Thursday, October 1, 2009

St. Paul and Carnivals

Paul often gets paired with Aristotle, and below you'll find a bit more on Paul.  But first a quick review of Aristotle so as to consider the pairing of the two.  In a previous post, we ran through some questions about Aristotle's upbringing and motivations.  In this post, we want to look at his system for apprehending his world.  Then, we'll come back as quickly as we can to Paul.

If you read the extant texts of the entire corpus of what Aristotle wrote (which I chose to do for a dissertation), then you get his pure and precise categories.  Scholars such as Sara J. Newman are good to point out how sometimes the categories are inconsistent and are would-be "pure and precise categories."  But I'm talking about what Aristotle, the author himself, intended.  He intended practical things by his precise and pure categories.  He intended separations, mapping Nature into its hierarchy.  He intended a system of separations, into binaries, into a taxonomy of this but not that.  It's not just feminist scholars who recognize that Aristotle's pure and precise intention was phallologocentrism.  It is nevertheless mostly feminist scholars who see that the singular intention of Aristotle is yet his theme with three variations.  Clarice Lispector calls his intended theme, or phallogocentrism, that “system of inflexible last judgment, which does not permit even a second of incredulity.” And now we get technical as we look at three various aspects of the system:
One variation on the phallogocentric theme was masculinism.  Aristotle was quite intentional when he wrote of τά φαλλικά [ta phallika].  Most English translators have merely transliterated that the "phallic," but Aristotle purely and precisely meant "what's blatantly penis-esque" and used the word to write about the shape and the penetrating force of the rule by males in the Greek city states.
Another variation on the phallogocentric theme was the use of language to map nature. Aristotle was definitely intentional when he wrote of λογική [logike].  Most English translators have simply put English letters together for the Greek sounds to come up with "logic."  But Aristotle coined this word from λόγος [logos], a huge and overdetermined concept for knowing.  Logos in it's simplest sense meant "statement"; but Aristotle tightened up the word a bit with the suffix -ική so that his neologism became λογ-ική [log-ike] or, to translate, "statement-ista."  Aristotle intended this new logic to be the pure and precise method of stacking statements together from premise to premise to forced conclusion, syllogistically or by means of a syllogism [or ὁ συλλογισμός].  (This method of logic, for Aristotle, trumped the method of dialektike of his teachers.  Dialektike is the method that Plato had his own teacher Socrates using, a question-asking method of drawing truth and selecting and electing knowledge out of the one being asked.  It's a method perhaps developed by a kept-woman, a non-Greek kept-woman named Aspasia, who taught dialektike to men such as Socrates.  Plato writes glowingly of Aspasia, and Socrates praises her, but Aristotle who mentions many women never says a thing about her.  Of course, Aristotle, in The Metaphysics, uses logike to explain that dialektike is a less pure and a less precise method than his superior method of logike.  Moreover, to begin The Rhetoric, Aristotle writes that rhetorike is an antistrophos of dialektike -- the two counterpart methods of knowing both inferior to his logike.)
Thirdly, Aristotle was intentional when writing of κέντρον [kentron].  This has come down to us in partially-transliterated English translation as something like "centrality."  What Aristotle meant by the word was a "central pricking point"; his teacher Plato had used it for that part of the circle-drawing compass that sticks into the papyrus or the clay.  The elite Athenians, such as Solon, in Aristotle's Athenian Constitution got the point.  What Aristotle intended for his Greek students in the all-boy Aka-Demy was to have Greece, Athens centrally, to be the center of the world.  His student Alexander the Great got the point.  But Aristotle never intended his elite system to be ours in any way.

So now we can think about Paul.  If you read the entire extant corpus of what Paul wrote (which I was forced to do as a child), then you might start thinking about Aristotle.

As compared to Aristotle, Paul had a much better family upbringing on the one hand, and a much less pure upbringing on the other hand.  Aristotle lost his mother when he was very young and had to be raised by an uncle; his mother was from a elite family and may have left his father, a physician in the Macedonian king's court, with more than enough means for the teenager Aristotle to join Plato's famous Academy in Athens.  Paul writes of his own history to a group of Greek Jews and Jewish Greeks in Philippi, Macedonia, where Aristotle grew up.  Paul was also of a pure-breed family.  A Hebrew of Hebrews, he boasts and goes on about his clan of Benjamin and his penis circumcision that marked him as the Jewish Abraham's and /or Israel's great great great (you get the idea) grand-son.  He also had some elite education:  Paul was an excellent Torah student of the Separatists, also known as the purist Pharisees, the holiest פרושים [perushim].

What makes Paul a bit different from Aristotle is how impure he was.  Paul was not only a Jew but he was also a citizen of Rome.  Furthermore, not only did he speak Aramaic but he also was facile with Latin and Greek.  He was adept in his understanding of the holy Hebrew Law and other Scripture; and he knew the Hellene translation well, as well.  Paul could use Greek like a Greek, whether that was engaging Greeks in Greek rhetoric in Athens or sending Greek native speakers in their native Greek city states letters.  He could navigate between cultures, being all things to all for persuasive winning purposes, and he could mold culture by what he said and what he wrote.  He was able to bring Jews and Greeks together (i.e., one half-Greek Jewish boy named Timo-Theos "honorer of god(s)" he was able to make more pure by having his penis circumcised).  He would write of the advantages of the Jew first, and would write of the appropriation of Jewishness by the Greeks.    

Now I've run out of time for today.  But let me just say this.  Paul's approaches to men (vs women), to logic (vs rhetoric and dialectic and such), and to elitist centricism (vs feminisms and pluralisms and multiculuralisms) seem suspiciously like Aristotle's phallogocentrism.  Where I'm going with all of this, if time allows some other day, is this:  Paul's encounters with a Jew named Joshua and his apprentices began to unravel much of the Aristotelian(-like) system.  That was quite a carnival (or two).


Bob MacDonald said...

Nice - I will look forward to the rest of the trip

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks - it's not the rest entirely, Bob, but I did post on Paul again today, and linking to something you showed us thoroughly in a post at your blog.