimum hoc faciam, qui se pastorem vel armentarium fuisse dicit, atque inde divinitus ablatum atque missum, ut Dei populo prophetaret: non autem secundum septuaginta interpretes, qui etiam ipsi divino spiritu interpretati ob hoc aliter videntur nonnulla dixisse, ut ad spiritalem sensum scrutandum magis admoneretur lectoris intentio (unde etiam obscuriora nonnulla, quia magis tropica, sunt eorum), sed sicut ex Hebraeo in Latinum eloquium presbytero Hieronymo utriusque linguae perito interpretante translata sunt.

Sonia Sotomayor in the Spotlight

Lots of people are reserving judgment about Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Justice of the United States of America. But those who are not interested in the American President's succeeding have already started to pick at her: "She's an ivy-leaguer, an elitist with no family other than the staff in her office, no common-man experience." "What an obvious, stupid choice by Obama - obviously playing up the gender and race issues." Overhearing such comments on the radio on the drive home yesterday, I wonder who's making them. How invisible is their sex and their skin color on the other side of their anonymous telephone calls?

For some reason, I starting thinking about Sonia Sotomayor when reading a paragraph from a wikipedia entry on someone else whose father seems not to have been around early, the girl whose parents named her Marie Gouze, who later named herself Olympe de Gouges:

Surviving paintings of de Gouges show her to be a woman of beauty. She chose to cohabit with several men who supported her financially. By 1784 (the year that her putative biological father died), however, she began to write essays, manifestoes, and socially conscious plays. Seeking upward mobility, she strove to move among the aristocracy and to abandon her provincial accent.

Of course, the wikipedia editing is collaborative, but I wonder what the race and gender of the author is, who makes the first sentence in that paragraph cohabit with the next? (Fortunately, the writers do give credit to the white de Gouges for all of her work to expose slavery and mistreatment of blacks, work which came before her work for women.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear John Hobbins: Have You Censored Me?

Dear John,
When I try now to make a response to your post, "A Response to Kurk Gayle," I only get this: "The page at says: We're sorry, we cannot accept this data." I really was trying to continue the dialog you began. And I do appreciate Jay's comment on your post too. Here's how I was starting to respond:

Jay - In reading Exodus (all of it even in English and not just "LXX Exodus 21:22-25"), you really get us wondering about what John says about how it is there are so many (of us) for whom "the Bible functions as light, mirror, and compass." How is it that this thing so functions? As if it is a Natural or supernatural thing in itself, so imposing on its readers. This makes us think too of what Katherine recently claims in a comment on a post at my blog: her her.meneutics. And there's that Spirit of God you mention.

John - Where do I begin with your charges against me? Augustine as if the Aristotelian binary buster?

In Book IV of De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine says,

"if anyone, unlearnedly learned, so to speak, contend that the Apostle [Paul] has followed the rules of [pagan, Greek] rhetoric, will he not be laughed at by Christians, cultured and uncultured alike? And still we recognize here the figure called in Greek χλιμαξ, in Latin by some, gradatio . . . . But this, and things of this kind are set forth in the art of oratory. So, though we do not say that the Apostle followed the rules of eloquence, still, we do not deny that eloquence followed close upon his wisdom."

Augustine goes on to say,

"But some perhaps may think that I have chosen the Apostle Paul as the example of our eloquence. . . . And so I see that I must say something also of the eloquence of the Prophets, greatly cloaked as it is in a metaphorical style. The more, however, that they seem obscure by the use of figurative expressions, the more pleasing they are when their meaning has been made clear. . . .

[The Prophet Amos, for example,] was by divine appointment taken and sent to prophesy to the people of God: but not according to the Septuagint translators, who even themselves, working under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, seem for this very reason to have expressed some things in a different way, in order that the attention of the reader might be rather directed to a study of the spiritual sense--and thus some of their passages are even more obscure because more figurative."

Augustine goes even further to suggest that oratory (i.e., the pagan stuff of Greek rhetorics) is from God himself. He (Augustine) has lots of thoughts about how and whether such rhetoric must be taught, as if by law, by rules, my mandate, by proposition. (They shouldn't, he says.)

What Augustine writes is very close, in method, to what many feminisms do. Notice that Augustine allows the Septuagint translators to be fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, to follow pagan rhetoric - as it were -, and to say something different or at least differently from their Prophet who speaks in firmly-written Hebrew.

(My only personal defense to any of your charges at this point is this: have I called myself either a biblioblogger or a feminist blogger?)

One of My Addictions

may be one of yours too. But who's denying blogging is addicting while reading this post?

And what do you think of intermonk's

Random Thoughts About The Internet: What I’m Doing With It, What It’s Doing To Us, How It’s Changed Me, Etc.

And have you checked your own

Signs of Blog Addiction?

Good Grief, J. K. Gayle

We all hope he'll post more on David E. S. Stein's “On Beyond Gender: The Representation of God in the Torah and in Three Recent English Renditions” published in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues.

I'm listening, instead, to John Hobbins dedicating an entire blog post to me. "Dear," he starts and calls me by a nickname my father gave me when I was a tiny baby. As I listen to his charges, to his list, to his "I've been meaning to. . . " - I remember hearing my father when I was in grade school telling me not to say "Good grief" or "rats" or any of those "disrepectful things" that characterized the Peanuts comic book characters' speech. He made his meaning clear in various ways, many of which I felt profoundly. When I was sent away to boarding school he sent money after me if I would read (and when I could convince the dorm father I had memorized particular passages of) the Bible. When I went to undergraduate school he was not there (and neither were the fathers of two of my dear missionary-kid friends who ended their own lives prematurely - renouncing Christ and his heaven eternally according to those fathers of theirs). Lots of water under the bridge. Didn't I blog for you already how my father accepted my invitation to the defense of my dissertation some months back? How he took the opportunity to question me there in public, as if my "feminist rhetorical translating of the Rhetoric of Aristotle" were somehow a threat to Nature and the nature of things as they really are?

This post of mine is not Plato's Socrates' apology. It is not my dissertation defense all over again. I don't think it's even valuable to review, here, the values of feminisms, rhetorics, or translating with respect to sexist texts of patriarchal men. I had, some of you remember, started blogging when doing research and stopped for various unspeakable reasons. John Hobbins has outlined, more recently, several charges desde él en mi contra. Here are some:
  • "Most people for whom the Bible functions as light, mirror, and compass, are not going to give you the time of day, as you must realize by now, because they hear you saying that the Bible is darkness, profoundly distorting as an instrument of self-examination"
  • "exactly what you are saying [is. . . ] 'sexism in the Bible,' as it works itself out in precept and teaching, is equivalent to the waterboarding of women"
  • "the 'love patriarchy' of Ephesians 5 is still 'patriarchy' . . . But . . . the 'love patriarchy' of 'the Pauline economy' is no better (and perhaps worse) than that of Aristotle."
  • "the Bible is darkness, profoundly distorting as an instrument of self-examination, and in need of a 'strong reading' from the outside in order to render it innocuous."
  • "the Bible is imperfect and fallible - except for the parts we like based on some external criterion"
  • "you are unwilling to go down the path of reciprocity with those who are not feminists after your own heart."
  • "you speak of 'bibliobloggers' on the one hand, and 'feminist' bloggers, a category you identify with, on the other. . . . you developed this binary opposition in the context of a defense of Obama's pro-choice positions"
  • "people today, and Christians, too, hold very different opinions on abortion, Obama, and many other subjects, with defensible reasons in each case. The tone in your relevant post suggests that you may not."
  • you perhaps do not "respect the alterity of the texts, their non-feminist alterity included."
  • likely "you contribute to creating an environment in which Bible readers who do not share your passionately chosen brand of feminism will feel free to ignore and even disrespect your particular alterity."
I think it could be helpful to answer some of these charges. I'd already been toying with the idea of posting on how "light" figures in the Greek new testament. So in other posts on other days perhaps.

The elephant in this room, for me, is why and how this is such a huge thing for John Hobbins. I've grieved at how certain voices of a certain individual have been silenced at his blog, perhaps because she's a woman or speaks (out) feministically, and how he's watching water run under the bridge. This isn't to minimize John's charges. But aren't there other things to talk about when talking about the Nature of the Bible and of bible reading?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

(Feminist) Recovery Work

These words in this post are not responses to John Hobbins' response to me. (John, hope you'll understand that you've given me a lot to think about - although I'm sincerely humbled that you'd give so much thought to our interactions, sincerely challenged by your efforts to dialog.)

This weekend my family and I stopped by the Barnes & Noble bookstore on the way back to the car after walking around downtown Fort Worth on a beautiful evening together. (It was the restroom stop for some, so I peeked at the books, of course, and saw near the men's room on display was Richard B. Hays' nearly 10-year-old work, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, in which the Christian theologian confesses to looking at the Jewish George Steiner's review of The Literary Guide to the Bible (edited by the Jewish Robert Alter and the perhaps Christian but definitely not Jewish Sir Frank Kermode); Hays, the Christian, after he's already written his book, explains, in his late-written Preface, how he is not at all happy with the view of Steiner, the Jew. Hays writes on pages ix and x: "If so erudite literary critic as Steiner labors under such distressing misapprehensions about Paul and his argument in Romans, the need for the reading of Paul offered in the following pages is perhaps greater than I realized when I began to write. 'Hatred of the Jew?'. . . . In short, although Steiner's remarks might be applied, with some justice, to the evangelists Matthew and John, they badly misrepresent Paul." Hays, of course, does not mark the positions (i.e., Christian, Jew, male) of Paul, Steiner, himself and so forth. But the male Christian theologian does wonderfully acknowledge that "Steiner labors." Just how does a Jew labor, however, when thinking about Christian thinking about Paul?

I'm telling this story just to begin to say that positions are too often unmarked. That this is dicey. That when one presumes to tell that another's position is a bad misrepresentation, that very one himself may "badly misrepresent" that other. Wow. That sounds complex.

