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.

No comments: