Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Rape words of Bristol Palin and 胡 春 香

I know that some of you know.  How arresting it is to talk about rape.

Bravely, nevertheless, Zerlina Maxwell talks anyway for a reason:
"My goal in posting ["Bristol Palin and the challenge of calling rape, rape"] and tying it my own experience is to get women thinking and talking about this. Bristol Palin’s account is in the public sphere and I think there is a danger in letting her own perception of what happened to her (whether you agree with her label or not) go unchallenged without pointing out the law....  I understand the confusion because in many ways that’s what this topic is all about in many respects, the uncertainty and still knowing deep down that something happened to you that you didn’t want to happen or consent to."
And Joel L. Watts is talking too.  He's looking for Bible words to get talk going, but elsewhere he's struggled for the right words, for the right verb for what Levi Johnston did to Bristol Palin, perhaps:
"Did Levi Johnston **** Bristol Palin?"
Joel softens his titular verb [****] by turning it into a noun and modifying it with an adjective to suggest it could have been "date rape."  He does well, then, to quote Jessica Valenti.  And Jessica quotes what Bristol said and what the Alaska court says:
“Levi wasn’t even there to help me process — or even confirm — my greatly feared suspicions,” she writes. “Instead of waking up in his arms . . . I awakened in a cold tent alone.” Palin realized that she had lost her virginity only after a friend told her what happened. 
She doesn’t use the word “rape” anywhere in her book [“Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far,”], but what she describes seems to be just that. 
She writes that she felt her virginity had been “stolen” and that she “tried not to vomit” when she found out what happened. 
Palin describes being devastated as she confronted Johnston: 
“ ‘You knew I didn’t want to have sex until I was married!’ I whispered. ‘How could you?’ ” 
She also writes that Johnston apologized. 
If Palin’s story is accurate, then what she appears to be describing is a nonconsensual — and likely illegal — assault. She doesn’t say whether she was unconscious, too incapacitated to give consent or just unable to remember what happened the next morning. But, by the account she gives, what took place in the woods near Wasilla that night sounds a lot like what Alaska rape law defines as sexual assault in the second degree, when the “offender engages in sexual penetration with a person who the offender knows is . . . incapacitated or unaware that a sexual act is being committed.”
So can we all can talk more now, as necessary, about the problem of rape and its horrific prevalence?  Can we can listen more, to realize how much of a struggle to talk women raped by men can have?

Even eloquent writers such as 胡 春 香 may require us, by their own horrific experience, to listen and to look intently.  In Vietnam today, this poet is known as Hồ Xuân Hương, her given name meaning "Delightful Fragrance."

She writes a poem about something that happened to someone, to a virgin, now pregnant, perhaps blaming not the man who made her so, without her consent, somewhere in the back woods at night perhaps but blaming herself more, sometime around the turn of the turn of the eighteenth century, when Xuân Hương herself was struggling to share her experiences with anyone who would listen.

Her poem is entitled

One male translator (Lý Quảng Mai) renders that

Unwed Pregnancy

Another translator (John Balaban) likewise paraphrases the words of "Sweet Essence" here as

The Unwed Mother

In more contemporary Vietnamese spelling we can hear how Xuân Hương starts her poem

Vịnh Người Chửa Hoang

Literally, these words mean 

Verses of a Person imPregnanted *Wildly

Let me just key in on the ambiguities of the word Hoang.  I've suggested that it literally means "wild" in the adverbial sense of how she was impregnated.  But it also could mean where she was raped, "in the wild."  The word is used for "un-cultivated" fields and for "un-inhabited" places.  It's also a word used for "virgins"!  The final word of this title, in any case, makes very clear that there is some profound lack if not some extremely lonely and unkept and uncared for person here.

The Vietnamese words also have tone, so that each word, each syllable, has its own melody and so that the phrasing makes its own tune.  If you were careful to listen, then you could hear significances in the sounds alone.  But John, after translating her words, suggests that the poet is also focusing her listeners on the context here.  He points out (in the end notes of his book, on page 121): 
For an upper-class woman, pregnancy out of wedlock could be punished by being forced to lie down while an elephant trod on her stomach, killing both mother and unborn child. For peasants, sociallly far more free in sexual encounters, there's a folk proverb that Hồ Xuân Hương seems to support:

Không chồng mà chửa mới ngoan.
Có chồng mà chửa thế gian sự thường.

No husband, but pregnant, that's skillful.
Husband and pregnant, that's pretty ordinary.
The consequence of the force of a man upon a girl or a woman who becomes pregnant before she's married to him or any other man is that there's the force of an elephant upon her.  There's execution by being publicly trod upon, two lives aborted without the woman, the girl, ever having a choice.  And does the social class of the perhaps-raped female really buy her any advantage?

Here now is the rest of Hồ Xuân Hương was saying with her song, her music, her poetry, her words:

John (page 121) suggests that this poet would like us to pay attention to her ambiguities.  Notice, he says, what she says, so musically, what she shows us, so visually, is subtle but significant:
The original in Nôm script is filled with aural puns as well as visual puns caused by the calligraphic brushstrokes. For example, a nét ngang cross-stroke across the belly of the Nôm character (liễu for “willow/girl”) changes it to  ( tử, “child”), implying pregnancy. Ngang also produces puns meaning “contrary” and “girth.” A downstroke, or dọc, on the character for “heaven,”  (thiên), changes the meaning to “husband,”  (phụ). Ađitionally, đầu dọc in line three also means “head,” implying a birth. Without her “love-fate” realized, the woman is incomplete.
In more contemporary Vietnamese, we see and hear these words as this:
Cả nể cho nên hoá dở dang
Nỗi niềm chàng có biết chăng chàng.
Duyên thiên chưa thấy nhô đầu dọc
Phận liễu sao đà đẩy nét ngang
Cái tội trăm năm chàng chịu cả
Chữ tình một khối thiếp xin mang
Quản bao miệng thế nhời chênh lệch
Không có, nhưng mà có, mấy ngoan.
Quảng Mai paraphrases these lines as this:
Because I pitied, this happened,
I wonder if he knows?
Our match had not begun
When fate intervened.
The sin he will have to bear, for a hundred years -
Right now, love's burden is all mine.
John renders the Vietnamese as this English:
Because I was too easy, this happened.
Can you guess the hollow in my heart?
Fate did not push out a bud
Even though the willow grew.
He will carry it a hundred years
But I must bear the burden now.
Never mind the gossip of the world.
Don’t have it, yet have it! So simplẹ.
In each of these cases, in her own words, and those words written and sounded in more contemporary Vietnamese, and in those words rendered now into our English somehow, there's a struggle.  There's the struggle to convey something horrific.  There's the tendency of society, of the world, to gossip.  Our tendency, no?  There's the understanding of the male, of his burden, what he intended and surely didn't intend.  "He will carry it," says the voice of the girl in the verses of her poem.  "Well, and Levi apologized," whispers and writes another girl.  And doesn't she blame herself, over and over, in words?  And don't we let her?

