Sunday, April 17, 2011


I was trained to strive for exactness and to believe that rigorous knowledge of the world without any residue is possible for us.
--Anne Carson, poet, translator, woman

The men of the Better Bibles Blog are in a long conversation with John Hobbins, and now Joel Hoffman has entered.  This is going on in comments of the BBB post by David Ker on his blog-book on how to read the Bible:  “Christianly,” he says.  And so, these men are arguing over which Christian-male-committee-produced translations is better than the others.  The fellas have agreed on using the binary:  "First Covenant first" vs. "Old Testament plus Christianity"; "Exegetical" vs. "Communicative"; "literal" vs. "functional"; and so forth and so on.  They've even made up categorical boxes in which to classify the Bible translations and by which to draw their best conclusions.  In some cases, they are linking to other posts with other categorical boxes.  In many cases, they're linking and now cross-posting some a few blogposts from their own blogs.  So they're of the same culture.  They are agreeing on the sort of language and logic to use.  But however and nevertheless, they are in divided disagreements about their conclusions of exactness.  Sharply.  And this is important.  Anyway, it's a long discussion, as I mentioned. 

And we might note that there's residue.  In the talk of these men, there's some residual silence.  In their strife for exactness, for knowledge of the world of the English Bible, there's rigor but there's silence, residue.  How silent?  What residue?

Well, John has invoked Wayne Leman, who does eventually show up and speak up with some precision.  But so far nobody's invited the "late" BBB contributor Suzanne McCarthy.  No woman yet at all has either been invited to the table nor has seen fit herself to join (although John uses marked language to try to startle David, as if his only readers for his book, his collection of blogposts for his book, are women:  "What I like best about this collection is the fluster and bluster of your style; it moves the reader and forces her to take sides").  And it's pretty public knowledge now that Suzanne has left BBB for her own reasons and that she's perpetually monitored and censored over at John's blog.  So there's the silence of women in this long, binarying BBB discussion about David's blog-book, a sharp discussion about the Bible, an exacting arguing conversation of men. 

But there's methodological silence and methodological residue too. 

The little quotation of Anne Carson, the epigraph to start this post of mine, gets to this.  We could've, instead of Anne, quoted Suzanne.  My favorite BBB post by Suzanne was the one in which she said: 
"The psalms are uniquely suited for the study of commentary through the centuries, for seeing how diversely and personally the Hebrew has been translated by one generation after another, for simply surrendering the rational mind to an acceptance of ambiguity in the original text....  I regret that there is no recent Bible version which reflects this pattern of multiple meaning in the way the KJV does. Leland Ryken makes a good point with respect to ambiguity and literary quality. However, I am slowly coming to the realization that the Christian scriptures are not represented in any modern translation in a manner which does justice to the literary style, the ambiguities and multiple meanings of the original. Have we 'lost our humility' vis-á-vis the text?"   
And instead of Anne and Suzanne, we might have quoted Catherine Z. Elgin, who provides alternatives in philosophy, in epistemology -- alternatives to the long male-dominant tradition; alternatives such as put forward in her book, Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, as if there's only either the absolute vs. the arbitrary.  And, instead of Anne and and Suzanne and Catherine, we could have quoted Nancy Mairs.  Nancy would quote Julia Kristeva, discussing how her language was not merely binary but was talk, "Possessing an 'irreducible identity, without equal in the opposite sex and, as such, exploded, plural, fluid,' [by which] a woman [talking or writing] may be driven 'to break the [binary] code, to shatter [male pre-dominant] language, to find a specific discourse closer to the body and the emotions, to the unnamable repressed by the social contract.'" 