So here's another story. When at a rhetoric conference not too long ago, a feminist scholar announced early research on the phallogocentricism of Alcoholics Anonymous. She was seeing that in the Big Book most testimonials were from men and not from women, and that of course the founders of AA are men. Mine was the first question to this line of thinking, wondering whether the collaborative and dialogic nature of "meetings" wasn't actually "laboring" to deconstruct the masculinism of addiction and whether "recovery" from the "disease" wasn't very akin to "feminist recovery work" in many other contexts. The researcher answered that my question did not address directly the male dominance of AA. But to my delight, the keynote speaker of the conference was in the room, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, and she was much more successfully able to challenge the line of research, framed itself in a male-ish paradigm, from which feminists like Beth Daniels recover on both sides (i.e., by study of Al Anon and, unfortunately also, by necessary engagement in Al Anon). How does one critique without admitting one is affected by? What's at stake except what's personal, what's also gendered?

My favorite Greek word in the "New Testament" is this ironic imperative spoken by Joshua and by the Jewish John the Baptist: meta-noia. That's another story for another time when I have more time. But these two Jews, men who are affected by the effects of a male dominant bible-reading society on their on mothers and sisters, are calling for something personal. For re-covery work, personal and gendered.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beyond: Default Phallogocentrism for Feminism

I'd urge you to read very closely David E. S. Stein's “On Beyond Gender: The Representation of God in the Torah and in Three Recent English Renditions” published in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues and just made available online (as per his two links at John F. Hobbins' blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry, where John twice at least valorized the piece before anyone could easily read it). Unfortunately, Gesa E. Kirsch's and Joy S. Ritchie's article, "Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research," is still not available online for free (although your library might have CCC 46.1 [1995]: 7-29); I'd urge you to read that article just as closely. Then come back here to finish my post.

What did you notice? See the default, unmarked masculinist frames? Beyond Gender is where Stein suggests three works go, and ought to go, when representing God in the Torah. Beyond the Personal is where Kirsch and Ritchie say (feminist) composition scholars go, and ought to go, when collaborating with students on publication and such.

What if "going beyond" is really never going anywhere except this place where one pretends he's not priviledged? Can't we see how "gender" and "the personal" become objectified by these scholars pretending to say something about the well-bounded limits of the "feminine" and of "feminisms"? As if beyond gender is not gendered masculine by default. As if beyond the personal is not gendered male in an unmarked way.

the vocabulary for such

What are you reading, I said, looking into her eyes. She dropped the bookmark between pages 146 and 147 and pulled the cover to the author's opener, to page 11 where her eyes had really started the novel, a going back while moving forward terminally:
I was born in rain and I will die in rain. Know me as river, as harbor. They will say I was a slut with a brazen sailor's mouth. They will not remember my elegance and restraint. They will say they looked in my eyes and and counted one hundred and forty-six pelicans flying in a wavering line into a marina at sunset.

Men don't have the vocabulary for such eyes. A brown, calculating and predatory. Men lack the spectrum, the palette. It is not the eyes themselves, but rather what they contain, the vision. Diego is like that, with his compulsion to categorize. Men prefer primitive bodies outlined with hard black edges like the Maya painted.

I resist obvious borders. For this heresy I have been categorically penalized. Did you know they sealed me into a cast for one entire year? It was a premature burial where I kept breathing under dirt. They did this repeatedly, gathered my crushed bones like wildflowers and used plaster as a vase. They sought to make an object of me. There was no composition. It was vandalism.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

She, the Rabbi, Speaks

She's reading "This week's portion, Bamidbar, [which] begins with instructions to take a census of the Israelites, head by head, each man attached to his ancestral household."

And the Velveteen Rabbi writes, "The tradition traces Jewishness through the mother, but this census takes note of men and their fathers -- no mention of the women at all."

And Rachel Barenblat speaks:


Take a census
family by family
listing the names
every female, head by head . . . .

Listen: Who is "recording," and who is "the recognized head of her ancestral house," and who is "able to plant seed," and "who can teach the ways" usually given only to men?

Dr. Jim West's "even higher comedy"

"I think that Greg's Post was oddly funny. I think it was oddly funny in the way that it was high comedy. I think comedy has to come from an oddly funny place if it's high comedy."

Now I'm being just as silly,

but doesn't Dr. Jim West sound like Alicia Silverstone speaking plainly, more or less:

"I think that Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it's true lightness."


Woman, Black: the Double Whammy of Inequality in Your Neighborhood

"When Black women are beaten, raped, or otherwise exploited we are not understood as victims because our bodies are understood to exist for the purposes of exploitation."

There are few rushing to her defence because these constructions uphold not only the black white binary but the crushing dominance that patriarchy has established over women."

--Renee at Womanist Musings
gets at a huge problem of in-equal-ity in (y)our neighborhoods,
showing those
Nude Photos of Rihanna and Prejean
[asking] Which One Is The Slut?

Splitting Bible Words Into Two

Today, [in English,] “zealous” and “jealous” mean different things, and while there are zealots, there are no jealots. In Hebrew, on the other hand, the word never split into two, and to this day, a kana’i can be a jealous husband just as well as a Zealot. He still cannot, however, be a Canaanite, the Hebrew word for which is k’na’ani, not kana’i.

--Philologos, "Yes We Kana’i: On Language," The Jewish Daily Forward
The pseudonymous Philologos is answering a reader's question: "Zelotes is a Greek word used by Josephus that has made its way into English. Is there a Hebrew equivalent for it in the Talmud or Midrash?" And the answer points to "an amusing error in the Greek New Testament."

The error is revealed:
In the Gospels, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples is in several places referred to as Simon ho Zelotes, “Simon the Zealot”; yet in the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark, he is called Simon ho Kananaios — or, as the King James Version has it, “Simon the Canaanite.” On the face of it, this is absurd, since not only was Canaan no longer a term for Palestine in Jesus’ time, but all of Jesus’ other disciples were no less Palestinian Jews than Simon the Zealot. The epithet makes sense only if we assume that the original Greek text read Simon ho Kanaios, or “Simon the Kana’i,” and that a later Christian scribe who never had encountered the Hebrew word changed it to the more familiar though senseless Kananaios.
Would a Christian Bible reader or translator respond? How about a linguist or a Greek scholar or a theologian? Is this an "error"? Does Mark's Greek "split" a Hebrew word by mistranslation? Is our English more equal to this problematic binary Greek than it is to the original language of the Bible?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What do you see in Malcolm X?

Really, what do you see from your own perspective?

Renee at Womanist Musings wishes Malcolm X Happy Birthday by sharing his eulogy delivered by Ossie Davis. Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing wonders "Where would we be without Malcolm?" and advises readers to "check out Grace Lee Boggs on knowing Malcolm X, Adrienne Maree Brown on the application of Malcolm's teaching to building power in communities around violence and Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the legacy of Malcolm X." Anna Clark at Isak remembers "Happy Birthday, Malcolm ... and Brown v. Board of Education" and gets readers looking at various posts and essays.

Zettler Clay for Clutch Magazine remembers "his rescinded views towards females" in the post "Malcolm X and Black Women: Struggling For Closure." (My biblioblogger friends are silent. And my rhetorician friends are just as mute. That says a lot, doesn't it? But Linda López McAlister had trouble remembering those rescinded views towards females when she viewed Spike Lee's biographical film when it came out 16 and a half years ago: "In the last few days--in this order--I heard a talk by the white radical lesbian separatist philosopher Mary Daly, saw 'Malcolm X' and heard a talk by black feminist theorist and cultural critic bell hooks. . . . One thought that kept occurring to me as I was watching Malcolm X give his speeches was how much his separatist rhetoric and Mary Daly's separatist rhetoric had in common. . . . And maybe, if I hadn't heard bell hooks yesterday, I would have come in here today and given a review of 'Malcolm X' that focused more on the cinematic elements of the film and what Black liberation struggles and women's liberation struggles have in common than on the troubling overt misogyny of the film." And maybe, if you remember, you were listening to somebody, from your own perspectives, when you watched the Spike Lee motion picture remembering the life of Malcolm X.)

And maybe, if you were at the Brooklyn Museum between October 31, 2008–April 5, 2009, you would have noticed history in art from your own perspective. What would you have made of "Carrie Mae Weems's Untitled (Man Smoking/Malcolm X), 1990, which explores human experience from the vantage point of an African American female subject"? The work by Weems was part of "Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection . . . an exhibition . . . [the title of which] refers to the idea of the 'master’s house' from two perspectives: the museum as the historical domain of male artists and professed masters of art history, and the house as the supposed proper province of women." Go back, look again, at Weem's photo as you frame it. What do you see in Malcolm X?

*He* Wins the Votes!

No, I'm not talking about American Idol. That winner, he'll be announced tonight.

This week already, the people of Greece, in another demo-crat-ic vote, elected Alexander the Great as the Greatest Greek of all times. He wins the votes of the majority. Of course, Aristotle, Alexander's teacher, was in the Top 10 with Aristotle's own teacher Plato and with Socrates, who taught Plato. Quite a patrilineage, an exclusive boy's club.

Sure, the world notices the very few women in the Top 100.

And, again, there's that omission of Helen of the Hellenes, and the absence of Sappho - Plato's Tenth Muse, and the silencing of Aspasia, who taught both Socrates and Pericles to speak well.

Which brings us back to Aristotle, who taught Alexander in his own boys club that their wives by birthing daughters had failed to birth sons - that daughters are only mutant sons. Which makes us remember Greek male histories (remember Aristotle's history?), that must have Helen as whore, Sappho as Lesbian lover, and Aspasia as a foreign call girl--each of only private consequence to men. Μεγάλοι Έλληνες . . . Μεγάλη πράγματι Έλληνες!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hebrew to Israeli in Israel: But it's the Bible

Today, on the campus of Bar-Ilan University, the second largest institution of higher education in Israel, there's an insider debate going on. Should the new Bible translation into everyday Hebrew, or Israeli, become standard in schools? Will old Hebrew then be lost?

The Jerusalem Post online in English gives world wide web readers on the outside a glimpse in. Linguist and "Israeli language" scholar Ghil'ad Zuckerman, on the one hand, is all for the new translation. Translator and writer Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, on the other hand, believes that "Israeli children today will be robbed" by the new version of the Bible. (Are there implications for women and men? Aren't there?)

At Bar-Ilan University, such questions about translation have already been asked. What happens when Jews translate their holy scriptures? What has happened, for example, when these sacred writings became "The Greek Bible"? Was it, is it, "Light or Darkness"?

When it's the "Bible" for the people of that book what does translation do?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Top 10 Bibliobloggers / Feminist Bloggers on Obama on Abortion

From the Top, from President Obama: "no matter how much we want to fudge it . . . the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable."

From the Top 10 blogs & sites on Obama at Notre Dame on Abortion. Two camps:

bibliobloggers (and all men):

1. Dr. Jim West - "There’s nothing fair minded or open minded or open hearted or loving or compassionate or Christian about murder [i.e., abortion]. . . . That’s not being closed minded or demonizing others [i.e., not demonizing Obama] . . . ."

2. Ben Witherington - [silence, so far]

3. Joel L. Watts - "This is why we must continue to pray for our leaders and turn away from an out right hatred of President Obama. . . . [H]e speaks about the pro-life movement, and understanding that the debate is more than just words. Further, he has moved the Freedom of Choice Act to a lower priority list."

4. James McGrath - [silence, so far]

5. Airton José da Silva - [silence, so far]

6. Michael S. Heiser - [silence, so far]

7. Scott Bailey - [silence, so far]

8. Mark Goodacre - [silence, so far]

9. John Hobbins - "It is too early, of course, to formulate a judgment about POTUS Obama. But . . . [i]t is a mixture of boilerplate liberal rhetoric and 'genuine co-optation' of centrist and conservative themes. . . . I intend to extend to Obama the presumption of good faith of which he speaks. . . for him to deliver from his end, on the issue of abortion . . . because I will judge the extent of his fair-mindedness based not on the rhetoric of his speeches, but on the content of the legislation he seeks to pass."

10. Thomas Verenna - [silence, so far]

Feminist sites and blogs (including collaborations of women and some men):

1.'s Ann Friedman - "I'll be joining three other bloggers for a discussion of Obama's remarks about abortion at Notre Dame this weekend. . . . [from video:] One of the things I agree with President Obama on strongly, that all of us can agree on I think, is that abortion 'is not something any woman takes lightly'"

2. Shakespeare's Sister's contributor Deeky - "Liss hasn't read [Obama's speech transcript] yet and I am not even remotely interested. If anyone has any insight, leave your witty repartee in comments." [70 comments so far].

3. Feministe's Jill - "the controversy about Obama's Notre Dame appearance is less about him than about divisions within the American Catholic community. . . . Despite how Notre Dame protestors are framing it, it’s not actually about Catholics vs. non-Catholics; it’s about social conservatives vs. social liberals."

4. Bitch Ph.D. bloggers - [silent, so far]

5. Alas! a Blog bloggers - [silent, so far]

6. David Weigel - "The biggest problem for conservative Catholics has not been getting the Obama speech portrayed in the press as a scandal, but in distancing from some of the people trying to take ownership of the outrage."

7. Echnidne of the Snakes blogger - [silent, so far]

8. - [silent, so far]

9. - [silent, so far]

10.'s Trianna Maxwell - "The bestest paper evah (or just my personal fav) ["Conciliatory Fighting Words" By E. J. Dionne] Guess I'm making myself the de facto 'Obama and the pro-life/pro-choice folks in the news' poster. Oops, and I like staying hidden on the internet. But oh man do I love this president. As a discussion starter, I am not sure I see this speech as all that conservative. Y/N, Why/why not?"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Listening to the Feminine, the Rhetorical, the Translational - in light of the heavy first line of Homer's Odyssey

Here's a bit from the wonderful Eva Brann's Homeric Moments (page 7):

"Here is the first line of the Odyssey:

Ān- dră mŏı | ēn- nĕ- pĕ | Mōu- să, pŏ | lȳ- trŏ- pŏn | hōs mă- lă | pōl- lă

It is a regular heroic line, in which the fifth foot is normally a dactyl. To have a spondee there indicates some sort of solemn havoc; it is a metric subtlety Homer uses with impressive effect. For example, the Odyssey has a villainous, draft-dodging antihero, Aegisthus, who conspires with his mistress, Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, to murder the returning commander in chief of the Trojan expedition. This deed dominates the consciousness of all the 'Returns.' (The word is capitalized because it is almost a technical term in the Odyssey (15).) Hear how heavyhearted proceeds and ends the line that, early on, concludes the introduction of his baneful name:

hōs ē- phăth' | Hēr- mēı- | ās āll' | ōu phrĕ- năs | Āı- gī- | sthōı- ŏ.

