Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Have Been Censored by the BBB

Somebody over at the Better Bibles Blog has censored me.  I tried to join the conversation there but got this instead:

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

It was more nerdy stuffAnd maybe whoeveritwas saw my comment coming.  Maybe it's what I wrote here.  Sigh.  Maybe it's not important after all, but here's what I tried to contribute:
What an extremely important distinction Theophrastus notes here!

Robert Alter has said, “the language of the canonical texts [i.e., specifically that of the written Torah (aka the Pentateuch)] was not identical with the vernacular, [in] that it reflected a specialized or elevated vocabulary, and perhaps even a distinct grammar and syntax.” 

Alter finds this hugely notable because the Hebrew Bible has an elegance, a literary style, that is not demotic, not oral-rhetorical. In fact, (and this is my observation) if what Alter says is true, then the Hebrew Bible is indeed special in a literary-linguistic sense. It defies what rhetoricians such as George Kennedy call “letteraturizzazione,” or “the tendency of rhetoric to shift its focus from persuasion to narration, from civic to personal contexts, and from discourse to literature” or a “slippage of rhetoric into literary composition.” (Walter J. Ong, like Kennedy, saw orality as basic and literacy as its eventual evolved state, with “secondary orality” as a third synthesis of orality and literacy within literate cultures – cultures like our own now and those of the Bible in translation).

Alter, to be sure, translates from the Masoretic Text. As Theophrastus notes, he and Fox also bring out the wonders of the added, punctuated oralities. And Alter often even turns to the Greek Septuagint to find clarity where Masoretic Text doesn’t have it. In those instances, (again my opinion) the MT has been less liberal in its punctuating. The MT and the Greek translations give voice, if you will. And Alter’s and Fox’s English translations do too. There’s an oral dimension brought into the more purely literary.

Similarly, Willis Barnstone, translating the Greek of Paul in the New Testament, finds a move to mix the modes of orality and literacy:
“The letters to the Romans (probably his last letter) and the Corinthians show Paul at the peak of thought and rhetorical magic. He achieves language magic in demotic Greek (Koine), with a flare of the classical period while keeping to the simplified syntax and virtues of the vernacular. He has the high flow of Plato, who wrote in Attic Greek, in his own less inflected tongue.” (page 114 of The Restored New Testament)
We all remember how Plato moaned about writing (ironically writing what Socrates said to Phaedrus):
“Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.” [275d-e] 
Punctuation is the father of the written text, that translators use, to protect it and to help it speak.

The Socratic dialectic is shut down.  The language police protect and enforce the "better" voice and viewpoint (i.e., their own).  Silence to the dangerous.  Sigh. 


G said...

Censored over at BBB? Lèse majesté

Theophrastus said...

Sorry to hear that the BBB secret police are targeting you. Talk to Wayne to get the decision reversed.

In the meanwhile if/when your post appears, I'll merely note that elevated prose is not incompatible with oral/aural dialogue; witness Homer. However, in translation, we should maximally retain oral features to the extent compatible with English. We should maintain marker words (since it is tenacious to read text and speak the punctuation out), or to speak after the style of a radio play.

Similar issues apply to rhythm and cadence.

While few Americans attend public readings of Beowulf or other truly oral texts in the original, they still have limited experience with texts intended to be read (speeches, sermons, drama). This is not true oral/aural language, but it is close enough.

Finally: Alter's use of the Septuagint is usually to resolve ambiguous text or words of uncertain meaning.

Mike Aubrey said...

I doubt it.

It's more likely that your comment got caught because of the link--that's one way that Wordpress blogs fight spam.

You're overreacting.

J. K. Gayle said...

Oui. Je me sens comme une femme dans l'empire romain. Et ils ne m'ont même pas laissé parler latin.

Thanks for making your important points concerning the points of pronunciation for any oral-focused text, especially for the Hebrew Bible. I'd love to talk more, to hear more from you on this, especially in the context of the blog that purports to have an interest in what the people want, i.e., better bibles in translation for the democracies. (The formalization of rhetoric into written form, where punctuation has to be key, just fascinates me -- and George Kennedy, and Walter Ong, and Nancy Mairs, and Cheryl Glenn. Kennedy is one who is particularly interested in rhetoric in of and by the New Testament. I'm glad that Willis Barnstone sees that in Paul too. I really like how you've given some contemporary examples: the style of a radio play; American public readings of Beowulf; and, of course, always Homer! My own kids have this orality mimicking when they txt, not talk, on their phones or msg on fb and such. And President Obama's speech made on tv yesterday and on youtube today has already been transcribed -- with apt punctuation -- as many are prophesying that it's one of his most memorable pieces of rhetoric ever.) You are right to suggest bringing this to Wayne's attention, and so I have.

Let me help your unbelief. I used to blog at Wordpress and at first glance gave the benefit of the doubt too. But, alas, my comment had no link in it, and, indeed, we cannot blame Wordpress this time. As a matter of fact, I received an after-the-fact email from one of the BBB moderators saying in detail why he censored me. To be fair to him, he misunderstood my comment before he even read it. I've tried to make clear (with some added punctuation) exactly how I was participating in the conversation. Hopefully, he'll get that. No replies back yet. Thanks for tuning in here anyway, and please do stay tuned.

Theophrastus said...

Benjamin Bagby tours the country performing Beowulf (in the original) -- I've seen him live and on DVD. Outstanding.

My favorite spoken recording of Beowulf is Michael Drout's -- I can recommend it without reservation. (NB: I'm a huge fan of all of Michael Drout's work.)

Of course the most fun is to read it aloud with friends -- I just use Klaeber which is the best because unlike some other editions, it is not a diglot -- it has no modern English translation. (Let me assure you -- reciting Beowulf in Old English will teach one a huge amount about the difference between oral and written poetry.)

For those who cannot understand Old English, the Bagby DVD contains subtitles, or one can listen to Seamus Heaney reading his translation.

Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, altho I am a moderator at BBB, I am not the one who placed you on moderated status, a status you share with several others.

Your ideas were not censored. In fact, we have welcomed your ideas at BBB.

Your moderation is due to your marvelous brain that sees connections between so many things. Most of us BBB moderators do not have your background or cranial networks to understand what the connections are to Bible translation. So to keep BBB focused on how to translate Bibles better we sometimes moderate some individuals to try to catch comments which divert the focus of discussion away from the main point of a blog post. One of the BBB guidelines is to comment on-topic.

Your comments at BBB are always welcome when they are on-topic. Study the comments from others, such as Theophrastus. He comments on-topic, directly addressing some issue in a blog post.

Keeping a blog on topic helps everyone on a blog better understand what is being talked about.

You are always welcome at BBB. All we ask is that you comment in a way that we bloggers, several of whom are professional translators, can understand the relevance of your comments to a blog post.

I know you understand this since you are recognized your widely networking brain in our fine private exchanges.

Please do not keep repeating that you are censored at BBB. I am sure it feels like you are censored there, but really we do not censor people. We welcome disagreement with us and often learn from it. Again, note how Theophrastus disagrees with us, but does so direcly, with clarity, and concisely.

I don't like discussing this matter publicly but feel it is important to clear the record when you have taken the matter public.

Finally, whether you call it being censored or moderated, I can assure you it is not for disagreeing with anyone at BBB. It is only for commenting with information which we do not understand how it is relevant to the main point of any post.

J. K. Gayle said...


Thank you for saying I am welcome at BBB, that I have not been "censored." However, as you well know, in fact, one of you BBB moderators and editors actually prevented my comments from posting. No one told me beforehand. And now after lots of private emailing with all of you guys, no one has afterwards confessed to doing this.

The OED defines "censor" as "trans. To act as censor to; see censor n. 2b; spec. with reference to the control of news and the departmental supervision of naval and military private correspondence (as in time of war) or to the censorship of dramatic or cinematographic productions."


"b. spec. An official in some countries whose duty it is to inspect all books, journals, dramatic pieces, etc., before publication, to secure that they shall contain nothing immoral, heretical, or offensive to the government. More explicitly dramatic censor, film censor."