So now we choose, she lets us in on her lack of choices, she chooses now to do that?  Will we watch while others force her to lie down again, this time to be trampled by an elephant?  Will we read news reports and not cry out for real justice, for her, for other women and girls whose "virginity" is "stolen"? Shall we now talk about this, everywhere, and keep the talk going until rape itself is arrested?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

mentally bifocal

“Hot! Every word of Aristotle exposed!” These diglot-peddlers lack shame

I have an embarrassing confession to make... when I get stuck, I have sometimes weakened and allowed my eye to wander over to the right-hand pages.
Yesterday, a fellow blogger got me laughing out loud when he'd written these words.  So much of the sarcasm resonates with me; it's his parody of the fear of a both-and world that so many have.  Most would prefer an either-or world.  Especially when it comes to the Bible, especially when it comes to the singular notion of absolute Truth, the fear is that one may be wrong while The Other, so different, just may be right.  Before I'd read my fellow blogger's silliness, with more seriousness, I blogged a bit yesterday on three examples of this fear.

Today, I'd like to blog on the value of the diglot.  There's value in having one original language open to a page in a translation of that original.  There's value as much or more in being "mentally bifocal," as Pearl S. Buck put it.  If we were to read that in her English, we'd find it in her autobiography My Several Worlds.  If we were to read it in Italian, then we might go here to find it also as "La mente bifocale."  If we were reading it in English but were trying to understand it, to translate it, into Chinese (which is one of Pearl S. Buck's languages in one of her several worlds), then we might start here.  The point is that we could not stay just in one place, within our comfort zone, a zone of limited-perception singular monocular objectivity, with the Other over there not having any part of me or mine.

"Aristotle exposed," indeed.  Until you've just begun to struggle, some with others, with how his words are so like and so unlike your own, then what's the value of knowing him?  Maya Angelou, for example, who was raped by a misogynistic gynophobe when she was an 8-year-old girl, listens rhetorically to Aristotle and insists, rather exclaims!:  "One needs to know Aristotle.... One needs it desperately....  Must! I mean desperately... if one is to be at ease anywhere."  How has she come to know this need to know?  There's something on the other side from me, isn't there?

Much more positively if more theoretically, Mikhail Epstein speaks of stereotextuality and of interlation.  He's saying that a diglot (and this might apply to a Loeb classical library edition of any of Aristotle's works or even to the Bible with its "absolute Truth" for the fearful and its multiple languages for the willing) has value.  Do you notice, reading Epstein's essay, however, how he ends up asking questions?
Can an idea be adequately presented in a single language? Or do we need a minimum of two languages (as with two eyes or two ears) to convey the volume of a thought or image? Will we, at some future time, accustom ourselves to new genres of stereo poetry and stereo philosophy as we have become accustomed to stereo music and stereo cinema? Will the development of translingual discourses (or, in Bakhtin's words, "the mutual illumination and interanimation of languages") become a hallmark of our century?
Well, I go back to little Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker, to her century now, not ours anymore.  Reading her autobiography, I notice how in the mornings she was working with her mother on the schooling called the Calvert method (named after Lord Baltimore Calvert).  I remember doing the very same thing with the very same curriculum with my mother.  Then she'd go study, differently, with her Chinese tutor.  And so I remember with my tutors, the Vietnamese ones.  This is her context for her stereotexting, for her interlating, for her bifocal mentality.  She speaks of the "damage" it caused.  But how seriously do you want to take that?  She's also speaking of racism and of sexism.  Let me exclaim.  She's also speaking of racism and of sexism!  Of the need for a kalaidescope, as Jacqueline Jones Royster does:
Using subject position as a terministic screen in cross-boundary discourse permits analysis to operate kaleidoscopically, thereby permitting interpretation to be richly informed by the converging of dialectical perspectives.
Had Jacqueline Jones Royster and Pearl S. Buck talked, I think they would have understood this together.  Young Pearl began this valuable kaleidoscopic listening and learning early.
I became mentally bifocal, and so I learned early to understand that there is no such condition in human affairs as absolute truth. There is only truth as people see it, and truth, even in fact, may be kaleidoscopic in its variety. The damage such perception did to me I have felt ever since, although damage may be too dark a word, for it merely meant that I could never belong entirely to one side of any question. To be a Communist would be absurd to me, as absurd as to be entirely anything and equally impossible. I straddled the globe too young.
Later in life Pearl saw, as Jacqueline feels every day, the double-sided difficulties of people who only see one side, who only understand what it is like to be singularly absolutely in the American majority in the world.  Pearl, in 1941, when America was still very profoundly full of race prejudice, wrote this:
Profound as race prejudice is against the Negro American, it is not practically as far-reaching as the prejudice against women. For stripping away the sentimentality which makes Mother’s Day and Best American Mother Contests, the truth is that women suffer all the effects of a minority.
Is this despair?  Or do you yourself know these sides of things?  The value of them?  Does Pearl S. Buck with her binocular mind and words really threaten the "authority of God's word" as this blogger suggests she does?  Or isn't there value in seeing something beyond your own supposed objectivity, of reading the Bible as a diglot even?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When Distinctions Damage (and when they do some good)

It is impossible, then, that 'being a man' should mean precisely 'not being a man', if 'man' not only signifies something about one subject but also has one significance. ....
In the context of Aristotle's traditional logic, this is a remarkably precise statement of the law of excluded middle, P ∨ ¬P.
      --an excerpt from the wikipedia entry on the Law of the Excluded Middle

In these statements [that Aristotle has written in his various treatises,] the superior valuation of man over woman is explicitly stated. However, it is also present in the theory of contraries and in other aspects of Aristotle’s thought about sex identity. Aristotle stands out from his predecessors in that he gave a complete rationale for his theory of sex polarity. He developed reasons and arguments for the philosophically significant differentiation of the sexes and for the superiority of man over woman. Therefore, he is correctly identified as the founder of the sex polarity position. . . . [H]e also laid the groundwork for another theory of sex identity in his philosophy of definition.
      --an excerpt from Sister Prudence Allen's book, The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 Bc-Ad 1250

This is a tough post for me to write, for some personal reasons.  It may be a difficult post for you to read, because I may not be very clear.  It's about language, and the ways we use it.  I'm trying to represent fairly what we bloggers say and how we come across when saying what we say.  How that may damage, or how it may do some good.  (If I've misrepresented anything you've said, then I'm sorry.  Readers should find links back to the contexts from which I've lifted a few quotes of fellow bloggers.)

Well, here goes.

Aristotle is alive around the blogosphere. At least the sort of logic he used to denigrate women and others is alive and well. It's almost as if bloggers making distinctions the way Aristotle did are afraid.  It seems they're afraid that if they don't differentiate sharply then they will not be able to have any sort of discernment or judgment at all.

But the real distinction, the good one we'd do well to make, is this one:
the differentiation between 
(1) our own human language that is often good and sloppy and imprecise and sometimes playful and is embodied and yet still allows us to see difference and even to celebrate all kinds of differences

(2) Aristotle's logic that would separate the Other from oneself, logic that invariably and inherently puts oneself above that Other in some sort of hierarchical Nature, logic that would damage the Other or must view her already as naturally damaged.
Here are 3 examples:

example 1 

In his post "Spoken style correction: the iPeeve™," Mark Liberman does some good by allowing himself to be "inspired by Erin Gloria Ryan" in her confessions of using the filler like in her speech.  But Mark also really does some good by actually distinguishing Erin's more limited conclusions from his own.  He can, for example, question what she only presumes:  "whether vernacular like is genuinely female-associated," and then he can ask "the broader question of whether there's a female speech style characterized by features that weaken assertions."

However, then Mark sets himself above Erin by differentiating in a way that could damage his blog readers' perceptions of the way she speaks.  He suggests that her "incessant repetition of a low-information-content filler is annoying to listeners and should be avoided."  Yes, I know he goes on to generalize beyond Erin's own confession to say - like a logical prescriptivist would - that absolutely all of the following "should be avoided":  "like" or "literally" or "you know" or just plain "uh."  See how this prescription differentiates?  How it sets one sort of English speaker above the others.  Mark starts to sound like the logical prescriptivist Aristotle, who insisted that ambiguities "should be avoided" or else they'll make a lousy speaker.  What's really not so good is that Mark can't even follow his own prescription for the language that not good speakers "should" avoid.  In the very blogpost where he says fillers should be avoided, Mark himself fails to avoid using a filler.  He writes the filler "well"; he writes it and doesn't avoid it.  He writes the filler "well" as if he's talking:  "What am I talking about?," he asks in writing.  Then he says, pausing with his filler:  "Well, ..."  In kind reply to my comment pointing this out, Mark further differentiates the Nature of things; he says in red font:  "Sentence-initial well is what's generally called a "discourse marker" — it wouldn't become a "verbal tic" unless it was over-used."  Notice, it's NOT a "filler" or "verbal tic" when four differentiations can be made:  (a) "well" is "sentence-initial"; (b) someone writes a wikipedia article and calls "well" a "discourse marker"; and (c) until and unless "well" is "over-used" like "Ms. Ryan's" like is so overused; and (d) until and unless the speaker or writer like "Ms. Ryan" confesses to having "her (self-)conscious reaction" to using "well," a reaction, by the way, "[that] is ... quite negative."  And so notice, differentiate, how differently Mark uses his language from how Erin uses hers.

In summary, Mark makes some good distinctions after being inspired by Erin's blogpost.  Then he continues on to do some damage by differentiating the various differences between proper speech, in the way he uses it, and NOT proper speech that "should be avoided," in the way that she uses it.

example 2

In her post, "Sunday Superlatives: 6/26/2011," Rachel Held Evans does some good by differentiating some of the best blogposts she's read, on the one hand, from some bad blogposts, on the otherhand.  For example, Rachel sees how "spot-on" Jamie the Very Worst Missionary is with her post, “Human, Like Jesus,” (in which Jamie differentiates between people who tend to run down being human, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, people who tend more to go with the Jesus kind of humanity, i.e., "our humanity that compels us to treat others with kindness and respect").  Likewise, Rachel sees the "best argument" in Daniel Kirk's post, “Gay Marriage in New York” (in which Daniel differentiates between the state being in the marriage business, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the church NOT being in this business).  Furthermore, Rachel sees as "most provocative" Caryn Rivadeneira's post, “What Christians Can Respect About Slutwalks” (in which Caryn differentiates, on the one hand, the "horrific" thing that a male police officer in Toronto said from the more honorable protests by slutwalkers, on the other hand).  And then Rachel even does good by differentiating the bad:  Rachel calls "Most Un-Cool (...and not in a good way)" Karen Swallow's post “An Open Letter to Donald Miller” (since Karen differentiates how Donald Miller and how she Karen would make a list of qualities in a fianc(é)e in some Christianly way, on the one hand, and how Donald's actual fiancée has so differently made her list, on the other hand, in a not so Christianly way, i.e., in a way that "doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for God to bring a partner who can meet needs we don’t even know we have, needs God knows more intimately than we or our spouses can ever know").

However, then Rachel seems to talk about Karen by differentiating in a way that could damage Karen's blog readers' perceptions of the way she speaks.  Rachel says of Karen's blogpost:  "Unsolicited marriage advice from a complete strange in the form of 'open letter' = not cool."  And we all wonder if we can easily differentiate Rachel's unsolicited statement here about Karen's unsolicited one.  Who is above the other?  Who can call somebody's blogpost "cool" or "not cool" if the one is differentiating herself from the other but does the very same sort of differentiating as the other?  It's sort of confusing.  But the subtleties here are what can damage the Other.

And so let's look at what the ostensibly "cooler" (as if in a "good" way) bloggers do as "Christians" differentiated from the Others.  Daniel, for example, writes:  "It’s difficult for Christians to imagine a world where we are truly in the minority and subject to the power of people with alternative religious convictions."  And he adds, "As Christians, we need to learn how to hold our own religious views while seeking liberty and justice for all–not just those who happen to believe as we do."  And his clear differentiations are between "Christians we" vs. Others "truly in the minority" who cannot "believe as we do" because they're NOT Christians maybe gays - as if these are mutually exclusive categories with the middle excluded.  Isn't it damaging to find yourself without a real category, if you are Christian and gay or are Christian and some other minority or are Christian and yet still not necessarily sharing all the beliefs like Daniel's Christians do?  Similarly, Caryn says:  "While we can debate the method of SlutWalks, Christians should agree on their purpose. Christians should be leading the marches against violence toward women."  Can one not be a Christian and a feminist and also a SlutWalker?  Or is the only thing "Christians" can share with "their" debatable feminist method "their [SlutWalk] purpose"?  Can we all see how this sort of us NOT them differentiation doesn't allow people to be who they are or who they're becoming, as if one category of religious person is above the Others they're trying to "love" or at least somehow to agree with?  Doesn't the absolute differentiation damage?

example 3

Now let me point the finger at me.   I'll keep it short, but you'll have links if you want it long.   At this blogpost, I commented about two of my fellow bloggers in disagreement:  "I’m thinking that there are already two clear disagreements to note and that our seeing these differences clearly shouldn’t hurt anybody."  I was really hoping to do some good in differentiating, at least not to do damage.

However, it's clear there's been damage done late in a related conversation at a related blogpost here.  One of the conversants quotes me and says:  "Well, I don’t know about the 'not hurting' part. Of course it hurts. But ... "  Oops!  Suddenly I find myself perhaps doing not good but damage by using logic that separates instead of human language that appreciates difference.

Do you see the difference?  Can we appreciate differences in Others as we all talk, and change, and grow up a bit?  These are some of my questions this week as I listen in on and participate in blog talk and differentiations.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pearl S. Buck: History and Influence

"Press steadily for human equality, not only for yourselves, but for all those groups who are not given equality."

"History ... has always been taught as the work of man. When woman appears in it she is either a queen, of little practical use, or a rebel smashing up furniture or praying in saloons. The truth has never been told about women in history: that everywhere man has gone woman has gone too, and what he has done she has done also. Women are ignorant of their own past and ignorant of their own importance in that past. In curiosity a few months ago I asked a haphazard score of women of my acquaintance if they had heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Only one had even heard her name, and she had no recollection of more. Yet only a generation ago Elizabeth Cady Stanton was called the greatest woman in the United States, and by some the greatest in the world. If women are as ignorant as this of themselves they can scarcely expect men to know more. But if the aim of education is to be enlightening of men and women about each other, of course history must be taught truthfully about both, and truthfully rewritten." 
Today is Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker's birthday.  In her lifetime, she came to be known as Sai Zhenzhu (賽珍珠, or Sài Zhēnzhū), as author John Sedges, and as prolific and renowned author and speaker Pearl S. Buck.  I don't know how many of her works you've read.  Her most famous, of course, is The Good Earth, a good place to start if you're interested in a Pulitzer-prize winning novel of people who are likely very, very different from you and from me, and yet they are people at heart just like you and me.  One of my own affinities with Pearl S. Buck is that she is a missionary kid who grew up bilingual and bicultural.  "I am mentally bifocal," she once said about herself.  My Several Worlds and A Bridge For Passing are her telling titles for her two autobiographies.  The ways she saw and lived in her several worlds and constructed a bridge for passing across into your world and mine are very helpful ways of seeing and of being, I believe.  She wasn't just a speaker, a writer, a thinker, but she was also a doer, a changer, a transformer.  Here's a bit more of what others are remembering of her, especially today.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jewish Feminist History and Influence

It was no easy feat for her to remain Orthodox while stationed at the forefront of feminism; her organization advocated equal rights for women in religious as well as secular realms....  Although she required time to find her way, she ultimately became a selfless, charitable, idealistic and energetic mover and shaker. A woman lacking a role model for herself actually became one.

Who is she?

[A] writer who explored the double marginalization of being Jewish and female, producing a body of fiction and nonfiction that placed her in the vanguard of Jewish feminist letters, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 83. ....  [She] was among the first writers to consider feminism and Judaism as parts of a seamless if difficult-to-integrate whole. While her work was often likened to that of postwar feminist novelists like Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy and Marilyn French, it was distinguished by its specifically Jewish focus.

Who is she?

She has had some influence when Jane and friends are breaking bread together, singing together, asking together,
The Song of Questions

Mother, asks the clever daughter,
Who are our mothers?
Who are our ancenstors?
What is our history?
Give us our name. Name our genealogy.

Mother, asks the wicked daughter,
If I learn my history
will I not be angry?
Will I not be bitter as Miriam
who was deprived of her prophecy?

Mother asks the simple daughter,
If Miriam lies buried in sand,
Why must we remove her from sun and stone?
Where she belongs?

The one who knows not how to question
she has no past,
she can have no future
without knowing her mother,
without knowing her angers
without knowing her questions.

Proverbs 14 Series, a Postscript

In the preface to this series of posts on Proverbs 14, I said that - among the universal sayings of all that we call proverbs - the very first one I remember hearing is Proverbs 14:29.  In this postscript, may I share with you my very favorite?  As I get ready to do that, I wonder very much how you have read the Proverbs for yourself.  Are you finding that they give you wisdom?  that they guide you?  that they are foreign sounding or are familiar?  or both?  Do they allow you, require you, to read pop psychology into them, as blogger CD-Host comments here (i.e., "I don't like reading pop psychology into the bible, except in books like Proverbs where it can't be avoided.")?  Can you read them and hear them alongside the other proverbs you've heard growing up or that you speak now to children around you growing up?  How different are they for grown ups?  Do they apply more to women than to men or the other way around?  Are they gendered?  Theological?  These questions are ones I have for you and are maybe ones you also have for yourself or for others like me.

For the series here, we asked other questions, some together:
Part I - What's with the womanly imagery in the very first proverb?

Part II - So what's the right way to read Proverbs 14:12?  What way seems right to my evangelical Christian missionary father, to SBC men today?  But what's its end?

Part III - What are the benefits to reading Proverbs 14:32 and 14:33 and 14:34 in both Hebrew and Hellene side by side?

Part V - What differences and similarities can we see between the Hebrew and the Greek of Proverbs when translated literally and individually into 19th-century English?

Part V - How does Proverbs 14:3 in both Hebraic Greek and Hebrew turn the tables on the binary structure of Aristotle's masculinist logic?

Part VI - What's the gender of Proverbs 14 read in English translation in 2011?

Part VII - How can one appreciate Proverbs 14 for its ancient Hebrew poetry?  Does one first need to become one of the "Old Testament scholars" (i.e. a "Biblia Hebraica scholar")?
My favorite proverb of the Hebrew Proverbs is 14:10.  It defies our attempts at conversation about it through blogging or even through our talking together face to face.  It makes us wonder, as we listen to John Balaban's English translation (reading page 25) of a confession by Hồ Xuân Hương; it makes us wonder whether she really is all alone or whether we can feel so much with her.  So listen to her second confession:
Confession (II)

Before dawn, the watch drum rumbles.
Lonely pink face among mountains and streams

addled but alert with a cup of fragrant wine
as the moon sets, just a sliver not yet full.

Moss seems to creep across the earth's face.
Stony peaks pierce the belly of the clouds.

Sick with sadness, spring passes, spring returns.
A bit of love shared, just the littlest bit.
Now back to the Hebrew proverb as Robert Alter brings it to us in our English:
The heart knows its own bitterness,
and in its joy no stranger mingles.
And, on this, we imagine the Hebrew proverb writer composing in her room, and then the copyists and editors all talking about including this set of verses in the whole of the collection of the Proverbs, and then the translator in Alexandria - in Egypt again - choosing clear or tricky Greek words, and now Alter in his office at his computer screen translating and writing in our English, as we here at our screens read (some together, and yet, absolutely alone perhaps with God alone):
Though some of these proverbs may give the impression of the rehearsal of rote learning, many others ... are arresting not just because of the concise poetic wit but also because they appear to derive from shrewd and considered reflection on moral behavior and human nature and sometimes from introspection as well.  If some of these maxims may seem too pat one is startled to come across this proverb:  "The heart knows its own bitterness, / and in its joy no stranger mingles" (14:10).  The book as a whole, after all, works on the assumption that knowledge and experience are eminently transmissible and teachable and that everyone draws on the same fund of set moral principles.  In this instance, however, the anthologists [of proverbs for The Proverbs] have included a very different perception -- that each person's experience is ultimately incommensurable, that one's inward sorrows and delights have no adequate reflection in the lexicon of the social realm.  Occasionally, despite the general adherence of the collection to moral certitude, one encounters a proverb that registers the stubborn ambiguity of human experience, as in this densely packed line:  "like water face to face / thus the heart of man to man" (27:19).  The first verset evidently means to say that water gives back a person his own reflected image, and so the second verset would seem to assert that a man may know the heart of another by pondering what is in his own heart.  But water, after all, is an unstable mirror, its surface liable to be troubled by wind or tide, its chromatic layers darkening or transforming the image, and hence the reflection of heart to heart may be a tricky or undependable business.  [pages 189 - 90]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Proverbs 14 Part VII: Ancient Hebrew Poetry

How do you appreciate ancient Hebrew poetry?  The enjoyment for me can't come from my being an expert on it.  I'm not.  And yet there are many bridges in. 