Perhaps I'm just being arbitrary today.  I just chose Anne.  So can we listen to her a little more, a little more closely?  Here's from her talk on "The Question of Translation", her conclusion:
One of Francis Bacon's favorite paintings is a self-portrait by Rembrandt. He mentions it in several interviews. What he says he likes about this portrait is that when you go close to it you notice the eyes have no sockets. Let us place this explanation alongside a sentence of Hölderlin's that haunts me and I can't say quite why. On the right-hand margin of a page on which he had already drafted a poem, Hölderlin at a later date began to write an essay. It contains this strange remark:

Öfters hab'ich die Sprache, öfters hab'ich Gesang versucht, aber sie hörten dich nicht.

Often enough I tried language, often enough I tried song, but they didn't hear you.
Something about the way the pronouns in this sentence come face to face with themselves reminds me of Rembrandt's eyes. Those socketless eyes are certainly not blind. They are engaged in a forceful looking, but it is not a look organized in the normal way. Seeing is going on but (is it possible that) seeing is entering Rembrandt's eyes from the back. What his look sends forward, in our direction, is deep silence. Perhaps rather like the silence that followed Joan of Arc's response to her judges when they asked her, "In what language do your voices speak to you?" and she answered: "Better language than yours."

I was trained to strive for exactness and to believe that rigorous knowledge of the world without any residue is possible for us.

This residue, which does not exist—just to think of it refreshes me. To think of its position, how it shares its position with drenched layers of nothing, to think of its motion, how it can never stop moving because I am in motion with it, to think of its tone of voice, which is casual (in fact it forgets my existence almost immediately) but every so often betrays a sort of raw pity I don't understand, to think of its shadow, which is cast by nothing and so has no death in it (or very little)—to think of these things is like a crack of light showing under the door of a room where I've been locked for years.
Notice how Anne Carson here quotes men, but particularly the man Francis Bacon.  Now, I know there are at least two Francis Bacons, and Anne is talking about the painter, about someone who cares about representation.  And from there, as we see, she makes analogies to something she cares about:  translation.  It's silence in translation, silence in the language being translated from and being translated to that is what Anne cares about here. 

And this makes us think of Kenneth Pike, Evelyn Pike, and Eunice Pike, and their forgotten care about the n-Dimensionality of language (pre translation and post translation and in translation).  I'm nearly out of time, but let me say these things quickly.
  • Kenneth Pike was once a leading theorist in Bible translation among the organization that most of the BBB boys are somehow a part of.
  • Ken was one of my professors as I was getting a degree in linguistics, the linguist who influenced my work in another degree of mine in rhetoric.
  • Ken, for Suzanne too, is one who has "had the most immediate and lasting influence on how [she] read[s] the Bible."
  • Ken is no longer an influence in the aforementioned organization.
  • Ken's view of language, as n-dimensional, is very like Anne's, Joan's, Suzanne's, Catherine's, Nancy's and Julia's.
Kenneth Pike in “Why Poetry?” in his book Stir-Change-Create says something similar to what they've said:
“Simultaneity, not sheer linearity, may be the goal. By all these devices [i.e., "crucial words with multiple meanings, lexical devices, grammatical balance"] multiple experience is elicited, to be relived by the reader. Since life itself is n-dimensional, some [language]–for some people–seems astonishingly closer to life than [other language] can be. Just as the child is not the scholar, but surpasses him in learning to speak the multiple dimensions of a new language, so [some language] can mirror the n-dimensions of experience in a compact packet…. Except we become as little children, we can neither learn a new language without a bad accent, nor become charter citizens of heaven–nor experience that multiple fullness of the n-dimensional experience, which poetry tries to help us capture. Poetry compacts life in language–as an oak forces all its eternal blueprints into one nutshell.” (page 108).
That's language.  But, with respect to translation, by and large, the work that Ken developed and was so a part of has now sadly been abandoned his teachings.  Even in translation, Ken recognized the N-Dimensionality of language. Where N = Infinity.  Ken, when discussing “substantial ambiguity (or range of meaning)” in language, notes that “[m]ultiple alternative translations are possible from one language to another, with different emphases.” Accuracy, he seems to suggest, “is not dependent upon the exact degree of precision obtained if the generalizations are acceptable (Pike 1961:3f) [... i.e., general] coherence with background pattern expressed, implicit or intended….” (Talk, Thought, and Thing pages 11-13).