Thank you also for mentioning Theophrastus. Hasn't he been moderated (if you won't call it censored) before at BBB? Is he really always on topic? And boy do I ever study him; he's been commenting here at my blog (and in the past at another of my blogs). I always learn from him. He's not always a commenter at the level you all at BBB have told me you want your BBB readers to be, not keeping things in the non-literary realm. He doesn't always comment on translation. He does (and even confesses it) very frequently "hijack" the topic of the post with the new and divergent topic of his comment. So, do you really want me to do what he does?

I went public because I felt like my comment really was relevant to the discussion. I'm not at all trying to disparage you, any of you by posting this post. (We have had many many many emails, some heated, and so I've appreciated the apt privacy of that forum.) Some of the BBB editors have told me they are tired of posting there. And then even yesterday I see one who said that commenting there; he also goes on in his comment in ways that seem, to me at least, off topic to the original post. He even sort of catches himself by saying some tangential comment more directly related. Sigh.

You say I'm welcome, and yet.

You say I wasn't censored, but my comments at BBB now don't see the light of day. When my comment sits in moderation, then I get an email out of the blue from one of the BBB guys telling me how wrong I was to say such and such and so and so. Not one of the men yet has freed my comment from the dark dungeon of interogation. One of you said he would publish my comment if he could (that he considered my censored comment just fine), but he didn't and blamed the moderation on another. And that other denies it was him. Since you're saying I am welcome, not censored, and have not been straight with the record, well, I'm not sure how to respond here.

Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, I say it again: you are always welcome at BBB. Just follow the guidelines. Does everyone else always follow the guidelines perfectly? No. But I've already told you who moderated you. And you know who discussed particular comments with you privately.

We've had many private messages with you, requesting that you stay on topic. Sure, it's a judgment call on our part. If we understood what you comments meant we could better determine whether a comment is off-topic or not. Your mental brilliance finds so many allusions and connections that the rest of us are not aware of. Help us out by letting us know the relevance of comments.

An occasional off-topic comment, especially if it is concise and doesn't pull the blog post off its main post, is fine. There is grace, there is love, and yet all of it is within reasonable boundaries for the sake of the group. Boundaries can be healthy. We believe they are for BBB. We also don't allow flame wars, put downs of anyone, or any translation, none of which you do.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks again. Of course, There is grace, there is love, above all. The one who you told me modersated me says he only did so long long ago; and you all have allowed my comments to fly since then. Does it matter any more? I feel so in the dark. And yet the burden, with my comments, is always to enlighten each one of you with explicit metastatements about what I'm doing. Sigh. I appreciate your sentiments but don't know if I'm even allowed now to comment at BBB without censorship. That sucks. but thanks for writing!

Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, you were not moderated until about a week ago when one of our moderators said he was taking a break and was felt he needed to have some individuals on moderation to make it easier to keep the blog on track.

You are just as welcome now to comment at BBB as you always have been. Just speak directly to blog posts. Try to keep your comments concise. And try to keep in mind the background of most readers of BBB. If you introduce a new concept or piece of literature that is unknown, use the old tried and true pedagogical principle of building on what you can safely assume your readers already know and then work your way to less well known concepts. Try to avoid indirect speech whose rhetorical function may not be understood by readers. Be as direct and clear as possible so others can understand what you are saying.

And, as we've said before, you are welcome to write a guest post for BBB. We enjoy having guest authors.

As always, if comments follow the simple blog guidelines they will be published on BBB. Even those who are not moderated will sometimes find their comments deleted or edited if what they say does not follow the guidelines.

The guidelines are very basic, allowing for lively dissent, disagreement, and corrections. The BBB is a place for us to learn together. The guidelines are there to help us write so that learning can best take place.

Wayne Leman said...

Kurk, the only "censorship" which you will experience at BBB is the same one which everyone who comments there experiences. Each comment is subject to the guidelines. The guidelines are our censors. Do we moderators perfectly find every word or sentence which doesn't follow the guidelines? No, we don't, but we try.

J. K. Gayle said...

Got it, Wayne. Thank you very much for taking so much of your time to welcome readers and comments to BBB, especially ones like me!

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.