Saturday, October 31, 2009

Barnstone: Language as...

I've been reading Aristotle and the Indians: A Study in Race Prejudice in the Modern World by Lewis Hanke, thanks to my blogger friend Sue. And Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs, thanks to endorser/ writer Donald Miller endorsed by writer Anne Lamott. And The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by Robert Crumb, thanks to translator / recommender Robert Alter. And The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas, by Willis Barnstone, thanks to Theophrastus.

If you've peeked around at this blog, then you know how I appreciate Barnstone for his look at language, for his careful study of lots of languages and texts, many Greek, for his translations that render rich idiom across traditions in conversation.

Would you say Barnstone approaches Language more as Proposition, as Imposition, as Transposition, as A(p)position? Would you hear what Jorge Luis Borges says about him and then what Barnstone says about his own translation?
"The four best things in America are Walt Whitman's Leaves, Herman Melville's Whales, and the sonnets of Barnstone's The Secret Reader: 501 Sonnets, and my daily cornflakes--that rough poetry of morning"
--Jorge Luis Borges, book jacket of the Restored NT

A Restoration of Openness
Reformations in religion and politics bring change and historically have been resisted by or imposed by a sword.  We are smart enough to pace the moon but not the earth.  The moon has an open transparent society for her rare visitors.  Her vast sun-mirror casts light freely and aimlessly on seas and lovers.  But on earth where religions everywhere evolve, evolutions still dye streets and paths of all the continents with blood, and eternally in the divisive names of sect, ethnicity, and politic.  More than ever we need to tear up all lists of new and old infidels to be slaughtered.  It is time to restore or invent a guiltless Eden to a noisy planet.
     The reformation in this bible is a return to the old word and idea.  Through restoration we can test new truths without fear.  Truth is never fixed and has a small "t."  Its companion is Heart, with a big "H" so no truth will ever kill.  A reformation of openness uses peace to mediate the stranger.  Openness roams us into love, stronger than hate.  But be careful even of the good.  There is no absolute good or truth, no Platonic unchanging idea we can tame down on earth.  We are imperfect beings, which opens us to ramble, to lose and find new ways.  Such is the wondrous nature of openness.  Imperfection in our one long day keeps us looking.  But patrons of perfection and the incorruptible kill like Maximilien Robespierre, who beheaded the straggling doubters of the cause, or Oliver Cromwell's "Ironsides," who slaughtered the Irish for being papal Irish, as Jonathan Swift informs his "Modest Proposal."
      Hurray for imperfect stumbling stragglers like Walt Whitman who invent and cheer.  Illumination may be anywhere.  The blind see.  Blind Jorge Luis Borges taught his century dissent and fresh restorations of a multitude of pasts.  Picasso made the new by remembering the old.  The artist sees many worlds.  The biblical artist sees the outside world as a puzzle and narrates or chants ways and salvations, and sees the inner world of spirit as a blur waiting to be filled with changing light.  Scriptures often fill that blur.  Good open-minded reader--who may have already closed the book after a few of these random banalities--here is one translator's way to find the past of a book that may bring you light.
Now, I'm pouring myself a bowl of "cornflakes--that rough poetry of morning."

looking back (at Halloween), looking forward (to a woman priest)

I'm not an Episcopal, but my friend who came over a year ago with his kids for trick or treating is. As I look back, we see that the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is finally, more than thirty years after the church's approval, ordaining a priest who is a woman.

In just two weeks, the Rev. Susan Slaughter, who has been a member of the church since she was eight years old and who completed her seminary training some many years ago and who is finishing a second master's degree -- at Brite Divinity School of Texas Christian University -- will become "the first woman to serve as rector of a diocesan parish" and "the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the history of the diocese, founded in 1983."

why the Roman empire could exist

Alexander the Great was drinking too much, he kept forgetting what Aristotle said about the histories of Darias and Xerxes being facts not fiction, and his armies and their translators (not like Ptolemy and the Jews in Egypt) were seduced by the Persians they were conquering. And that is why the Roman empire could exist. It had no serious something to deal with.

Fine - you say I'm conjecturing a bit. And I say Jim O'Donnell is too. (HT Mark Liberman)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ways of Translation: Part 4, Language as A(p)position

Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit
--Jesus, as translated by John and now translated by somebody else

[A]s Julia Kristeva points out, female subjectivity, traditionally linked to cyclical and monumental time rather than to linear time, lies outside “language considered as the enunciation of sentences (noun + verb, topic – comment, beginning – ending).” Possessing an “irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,” a woman may be driven “to break the code, to shatter language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.”   The difference that emerges here is not the polarity intrinsic in the dominant discourse, which reduces “woman to man’s opposite, his other, the negative of the positive.” No, this is an absolute and radical alterity that enfolds the other, as in pregnancy a woman’s immune system shuts down in such a way that she shelters and nourishes, rather than rejects and expels, the foreign body within her: “Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body, growing as a graft, indomitable, there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on.” Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy.

--Nancy Mairs, voice lessons: on becoming a (woman) writer (pages 40-42)

With this post, I'm closing a series of posts on Ways of Translation. But this post - "Part 4, Language as A(p)position" - may open a can of worms.

Most of us in the West tend to view 1) Language as Proposition, or to use 2) Language as Imposition, or to work through 3) Language as Transposition.  In other words, Language works like 1) precise Logic; or Language functions as 2) a limited or a strong Force; or Language is 3) the shadow of Truth. These were how 1) Aristotle; 2) Alexander the Great; and 3) Plato and his teacher Socrates conceived of Language or "logos." And most of us in the West who have ideas about and practice with Translation will find ourselves appropriating one or more of these conceptions of Language.

However, Language for the women around the men Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander conceived of "logos" much differently. And beyond the Western male tradition, we can find other ways of talking about Translation.

I'm not saying that men or even men in the West cannot conceive of Language as say Asapasia of Miletus did.  For example, Kenneth L. Pike, an American linguist, was able to view language as "N-dimensional" as infinitely-dimensioned.  I remember as one of his graduate students in a seminar on his views of language hearing Pike quote Nelson Goodman:  what we need, Pike paraphrased, is "radical relativism within rigid restraints."  And for Pike both the relativism and the restraints were human.  He said that the observer of language not only changed the observed data but was also changed himself or herself in the process of observing.  He'd tell the story of how one of his early teachers complained, saying "We need for a language to have one and only one meaning for each single word"; young Pike, the older Pike told us, then replied:  "but, sir, how then could we learn language"?  Pike understood that meanings flowed like Heraclitus's river, and that the river was the same river because of the same Heraclitus.  "Person," Pike would insist, "always is above formal logic."  And he'd talk of peoples whose languages don't have the many numbers that ours do.  Who needs 'em all?  I much admire Pike because he was not only a language scientist but he was also a poet.  At the end of his famous monolingual demonstrations (in which he, the observer of and listener to of a language of somebody else, a language he'd never heard nor encountered in any way before), Pike would tell a poem.  It was almost as if he knew the linguists in his audience watching were focused too narrowly on one thing or another, and his poem would help them observe differently, and change profoundly, if by some small degree.  Pike was also a rhetorician and a compositionist and has had an impact on humans writing computer language as well.  It's a shame that so many around us have not heard him much these days -- as a fledgling rhetorician, not too long ago, I complained some.

Let me mention others' conceptions of Translation now, and then talk about Language as A(p)osition.

Lydia H. Liu, who is a Chinese scholar living in America researching Chinese appropriations of Western modernism, says that Chinese translators tend to view Translation as a host (language) and a guest (language) coming together sharing.  Theirs is not the view of a source (language) penetrating a target (language). Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, in their book of English-translated Chinese poetry, compare translation to auto-bodyshop work. Mikhail Epstein prefers to think of translation as interlation, as two languages contributing new things to one another. The UN simultaneous interpreters give Karen Jobes a fresh way to think about Bible translation, as "bilingual quotation." Mary Daly puns words and reads double intentions into many.  My missionary-kid siblings and I would make up Vietnamese-English that mainly we would understand but that our Vietnamese friends and English speaking family members would struggle over as insiders the other way (and since my brother who lives in London was here in the Fort Worth for my dissertation defense, I shared some of this -- the language as ap(p)osition -- with committee members and the rest of the audience).  Several feminist translators in Canada tend intentionally to "overtranslate," that is to make themselves present in the translated text, and to make silences and margins a bit more noticeable. Translators of Jesus in the gospels, the gospel writers themselves, would follow him in using hyperbole, parable, not just metaphysics but hyperphysia, and humor -- things not allowed in Aristotle's Language as Proposition or needed in Alexander's Language as Imposition, though often a part of Socrates's and Plato's Language as Transposition.  When John the gospel writer and translator started his gospel, he startled the world of Greek language by saying "In the beginning was the Logos."  Which logos?  That's the question, exactly.  (I think it's funny that the Jesus Seminar folks believe that John never told of Jesus telling a parable.  The epigraph that starts this post is sort of a parable that ends Marks, in Mark 4.  Oh, and we should mention that Robert Quinn's 4th CEO change strategy is the self-transformation strategy, that he gets from Jesus, and from Gandhi and MLKJr.  And George Steiner says the fourth poetry reading difficulty is the ontological difficult, something about the poem changing the reader, and such.  And then Mark goes crazy with the fourth sower/soil in the parable, and gets wild saying that Jesus says by a rhetorical question that the parable's the parable of parables.  Now this is not the language of most linguistics or theology classes.)

So now Language as A(p)position. I'm coining a phrase to highlight some ambiguities.

"An appositive is a noun, noun phrase, or noun clause which follows a noun or pronoun and renames or describes the noun or pronoun. A simple appositive is an epithet like Alexander the Great."  I'd say an appositive works much like a parable, a story throw beside your own that makes you (want to) change a little.  You might also say that an appositive works like the linguist who observes data but changes, changes herself or himself and the observed data too.  This is how Language as A(p)position works, how it does things.

But a-position is my mix of Greek and Latin to say there's No Position at all.  This is where Aspasia of Miletus finds herself, not a citizen of Athens, not a member of any (proper) Greek city state, not a male, and not even a marryable wombman.  Nonetheless, she stands next to the greatest philosophers and rhetoricians and writers and linguists of all time, and she learns from them but they also learn from her.  Hers is the kind of outsider translingualism here that people like Lydia H. Liu and Steven G. Kellman study much more recently.  "Translingual, transport, transplant, translate . . . a crossing over, a movement into a new state, a transformation," says Martha J. Cutter as if describing language in a(p)positive ways.  If we just had more time, we might say more and listen more.  Someone might listen and write a dissertation, a blogpost, or something.

Equal Pay in the UK? Not yet!

April 28th was Equal Pay Day in the USA. At that point, women here, on average, earned just 78 pennies to each Dollar men here, on average, made.  Given that a man and a woman started working the same job on January 1, 2008 in America -- then April 28, 2009 symbolized how far into 2009 the woman had to work to earn, finally, as much as the man, who stopped his work on December 31, 2008.

Today is Equal Pay Day in the UK.  Think there's equal pay there yet?  Think again.

It's depressing and sad, but read more here and here and here and here.

Ways of Translation: Part 3, Language as Transposition

Aristotle's game tends to be viewing Language as Proposition (or making the Greek logos naturally to be logic). Alexander the Great's project is using Language as Imposition.

Plato's and Socrates's concern has been Language as Transposition. And this is our concern in part 3 of a series on Ways of Translation.

For Plato, the issue was the Ideal, the truth or reality behind the logos. To remember, we might reread his parable of the cave in Book VII of The Republic.

For Socrates, the issue was the Dialectic, the means for getting closer to the Ideal behind language by electing to go through the logos. (Dia-lectic gets to our English words for "elect" and "select" and "dialect" and such). To overhear, we might listen to any of Plato's Dialogues or Dialectic Treatises in which he represents his teacher Socrates using this method of dialectic to question and requestion another person until that person arrives closer and closer to the Truth, to the Ideal behind the language.

For Plato's Socrates and for Plato himself, the goal was to get past dissoi logoi to the perfect pan-Hellene republic. Δισσοι Λόγοι / Dissoi Logoi / was not only a pluralistic book of pairs of contrastive statements of varieties of human behaviors but the book also represented the plethora of logos methodS that sophists, poets, epic story tellers, and rhetoricians were using to misguide Greek people. (We might read Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato to get a sense of just how upsetting these rhetoricS were to Plato and how important "dialectic" was to get through the noise of the logos of any given sophist. We might remember how Socrates, in Plato's Dialogue we call The Gorgias, engages in dialectic with the sophist named Gorgias; and how Socrates draws out of Gorgias, by Plato's neologism, the fact that Gorgias is a "rhetorician." We might recall how Aristotle, later, opens his treatise The Rhetoric by making the logical binary statement that "Rhetoric is the anti-strophos of dialectic." The sense of Socrates, of Plato, and even of Aristotle is that mere rhetoric and much sophistry and poetry -- as one mere logos or another -- will cloud reality.)

So we go back to listen to Gorgias (ironically not Plato's ideal 'Gorgias' in Plato's constructed Dialogue, "The Gorgias," in which Socrates is getting to the ideal truth about rhetoric). The Gorgias of our other histories has written a "Praise of Helen." It's a funny treatise in which the sophist author tries to argue that the beautiful Greek woman must be acquitted for her foreign sluttiness. Maybe she was persuaded by the Trojan logos, he suggests. Maybe she was taken by manly force, he adds. And he also suggests that maybe the gods got her. He suggests one more thing, but we might as well wait on that for another post on Language as Ap(p)osition. The difficulty for any reader is that Gorgias is playing with language in ways that cloud certainty, in ways that don't necessarily get to the definitive Truth behind all this language but in ways that use language nonetheless to make a funny argument. It's the language of relativists who slide down slippery ethical slopes, the language of pluralists who allow that anything goes.

So we fast forward to Jesus, and Mark's translation of his parable of the sower again, which some call the parable of the different soils. Eugene H. Peterson (in his The Message translation) renders the pertinent Greek sentences this way into English: "Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled among the weeds and nothing came of it." and "The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it." The Ideal lost, of course, is "the kingdom news" or "τὸν λόγον ἀκούοντες" / ton logon akountes / - the logos heard. Too much is crowding in on the Ideal Message in order to crowd it out.

So we fast forward a good bit more to our day, to hear literary critic George Steiner and to hear business professor and scholar Robert E. Quinn. The former says there's often in poetry reading a difficulty of modality. The reader, for example, expects one mode but encounters another. The reader wants to know what a particular line in a poem means but the reader is paying attention to the rhyme or to the visual imagery or to one thing or another thing when the poet might have been trying to use an allusion to something entirely different altogether. At this point in his discussion, Steiner mentions literary critic C. S. Lewis. Steiner doesn't say it, but I think Lewis gets to the issues of transposition (of one mode obscuring or choking out another) in his little essay called "Transposition." The whole idea behind transposition is that a message is first in one mode (say, a book like A Grief Observed or Surprised by Joy or a Pilgrim's Regress) and it's turned into another mode (say, a film like Shadowlands).

Quinn, in his survey of the literature on corporate and organizational change, says that there's the negotiating strategy. He also calls it the "win-win" strategy. The idea is that two people talk through what they want (say, a negotiation for a salary desired given the constraints of a company budget). There's a transaction, a trade-off, a move toward the Ideal for both parties. This, Quinn says in his book Change the World, is a strategy that's much less used and much more difficult to use than the "telling strategy" and the "forcing strategy" for change.