The poetry of Sappho, of Homer, and even of Dionysius the Brazen was more familiar to me than ancient Hebrew poetry when I first started blogging.  Little did I know at the time that the one provided for a me a bridge to the other.  Likewise, much of the English language poetry and even some of the bits of Vietnamese language poetry I'd grown up with (my earliest school teachers taught me) was informed by the brilliant ways with words of others from so very, very long ago.   Early on in my schooling, I learned that even our old English word poetry derives from the powerful, generative, creative wordplay of Greek imagination.  It wasn't until I started reading posts by one of my blogger friends, however, that I started a new appreciation for ancient Hebrew poetry in its profound and multi-dimensional richness.  Notice the appreciation for orality and for translation, two bridges into poetry, in this post she's written today:  "To write, to speak, to sound out alliteration, ... that is the power of alliteration. Don't let the textbooks tell you anything else....  my Pagnini Psalms again, that missing link in the history of translation....  he too loved the alphabet, that out of which the world was created....  Here is Psalm 122:6-7 in various translations... not ... the Hebrew tonight, but only compare the Latin and English."

This sort of public sharing of ancient Hebrew poetry in Bible blogging is itself another bridge in for me.  And that is our segue into Part VII in this biblioblogging series on Proverbs 14.  Proverbs poetry?  Ancient Hebrew poetry in proverbs?

Well, my bridge into this sort of appreciation starts with this kind and helpful announcement from another blogger friend:  "Robert Alter just published the latest in his series of translations entitled The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes."  And then from Alter and his recommended book, I enjoy reading this surprise:
Proverbs is the only one of the three canonical Wisdom books that might conceivably reflect the activities of some sort of academy.  Composed in verse from beginning to end, it often seems to utilize the mnemonic function of poetry to inscribe in memory principles of right and wrong, and one can plausibly imagine a teacher imparting instruction of this sort to his [or her] disciples.  The poetry in Proverbs, however, is by no means restricted to serving as an aid to memory, and we shall have occasion to observe a variety of arresting and at times surprising purposes to which poetry is put in this book.  [page xvi]
Academy?  mnemonic function?  memory principles?  right and wrong?  variety?  arresting and surprising?  poetry in Proverbs?  Well, some of this is where I work (i.e., in "some sort of academy" especially for language learners and teachers), and much of what Alter is describing is also where I've gained more of a first appreciation for poetry to begin with (i.e., the poetry of my childhood and school days and higher education days with Aristotle's academic instruction in poetics and ethics and rhetoric).  How very surprising for me, and exciting.  Hopefully it is as full of excitement for you too, in this series on Proverbs 14.

Here's something fascinating in the proverb we call Proverbs 14:22.  It has many of the elements that Alter discusses for the entire book of Proverbs in general.  Alter translates this proverb into this English with no need for any footnote:
Surely those who plan evil do stray,
        but steadfast kindness for those who plan good.
The parallelism is obvious.  Here is the certainty in the first line strengthened by the sibilant English "s" sounds and the emphatic auxiliary verb "do":  "Surely . . . do stray."  Then here again is this same certainty in the second line also strengthened by the sibilant English "s" sounds:  "steadfast kindness."

And yet, in the parallels, the similarities, the samenesses, there is difference, contrast.  In the first line, the subject of the clause is "those who plan"; in the second line, however, the subject is "steadfast kindness."  In the first line the positive word "surely" begins it; in the second line, in contrast, the negative word "but" starts the clause.  The first line ends with "stray," the second with "good" - what a contrast in lexicon, in syntax.  And then the most punctuated difference of all, of course, is between "those who plan evil" and "those who plan good."  Semantically, the former actively "do stray" which assumes they have no ultimate control over their plans.  Semantically, the latter find themselves being, being in the position of receiving something like what they plan.  Have we begun to mine the depths of this poetry?  Have we exhausted its dimensions?  We're only considering, so far, the English translation!

The ancient Hebrew poetry of what we know as Proverbs 14:22 goes like this:

הֲֽלֹוא־֭יִתְעוּ חֹ֣רְשֵׁי רָ֑ע וְחֶ֥סֶד וֶ֝אֱמֶ֗ת חֹ֣רְשֵׁי טֹֽוב׃

How do you appreciate it?  What bridges into the proverb and its poetry do you find?

Another for me, besides Alter's wonderful translation, is the translation by somebody (or somebodies) long ago in Alexandria, Egypt.  We don't know the author of the Hebrew exactly, and according to the legend, we can't at all be certain of who the translator was.  It was translated from Hebrew into Greek.  And it goes, then, like this:

πλανώμενοι τεκταίνουσι κακά
ἔλεον δὲ καὶ ἀλήθειαν τεκταίνουσιν ἀγαθοί

οὐκ ἐπίστανται ἔλεον καὶ πίστιν τέκτονες κακῶν
ἐλεημοσύναι δὲ καὶ πίστεις παρὰ τέκτοσιν ἀγαθοῖς

What we all can see is how much longer this proverb is in Greek than it is in Hebrew.  To me, it seems that the translator is trying both to mirror the Hebrew some and then also attempting to elaborate on the meanings more.  Let me try to render the Greek into English to show this some:

The deviants construct evil
Mercy, however, and truth are constructed by the good

[which means:]
There's no understanding of mercy and of faith for the constructors of evil.  Shows of mercy, however, and of faithfulnesses are with those who construct good.

For whatever reason, the translator is wanting to expand and to expand on the Hebrew meanings.  NETS Septuagint translator and commentator Johann Cook believes that the LXX translator of Proverbs "14.22 elaborates on the perpetration of evil beyond MT."  What I hope is clear is that it's poetry, from and back to ancient Hebrew poetry, and that it's a bridge for us other readers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Proverbs 14 part vi: Gender in 2011

The Gender of Proverbs 14 in 2011

When writing Part II of this series, I had just read the official and public Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) statement against the NIV 2011 denouncing its gender inclusive English.  So we looked at Proverbs 14:12 in the NIV 1984 and also in the NIV 2011; and, in our discussion, we didn't stop short of looking at the proverb's translation from the potentially gender-neutral words of Hebrew and Greek:  ish (אִ֑ישׁ) and anthropois (ἀνθρώποις).   In Part III, we started in with Kristen's suggestion that "Perhaps the NIV 2011 was incorrect in leaving out that the word 'iysh' does appear here."  I'd also suggested that, in a later post, "we may get into the fact that, in Proverbs 14, the Hebraic Hellene translators from the Hebrew have in certain verses have really restricted the translation and have confined the meaning to men only, to males and not to females.  For example, in verses 7, 10, 30, 33 there are the words ἀνδρὶ, ἀνδρὸς, and ἀνὴρ [andri, andros, aner] that are not at all gender neutral or gender universal."  Now, in this Part VI, let's look carefully and closely at gender in all of Proverbs 14, in 2011, in English translation.

Let's do this because the gender words are the now-very-public problem that the official SBC men have with the NIV 2011.  I'm going to ask that you look with me at every English gendered word in five different translations of Proverbs 14.  The five are these:

1. the HCSB, produced by the SBC publishing house;

2. the ESV, which R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also recommended to the SBC "for serious study" before the HCSB was produced;

3. the NIV1984, the old version which is less of a "profound disappointment" to the SBC men and less of an "inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture" in the eyes of the SBC resolvers because the older Bible did not have so much "use of gender-neutral [English] language";

4. the NIV2011, the newest version that really is now a publicly "profound disappointment" to the SBC men and really does seem to be an "inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture" in the eyes of the SBC resolvers because it really does have the "use of gender-neutral [English] language";

5. the NLT, the newest translation to just narrowly beat out the HCSB in familiarity among SBC pastors and to very widely to beat out the HCSB in familiarity among other Christian ministers in the USA.

So let's read these five English Bibles and compare their gendered words in Proverbs 14.  Let's read each verse, each proverb, below, in this order:  HCSB then ESV then  NIV1984, and then NIV2011 and last NLT.  I've highlighted with various colors the feminine, masculine, neuter (i.e., gender-neutral), and gender-inclusive nouns and pronouns.

I'll let you figure out which Hebrew and Greek nouns and pronouns are being translated from.  But can you also answer these English-only questions?

1.  In which proverbs below do all five translations agree with respect to the gender of the nouns and pronouns? 

2.  Are there any proverbs for which the HCSB does the "profoundly disappointing" thing of making "use of gender-neutral language"?  (Do look below for yourself.  Okay, let me answer:  YES.  Now can you tell me which verses in Proverbs 14 below the HCSB uses gender-neutral language for?)

3.  Are they any proverbs for which the HCSB makes MORE "use of gender-neutral language" than the other four translations?  Does the HCSB really make more "use of gender-neutral language" than the NIV 2011 in some of the proverbs noted below?  (Again, Yes.  So please note which proverbs.)

4.  Is there a proverb for which the HCSB genders "Wisdom" feminine?  Which one?

5.  Are there any proverbs for which the ESV does the profoundly disappointing thing of making "use of gender-neutral language"?  (Do look below for yourself.  Okay, let me answer:  YES.  Now can you tell me which verses in Proverbs 14 below the HCSB uses gender-neutral language for?)

6.  Are they any proverbs for which the ESV makes MORE "use of gender-neutral language" than the other four translations?  Does the ESV really make more "use of gender-neutral language" than the NIV 2011 in some of the proverbs noted below?  (Again, Yes.  So please note which ones.)

7.  Is there a proverb in which the NIV1984 makes God's gender inclusive?   YES.  And which one is it?
    Please have a read for yourself.  Please feel free in comments to share your answers to the above questions or your thoughts about anything else you see here.  (Remember, the order of the trnaslation, verse by verse and proverb by proverb here, is HCSB, ESV,  NIV1984, NIV2011, and NLT.)


    So what does the gender-neutral language of Proverbs 14 in the HCSB, the ESV, the NIV1984 and 2011, and the NLT say about the SBC men who have made their targeted resolution?  

    (Now, for anybody wanting it, here's a bit of the background on the controversy surrounding these words in 2011.  If you would like to read the SBC resolution against the NIV 2011 for yourself, Suzanne McCarthy links today to several bloggers who've quoted it directly and have given links to the primary sources.  

    Moreover, for more background, since we're getting into the language of Proverbs 14 (language which Robert Alter refers to as ancient "Hebrew" poetry), you may also want to see this.  You may also want to how John Hobbins claims that "Old Testament scholars who blog have expressed dissatisfaction with the new NIV."  He links to 4 bloggers total, unless you also count him with his 2 links to his own blog.  He agrees with 3 and disagrees with the 4th.  However, 1 blogger John agrees with has mainly expressed only dissatisfaction with the advertising of the NIV 2011 and not with the gender-neutral language of the translation.   Likewise, another 1 has expressed dissatisfaction but not so much with the gender-inclusive English "beef" that the SBC has.  Then there's the 1 who does express dissatisfaction with the gender-neutral language of the NIV 2011, as the SBC resolvers have.  As mentioned, John includes himself among the dissatisfied, as 1 who shares the gender "beef" of the SBC men.  To be clear, John only links to 3 other "Old Testament scholars who blog who blog have expressed dissatisfaction" and only 1 of whom [other than himself] actually shares the gender "beef" of the official Southern Baptist men resolving to denounce the NIV 2011.  That John so far finds only 1 in agreement with him as he validates the resolution of the SBC men is important.  It's important because he goes on to mention 1 blogger with whom he has the disagreement, and John puts that this way:
    So far as I know, the only blogger/ Biblia Hebraica scholar who offers praise for the new NIV is Joel Hoffman. He expressed satisfaction for the its gender-sensitive modifications of NIV 1984; he describes them as gender-accurate. These kind of changes satisfy some but raise the hackles of others. In Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist contexts – the largest church polities in the US – a reaction against gender-sensitive translation has set in.  Both faith traditions seek to retain a degree of independence from prevailing cultural trends. This is no doubt salutary. At the same time, it would be easy to build bridges across some of the divides if the debate were not dominated by Ninja warrior types on both sides.
    It's curious the way John has put this.  He's called "salutary" what he sees as independent "Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist" efforts to resist cultural corruption, suggesting that the SBC resolution against the NIV 2011 and its language and its use and its sales is somehow a resolution against "cultural trends" that ostensibly must be reacted against.   And John has mentioned the "Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist" as if in some contrast to Joel, who self identifies not as a Catholic or a Baptist or even a Christian of any sort but as the child of someone who has built language bridges with Christians.  One of Joel's parents - also a blogger/ Biblia Hebraica scholar - says this:  "I am a liturgist. 'Liturgy' is a common enough word among Christians, but it does not flow trippingly off Jewish tongues, and I am not only Jewish but a rabbi to boot."  Here we have the SBC vs / the NIV2011 and "accurate" vs. / "inaccurate" and a few scholarly bloggers vs / the NIV2011 and John vs / Joel and "the largest church polities in the US" vs  / "prevailing cultural trends."  All these divisions.  These are important background to how we might read Proverbs 14 in 2011.  Sorry for the long digresssion.  [To see John's words here in 2011 on his "beef" with the words of the NIV 2011, go here. ])


    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Proverbs 14 Part V

     In the mouth of the dolt is a rod of pride,

    but the lips of the wise will guard them.
    --Proverbs 14:3
    (trans., Robert Alter)

    Aristotle tells us that... 
    creatures who are brave or just 
    (like lions, bulls, roosters 
    and the human male) 
    have large deep voices....

    The poet Aristophanes put a comic turn 
    on this cliché in his Ekklesiazousai: 
    as the women of Athens are about to 
    infiltrate the Athenian assembly 
    and take over political process, 
    the feminist leader Praxagora reassures 
    her fellow female activists that 
    they have precisely the right kind of 
    voices for this task.
    --Men in the Off Hours 
     (by Anne Carson) 

    This Part V of a series could be entitled, "How Aristotle Reads Proverbs 14."  He would want to construct the category that is, above all, the normal one in Nature.  /  And from that he would categorize the other as lesser, perhaps deviant.

    But there are those who turn his categories around and upside down.  In this post, I'm hoping that we can see how the proverb we call "Proverbs 14:3" in Hebrew and especially in Greek translation turns the cliché, natural order of hierarchical categories.  Let's come back to that in a while.  First, let's look at how someone recently has categorized translation of the Bible, and other alternatives.  Then, we can read the biblical proverb, and its translation, to see how it goes.


    1. How someone recently has categorized translation of the Bible, 

    and other alternatives.

    Earlier in the week, John Hobbins sharply divided Bible translations into two constructed categories:
     “translations committed above all to reproducing the wording and register of the original, translating metaphors with metaphors, and sounding strange wherever the thought and language of the source text is strange relative to our cultural matrix.”     /
    OR “translations committed to clarity and naturalness of expression”
    John placed into his latter category (quoted above) only and all the Bible translations that he presumed that Wayne Leman and all the bloggers at BBB must surely favor.  He himself favors his former category.  Unfortunately, John didn't give a single example of any translated text of the Bible to justify his categories.  In reply, Wayne made this plea:  "I hope John can find time to turn his thoughts on translation into a series which will give examples of translation which could be compared with how we might prefer to translate here at BBB."  

    Suzanne McCarthy did offer examples.  This is what Wayne was asking for but what John himself did not supply.  And, interestingly, these examples do allow us to begin questioning this binary "EITHER / OR" thinking.  In a helpful comment, she showed how the first translators of the Bible are in the category where John assigns Wayne:
    One can also see the odd functional translation in the LXX. Moses was described as saying

    ἐγὼ δὲ ἄλογός εἰμι
    ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἰσχνόφωνός εἰμι

    Is there perhaps a cultural reason why this metaphor was not translated?  Perhaps there are times when strangeness does indicate that the metaphor should be abandoned.
    Notice how Suzanne is allowing that that functional clarity in these translation examples may include "strangeness" even when the translators decide that an unusual "metaphor should be abandoned."  There's not the absolute binary that John might force the translation into, either one way or the other.

    What her examples show is how the Greek translations of Exodus 6:12 and Exodus 6:30 do not convey (ערל שפתים) -- the strange embodied female-male Hebrew metaphor of "lips"-"un-circumcised."  Instead, the Jewish translators use differently-strange but clear Hellene.  They first use (ἄ - λογός), which is literally something like "lacking"-"word" in 6:12.  And, in 6:30, they use the un-common Greek compound (ἰσχνό - φωνός), which is literally something like "meager"-"sound" for the Hebrew phrase.  The Greek much more clearly represents the problem Moses is trying to convey to God in protest:  he feels he lacks the words to go back into Egypt and to make his political argument; he is concerned that he will sound only meager in the courts of Pharaoh.  Suzanne has translated these Greek phrases as "un wordy (wild and irrational)" and "weakvoiced (stammering)," which give us a bit of the range of metaphorical extensions in the Greek.  The phrases are rare, strange, but clear in the LXX.  (The latter phrase is not in the NT, and that former phrase is only thrice used, uncommonly, in the NT, but not as some sort of Greek biblish; rather as just rather technical Platonic Greek - as in Acts 25:27, Peter 2:12, and Jude 1:10).

    The Greek or Hellene strangeness was clearer and maybe more acceptable to the Greek readers of the Alexandrian empire.  The Hebrew metaphor was strange among the Greek colonizers.  But it was strange among the religious Jews worldwide only because of the idea of "lips" being "circumcised."  It's one thing for a Jewish male to be circumcised.  But his lips?  Naomi Seidman discusses how normal and natural penis circumcision was but suggests that to extend this to lips is strange and unclear in any context:
    In passages like this one [i.e., Genesis Rabbah 46.1], the rabbis expressed their conviction that circumcision is an improvement over nature, the enhancement of an otherwise imperfect human form.  The circumcised body is not mutilated in removing the foreskin....  Circumcision, then has multiple significations beyond its biblical meaning of a covenant connecting the Jewish people with their God; it is a marker of Jewish affiliation for native Jews and proselytes, an act and symbol of resistance to imperial legislation, the final step toward aesthetic perfection, a bodily representation of Hebrew discourse, the access to Torah that constitutes a barrier for non-Jews and non-males, and perhaps also a sign of linguistic talent (remembering the biblical diagnosis of Moses' influent speech as "uncircumcised lips").
    The above is from page 89 of Naomi Seidman's book, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation.  What she is saying that some rabbis have said actually bears repeating:  "circumcision is an improvement over nature," but it's an improvement that inherently separates Jewish males from "non-Jews and non-males."  What she's suggesting that Moses might have said is that "uncircumcised lips" is a personal problem that is to be "diagnosed," an individual affliction that separates him from performing the political discourse that he's been called to as a Jewish male circumcised.  Having lips circumcised, metaphorically, could be a critical improvement for this man of the Hebrews.

    It's not too much of a stretch, metaphorically, to see this as a gendered problem.  The "lips" are often in the Hebrew scriptures associated with women.  For example, here is the start of Alter's note for his translation of Proverbs 5:3 (with his italics and his bold font):
    the stranger-woman's lips drip honey.  The sensual ripeness of the alliteration in the Hebrew nofet titofna siftey zarah has a nearly identical counterpart in Song of Songs 4:11.  In the translation, "lips drip" is a gesture toward this cluster of sound. 

    And here Suzanne calls "the lips" (absent from the Sefer Yetsira, perhaps a "masculinist text") "feminine imagery." She says that Julia Smith's English translation of the "story of the tower" of Babel does bring this imagery across.  However, Suzanne cautions us to note:
    While lip in Hebrew is one common way to talk about language, along with tongue, it does not usually appear in English. The lip came to represent the feminine, receptivity and passivity.
    In other words, the masculinist way of considering the feminine is to categorize it as a lack, an absence from the necessary message, as having not so much productivity but receptivity and as not engaged in activity but actually devolving into passivity.  Is this why the LXX translators chose not to render the Hebrew metaphor used by Moses of himself in Exodus?  Suzanne asks questions, and adds this:
    These are my questions and not my answers. But we do know for sure that the translators of the Septuagint chose to use dynamic equivalence in translation instead of a foreignizing oddness when they felt they needed to. No sign of a circumcision of the lips here.
    Naomi Seidman stops short of offering the possibility that the strange Greek is a gendered dynamic equivalent of the strangely-gendered Hebrew metaphor.  However, she does consider one version of the LXX translator motivations:
    The [Church] Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive channels of God’s [clear] message to the world;
    To turn this around, however:
    in the [contrastive] talmudic account God works to keep certain things [very clear and clearly] between the Jews and himself [i.e., away from the Greek and the Egyptian worlds], not only sanctioning Jewish conspiracy but taking the role of conspirator-in-chief.  In this regard, the talmudic rewriting of the [Christian] patristic Septuagint legend is a trickster text: the [Jewish] translator is a trickster, who in folklore ‘represents the weak, whose wit can at times achieve ambiguous victories against the powers of the strong.’ Not only does the Talmud present the composition of the Septuagint as an elaborate Jewish trick, it also describes the passages in the Hebrew Bible itself as a ‘hidden transcript,’ the private discourse of a minority culture. [page 63]
    Notice how the "Fathers imagine the Jewish translators as passive," and remember how "lip came to represent the feminine, receptivity and passivity."  Could there be something gendered in the Greek translation of Exodus 6?  Or could the act of translation itself be gendered feminin-ish:  clear, and yet foreign and still gendered in a strange way?  Why the lack of the lips for the Greek speaking Moses?  But then again, why "un wordy (wild and irrational)" and "weakvoiced (stammering)"?

