Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ken Pike's (Feminist, Bible) Theory


As April DeConick might describe it, this may be another "post on subjects that are considered marginal (even heretical, especially if there is any feminist bent) to bible studies by the men who are blogging about the bible." I am a man. I'm tired of blogging. I'd like to talk about good feminisms more and not necessarily go on blogging about the bible.

Sigh. Well, that's not true exactly. I'd like to feel that I'm not always offending other feminist bloggers and other bible bloggers by joining the two together in nice and  undivided conversations. This current post, likely, won't make me feel that way. I'm writing about something likely more threatening to both my feminist friends and my biblioblogger friends than just how Homer and how the LXX have significantly impacted how I read the Bible.

Today I'm blogging about the late Kenneth Lee Pike. And I'm using his theory to talk about his theory in what might be seen as unpure, even heretical ways.


Ken Pike was one of my teachers. He's largely forgotten now though he passed just a few days ago (the last day of the 20th century). Although some of you remember Pike as a personal friend and an enthusiastic colleague, many of you mostly remember Pike as a Christian missionary, or as the linguist who invented a theory called Tagmemics, or as the one who inspired Larry Wall to invent the computer language PERL, or as a "composition studies" or a "new rhetoric" scholar, or as a college professor and department chair, or as director of one of the most famous English language institutes, or as the anthropologist who coined the terms emic and etic, or as the first person on the planet to conduct a monolingual demonstration with another human being, or as a translator of the Bible who served for nearly forty years as the President of the largest organization of Bible translators in the world.

I myself don't remember Pike ever speaking about the Bible. And, in the graduate seminar on tagmemics that a few of us took with him, and in his home when he invited us there, and in all of the many things I've read that he wrote, he never discussed or even mentioned feminism either.

So how can I say "Kenneth Pike's theory is feminist" or that his influence on how I read the Bible is?

(Wouldn't it be much easier to say, as Keith D. Miller does, that the scholarship of Jim W. Corder is "radical, feminist rhetoric"? Or, as Nancy Mairs does, that the project of Michel de Montaigne rightly "begins to sound like a feminist project"? Perhaps. But believe me when I say these are no easy things to say. I know. I've been in Corder's home and have chatted with him there before his second wife, the one he left for his first, became his widow. And I've heard from Mairs that Montaigne was "thoroughly masculine" as he maintained that "constant reliance on prior patriarchal authority" and made many statements that are sexist [i.e., “'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'”].)

What is remarkable about Pike was his willingness to listen to how we talk about reality. This willingness is part and parcel of his theory. And he enthusiastically embraced the choices, for example, of the astrophysicist who could choose, perhaps unconsciously, to talk about "light" alternatively in terms of "particles" and / or in terms of "waves" and / or in terms of "fields." That is, light can be and is talked about in light of its measurable properties. Light is talked about in with respect to its ephemeral margins and its wavelengths. Moreover, light can be discussed in relation to other things talked about, such as time and space and matter, as if the ground in the gestalt psychologist's field. Person, Pike would often say, is above logic. And by that he meant this: neither Aristotle's nature described by Aristotle's logic nor Plato's formalized ideal of nature must force us persons to talk mechanistically. Pike says we persons are "able to use all three approaches as alternative ways to view every situation as static, dynamic, or relational according to the current needs and interests of the observer."

(Wow. That sounds so jargony. So complex. So boringly theoretical.)

The exciting thing about Pike's theory is that it is personal. It takes into account a person's talk about reality, whether that reality is Light or the bible or anything else. How a person talks about reality is largely a matter of her choice.

She might talk about The Bible as a particle with well defined boundaries, as a precise canonized collection of certain specific books and not others. She might talk about the bible as also The Forbidden Gospels or as also something translated and continually being translated or as fragments of texts some day to be discovered in an archaeological dig in 2017 AD -- descriptions like waves that form and crest and crash. She might talk about the Bible in relation to other books or in relation to her synagogue or in relation to somebody's church or in relation to the patriarchy or in relation to any scholarly field.

Pike's theory and practice also takes into account whether the observer's language is insider language or outsider language. If she's observing and listening in to another, then she's on the outside (using etic talk); and when she's on the insider she uses different talk (emic forms, which may go unnoticed like water to the fish and air to the bird). Emic and etic languages are very different. The Bible, to its observer, may be written in language that marginalizes her, that puts her on the outside. She might be Phyllis A. Bird talking about the Bible, saying that her outsider perspective is "to overhear an ancient conversation, rather than to hear [one]self addressed directly." And as a Bible translator from the margins, she could add, as Bird does: "I am not certain, that the translator is even obliged to make the modern reader understand what is overheard." She, the observer, might be Adele Berlin who narrates about narrative; she talks about the bible saying: "...narrative is a form of representation. Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than the painting of an apple is real fruit." The point of such talk is to appreciate the bible from her outsider perspective but it is not to presume she's an insider.

An even more fascinating aspect of Pike's theory is his humble acknowledgment that observations change both the observer, in the observing, and the observed. Pike put it this way: "the observer universally affects the data and becomes part of the data." If you know afrafeminist Jacqueline Jones Royster, then you know how much Pike sounds like her and she like him, and how much more she just-as-personally develops this understanding of the observer in the data.

(Maybe I'll post next on Royster and how she's influenced my bible reading. For now, I should say I read the bible as an outsider, as one changed by and changing it too as I read. Haven't had much time here in the post. Have left out the references the citations for the quotations above. Will supply them eventually perhaps and most definitely if you ask for them. Time's up.)

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