Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bad Words like "Good News"

My wife and our daughters had an encounter with a street preacher downtown Fort Worth, Texas USA the other night.  As they approach him, she said to our eldest, the most outspoken, "Now, just don't engage."  And yet the guy was good at his craft.  He rattled a mother by accusing her children.  "You probably think you're Christians, that you're going to heaven, that you follow Jesus.  But you little girls just follow Jesus around like puppy dogs.  You're all going to hell."  At that, my wife laid into him, telling him he had no idea who her daughters were let alone who Jesus is.  They got into an argument about whether he was judging and whether he was, as he was claiming, like Moses in the dessert bringing good news to his people though some died eternally refusing to listen and following idols.  And my daughter, the most outspoken, made her public profession of faith as a missile back at the guy:  "Isn't 'good news' about love?  I'd rather go to Hell than to follow your version of Jesus."

Words are weird.  I grew up hearing the words "Tin Lành" in South Vietnam, where my American parents were Southern Baptist missionaries during the war.  There was a war for words there too.  In Vietnamese the word tin means "news" and lành mean "good."  And the phrase "tin lành" means "gospel" or "evangelist" or "Protestant" and actually is the label for a large (not Baptist) Protestant denomination.  "Good news," huh?

I've been thinking about these things a lot.  Rachel Held Evans has a series of posts on "good news," trying to define it and trying to get others to have a concensus about it while enjoying the diversity of it.  Wendy McCaig, similiarly, has a post "Good News?" and a post "What Label Do You Wear?"  This makes me want to write a blog post on the Hebrew (and Greek) origins of the phrase Christians and evangelical Christians, even street preachers, have appropriated exclusively for themselves, so concerned about its definition and the Jesus ostensibly so associated with the phrase.

In the mean time, I've appreciated Bob McDonald's thoughts about words and their translation.  Look here how he uses the metaphors "guest" and "host" languages!  This is a rather non-Western and a particularly Chinese sort of metaphor, if you ask Lydia H. Liu.  Look how Bob talks about those who think they are "far from God or Gospel."  If I had time to blog more (I don't), I'd say more just how sexist the street preacher was to these women (my wife and my daughters) whom he accosted with his gospel.  If I had time, I might also say how sexist I think the words niña and mallorquina are in the sonnet that Willis Barnstone (also a Bible translator) translated rather simply and all-too-benignly as "the pupil" and "the Mallorca whore."  I think they mean something like "little girl" and "shiksa slut."  Do I know Spanish and English and Yiddish and the author of the sonnet?  We all thought the bad words were merely those other ones, didn't we?  The excremental ones.  But when "good news" hurts women and men and boys and girls, aren't these also bad words?  Can't we talk about these words and their translation and our appropriations of them and exclusions by them a little more?


Rod said...


You had me at "an encounter with a street preacher downtown Fort Worth, Texas USA";been there, done that.

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

J. K. Gayle, I regret not jumping in on Barnstone. I re-read the Barnstone post several times. I wanted to note how ‘translation’ problems feel to me to occur also in English to English receptions. Say my in-English reception of Nussbaum in her English prose wherein I’m looking for examples of English prose authors using ancient ones to move from theory to practice in domains of justice, quality of life, gender. Weird, maybe irrational. I suddenly feared posting here because of the accidental mix-up I had with Suzanne in my use of offensive language in a gender context. I hesitated to bring in Nussbaum’s account (“Love’s Knowledge”) of the genealogy of love through the birth canal in a shit-covered process. Where everyone gets splattered. I refused to publish my thoughts for a second reason, namely, because I next remembered Nussbaum’s go-around with Judith Butler – calling Butler the queen of parody (nearly worthless for praxis) and how Nussbaum inflamed some feminists who defended Butler against Nussbaum on parody. More feces flying. All in English. And I next feared that readers here might dislike Nussbaum or a Nussbaum reference to shitty birth canals analogized to a genealogy of love. Overall, I shut up. And minded how little I know. Probably a good idea.

Now comes this theme again – how in English to ‘translate’ the English speakeristic street preacher in Texas into one’s own local English. When the spoken English words by the preacher suffer opposite meanings in hearings. And when language is used in the genealogy of a street preacher using English good news to give birth (genealogy) to a shit-slinging version of ‘good news.’ More Nussbaum. I’m eagerly searching now (with some readers on my blog) for a lost and forgotten name of a not-famous linguist (Areti? Or Salvarote? – cannot find) who argued that the lexical meanings of words (and lexicons too) grow in number because of the emotional temperatures that we associate with words (do you know?)? And words which evoke bodily functions awaken bodily responses deep in us – neural correlates – of compassion or of disgust, that is, with cognitive interpretations (maybe ‘translations’ too) of words over-ridden by guttural felt-meanings? Alas, my point is that these English to English ‘translations’ are difficult too.

Finally, to note here how Venuti too admits that technical translation (in contrast to literary translation) is where the real money is!

Filthy lucre!


Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

More specifically –

Narrative Emotions

Nussbaum – “At its core is the claim that literary form and human content are inseparable; that forms themselves express a content and that the content cannot be prized loose, without change, from the form in which it is expressed. ... The critical part of the project is especially (or one might say, obsessively) interested in a certain sort of practical conception: one that, taking its bearing from Aristotle's norm of practical ‘perception,’ emphasizes the human importance of a fine-tuned responsiveness to complex particular cases and of a willingness to see them as particular and irreducible to general rules. This conception urges a flexible immersion in the ‘adventure’ of living and a process of practical choice based upon perception and improvisation. It insists, as well, that the correct perception of a practical situation requires emotional as well as intellectual activity, that the emotions have a valuable informational role to play within the ethical life as forms of recognition (Love’s Knowledge, “Narrative Emotions,” p. 289-90).