One way we might rephrase that is to say that Aristotle's logic and Alexander's force are much easier methods, generally, speaking than Plato's and Socrates's Ideal-seeking Dia-lectic method.

Or I might suggest that Language as Proposition and Language as Imposition is more "default" in our conceptions of language. Language as Transposition is a much richer, and a much riskier and more difficult way of thinking of Language. Noam Chomsky, for all of his revolutionizing of American linguistics, is not an easy one always to follow. But let's do. Remember how Chomsky borrowed a page from revolutionary Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (i.e., langue vs parole) to idealize Competence vs Performance? This is platonism, as Chomsky goes for the deep structure of Language (i.e., Competence) and views Language as the Truth behind utterances (i.e., Performance).

One doesn't need to be a Chomskyan linguist to view Language as Transposition. Revelance Theorists who are translators, for example, believe that the information conveyed in a message is the important thing, that the implicatures can and do create an efficiency of communication, that other things threaten to choke the process of getting to "the message."

Likewise, even blogger translators, such as Joel Hoffman and Wayne Leman, often seem to use the metaphor Language as Transposition. Hoffman has a wonderful chart at his blog that shows multiple translations surrounding the original meaning of a text as if threatening to misrepresent its deep real True (i.e., Ideal) meaning or to water it down or to choke it out.

Leman's Ideal is usually conceived on the other side of translation. In other words, he's concerned with Bible translation that, in English, sounds natural. By natural English, Leman means "English which is normally spoken or written by native speakers of English at any particular time in the history of the English language." Biblish and some poetry in English and English patterned after Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic syntax, in contrast, clouds the ideal English for Bible translation, according to Leman.

In both cases, Hoffman and Leman as translators view Language as Transposition. For behind any language is the original author's (or speaker's) intended meaning.

I'm out of time again. If there's a moment somewhere down the road, perhaps we can discuss together Language as A(p)position. Until then, this is part 3 and parts 1 and 2 are here and here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ways of Translation: Part 2, Language as Imposition

The telling strategy assumes that people are guided by reason.... Telling often leads to resistance. The forcing strategy assumes that people are resistant and must be coerced into changing.
--Robert E. Quinn, Change the World : How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results

כִּי כְּמֹו־שָׁעַר בְּנַפְשֹׁו כֶּן־הוּא אֱכֹל וּשְׁתֵה יֹאמַר לָךְ וְלִבֹּו בַּל־עִמָּֽךְ׃
פִּתְּךָ־אָכַלְתָּ תְקִיאֶנָּה וְשִׁחַתָּ דְּבָרֶיךָ הַנְּעִימִים׃
--Solomon, Proverbs 23:7

I must have told you a thousand times. You know better than that. Since you're obviously not capable of hearing what I said, kid, let's see if you can't feel my belt. Now, bend over.
--my father

Part 1: Review

In part 1 of this series on ways of translation, I noted how many linguists follow Aristotle in conceiving of Language (or "logos") as Proposition (or as "logic," as purely defined binary categories or sets of oppositional features, as naturally-ordered statements toward conclusions). It may be Noam Chomsky's divisions of Language vs. languages, of Competence vs. Performance, of plus / minus features - or it may be Relevance Theorists' divisions of explicatures vs. implicatures with respect to propositions and divisions of types within those two different and distinct categories and divisions of the message that's delivered and processed and the message that is not. The conclusion, therefore, about translation (given Language as Proposition) is generally that there is a transfer of the relevant categories or features of the source language (especially the intended message or proposition of the speaker or writer) into the target language. The more the binary categories match, the better the transmission of the proposition. The more equal the features on both sides of the equation, the better the translation. The Language-as-Proposition Problem is that the logos falls by the wayside. The seed emitted never gets transmitted. In the bible, Mark's translation of Jesus's parable of the sower (in Mark 4) starts with this problem. Mark hearkens back to the LXX translation of the story of spilled seed, of the sin of Onan in Genesis 38. The function of language as Proposition requires that it is either a successful transmission of the message or it is not.

Part 2, Language as Imposition

In part 2, we come to the post-proposition problem. Language does not always have the effect the speaker or writer wants. Language, at that point, then, is viewed less as propositional and more as impositional.

Jesus speaks to this (as Mark translates him in Mark 4, in the parable of the sower).  After he notes the problem of sown seed falling by the way side and after he gets to the explanation of the proposition heard but lost on deaf ears and stolen from the heart, he gets to problems of force.  He says: "5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away." And the explanation speaks to other difficulties of force: "16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away."  I've given this to you in the forceful ESV translation, but I might as well have given it to you in Mark's forceful Greek translation.  The nature of force reminds us of things Gorgias wrote in original Greek when he tried to excuse Helen for leaving the men of Greece for barbarians.  He wrote, playing with language without translating:

εἴτε λόγῳ πεισθεῖσα
εἴτε βίᾳ ἁρπασθεῖσα

either she was by proposition seduced
or else she was by imposition induced

In Genesis 38, as translated into Greek, we see something similar.

9 γνοὺς δὲ Αυναν ὅτι οὐκ αὐτῷ ἔσται τὸ σπέρμαγίνετο ὅταν εἰσήρχετο πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἐξέχεεν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τοῦ μὴ δοῦναι σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ

9 But Onan had birthed knowledge that the sperm-semen seed would not be born to him. So whenever he went in to his brother’s birthing wombman he would waste it on the ground of birth, so as not to give the sperm-semen seed to his brother.

10 πονηρὸν δὲ ἐφάνη ἐναντίον τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι ἐποίησεν τοῦτο,
καὶ ἐθανάτωσεν καὶ τοῦτον

10 It was wicked, in fact, appearing in the face of God, this mess that was created,
and so he put him to death and so that was that.

At this point, no one using language is thinking about making it easy. We're thinking about what happens when propositions emitted fail. There usually comes force afterwards, an imposition like a rock or heat or judgment and death. George Steiner, in his little essay "On Difficulty" in his book by the same title, gets at this some. He first talks about the information gaps in poetry first as a difficulty. When a poet uses a proposition and the reader or listener doesn't get it, there's a problem. But then there's more: Steiner mentions how the poet sometimes will make a poem difficult because of authorly decisions to slow the reader down or to force a reader's eyes one way or another on a page or to impose a particular rhyme and rhythm on the reader's ears or to put in metaphorical rootlessness or rhetorical tribulation in the mix.

Language as post-proposition Imposition is beginning to sound a bit literary. And yet it's much more profound than that. Aristotle created "logic" but, for Alexander the Great, it wasn't enough. There was the move from Nature to human nature, and I want to suggest that the human condition is gendered. I'm suspecting that "logic" (for Aristotle and his students) gives way to "phallo-logic." So a little later in this post, we'll get to that suspicion with some observations from Nancy Mairs. But first, I want to go back to the beginning of the post and to the quotations there from three men, Robert E. Quinn, Solomon, and my dad.

My epigraphs to start this post get at just how deep Language as Imposition can be.

Quinn: Two Conceptions of "Language," for Change

Quinn is an expert in human change, especially in the context of businesses and organizations. After surveying the literature in his disciplines, he found that there are a very limited number of reasons adults change. Similarly, there are just a few respective strategies that CEOs and leaders of businesses use to effect corporate change. In the quotation above, only two are mentioned: the telling strategy and the forcing strategy. Does that sound familiar? We might as well call these "the propositional strategy" for change and the "impositional strategy." These two, Quinn says, are most common both in the literature of business scholarship and in the practice of business change. A CEO who employs the "telling" strategy might propose a "mission statement" or might send a directive by official memorandum. When the strategy fails, then language becomes force. The CEO will likely next engage in the "forcing" strategy. Let me include half of Figure 1.A in Quinn's book Change the World because I'd like you to see how Aristotelian the notion of "telling" and how Alexandrian the concept of "forcing." And then we can talk more about language and translation - as imposition.

