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.


N T Wrong said...

Is what you term "rhetorical translating" translating both content and rhetorical form of the source text to the language of translation?

I would have thought that to employ rhetorical form where there is such employment in the source text is simply "good translation". Conversely, to amplify the rhetorical meaning by translating with a non-tropic or non-rhetorical equivalent, is "bad translation". That is, a good translation has to pay attention to matters of both content and form.

It follows that a good translation should only pefer "relation over opposition, plurality over dichotomy, embodiment over cerebration" where the source text does not. Conversely, when the source text is 'masculinist', the translation should be too. Let's not redeem Augustine one-and-a-half millennia later. Too many translators are already engaged in redemptive translations for the biblical books, without starting on the Father of Western Theology. And, as a more recent analogy, how many Hollywood movies have you seen set during the time of U.S. Apartheid, in which white folk are retrospectively redeemed by a white person who sticks up for the negro (thus eliminating both white guilt and the historical need for black civil rights protestors in one fell swoop)?

When Sullivan obfuscates with "expressed some things in a different way", she is following Augustine's own obfuscation, echoing his embarassment at the perceived disingenuity of an "inspired" writer of scripture. Content with form. Good translation!

J. K. Gayle said...

The answer to your question, N.T., is yes and no but, of course, it depends.

Key intentions of feminist rhetorical translating include the following:

- drawing attention to the text's or the text's language itself, or the text's author's sexism, which may be explicit or implicit;

- flaunting the fact that just "translation" is pretending objectivity or unmarkedness or disembodiment, or that it is defaulting into the notion of the translator's invisibility (so as to let the author or the text speak without further interpretation).

Yes, yes, I know that's all negative (sort of de-constructive) as I've articulated it; so I love that you've caught on to Mairs' really positive reversals as recoveries of "relation" and "plurality" and "embodiment." You are, however, insisting on some consistent logical mirroring of the source text by the target. Before I get to your point about redeeming Augustine for our time, let's reconsider the whole "source" and "target" metaphor of translation in the first place.

Isn't that rather phallic? The "target" metaphor, I mean. What if we, rather, conceived of translating and of the texts as Mikhail Epstein does: as interlation, whereby one text reads the other and vice versa? Or, better yet, what if we imagined translation as Lydia H. Liu says Chinese appropriators of Western modernism do: as a sort of hospitable visiting of the guest language by the host language, where notions of mirrored equality need not apply? Rather, Liu stresses, there can be a power differential; and still there can be politeness. She points out that there's no post-colonialism for the Chinese - because they've never been properly colonized by the West; which may frustrate scholars like Edward Said if it liberates academics researching Sino-Western relations.

Phyllis Trible would have no trouble translating Augustine (the theologian, the Father). She's not going to do the retrospective contemporary Hollywooding that you talk about (and didn't you think that Sean Penn's portrayal of Harvey Milk - as good an actor as he is - really neglecting the very important flamboyantness that made Anita Bryant gag? Would the general cultural disgust that she represented back then be somehow threatened now by letting Milk be Milk?) I'm trying to say, I believe I get your drift. So back to Trible, is she lessening the "terror text" by showing a radical reworking through the translation of wordplay that highlights the feminine in the text? I've quoted her to illustrate that some here.

So rhetorical translation (especially of the feminist sort) may attend to both content and form - but why would it have to attend to both always?

I love your conclusion (which doesn't negate at all the value of rhetorical translating):

"When Sullivan obfuscates with 'expressed some things in a different way', she is following Augustine's own obfuscation, echoing his embarassment at the perceived disingenuity of an 'inspired' writer of scripture. Content with form. Good translation!"

But whether either intends to or not, both Sullivan herself (as Sullivan's Augustine) and Augustine himself open (or at the very least, leave open) the playfulness of language. This (i.e., wordplay) is the bane of traditional translation of the tradition text of the Bible.

N T Wrong said...

I see - your 'feminist rhetorical translating' is more interested in exposing ideologies and problems with the structure of language than I originally thought.

By contrast, I tend to try to separate translation from ideological and deconstructive criticism. It goes without saying that I conclude that such separation is possible to greater or lesser degrees of success. But, I'm more an Enlightenment thinker than you. Not that I imagine you would have any problem with that.

'Translation' goes one way only. There can be no 'interlation' in translation. The target language either reads the source, or it misreads the source - what translation cannot do (by definition, my Enlightened one) is be 'read' by the source. The target must be an entirely passive receptor, or translation fails. But, if translation is successful (to an acceptable degree), the translation then acts on minds which use the target language. That is, in translation, the passive target allows itself to receive a strap-on, and only then may actively get to work itself.