The lines preceding are also heavily spondaic, but none as discombobulatingly so as the ones whose fifth foot is, against ordinary usage, a spondee.

A long oral tradition of hexametric recital would surely prepare a professional poet for wielding a standard line with so much flexibility, and so would the memory training required to hold in mind the twenty-seven thousand eight hundred and two lines of the two epics [Odyssey and Iliad], later on divided into twenty-four books each. And hold them in mind he did, both he and his audience, for his control of significant detail over thousands of lines is demonstrable."

Brann goes on to say what Homer makes possible for William Shakespeare and J. S. Bach and Virgil and John Milton. And she notes what "Horace says in humorously awed censoriousness" of Homer and how Whitehead compares Plato to Homer and how Aristotle, through his objective aristotelian eyes, must make his logical conclusion about the Odyssey. But we have other questions also, don't we?

Our questions:
  1. Even if we're not literary critics, specialists using jargon such as "dactyl" and "spondee," can't we get the surprise? the profound "havoc" of the "deed [that] dominates the consciousness"?
  2. Don't we get that Homer and (us - yes, you and me too - among) his audiences feel something here that Aristotle, among others, is wanting (us) to be anesthesized to?
  3. Do you want me to blog on the "censoriousness" of the sexism of certain readers?
  4. Do you want to discuss with me the richness of our languages that men long ago would rob us of?
  5. Dare you rhetoricians and you linguists, like me, in light of Homer's heavy first line, ask questions that Eric Haveloc (in his Preface to Plato) and that Cheryl Glenn and Andrea Lunsford and so many others in their various historiographies and that Kenneth Pike ask about what it must take to recover and to uncover and to re-present rhetorics and languages?
  6. Would you like to consider together the ways that the Jews are so like Homer? Like him in first forming / and continuing traditions? Doesn't he generate the genesis of orality married profoundly with literacy? And don't they (in what Tel Aviv University Professor Sylvie Honigman calls "the Homeric paradigm') generate the genesis of Hebrew scripture rendered profoundly into Hellene?
  7. And, if we still had time, wouldn't you bibliobloggers think it's a fantastic idea to muse about how the writer of the "New Testament" "book" called "Hebrews" starts its "first line" with "a metric subtlety" like "Homer uses with impressive effect"? Jared Calaway started playing the pipes, but few of us so far have danced.

Do You Blog in "Himglish" or "Femalese"?

Jean Edelstein has a new book coming out entitled Himglish and Femalese. The author is describing the differences between male and female English - the work is reminiscent of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation by linguist Deborah Tannen and “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” A Woman’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men by therapist / counselors Stephen James and David Thomas.

So do you think Edelstein is a man or a woman? And might this writer write more in Himglish or in Femalese? Do you email, txt, or twitter in one of these gendered languages? And which do you identify more with as you read my blog and blog yourself?

Look, listen, from Jean Hannah Edelstein on the differences between women and men writing in love in her post, "Lost in translation: Men and women speak different languages, and now, with text, e-mail and twitter, our wires get utterly crossed." Hear - here are some examples, so as not to get your wires too crossed, in which "Jonathon" is the man writing "Himglish" and "Alice" is the woman writing "Femalese" [and the portion I've put the brackets around is Edelstein herself explaining "What she / he really means"]:

Femalese E-mail

To Jonathan Himglish From Alice Femalese

Hi Jonathan, It was lovely to meet you at the party on Friday. Did you have a good time? I did. What an amazing DJ! Anyway, work has been so busy this week, I am really looking forward to taking it easy this weekend, although I’d quite like to catch a film or something. What have you got planned? Alice x

[What she really means Will you go out with me this weekend? Please note I have signed this e-mail with an “x”, indicating my romantic interest (you will only get more kisses once we are properly dating).]

Himglish E-mail

To Alice Femalese From Jonathan Himglish

Hi Alice, Great to meet you too. Yes, I think I’ll also be laying low this weekend. I also enjoy films — maybe I’ll see that new one with Seth Rogen in it. Jonathan x

[What he really means I am rather oblivious and have terrible taste in films.]

Femalese post-date tweet

Alicefemalese Just had the most amazing night with a new friend.

[What she really means I just went on a really hot date and am totally smitten.

What he thinks she means I went out with this guy tonight, but I don’t fancy him. I guess we can be friends, though.]

Himglish text message

Thanks for a great night! I hope I can see you again soon. J

[Her reaction “Great night”? What does he mean by “great”? What a dull adjective. Wouldn’t he say “lovely’ or “amazing” if he really liked me? And he didn’t sign with a kiss. I’m sure he signed one of his previous texts with a kiss. Does this mean he doesn’t fancy me? I don’t think he does. This is awful. I’d better call my best friend and discuss this terrible development with her for at least three hours.]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sex and Wordplay and Sexism

First, from Rhosa's rhetorical blogora blog, a playful post of sex and religion:

this just in (ha ha):

oooh, baby do you know what that's worth??
ha ha ha ha h(e)aven is a place on earth
("some poles have been surprised....")

but willie get tenure for his book?
betty won't.

and is the pope infallible? never mind on that one.
none of us is, y'all.