This borders, as binary linguists fear, on absolute relativism and sounds an awful lot like postmodernism with its deconstructivism.  However, as much as Ken had his own struggles with deconstructivists, he wasn’t worried and never reduced his theory of language (aka, Tagmemics - i.e., language in relation to a unified theory of human behavior) to the binary.

Ken approached language the way Einstein approached physics: particle and/or wave and/or field. More than that, he approached translation the way Heisenburg approached physics: “person above logic” and “the observer not only changes the observed data but is also change by the observing.” I remember Ken Pike telling the story of when he was a student; he heard his teacher saying, “Language ideally has one and only one meaning per word.” The young pupil replied, “But, sir, how would we learn language.” Ken understood that the multiple perspectives on language (or “talked about reality”) led to learning and to change. His most famous rhetoric and composition textbook was entitled, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. Pike would love to quote Nelson Goodman, saying “What we need is ‘Radical relativism within rigid restraints.” Notice how Catherine Elgin, like Ken Pike, learned so very much from Nelson!  (To be sure, however, some of Ken’s most serious followers would focus all too often on those rigid restraints. They would chart everything into tagmemic boxes.  The would employ the either/ or binary.  Looks like that's still going on.  Alas.)

To those who don't know Ken's work, probably the place to start for some good Pike in good context is his Linguistic Concepts: An Introduction to Tagmemics. An initial one-sentence paragraph starts much: “In this volume person (and relation between persons) is given theoretical priority above formalism, above pure mathematics, above idealized abstractions” (page xi). One reason language is viewed as N-dimensional is because of the personal. Ken, just a few lines later, gives one of his nods to Heisenberg saying, “A particular language, of a particular culture, in relation to a particular person with [her or] his particular history constitutes an implicit theory for that person . . . . [T]he observer [whether a cultural insider or an outsider] universally affects the data and becomes part of the data.” Ken goes on to discuss the various (traditional) linguistic vectors of language that humans do and can choose to observe from any number of perspectives.

One of Ken Pike’s first published uses of “n-dimensional” in reference to language is Stir, Change, Create, a 1967 book for missionary linguists, for himself perhaps, with rather wordplayful writings and musings. We've already read a quote from it above.  Does knowing it was for fellow missionaries make you like that quote more, or less?  Ken in this book baldly confesses what he much later was very quiet about (in research, publication, and teaching anyways):
“The greatest proportion of my time is devoted to scholarship. I am a Christian. I am devoted to Christ, risen from the dead, my Lord. Is it strange to hybridize these two roles of mine?”
If you know the historical context, then you know he was the first in his organization to achieve the Ph.D. and was an avid promoter of academics as a means to enrich theoretical-practical linguistics.  Like Anne, he loved poetry, saying:  “poetic writing can be called anti-redundant because of its n-dimensionality.”

Ken's audience for such statements was the not-yet-academic (remember, he was the first to get the Ph.D. among his fellow Bible translators); and yet, academic linguist Deborah Tannen quotes from Ken's book for laymen in her wonderfully edited volume, Linguistics in Context : Connecting Observation and Understanding : Lectures from the 1985 LSA/TESOL and NEH Institutes. One of Pike’s later works to include discussions of the n-dimensionality of language is his 1993 Talk, Thought, and Thing: the Emic Road Toward Conscious Knowledge; but he published an essay that year which explicitly references the notion: “Matrix formatives in N-dimensional linguistics” which built on earlier co-researched, co-written 1980 article, “Constraints on complexity seen via fused vectors of an n-dimensional semantic space (Sarangani Manobo, Philippines)”.  I'm bringing all of this up because, once upon a time, men were more willing to consider talking outside the box when it came to language, to translation, to Bible translation, and even to Christian Bible translation.

It's the residue and the silence that Anne is willing to speak of that I'm interested in. 

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