Claudia Camp criticises Trible for not going the extra step of reading against the grain, but only drawing women out of the text. I think she's right. But it's interesting that Camp can still make the distinction - a distinction between text and reception that her work elsewhere denies (if I may deconstruct the deconstructor!). I still think we must first attempt the distinction, or risk failing to engage the text. I have yet to meet somebody who says they deny the difference between 'use' and 'interpretation' who really does so.

The playfulness of the source language, its ideological contexts, its 'rhetoric', must all be translated in a 'good translation'. But ideological and structural criticism comes second.

Milk was more flamboyant in 'real life', huh? Well, Sean Penn might not have been simply 'translating' - he had to shape the Milk-character to a new setting, with director's instructions, etc. Translation and adaptation was all mixed up in Milk - which is fine for movies, just not for translating ancient texts.

J. K. Gayle said...

I may deconstruct the deconstructor!Yes, you may. Of course parables and analogies and adjectives and metaphors and appositives break down, N.T. Yes, of course they will. I'm talking now aobut your last paragraph here in which you're seeming to protest that "Milk the movie made uses a method that is "not" for translating ancient texts."

Did I say that? Aside from how limited my parable or how limited you want to take it, does "ideological and structural criticism comes second"? This sounds like Aristotle and his syllogism. Such ordering. Such formalism. yes, I know I'm using a simile here to compare what you're saying to what Aristotle often says. But really!

Translation is only "one way." Now you sound like the evangelical Christian's Jesus.

"But, I'm more an Enlightenment thinker than you. Not that I imagine you would have any problem with that."

Wow - yes we really can agree. I see some light. I really am happy lest that sounds as snarky as it really sounds.

But I do want you to notice I'm not going to try to defend Trible or to bash Camp. More than that, please know that you shouldn't reify my comments about some feminisms tendencies to employ some postmodernisms (I'm looking at your first paragraph now). Even though Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several other women published The Woman's Bible: A Classic Feminist Perspective, there is no feminist Bible. The refreshing thing about most enlighted feminists, however, is that they tend to (have to) work from the margins. It's like Jesus said: blessed are the poor (in spirit), blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst (for justice...). This positioning might be read (as people during the Enlightment tended to read it) as some sort of ethical pragmatism, a mandate for good living or something. But the context of the sermon is an audience of marginalized persons in profound pain. I guess I'm wanting to emphasize that feminists, "because women are sexed female and are thus put in positions of profound disadvantage" must decontruct the status quo -even in translations.

N T Wrong said...

Yes - ideological and structural cricitism of a translated text necessarily comes second to the translation. If one attempts to do the two together, 'translation' is impossible. All this is from definitions, a word game. 'Translation' cannot include ideological criticism, but it will be better for awareness of the relevant ideologies within the source and target texts and languages.

And yes - translation, like 'reading' can go only one way. A text may certainly invite the reader - via openings in the text - to imagine, to play, to rearrange, to dialogue. But this is a mere complication on the one-way traffic: here the (text's) invitation must come first. The invitation is almost always limited (it is less limited, for example, in Finnegan's Wake; more limited in a handbook of park regulations). Any attempt to play where there is no invitation to play is not 'reading'. One may, for example, certainly play with a Handbook of Public Park Ordinances, but that is not 'reading' (of meaning).

You say translation is two ways? Now that sounds like the evangelical Christian's discussion of grace and faith. ;-) You see, accusations of being 'doctrinaire' can also 'go both ways', and are only distractions.

The peculiar contribution of feminist ideas to translation is in providing what has been overlooked, and rebutting false male presuppositions in male translation. The voice from the margin will assist translation where it was present in the source text and absent in the male target text. In this way, voices from the margins allow us to come closer to the perfect translation - an ideal... and an Enlightenment ideal. Like all ideals, impossible, but worth striving for rather than giving up on from the beginning.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks very much for your comments. It's for dialog like this with you that I absolutely love to blog.

And you nearly conclude, "The peculiar contribution of feminist ideas to translation is in providing what has been overlooked, and rebutting false male presuppositions in male translation." But then Plato starts talking with his late Enlightened voice. :) Finally Aristotle condemns translation for not being real to his male Greek centrist reality. :) What if woman is translation? Wouldn't sexism be even more convenient then? :) (Don't you see what I'm suggesting? To define "translation" only one way - and I'm not talking about its direction now just the careful precise ideal definition - to so define is to reify, a phallogocentric game that pretends objectivity or pines for the enlightened ideal. What if translation also were something else?

N T Wrong said...

I've gone all "Late" Enlightenment, huh? Well, when I say I am an 'Enlightenment thinker', I do consider I'm on the same team as Adorno and Horkheimer, more or less. Are they 'later' than Plato?

And "translation" might, hypothetically, be anything else. What is defined can always be redefined. So there is no possibility of 'reification' in definition qua definition. This is word gaming - mere definition. Only the failure to realize that this is a mere word game could result in an 'error' such as reification.