Second, searching into or to find my blog, The WOMBman's Bible, someone has googled this:

"word for playful in greek"

which makes me wonder why there I'd skipped over this:

"ἐγένετο δὲ πολυχρόνιος ἐκεῖ παρακύψας δὲ Αβιμελεχ ὁ βασιλεὺς Γεραρων διὰ τῆς θυρίδος εἶδεν τὸν Ισαακ παίζοντα μετὰ Ρεβεκκας τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ

which is the playful Greek wording for this:

וַיְהִי כִּי אָֽרְכוּ־לֹו שָׁם הַיָּמִים וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים בְּעַד הַֽחַלֹּון וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק אֵת רִבְקָה אִשְׁתֹּֽו׃

which is also known as Genesis 26:8 -- translated in the King James Bible as this:
"And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac [was] sporting with Rebekah his wife."
The playful word in Greek is παίζοντα [paizonta] which is "sporting" enough - and is sexual too, given the reaction of Abimelech the king towards two supposedly platonic alleged siblings, who were indeed engaged in play, perhaps foreplay.

That makes us think of Gorgias and his rhetorical praise of Helen. But he's not involved in foreplay, because he's investigating the alleged sexism, the supposed rape of Helen by the Trojan man. Why else would she abandon the men of Greece, he asks. Remember, Bettany Hughes reminds:
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.
So Gorgias isn't engaging in foreplay the way the Jewish translators of their own histories translate that bit of history of Isaac [Ha! Laughter!]. Gorgias is playing with sexuality and with sexism; but his play comes at the very end, like the punchline to his joke:

ἐβουλήθην γράψαι τὸν λόγον Ἑλένης μὲν ἐγκώμιον, ἐμὸν δὲ παίγνιον.

Notice the final Greek word in Brian Donovan's translation:
I wanted to write the discourse, Helen's encomium and my plaything.
("plaything" or sport or παίγνιον /paignion/.)

Which makes us wonder if Gorgias was trying to get his contemporary readers, thinking about Helen, also to remember the sexism in Homer. Remember? Yes, I'm thinking with you now about "The Homeric Hymn to Demeter."

It begins:

I sing of the revered goddess, rich-haired Demeter,
and her slim-ankled daughter, whom Hades snatched
(far-seeing, thundering Zeus gave her away)
while she and Ocean's deep-breasted daughters played,
far from golden blade Demeter, who bears shining fruit.
She picked lush meadow flowers: roses, crocuses,
lovely violets, irises, hyacinths--and narcissus
Gaia grew as a lure for the blossoming girl,
following Zeus' bidding, to please Lord of the Dead.

You may recognize this as Diane J. Rayor's wonderful translating. And you may remember other translations -- because there have been many -- that have Hades raping the girl instead of merely "snatching" her -- as Rayor renders it.

"In modern usage the word rape emphasizes sexual consummation," a certain 'consume-a-shun', "which is uncertain in this case." This is Helene P. Foley's commentary on her own translating, which says the daughter of Demeter is one "whom Aidoneus seized."

Both Rayor and Foley prefer to leave a little play in the English because of the wordplay in the Homeric Greek. Neither of these translators rapes their reader with a certain anything.

And regardless of whether "rape" or "snatch" or "seize" by "Hades" or [his more Greek sounding name] "Aidoneus" - there is something common for all the many English translators of this Greek text. They all render what the little girl is doing, when interrupted, as "play."

Of course, around all the sex and horrible sexism, that word for play and playful in Greek here in this Hymn is παίζουσαν [paizousan]. And so the sporting continues, sometimes translationally, sometimes sexually, but sometimes as the horrible force of sexism.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Men Writing in Greek About Heads of Women

Here's a fragment from Sappho who writes to her friend Kleis.

a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers

(And this translation is by Mary Barnard).


Do you notice any contrasts between Sappho as translated into English by Bernard and what's below?

Below is a sampling of male writings in Greek on women, wives, and their heads. Various translators (all men also in the excerpts here) have rendered the Hellene into English. The Greek word κεφαλὴ [kephale] is translated "head" (and sometimes "hair").

and the nymph herself put on a great white cloak,
delicate and lovely, threw a fine golden girdle
around her waist, and put a veil on her head.
--Homer, Odyssey Book V, 230-232; Book X, 543-545

for I always long for such a head, when reminded of my husband,
whose fame is wide from Hellas to the middle of Argos.
--Homer, Odyssey Book I, 542-545

All by himself from his head Zeus fathered grey-eyed Athena,
--Hesiod, Theogony

Then Athena, the grey-eyed goddess clad her and dresssed her
Up in a silvery garment. Down from her head she unveiled a
Finely embroidered veil with her hands, a most marvellous sight; with
Lovely garlands of new-grown wildflowers Pallas Athene
Crowned her. Also a garland of gold she put on her head
--Hesiod, Theogony