What particular emotions? What adventure? What love?

“.. the filthiness of conception, the fact that the pregnant married woman is by her act wrapped in shit, and that the new baby, even before it acts or feels is born into the world through the shit. His entire life is lived, from then on, in shameful proximity to vagina, anus, and balls” (298).

Nussbaum parades and then critiques Beckett’s ‘genealogy of love.’ Nussbaum’s overlays too rich – literary, psychotherapy, religious teachings in a social context, emotions as almost but not quite universalizable (for communicative content), and then, Beckett’s Malloy asking, “what business has innocence here?”

That – “what business has innocence here?” – strikes me as a translator’s question too. Innocence as in the so-called presumed innocent invisibility of dynamic translators? Or other translator rules presuming similar translator innocence? How close to the – birth canal process of translation – do we really want to get? I picked oranges with Mexican migrant workers in Southern California. To live with them. To feel life beyond strange and foreign sounding Mex-Latin words. Where migrants practiced – but couldn’t afford to buy the white campy book, How to Take a Shit in the Woods. God that Caesar Chavez would return to life (sans Synanon) – or his translator proxy of the white newspaper editor giving words to rebellion in, The Milagro Beanfield War.

How close to the birth canal of translation do we really want to get?


J. K. Gayle said...

Sorry you've had this experience too.

Thanks for noting what gets lost also in "English to English" "translation."

In the context of Martha Nussbaum's comparisons between emotions and feelings and emotions and beliefs and literary narrative and real lived stories, I think your comparisons between Samuel Beckett's Malloy's disgusting confusions about used and objectified bodies of women (including his own mother) may well apply to translation as a metaphor. And then you bring in your own real life experience, requiring translation of Spanish and English. That's quite a lot to think through, to have formed beliefs about, and to feel emotions in. Seems like you're thinking about these things a lot.

Back to Barnstone, I think he does a wonderful job understanding the Spanish sonnets and those particularly of Francisco de Quevedo, whose poem I posted. Quevedo is a monstruo de la naturaleza (a so called monster of nature), says Barnstone, who quotes the poet saying of himself: "I have been bad, along many roads, and now having left off being bad I am not good, since I have given up the badness of the tired man, and not of the repentant."

Would you like to hear my translation of Quevedo's sonnet? I'm sure I can be badder (worse) than Barnstone. And doesn't that, ironically, when following the writer's intentions supposedly, mean I the translator can be better (better)?

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

Yes, please do the translation. Love to see it. For just one example, I noticed, “del la mal vestida.” Wondering about multiple plays on, “mal.” As both poorly (say in poverty?) and malicious-seductively? Merged in 'badly?' Maybe reading too much in? I don’t know how to do it technically. But I did wonder if “disheveled” does it justice?

J. K. Gayle said...

Okay, Jim. Thanks for asking. I'm just in the earliest stages of learning espanol. But I have good teachers! And I noticed some of what you've noticed. Mostly, I want to bring out the fact that this reads like a sexist, misogynist, gynophobic poem. It's either Francisco de Quevedo making fun of his rivals (i.e., Luis de Góngora, Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, or Juan Pérez de Montalbán), or it's just him poking fun with high forms but low content. In either case, or it could be both Quevedo is using his own objectivization of women, his own belittling of women, to either attack or to be cleverly vulgar (i.e., by writing a sonnet of this sort and get away with it) or both. Given the subject matter and how he was so homophobic too, it may be that he was attacking Góngora or trying to out him for his homosexuality. The other thing to notice is how Quevedo plays up his Jewish heritage when talking down to whomever the sonnet is for. So that's my warning. This rendering of mine is "worse" than Barnstone's:

It Has An Eye, Your Butt, There’s Evidence

It has an eye, your butt, there’s evidence,
That ring of keys, your sun, a red-orbed sky,
That little girl, the apple of this eye,
Attests to turds so dark and hot and dense.

The sleep that’s in this eye it gets intense
Those crusties pushing lashes, pulling by
To force her wink at yellow flowing pie
Each time you push to make her feel and wince.

The heavy metal voice, your farts, oh, Oy!
No better than that no-chic shiksa slut?
Then I would neither try nor grant her joy.

For poop is poop, your pee is pee, so what;
Here’s just the truth and an affair a lie,
I do not treasure toilet with blind gut.

Que tiene ojo de culo es evidente

Que tiene ojo de culo es evidente,
y manojo de Ilaves, tu sol rojo,
y que tiene por niña en aquel ojo
atestado mojón duro y caliente.

Tendrá legañas necesariamente
la pestaña erizada como abrojo,
y guiñará con lo amarillo y flojo
todas las veces que a pujar se siente.

¿Tendrá mejor metal de voz su pedo
que el de la mal vestida mallorquina?
Ni lo quiero probar ni lo concedo.

La mierda es mierda, y su orina, orina;
sólo que ésta es verdad y esotra enredo,
y estánme encareciendo la letrina.

Jim ~ Random Arrow said...

Oh, much worse! Ala more effective. You must send this to Willis Barnstone – must – and the background notes.

Is there a middle passive/active in – ¿Tendrá – where the heavy metal voices cannot stand their own stench?

Much worse! And congratulations ...