Be this as it may, the activity that I define as "translation" (and I'm not alone in this; I speak much the same language as many other translators) can only be done by insisting on one-way traffic from source to target. This is not to say that the big problem of translation - the problem that we are dealing with two fundamentally differently constructed contexts, so that any attempt at mapping/translating is already insufficient (and so, technically speaking, translation is impossible) - does not have to be very carefully negotiated, taking account of the intricacies of both languages, both texts. This process might appear like a 'dialectic', and if you think of it that way for merely heuristic purposes, as an approach to good translation, it will probably assist your translation. But it's not a dialectic. All that happens in the improvement of translation is that we better understand the source language and better understand the target language in order to make a translation (ever more closely approximating the ideal translation'). But the relationship between the two is entirely one way. This might be more obvious with a 'dead language', where all that changes is our knowledge of the dead language.

So, you can (and should) do things with ancient Greek which challenge translation. But for me, that is not 'translation'. The activity of translation is necessarily prior.

None of my definitions involves any claim for 'objectivity'. To imagine a claim for 'objectivity' would be a mis-reading of me. I am limited in my knowledge of source and target language, and biased in applying them as well. But, whatever my knowledge of source or target, they exist independently (or in the case of living languages, largely independently) of me. Language, and by this I mean parole, in its phenomenality, is entirely objective (not fixed or unslipping, mind you, just objective). Enlightenment thinking aims to closer approach that objective thing by necessarily subjective means. The better approach to translation is not a view from nowhere, but a view from everywhere. (Both of these are impossible, but the first a priori so, the second a posteriori). The second is an aim worth pursuing, with an Enlightened (a la Adorno and Horkheimer) Enlightenment approach.

J. K. Gayle said...

N.T., Many thanks for so clearly saying where you're coming from. You've got me looking at Adorno and Horkheimer (okay, maybe more Adorno than Horkheimer) all over again today.

May I just skip down for the reply to your very interesting Declaration of Independence from Language (i.e., parole, as if your "knowledge of source or target")? I really like your "view from everywhere" better than Nigel's "view from nowhere" as a pursuit (of Happiness?). I'm playing a bit here. But seriously, wrote you your very own post just now, a parable of "All Men Are Created Equal." I'll try to be more direct, more in line with the respects of Adorno perhaps soon enough. (Another Q: Why have you stopped your wonderful blog?)

N T Wrong said...

I was thinking especially of Dialectic of Enlightenment.

I didn't declare my independence of language, but rather the opposite. It is utterly prior to me. I came too late to the party. Language was always already there - a public system of dividing the amorphous ideas about reality that I first had to enter into in order to hope to change it.

"It has been repeatedly said that, in order to interpret our actual world (or the possible ones of which many of the texts we translate speak) we are moving within the framework of a semiotic system that society, history, education have organised for us."
- Umberto Eco

"I am obliged to posit myself first as subject before starting the action which will henceforth be no more than my attribute... In the same way, I must always choose between masculine and feminine, for the neuter and the dual are forbidden to me... To speak, and, with even greater reason, to utter a discourse is not, as is too often repeated, to communicate; it is to subjugate... Language... is quite simply fascist."
- Roland Barthes

Even "the most honourable reformer" who recommends renewal "reinforces the existing order he seeks to break by taking over its worn-out categorical apparatus and the pernicious power-philosophy lying behind it."
- Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno

N T Wrong said...

Derrida also thought that translation involved a 'view from everywhere'.

"Even the desire for translation is unthinkable without the correspondence with the thought of God."
- 'Des Tours de Babel'

However, I guess he meant that as a ground for its impossibility - which is a great shame. Correspondence with the thought of God should be something to aspire to.

J. K. Gayle said...

I like your thoughts on Correspondence, and each of your quotations!

"Rather, the difficulty and, if I might put it thus, the point of Aristotle's Metaphysics is that while, on the one hand, one cannot think of the universal independently of that in which it is concretized, on the one hand, it is not a mere abstraction in relation to the particulars subsumed under it. If you can picture the problem in this accentuated form, I believe you will be able to cope with the difficulties of this theory straight away. In general, one can only deal with difficulties by looking them in the eye. And Aristotle does make things rather difficult for us by presenting himself as a 'commonsensical' type of thinker in whose work, as in that of a number of British thinkers later, the most unfathomable problems appear initially as if they could yield self-evident answers to simple human understanding, whereas in reality they conceal abysses. I touch here on the specific difficulty presented by an interpretation of Aristotle as a whole."
--Theodor W. Adorno, Metaphysics

"It is this moderation that can be learnt from the gypsy song whose mere existence tells us more about the wisdom of Aristotle and the Stoics than the Summae of High Scholasticism and the systems of philosophy. 'Semplice e ben misurato', is how she begins, as naturally as Nature herself, who is preserved in her Meditteranean civilization."
--Adorno, Quasi Una Fantasia