Blepyrus: Eh, Praxagora! where are you coming from?
Praxagora: How does that concern you, dear sir?
Blepyrus: Why, greatly! what a silly question madam!
Praxagora: You don't think I have come from a lovers?
Blepyrus: No, perhaps not from only one.
Praxagora: You can make yourself sure of that.
Blepyrus: And how?
Praxagora: You can see whether my head smells of perfume.
Blepyrus: What? cannot a woman possibly be laid without perfume, eh!
--Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen

What happiness is the people's! what joy is mine, and above all that of my mistress! Happy are ye, who form choruses before our house! Happy are ye, both neighbors and fellow-citizens! Happy am I myself! I am but a servant, and yet I have poured on my head the most exquisite essences. Let thanks be rendered to thee, Oh, Zeus! But a still more delicious aroma is that of the wine of Thasos; its sweet bouquet delights the drinker for a long time, whereas the others lose their bloom and vanish quickly. Therefore, long life to the wine-jars of Thasos! Pour yourselves out unmixed wine, it will cheer you the whole night through, if you choose the liquor that possesses most fragrance. But tell me, friends, where is my mistress's husband?
--Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae or The Assemblywomen

As we stated at the commencement, all these things were in a state of disorder, when God implanted in them proportions both severally in relation to themselves and in their relations to one another, so far as it was in any way possible for them to be in harmony and proportion. For at that time nothing partook thereof, save by accident, nor was it possible to name anything worth mentioning which bore the names we now give them, such as fire and water, or any of the other elements; but He, in the first place, set all these in order, and then out of these He constructed this present Universe, one single Living Creature containing within itself all living creatures both mortal and immortal. And He Himself acts as the Constructor of things divine, but the structure of the mortal things He commanded His own engendered sons to execute. And they, imitating Him, on receiving the immortal principle of soul, framed around it a mortal body, and gave it all the body to be its vehicle, and housed therein besides another form of soul, even the mortal form, which has within it passions both fearful and unavoidable—firstly, pleasure, a most mighty lure to evil; next, pains, which put good to rout; and besides these, rashness and fear, foolish counsellors both and anger, hard to dissuade; and hope, ready to seduce. And blending these with irrational sensation and with all-daring lust, they thus compounded in necessary fashion the mortal kind of soul. Wherefore, since they scrupled to pollute the divine, unless through absolute necessity, they planted the mortal kind apart therefrom in another chamber of the body, building an isthmus and boundary for the head and chest by setting between them the neck, to the end that they might remain apart.
--Plato, the Timaeus

They test women by pessaries to see if the smells thereof permeate from below upwards to the breath from the mouth and by colours smeared upon the eyes to see if they colour the saliva. If these results do not follow it is a sign that the passages of the body, through which the catamenia are secreted, are clogged and closed. For the region about the eyes is, of all the head, that most nearly connected with the generative secretions; a proof of this is that it alone is visibly changed in sexual intercourse, and those who indulge too much in this are seen to have their eyes sunken in. The reason is that the nature of the semen is similar to that of the brain, for the material of it is watery (the heat being acquired later). And the seminal purgations are from the region of the diaphragm, for the first principle of nature is there, so that the movements from the pudenda are communicated to the chest, and the smells from the chest are perceived through the respiration.
--Aristotle, Generation of Animals

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, Generation of Animals

Again, one quality or action is nobler than another if it is that of a naturally finer being: thus a man's will be nobler than a woman's. . . Things that deserve to be remembered are noble, and the more they deserve this, the nobler they are. . . So are the distinctive qualities of a particular people, and the symbols of what it specially admires, like long hair in Sparta, where this is a mark of a free man, as it is not easy to perform any menial task when one's hair is long.
--Aristotle, the Rhetoric

And the priest shall bring her forward and place her before the Lord. And the priest shall take pure, living water in an earthen vessel and some of the dust that is on the floor of the tent of witness, and after taking it, the priest shall cast it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord and uncover the woman’s head and place upon her hands the sacrifice of remembrance, the sacrifice of jealousy—but in the priest’s hand shall be the water of this reproof that brings the curse. And the priest shall make her take an oath and say to the woman, “If no one has slept with you, if you have not gone astray to become defiled while under your own husband, be innocent from the water of this reproof that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray being under your husband or if you have defiled yourself and someone besides your husband has made his bed [i.e., had sexual intercourse] with you, then the priest shall make the woman take an oath by the oaths of this curse, and the priest shall say to the woman, “May the Lord make you as a curse and bound by oath in the midst of your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall to pieces and your womb swell, and this water that brings the curse shall enter your belly to swell the belly and make your thigh fall to pieces.” And the woman shall say, “May it be; may it be!”
--Septuagint Translators of the Hebrew, Numbers 5

2Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
--Paul, 1 Corinthians 11