In the world of business, and this is the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Western world, the telling strategy owes much to Aristotle. There's the emphasis on facts, the method of rational persuasion (i.e., logical rhetoric), and logical argumentation among other things. In addition, the forcing strategy in our day looks much like it did in the day of Alexander the Great. The bit about "controlling the context and flow of information" is what jumps out at me with respect to language.

Now, when a context and flow of information has authority, then I tend to think of discourse and of texts such as Aristotle's Organon. And I think of the Hebrew scriptures, and the Christian Bible, and the Qur'an of Islam. The purists and fundamentalists who most prize these texts resist their translation. That is, the authority who possess the texts preserve them rigidly in untranslated and original form.

For example, expert and authoritative Aristotle scholar, Thomas M. Conley, works against rhetoric students reading Aristotle's Rhetoric in anything but Aristotle's original Greek. And in a published article entitled "The Greekless Reader and Aristotle's Rhetoric," Conley disparages all rhetoric teachers and students of rhetoric who would read Aristotle in translation; and he disparages all English translations, and one in particular. The force of Aristotle, in language, is in his original, so argues the authority. Ironically, Conley must resort to making his arguments by proposition, and by proposition in English. However, if he could force such a thing, Conley might ban all English translations of Aristotle's Greek works.

One of my own rhetoric professors, Richard Leo Enos, has written a fine rebuttal to Conley's argument, calling it a "country-club mindset." (The article's entitled, “The Classical Tradition(s) of Rhetoric: A Demur to the Country Club Set.”) I think Enos is on to something, that Conley's emphasis is "authority" and by it his method is what Quinn sees as "leveraging behavior." Enos says further that "The entire point of translations . . . is to put wisdom in the hands of readers who have an expertise other than philology, so that their insights can enrich our understanding in another dimension . . . . Aristotle’s Rhetoric can continue to enrich our discipline [of rhetoric]." But I believe that not all translators have such a point of enrichment. In fact, it seems to me that most Christian Bible translation publishers tend, at times, to employ a forcing strategy. There is, in many cases, a political reality for the translation teams.

If you hang around the biblioblogosphere for any time at all, you get the sense that there are Bible translation fights over methods (i.e., formal equivalence vs. dynamic equivalence), arguments about approaches (i.e., "theological" vs. "linguistic"), vigorous disagreements about gendered language (including not only male vs. female language but also straight vs. gay language), disputes about the sort of English to be used (i.e., biblish vs. natural vs. poetic, etc.), and contentions about resources (particularly whether the English bible is getting way too much attention when the bible is not available yet in translation in many, many, many other languages). Of course, there is the telling strategy - the use of propositional language - to build the case for one's cause(s). And yet, there is the forcing strategy - the use of impositional language - to force agenda for particular translation teams and companies and the like. Many of you would be better prepared to cite specific examples than I am. The snobbish "country club" mentality that appears to me to have set in among several Bible bloggers makes me unhappy to mention anybody. (This blog of mine catches enough unhappiness from bible bloggers already, I'm afraid).

Solomon:  The "Logos," Vomitted with Force

So that brings me to the second epigraph. Whew! Some wisdom, finally. It's Solomon. His proverb is translated: "For as one that hath reckoned within himself, so is he: 'Eat and drink', saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.   The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words." If I read that well enough, Solomon at least means that proposition and imposition go hand in hand.  

In English, the traditional propositional understanding has been from the KJV - "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" - focusing on the first part of the first verse (and ignoring the last part of the previous verse and anything else following here).  Whatever is rational is part of the agency of power of a human.

In Hellene, the Jews translating in Alexander the Great's great city of Alexandria rendered the proverb with force, especially toward the end of the last verse - ἐξεμέσει γὰρ αὐτὸν καὶ λυμανεῖται -- τοὺς λόγους σου τοὺς καλούς, which means something like "It will, in fact, be vomited out and rottenness imposed on -- that proposition of yours, that sweet emission."

In either language, there's a profound connection between Language as Proposition and Language as Imposition.  Kenneth L. Pike's Tagmemics, with his emphasis on Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior - about which I may say more in another post sometime because Pike knew and published in both rhetoric and composition, where the force of language is important - and John R. Searle's "Speech Acts" theorizing are examples of Language as Imposition. (And Language as Imposition is part of the human condition, and the human condition is gendered.)

Dad:  Language as Imposition

If you've read some of my blog before, then you've heard me talk some about my birth father.  He's a changed and changing man.  But when I was younger, he was more abusive, with language as proposition and as power (as imposition).  Sometimes the difference blurred for me between what he did and what he said.  He was, I must clarify, a very logical man (and boasted that his mark in a college "logic" course was slightly higher than mine -- three decades apart, we'd had the very same professor of logic as undergraduate students).  He was also a very forceful man.  The change began for my father, in part, when he realized what his language and his behavior was like for my mother and for their children.  The first time I ever heard him apologize to her was when I was home from college my first year; he'd just come home too from a conference for evangelical Christian pastors (which he was) in which there was a look on the inside and not just at words and actions on the outside.  The proverb I heard him repeating all week, the week I was home, was this:  "We practice daily what we believe.  All the rest is religious talk."

Now, here's a turn, a change, for me.  When I was doing a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition a couple of decades after getting an M.A. in linguistics, I was most startled by Nancy Mairs.  My formal language background hadn't prepared me for her.  However, my life with Dad had.  I read one of Mairs's books for a course my very first semester:  Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer.

I'd already read lots of Aristotle, had already read lots of Paul (because my reading of him was imposed by my father).  We read Cheryl Glenn's Rhetoric Retold first, and I was unprepared for the things she heard Aristotle and Paul say in their silences that I'd never listened to.  Then we read Mairs.

I'd like to read some of Mairs's sentences right here at the blog.  And yet I have to warn you, you might not be ready.  It's not just that there's sexual language, metaphorical stuff.  (Which reminds me when, a few courses later in the program, I began giving an oral presentation on Helene Cixous for the required Literary Criticism course.  The professor, a male, interrupted me by saying, "No dick jokes," and everyone laughed.  So please let's continue, if you will look and listen only).  There's language here that betrays the impositions of the propositions.  After reading "dominate" and "force" and "imposition" and "phallus" and "father" and the "male human", -- here's a father's proposition and imposition, from page 41:
. . . . What is hers by right he [the father] must take [from the mother] by force, through law, by giving it [Jacques] Lacan's Name-of-the-Father: "the patronym, patriarchal law, patriarchal identity, language as our inscription into patriarchy. The Name-of-the-Father is the fact of the attribution of paternity by law, by language." With his own tongue the father has named the baby. Now it is his. . . .
Once he gets her settled into domesticity, however, and gets a baby, the baby seems to belong to her, not him. They are forever together, nuzzling each other, rocking and humming and babbling. This doesn't much matter if it's a girl baby, since some stranger will one day get his own baby out of her; but if it's a boy baby, it's of his line, and he must wrest it away from its tricky mother and insert it into the chain of immortality he is forging. "No," he bellows, louder than Rumpelstiltskin, at the cowering child behind her skirts. "You can't have this one. This one is mine. He is my son." And named by the father, the child becomes a man.
In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites.
Reading Mairs is a bit different from reading Quinn only in the fact that the former suggests, like Solomon and Jesus and their translators do, that proposition does not need necessarily to come before imposition.  In fact, for many men, Language as Proposition IS Language as Imposition.  Alexander is a good, rational student of Aristotle, who is just as forceful.

If I ever have time for blogging again, we just might look together at Language as Transposition and Language as Ap(p)osition.  In other words, we might think together about ways Language and Translation might be differently conceived, different from how Aristotle tells us it is and would force it to be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Several (Feminists) Learned from Aristotle (and his works)

Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle
edited by Cynthia A. Freeland

Engendering Origins: Critical Feminist Readings in Plato and Aristotle
edited by Bat-Ami Bar On

The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 BC-AD 1250
researched and written by Prudence Allen

Feminism in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle
researched and written by F. A. Wright

Feminism and Ancient Philosophy
edited by Julie K. Ward

Aristotle's Ethics And Legal Rhetoric: An Analysis of Language, Beliefs And the Law
researched and written by Frances J. Ranney

"Feminism and Aristotle's Rational Ideal," by Marcia L. Homiak, in Feminism and History of Philosophy
edited by Genevieve Lloyd

Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender
researched and written by Barbara Koziak

"Form, Normativity, and Gender in Aristotle: A Feminist Perspective," by Charlotte Witt in Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy
edited by Lilli Alanen and Charlotte Witt

"Aristotle" in Philosophy of Woman: an Anthology of Classic to Current Concepts
researched and written by Mary Briody Mahowald

"Aristotle: Defective Males, Hierarehy and the Limits of Politics" by Arlene Saxonhouse in Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory
edited by Carole Pateman and Mary Lyndon Shanley

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Growing Up in the West: Women

You don't have to be a woman growing up in the Middle East or in Africa - in Afghanistan or in Mozambique - to experience the pains of sexism. The horrors of misogyny are in the West, in the USA and in Canada and in the UK. But the solutions are here too, and you and I can be a part of the solutions.

Here are reports from the blogosphere today:

With a few exceptions, the mainstream media continue to kill stories about honor killings and attempted honor killings in North America. How often did you read stories about the honor killings that took place in Toronto (07), Dallas (08), Atlanta (08), Oak Forest, Illinois (08), Alexandria (08), Buffalo (09), and Kingston, Canada (09)—on and on, until the most recent attempted honor killing in Phoenix?

[A c]rime fiction writer and reviewer for the Literary Review is refusing to review any more crime novels because of the high levels of misogynist violence, the Guardian reports.

In fact, it turns out that even among the most economically privileged women, the recession has been bad! (GASP!) And not only that—women have actually fared worse than men!
Female chief executives earned just 58 percent of what their male counterparts did in 2008, and their compensation packages were slashed three times as much as their male peers, according to a survey released on Monday. 
--from Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, "Shocked, I Say!"
Two suspects were in custody Monday, but police said as many as five other men attacked the [15-year-old] girl over a two-hour period Friday night outside Richmond High School. “She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized by several suspects who were obviously OK enough with it to behave that way in each other’s presence,” Lt. Mark Gagan said. “What makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it.”
It is impossible for me to believe that the people who stood by and did nothing are human beings- any more than the persons who perpetrated the act. Human beings don’t act this way. Or rather, don’t stand around watching and laughing while this kind of thing goes on.

The Campaign to End Rape coalition is conducting a survey on women’s attitudes to and experiences of rape and the law.

Growing Up Middle Eastern and African: Women

Yesterday, one of the male students from Afghanistan came to my office to pick up an immigration document for a woman in Afghanistan who is trying to come here to study English. He had been an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq and in Pakistan before he came here to improve his English and to begin a degree program. We talked of Benazir Bhutto's visit here sometime back and of the plight of women in Pakistan. We talked about what his friend from childhood, the woman wanting to study English here, is doing to better life for herself and for others in their village.
"It's much much worse for women in Afghanistan," he told me. "I tell other men there, 'The way you look at a woman walking down the street -- it's not how you want anyone looking at your mother or your daughter.' Women cannot vote in the upcoming election without men. Women are beaten and are raped. Girls are taken as brides. Their genitals are mutilated. It's very bad. We have a long way to go. I am here, and she is there, and we must do what we can. We must be patient while we do what we can."
Today, one of my blogger friends from the USA who lives in Africa muses about marriage. He's one of my favorite bloggers, and I have had the privilege of eating a meal with him here in Texas. David Ker (aka Lingamish) in a post today writes some things that are troubling but important for many of us here in the West to hear:
"I really hate labels like feminist and complementarian. But I use them a lot....
Here in Mozambique, race and gender roles are more clearly defined than those in modern America. I thank God that my daughter is not growing up an African. The exploitation and predation of young girls in Africa is a horror. And that carries through to adulthood where a woman’s options are very few. Interestingly, two of the most famous living Mozambicans are women: Luisa Dioga, the prime minister, and Olympic gold medalist, Maria Matola. Mozambique is in quite a few ways like the society found in Jane Austen’s romantic novels. A rich man is the quickest way for a woman to rise in society.
My hope for my sons and daughter is that they will grow up watching their parents struggle through life together trying to fulfill a vision that we can only realize together. May they be proud of our successes and learn from our mistakes."
(Ker begins that post of his today by quoting an English translation of a French proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.

I'm making this parenthetical note, this aside, just to muse about how relationships between women and men, in marriage especially, and as mothers and fathers especially, may work for change.  And I think change comes mostly with intentionality to effect change.

The quotation Ker uses is appropriated by a Chinese couple whose literature in China has been quite influential; I'm thinking now of the novel Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu whose work was inspired by his the work of his wife, Yang Jiang. And then that makes me think of the work of Lydia H. Liu, who studies Chinese appropriations of the West, and who makes this important comment in her book Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity: China, 1900-1937 [page 195]:
“The unmarking of the male gender as a gendered position… has the function of masking the true condition of gender politics in the universalizing discourse of modern literary criticism. This is the condition that concerns me most as I continue to ponder the meaning of national literature from a gendered point of view….
Her observation [Rey Chow’s observation] is timely and important, because it shows us that feminist gender criticism is not just about real women and sexuality – critics whose work is not theoretically informed by feminist gender criticism invariably express an interest in the so-called images of women or women writers – but rather, as Joan W. Scott, whom Chow quotes here, would put it, it is a way of reading and intervention into the dominant theoretical and critical practices.”
The ubiquity and universality of male dominance over females is something that can't go unmarked.  There is much work to do, and it is gendered work through ways of intervention that continue to be marked, if labelled and marked "feminist.")

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ways of Translation: Part 1, Language as Proposition

Some time back, I blogged to quote a bunch of Aristotle experts (all rhetoricians), who noted that Aristotle's definitions for words are (as Jeffrey Walker put it) "not quite 'Aristotelian'." To be clear, not being quite Aristotelian is not such a good thing for Aristotle.

To be Aristotelian is to be logical. It is to define terms in terms of what A is and what A is not. It is to be syllogistical. It is to bind statements together (or "syn" + "logoi"). It to to begin with the given facts of Nature that any observer can objectively observe and to continue one statement (or "logos") after another until one reaches a proven, determined, indisputable conclusion. It is a construct congruent with Nature. To be logical in this way is to be propositional.

A couple of decades back, I took a Survey of Linguistic Theories course as part of a graduate degree in linguistics. For some balance, two different professors who had co-written the textbook taught the course. It was clear then (and it is clear as revised or newer theories about language and language science are constructed now) that most theoreticians about Language strive (as Aristotle did even in his writings on language) to be Aristotelian. Noam Chomsky's earliest theory of Language, for example, was obviously Aristotelian in its system of binary features. Even the more platonic division between Competence that underlies Performance is a binary. Likewise, the Relevance Theory of Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber that some linguists interested in translation are looking to assumes language as propositional (whether explicit or implicit propositions), that the natural essence of language is communication of a message or of information. In translation based on such, therefore, there are metaphors such as "equivalence" whether "literal" or "dynamic" or whether "formal" or "functional"; there are notions such as "source" and "target" and "accuracy." And these metaphors and notions, so named, are binary. The basis for even talking about Language and about Translation is Aristotelian. Language and Translation become the game of Proposition.

The game is like that of the first sower in Mark's translation of Jesus's parable of the sower:

ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν

"some fell by the way side"

Lest any reader miss that Mark explains (by having Jesus explain to his disciples):

Οὗτοι δέ εἰσιν οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν, ὅπου σπείρεται ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν, εὐθέως ἔρχεται ὁ Σατανᾶς καὶ αἴρει τὸν λόγον τὸν ἐσπαρμένον ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις αὐτῶν

"And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts."

This is very much like Aristotle's propositional logic. If a statement is not logical, then it is illogical. If the statement is not true, then it is false. If the statement is unread or unheard, then there is no meaning to be gotten. The proposition is the main thing. The statement really is the only thing.

(and Nancy Mairs chimes in to say,

Which is not women’s language, since women, for a variety of reasons, live in a polymorphic rather than a dimorphic world, a world in which the differentiation of self from other may never completely take place, in which multiple selves may engage multiply with the multiple desires of the creatures in it.)

But, of course, there is more to the story, Mair's and Mark's and Jesus's. There are other ways of considering Language and Translation.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Aristotle and translation

To know Aristotle well, one takes the time to read his works (and even those works attributed to him) in Greek, his Greek. It's quite a body of work.

Most people who read Aristotle's body of written work read it mainly or only in translation. This is ironic and, for a number of reasons, problematic. It's ironic because Aristotle never intended for what he wrote to be translated from his elite Greek written for himself and for his educated-class, pure-Greek, male-only students into any bar-bar-ic mother tongue. If there was any translation to be done, it was to be a rendering of the lesser writings of foreigners into Hellene (as was done in Alexandria, the name-sake city of Aristotle's student Alexander the Great, as commissioned by a lackey king who called on Jews there to translate their holy scriptures from bar-bar-ian Hebrew into Greek for the elite students of Greek city states who would govern the empire).

There's more irony and then the problems also because the first translations of Aristotle's work were constructed most logically by the principles of Aristotle's logic. The first translations were from Aristotle's Greek into Arabic and into Latin by post-Greek world conquerors of a different sort, who were nonetheless similar to Aristotle and Alexander in their intentions to establish a global lingua franca. They were also similar in their allegiance to logic.  Aristotle's separational logic was the perfect method for their intentions of dominance. Logic divides and conquers, categorizes into us versus them, with "us" ultimately above "them." And translation can do this, logical translation, even translation from Aristotle's logical Greek into one's ultimately more-dominant language.

There's no surprise that people of Arab families, who found Aristotle's texts, used such appropriations of Aristotle's logic not only for their translation but also for advanced developments in astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, and even religion. That some contemporary Mohammedians despise translation - and even murder the translators - of the Koran today is no surprise, given the legacy of appropriated separational logic. There's no surprise that the Romans, setting up their empire in various hierarchical ranks, were strict about who could speak in public (women could not) and how the men were to speak and write (in imperial Latin). There's little surprise that the British, establishing the global Great Britain, would explicitly refer to the Greek imperial project as proposed by Aristotle and Alexander. For example, the first extant English translation of Aristotle’s Rhetoric is addressed in its “Preface” to the Monarch of England by the translator “H. C.” who, in 1685, suggests that Aristotle’s logical intentions with the treatise are global domination and that the intentions of his British King, James II and VII, might be as well:
The Emulation of the Englifh Verfion to approach as near as might be to the Greek Original, and to follow the Authors Example, embolden’d this Addrefs to your Honour. For they were not the Pedantic Rudiments of Rhetoric, which Ariftotle offer’d to one that had been his Royal Pupil, . . . Alexander. (“Epistle Dedicatory”)
Alexander, of course, is Alexander the Great, whom Aristotle tutored. Likely, the world dominator had studied Aristotle’s accounts of the global conquerors Darius and Xerxes in the Rhetoric (Book II, Chapter 20, 1393a – 1393b); translator H. C. certainly seems to have taken note of this possibility. The strong implication is of an elitism in the text (both in Aristotle’s original Greek and in H. C.’s English) that instructs the powerful on means to acquire nations so that there can be educational and colonial conquest. One common denominator between the Greek empire achieved by Alexander and the Great British empire of James II and VII is the learning of lessons from Aristotle and his Rhetoric. Even if H. C. has exaggerated the history of Aristotle’s influence on Alexander, the translator is inviting his own ruler to read the Rhetoric as if it teaches one, logically, to dominate the globe.

In the note by the English translator, H. C., we begin to see some of the problems of "translation." First, the dominance and pervasiveness of logic comes through even in his notion of translation. The nod to the "original" as if it means one and only one meaning is clear. In other words, what Aristotle's original Greek text says is what that original Hellene text by its author means. The author has one and only one intention. And the translator, likewise, has one and only one intention: the author's original and singular intention. Second, there's a problem because Aristotle's Rhetoric, which H. C. is translating, is not exactly a work on "logic" or even a work of "logic." Aristotle himself is unable to sustain logic in this work, although his first sentence of the treatise uses a separational formula of logic but turns out to be much less definitional and much more metaphorical. Third, there's a problem because how English translator H. C. gets at the presumed singular meaning of Aristotle is different from how Arabic and Latin translators got at it.

What's funny today in English translation of Aristotle's body of works is related to this third problem. When philosophers read Aristotle's works and translate them into contemporary English, then the lens of philosophy dominates. When rhetoricians read Aristotle's works and translate them into contemporary English, then their lens of rhetorical studies dominates. When literary critics read Aristotle's works and translate them into contemporary English, then the lens of literary criticism dominates. When classicists read Aristotle, then their translational lens dominates. And so forth.

When I started reading Aristotle's Greek texts, I came at them initially through the lens of translation, ironically. In other words, my Greek lens was not only Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Euripides, Sappho, Gorgias, and the author of Dissoi Logoi (all of whom Aristotle and his logic disparaged), but also the Septuagint, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, the writer of "Hebrews," and Peter (all barbarians who came after Aristotle). These later works are largely works of translation from Hebrew and from Hebrew Aramaic. How very different the lens! How very different the notion of translation by these Jews! How non-logical (not necessarily illogical - if I can give a nod to Joel M. Hoffman for saying in a recent post "neither is it irrational — it is non-rational")! How very rhetorical in ways that Aristotle originally and logically despised rhetoric! How womanly in ways that Aristotle originally and logically despised fe-males! How accessible and bar-bar-ic in ways that Aristotle originally and logically despised the common and the lesser, non-Greek mother tongues!

But it may take another post or two to begin to illustrate just how different the concept and practice of translation that is seen in and by translators who have written the Bible of the Jews.  I'm talking specifically about the Septuagint translators and the writers of the New Testament who translated into Greek to write what Christians appropriate now as their Bible.  How very different the understanding and practice of translation by these early Jewish translators; how very different their understanding and practice from the Aristotelian understanding and practice of translation by Christian Bible translators today, whether these contemporary Bible translators employ the science of "linguistics" or push the dominance of "theology."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ban Crumb?

Theophrastus, whose blog is called "What I Learned from Aristotle," asked me:
Do you propose we ban Aristophanes, the New Testament, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Spenser, Shakespeare, Dumas, Twain, Pound, Eliot, Burroughs, and Rushdie on parallel grounds of religious prejudice, racism, sexism, and violence?
My answer?  No.  And I don't think we should ban Genesis on parallel grounds, or Aristotle either.  The question was whether I would ban Robert Crumb's illustrated Genesis.  I thought it was a funny question, but one logically like a question Aristotle himself might ask.  Aristotle favored censorship, especially to protect children from the profane, but also to protect citizens of Greek city states from poetry and rhetoric and sophistry and woman talk and parables (aka fables) and hyperbole and other such nonesense that might weaken the power of politics.  Aristotle did censor Aspasia, the non-Greek woman, a kept woman perhaps, whom Plato, Socrates, and Pericles admired.  Although several Greek teachers of Aristotle loved Aspasia and wrote of her, learning from her, Aristotle himself despised her (and her type explicitly) and hasn't ever mentioned her once in any extant text of his that we have.