    Well, pardon me for suggesting that the LXX translators were resisting using Aristotle's Greek.  His masculinist logic was exactly what he taught Alexander to use, for his ruthless ends.  And so, in Alexandria, in Egypt, the Greek-speaking Jews translating their own scriptures from their own Hebrew, might have wanted to turn things a bit.

    Is this so unlike what Anne Carson reminds us that Aristophanes's women do?  Here's the fuller context of this post's epigraph above:
         It is in large part according to the sounds people make that we judge them sane or insane, male or female, good, evil, trustworthy, depressive, marriageable, moribund, likely or unlikely to make war on us, little better than animals, inspired by God. These judgments happen fast and can be brutal. Aristotle tells us that the highpitched voice of the female is one evidence of her evil disposition, for creatures who are brave or just (like lions, bulls, roosters and the human male) have large deep voices. If you hear a man talking in a gentle or high-pitched voice you know he is a kinaidos (“catamite”).  [See how Aristotle puts this in one of his biological treatises, History of Animals 582a, and in Physiognomics 807a, where he himself has to vocalize nothing, since Aristotle there is a writer to readers, male to other males.]
         The poet Aristophanes put a comic turn on this cliché in his Ekklesiazousai: as the women of Athens are about to infiltrate the Athenian assembly and take over political process, the feminist leader Praxagora reassures her fellow female activists that they have precisely the right kind of voices for this task. Because, as she says, “You know that among the young men the ones who turn out to be terrific talkers are the ones who get fucked a lot.”
         This joke depends on a collapsing together of two different aspects of sound production, quality of voice and use of voice. We will find the ancients continually at pains to associate these two aspects under a general rubric of gender. High vocal pitch goes together with talkativeness to characterize a person who is deviant from or deficient in the masculine ideal of self-control. Women, catamites, eunuchs and androgynes fall into this category. Their sounds are bad to hear and make men uncomfortable. Just how uncomfortable may be measured by the lengths to which Aristotle [writing On the Generation of Animals 787b-788] is willing to go in accounting for the gender of sound physiognomically; he ends up ascribing the lower pitch of the male voice to the tension placed on a man’s vocal chords by his testicles functioning as loom weights.
    Is it better to translate strange metaphor for the same strange metaphor (maintaining "un-circumcised lips") in both the Hebrew and the Greek?  Or is there an-other purpose behind translating one strange gendered metaphor for a different one?  In the world of Aristotle's masculinist binary logic, rhetoric for males only, doesn't "un wordy (wild and irrational)" and "weakvoiced (stammering)" turn his cliché?


    2.  reading the biblical proverb, and its translation

    Now we turn to Proverbs 14:3.

    בְּֽפִי־֭אֱוִיל חֹ֣טֶר גַּאֲוָ֑ה וְשִׂפְתֵ֥י חֲ֝כָמִ֗ים תִּשְׁמוּרֵֽם׃

    ἐκ στόματος ἀφρόνων βακτηρία ὕβρεως χείλη δὲ σοφῶν φυλάσσει αὐτούς

    "In the mouth of the dolt is a rod of pride, but the lips of the wise will guard them." - Robert Alter (from the Hebrew and Greek)

    "In the mouth of the foolish one a rod of pride; and the lips of the wise shall watch them." - Julia Smith (from only the Hebrew)

    "Out of the mouth of fools comes a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise preserve them." - Lancelot Brenton (from only the Greek)

    It's striking here is how seemingly literal the Greek translation of the Hebrew is.  Are the Hebrew metaphors strange?  Gendered?  Are the Greek metaphors also both equally strange and gendered?


    but do note how Aristotle would read this.  He would get the allusions to women although he'd not want to concede that they may be either rhetorically saavy or politically wise.  Maybe females could be sophistic.  But as speakers, especially as political speakers, they'd be useless.

    In his Athenian Constitution, he prohibits women from the judicial and the legislative processes.  Only the men can have rods, which some English translators have rendered "canes," "staff," or "staves."  The word he chooses is the one the LXX translators have chosen for the "dolt" in Proverbs 14:3; in the Athenian Constitution, Aristotle describes the male-only instrument for procedures:
    The courts [in Athens are to] have ten entrances, one for each tribe, twenty rooms, two for each tribe, in which courts are allotted to jurors [who are men, not women], a hundred small boxes, ten for each tribe, and other boxes into which the tickets of the jurymen drawn by lot are thrown, and two urns. Staves [βακτηρίαι] are placed at each entrance, as many as there are jurymen, and acorns to the same number as the staves [βακτηρίαις] are thrown into the urn, and on the acorns are written the letters of the alphabet, starting with the eleventh, lambda, as many as the courts that are going to be filled. [63.2, trans. by H. Rackham]
    Aristotle would not have thought of Aristophanes's play as funny in the least.  Here's a bit where the lead woman is encouraging another woman to pretend to be a man of the court, to trick the court's audience, while the audience of the play is in on the trick:
    Praxagora:  Quick then [disguised woman], take the chaplet; the time's running short. Try to speak worthily, let your language be truly manly, and lean on your staff [βακτηρίᾳ] with dignity. [line 150, trans. Eugene O'Neill]
    So Aristotle would only allow only men who speak in politics to have the "rod," the staff, βακτηρίᾳ.  But he would think in terms of lips [χείλη] and open mouths [στόματος] when he categorized women, who were to be wives, to bear babies.  Here's from his gynecological writings:
    It is a sign of conception in women when the place is dry immediately after intercourse. If the lips of the orifice [τὰ χείλη ᾖ τοῦ στόματος, literatlly "the lips of the mouth"] be smooth conception is difficult, for the matter slips off; and if they be thick it is also difficult. But if on digital examination the lips feel somewhat rough and adherent, and if they be likewise thin, then the chances are in favour of conception. Accordingly, if conception be desired, we must bring the parts into such a condition as we have just described; but if on the contrary we want to avoid conception then we must bring about a contrary disposition. [Hist. of An., 583a, trans., D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson]
    If Aristotle or Alexander or any Athenian male trained in good Greek were to read the LXX Proverbs 14:3, then immediately they would read (or mis-read) it as strange, as gendered, but as a reversal of the Aristotelian logical belief that females are inherently lesser than males, that women are not to engage in rhetoric or politics, and that women are just tricky like the sophists but not at all wise.  The Hebrew proverb in Hebraic Hellene actually mirrors the Hebrew feminine metaphors, but it takes them forward into political dimensions as well.

    Is it just either one sort of translation or the other?
     one of those “translations committed above all to reproducing the wording and register of the original, translating metaphors with metaphors, and sounding strange wherever the thought and language of the source text is strange relative to our cultural matrix.”     /  ?
    OR one of those “translations committed to clarity and naturalness of expression”?
    Well, not exactly.  Doesn't Proverbs 14:3 in Greek turn the constructs of the imperial Greek males and the royal Egyptian men all around?  Is it the ones with the rods who are wise?  The rods for males only?  Or are the rods jammed in their proud mouths?  Hasn't protection, rather, come from the lips that are wise?  What a funny wise turn, resisting the binary, from the feminine Hebrew to the feminine Hellene.