(But Theophrastus might have known even feminists call for censorship.  Ironically, for example, feminist rhetoric scholar Carol Poster has written an essay, "(Re)positioning Pedagogy: A Feminist Historiography of Aristotle's Rhetorica" for the purpose of banning Aristotle's work on rhetoric from the canon of feminist rhetorics. Her move is very Aristotelean, very separatist, very binary, very phallogocentric.)

In contrast, and Theophrastus might have known this better, feminists like Maya Angelou and Anne Carson and Sara J. Newman and Prudence Allen and F. A. Wright (and me too) not only read Aristotle very very carefully and study him very very carefully but also advocate that anyone who can would read his works very very carefully, as sexist and as misogynistic and as gynophobic as many of his works are.

I don't think Aristotle would have liked Robert Crumb (the profane barbarian) very much.  But that's not to say they're not very much alike in some respects.  Here's a bit of what others have found the latter to be like:
Art critic Robert Hughes talks about "Crumb's mean, grubby vision of human beings trapped in their meshes of hysterical frustration and lust." Crumb's wife, Aline, says, "Well, he is a sexist, racist, anti-Semitic misogynist." (As for anti-Semitic, Crumb flirts with big-nosed Jewish stereotypes — the demanding female, the wily, voracious male.)
Since the '60s, Crumb has shown a world that fits his vision. There's the prankster-pederast guru, Mr. Natural, revealing the meaning of life (as I recall from long memory): "Don't mean diddy-wah-diddy." Lenore Goldberg and her Girl Commandos are nightmare feminists avenging themselves on men. Angelfood McSpade is a thick-lipped black stereotype, uptight Whiteman can find sexual satisfaction only with a yeti. Little Mr. Snoid climbs up the backs of Crumb's amazons to work out his id-rage and perversities. Chuck the Duck is hip to the sweat of one's brow; he says, "Life is mostly hard work."
Crumb himself has written: "I am constantly disgusted by reality, horrified and afraid. I cling desperately to the few things that give me some solace, that make me feel good. For me to be human is, for the most part, to hate what I am. When I suddenly realize I am one of them, I want to scream in horror."
Please know that by posting a third post on Crumb I'm interested in your reading and studying his art, as you will.  When his own wife, his second Jewish wife, says such things about the artist, then it's fair, I think, not to be afraid to give his work a fair assessment.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Robert Crumb's Rhetoric, And How We Read It

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-­seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

--C. S. Lewis, "As the Ruin Falls"

When Robert Crumb tells us his intent (or when John Hobbins does), then that should settle it for us. The trick is to believe what he says as if he believes it himself, all the time, when he's awake. (Robert Hughes believes Crumb's a genius, an anti-modernist, a severe satirist, and so Hobbins believes that and says "I certainly am enjoying my copy" of his Genesis. Hobbins enjoys because it's intended to be satire and satire intends to offend. In my library's copy of The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book, there's nude pictures of Crumb's wives and his other expressions of intent: "It started as a kid when we [Crumb and his brother] would make our own home-made comics. We developed the habit of filling up notebooks with stuff.... I started looking at the old masters in books... Leonardo, everybody. I thought I wanted to draw like that, so I drew like a motherfucker! That was a breakthrough... When I look LSD... it was the road to Damascus for me!.... I was egoless, drifting along, totally passive. About the only thing I could do was just draw in my sketchbooks. It was while I was in this fuzzy state that I told my wife, Dana, I was leaving. I just walked out and left everything. I went to Chicago and stayed with Marty Pahls. I remember wandering around Chicago on the public bus aimlessly. My mind would drift into these crackly grotesque cartoon images accompanied by off-key tinny music. It was in my brain. I had no control. NO control ... which was good for art." [page 77])

A couple of days ago, I posted to bring attention to the fact that there is sexism, misogynistic rape portrayals, anti-Semitism, and other racism in Crumb's art and that few bibliobloggers reacting to his latest comic book of Genesis have noticed. Chris Brady kindly linked to that, confessed he knew little yet of Crumb while just reading his Genesis, and got us asking "the age old questions of authorial/artist intent and how much we should allow our (pre)conceptions of the author/artist influence our reading of their work."

So what does Crumb intend? What did Robert Alter intend by his English translation of Genesis? What did Moses intend when he wrote it in Hebrew (if you believe he wrote it)? What did God intend to write (if you believe he inspired or dictated what is read as Sefer Ma'aseh Be-Réshit)? And what did I intend by my post a couple of days ago (since a few of you commented to tell me, or so it seems)?

I think there are rhetorical answers to these questions. There are readerly answers to these questions. The answers go beyond anyone's ability to enjoy satire that intends to offend. To get to some of those answers, I'd like to look at a couple of things Julia O'Brien has posted recently and then at some things Karlyn Kohrs Campbell has written not too long ago and then a couple of things C.S. Lewis wrote. If there's time, maybe we'll look (again) at some of the things Alter and Crumb said and, presumably, intended.

Here's what I intend by this post: to say that authors and artists may intend one thing but always do more than they can say they intend. Readers make meanings of the rhetorics in ways the authors and artists may or may not approve of.

O'Brien posted a post she originally entitled "Rereading Trible's Rereading of Eve and Adam" and then later as (the link) "Phyllis Trible systematically shows how the tradition has misread the text." Notice what's going on here. First, there's the text of Genesis in which and out of which people have been "reading of Eve and Adam"; then there's Phyllis Trible's feminist re-reading of that traditional reading; then there's O'Brien's readers re-reading what Trible wrote; then there's O'Brien giving her own readers a more instructive title (i.e., that "the tradition has misread the text" early on according to Trible's systematic re-reading). After all of that, O'Brien brings in another Genesis reader, or re-reader, in her more recent post, "Phyllis Trible and Sojourner Truth on Eve." When you and I read that post, then we also "read" Alfre Woodard. We read Woodard's intonation and her inflection and her body language as she reads Sojourner Truth reading on Eve from Genesis. We are reading by viewing a youtube video that O'Brien has embedded in her post; we are, in fact, watching and listening to Woodard reading what turns out to be a re-reading of Sojourner Truth's speech.

We hear, starting in, Truth saying, “Well, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin’ out o’ kilter. I tink dat ‘twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin’ ‘bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all dis here talkin’ ‘bout?” But this is Frances Dana Barker Gage's transcription of what Truth might have said. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell tells us that these words we hear Woodard reading are Truth’s “words” as they “appear in the argot of blackface minstrel shows” of Gage. Kohrs Campbell tells us that Gage got Truth's words from newspaper reports, which happen to be the “racist caricatures of writers such as Thomas Dixon and Thomas Nelson Page.” Kohrs Campbell was so outraged by the racist depictions that she, for her book, modified Truth's speech to what it might have really been; Kohrs Campbell explains: “When the text of Gage’s version of Truth’s speech was published in [my history text] Man Cannot Speak For Her, I removed the dialect that smothers the speech with racist stereotypes.” Now, Kohrs Campbell sees value in the racism, though in principle, as a feminist, she's opposed to such denigrations:
I now believe that it was wrong to do so [i.e., to remove the racist language of Dixon, Page, and Gage put in Truth's mouth by them], although it could not and should not have been published as originally written without the kind of analysis done here. But agency is perverse: the stereotypes that gave rise to penning the speech in this demeaning argot ironically give the text special force. Admittedly, as Truth herself illustrates, not all former slaves spoke in such language, but the women she most represented, the experiences and history she most embodied, are rendered more perfectly in language that expresses so painfully the terrible costs of slavery—the loss of literacy, the loss of education, the loss of access to public dialogue that, even when overcome, is constrained by being rendered in language that ridicules and demeans. (“Agency: Promiscuous and Protean,” Communication and Cultural/Critical Studies, 2 (March 2005): 1-18. NCA Golden Anniversary Monograph Award, 2006.)
There's rhetorical irony here. Dixon, Page, and perhaps Gage intend racism by "the argot of blackface minstrel." Kohrs Campbell would leave the racist caricature as does Woodard (and as does O'Brien) because it gives Sojourner Truth agency. Agency and rhetorical power is what the racist portrayals of her give her. What white authors intend as offending racism black rhetors may turn around and use rhetorically against racism. But never is denigrating racism made right.

So that brings us to C.S. Lewis. In the lines of his poem (my epigraph above), Lewis confesses the intention of "flashy rhetoric," which ironically hides and casts doubt upon his love for his lover, whom he addresses: "you." Each subsequent line begins with "I" - his confession that deconstructs his "flashy rhetoric" and becomes, then, a new rhetoric of humility, his now un-original rhetoric of real attention away from himself toward her, his love: "you." What is Lewis's original intent? His later intentions? His reader's (i.e., his addressed lover's) intentions as a result?  Your intentions as you analyze or enjoy Lewis's poetry?

Lewis knows that writers and rhetors don't always know what they're doing. Their intentions give way to "second meanings." And Lewis has two insightful chapters on second meanings (meanings beyond the authored and intended ones) in his book Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis's entire book is his literary critical view of Jewish Psalms from a non-Jewish (i.e., a post-atheist, anti-modern, and distinctly Christian) perspective. He talks of Plato describing Jesus Christ when intending to describe the ideal man (i.e., Socrates in his passion). Lewis also talks of Virgil's really prophesying the Virgin Birth (though the writer intends not to write about The Christian accounts that come later).

That brings us to another thing Lewis knows: readers don't always limit themselves to the meanings that authors intend. For example, in the heavily edited third edition (after the heavily edited second edition) of his allegorical autobiography that he had intended to be obscure, Lewis makes this complaint in the appendix (as if complaining aloud to his publisher for trying to make the book clearer so that it would sell better): "The map on the end leaves has puzzled some readers because, as they say, 'it marks all sorts of places not mentioned in the text'. But so do all maps in travel books. [The protagonist's] route is marked with a dotted line: those who are not interested in the places off that route need not bother with them." What Lewis is getting at is how his readers don't always follow his intention as author. But then the author was having a hard time following the intention of the publisher, who intended to follow the money of the readers.

One of my favorite Lewis quotations on author or artist intention, and the rhetorical listening of readers, is in his essay "Transposition." Lewis is talking about the Christian interpretations of "speaking in tongues," and "transposition" is the taking of one form and putting it into another. It's like taking the Beatles song "A Hard Day's Night" and putting it into the form of "lift music" or "elevator music" - not exactly what John Lennon intended when writing and performing the song with his band or when making an entire album around it or when transposing all of that into a film by the same title. It's like taking God's words presumably, writing them down (if you're Moses), translating them into English (if you're Robert Alter), converting that into satirical offensive comic book drawings (if you're Robert Crumb), and publishing that for mass production for between $12 and $25 a book gross (if you're marketers and part of the sales force for W.W. Norton & Co. and booksellers worldwide). Lewis says, "I have tried to stress throughout the inevitableness of the error made about every transposition by one who approaches it from the lower medium only. The strength of such a critic [perhaps of Robert Hughes appreciating Robert Crumb's art and of John Hobbins's enjoying it] lies in the words 'merely' or 'nothing but' [as in merely and nothing but severe offensive satire with misogyny rampant]. He [the critic, whether Hughes or somebody else] sees all the facts but not the meaning [especially not even the second meanings, the rhetorics]. Quite truly, therefore, he claims to have seen all the facts. There is nothing else there; except the meaning[s that the critic, from his position, may be ignoring]. He is therefore, as regards the matter in hand, in the position of an animal. You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and not meaning[s]." (page 71 of The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses)

When Robert Alter discusses his intentions for allowing Robert Crumb to illustrate his translation, he nearly sighs on the page when Alter writes, establishing the facts, that "genitalia are never shown in the sex scenes."

So now I'm suggesting that if we listen rhetorically to what Crumb says, then we hear meanings and not just facts. Krista Ratcliffe advises that we may listen not just to the author's expressed intention but also for our intentions and with our own intentions. So listen:
His comix (which had never been particularly woman-friendly) became violently misogynistic, as he graphically poured what were essentially his masturbatory fantasies onto the printed page. Women were raped, dismembered, mutilated, and murdered, sometimes all at once.
"I do this stuff, and then I'm horrified and embarrassed when I see it on the paper, and I say, 'Oh, my God,' but somehow I can't stop doing it," Crumb says. "I have this hostility toward women," Crumb admits on camera.
Fact is, that's just offending satire. Enjoy it if you can. Never mind if you're a woman on bottom with breasts showing.

[update:  Ben Witherington III, biblioblogger, gives his opinion (as if not in the position of a woman or for women):

"What I think is that in an age of visual learners, some of this material in Crumb's book is user friendly for church and synagogue folk, though one has to pick and choose and be discerning. Lord knows our Sunday school and Bible study literature could use some updating of its images.  One grows weary of the Rococo Jesus, and Rubenesque cherubs."]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Today is the USA National Writing Day

Write something.  Or read about it.

bibliobloggers on Robert Crumb: few mentions of his sexism and racism

Bibliobloggers are talking up a storm about Robert Crumb's comic book of Genesis.  But none of them has mentioned Crumb's sexism or his rape portrayal or his anti-Semitism or his other racism.

(David Ker was the first, in September of 2008, to notice Crumb's book as Ker tried to help a friend laugh by reproducing "Keep on Truckin'."  And John Hobbins can't seem to get enough after reading the reviews by Paul Buhle and fellow biblioblogger Chris Brady.  Dr. Jim West reads his fellow biblioblogger Roland Boer's post and gets most offended by how God's portrayed before finding that Robert Alter is not upset with Crumb's portrayals in the least. Doug Chaplin notes too how Alter is just fine and adds the take of Nick Baines with the conclusion that "the graphic sex and violence was there long before anyone drew it." Joel Watts quotes Ben Leach on how Christians down under are taking offense at "biblical characters having intercourse and [at the] 'gratuitous' depictions of violence." Theophrastus says "It certainly looks better than that awful Manga Bible." Karyn Traphagen compares Crumb's work to "JT Waldman’s Megillat [Esther]." And Michael Carden muses how less homophobic Crumb seems than "Jack Chick's 1980s tract, Doom Town.")

So we should not forget Robert Crumb's infamous sexism
("I do this stuff, and then I'm horrified and embarrassed when I see it on the paper, and I say, 'Oh, my God,' but somehow I can't stop doing it," Crumb says. "I have this hostility toward women," Crumb admits on camera.)
or his gynophobic, misogynistic rape portrayals
(Crumb took perverse pleasure in scorning anyone who had ever rejected him before, which included hippies, commercialism, and especially women. Aside from a few acid-inspired flights of fancy, Crumb’s art became cynical and neurotically, painfully autobiographical. Crumb’s favorite character to draw was himself: a poor, geeky shlub with pimples and a slouch hat. His comix [which had never been particularly woman-friendly] became violently misogynistic, as he graphically poured what were essentially his masturbatory fantasies onto the printed page. Women were raped, dismembered, mutilated, and murdered, sometimes all at once.)
or his anti-Semitism
(don't click here if you don't want to see more male over female sex in the context of hate of Jews; or don't click here or here if you don't want to see more of his portrayals of his own anti-Semitism from "When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America" by R. Crumb)
or his other racism
(don't click here if you don't want to see this white guy's comics to denigrate African Americans from "When the Niggers Take Over America!" in Weirdo #28, 1993 and reprinted in Taken from America, published by Knockabout Comics, London, 1994).