Saturday, September 3, 2011

Part 2, Dynamic Unequivalence: Nida v. Seidman and Zogbo

This is part 2 of a series now. Part 1 is here.

This part will be heavier, without photos of people. That's on purpose. The focus this time is neither on the reductive binary by which Eugene Nida constructs his theory of dynamic equivalence nor on Eunice Pike’s much more robust theory and practice that deconstructs his not-“symbols”-but-“communication-code” notion. This part of the series will have no (A) pictures or would-be-male-only-whistle-talk or cloth-put-against-which-is-rubber or signs or fluff or structures or mis-leading formal forms but is rather, in Functional Style, (B) only on meaning behind those dangerous shadows of the wall, on that other-wise rhetorical effect on you now, here and now, in your own language and your own culture and your own history, and principally on the message now uncoded for you and put naturally -- as you might say it were I field tested your sense -- so that you don't have to ask questions or to remember somebody else or even to engage the Other. This message is Eugene Nida's. This is the focus of this part. Please be reassured that you need not be distracted by the actual literal words he said and wrote or even how he wrote it or its original context since this blog post has translated them dynamically functionally for you in your very own heart language. Call this the Good News Blog-post-part in the same tribe and family with the Good News Bible.

This second part steps back from Nida’s essential distinction between forms and communication to find him essentializing, putting the Other in a box, and engaging in Western Christian ethnocentricism.

This second part continues the discussion of Bible translator Eugene Nida as his reductive Bible translation theory opposed others'.

Two others we will discuss are Naomi Seidman and Lynell Marchese Zogbo. I am particularly interested in how Seidman sees that "translation," by Nida's approach, "becomes the very erasure of time and difference from the scene of writing," and by "erasure" Seidman means the elimination of what is Jewish in the writing of the Bible. Likewise, I'm curious about the way Zogbo writes differently about Bible translation than Nida has, she seeming to go out of the way almost not to make his mistake of disregard for the Bible of the Jews. Seidman is Jewish. Zogbo is Christian, like Nida, and she herself even theorizes and practices translation of the Bible by Nida's dynamic equivalence translation theory. In other words, if we look at this discussion from an-other's perspective, then Nida has committed that ethnocentric error of his in the name of his Western science. What’s more, Seidman has been offended by that error, and Zogbo has sought to recover from it.

Naomi Seidman writes the following in her book, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Afterlives of the Bible). It should be fairly clear how Nida comes across to her:
In Western translation discourse, narrative -- as history or as literature -- has taken a secondary role to theory. There may be reasons for this that inhere in the conceptualization of translation in Western thought. Because translation is conceived as the production of a linguistic equivalent that will substitute for the "original" text, and because the dominant method for rendering such apparent equivalents has been the production of a text that "reads like the original," the very figure of the translator, as a historical figure exercising creative agency, has been an encumbrance. As Lawrence Venuti argues in The Translator's Invisibility, the figure of the translator has been elided by the normative logic of translation. And it is not only the translator who has been forgotten in Western translation. History, too, as the temporal horizon within which translations emerge and acquire their meaning, is collapsed and neutralized in a discourse that imagines translation as the "recovery" of an original meaning, or, in Eugene Nida's influential approach, as a technique that aims at restaging the effect of the source text on its first readers. Translation, in these discourses, becomes the very erasure of time and difference from the scene of writing. Translation narrative, read not as transparent truth but rather as ideologically marked "emplotment," is the privileged means by which I will attempt to read the movement of history on the stage of Jewish-Christian translation; my father's story is the first of the narratives I will discuss. (pages 2-3)
Hopefully you can see that, although Nida is not the central character in Seidman’s narrative, he is nonetheless at the center of what she posits as forgetful Western translation. And so whom is forgotten? Isn’t it the Jews?

And ironically Nida’s theory, constructed to bring the message of the Bible to all, actually neglects that the Bible is culturally Jewish. The Nida message you should be able to read in your own heart language is this: “[D]ifferences between cultures cause many more severe complications for the [Dynamic Equivalence] translator than do differences in language structure.” So let me translate this for you. Let me tell you what this means without your getting distracted by the direct quotation marks or the original context or the original cultural pattern here. What Nida means is that, by his theory, it’s much easier to dispose of linguistic symbols that get in the way of the communication code than it is to erase dissimilarities between your own culture and that of the Other. If you are Christian, or potentially Christian, the language symbols of Hebrew or Hebraic Hellene or Judaic Aramaic can be more easily discounted than can the Jewish history or the Culture, perhaps, cultures of the Jews be disregarded. But, nonetheless, and however, one must try, for the sake of the message of the Bible, which is Christian, not Jewish.

Seidman notices how Nida wrote the entry called "Bible translation" for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. She notes in particular what he says, in part, and how contrastive it is to the Jewish cultural patterns for the translator, the history, the literature, and the very discourse of the Bible. She pays attention to his message but also to how he encodes his message. His communiqué and also his symbols are important to her. She notes that this way:
... Eugene Nida, the premier linguist and translation consultant of both the American and United Bible Societies, boldly begins his entry with the sentence "The Bible is the holy book of Christianity" and continues by celebrating Bible translating as “arguably the greatest undertaking in interlingual communication in the history of the world.” By contrast, Michael Alpert's entry for Torah translation suggests that translation among Jewish communities historically had a different function than in non-Jewish communities: “Generally speaking, translations of the Torah have traditionally been read not as texts in their own right but rather as aides to comprehension. . . . Jewish scriptural study is informed less by translation than by the running commentaries of the mediaeval scholars.”
Nevertheless, Jews could not and did not avoid translation; nor did they always see it as merely adjunct to the Hebrew text. Alpert himself writes that “the first historical report of translation is in the Bible itself,” in the phrase in Nehemiah 8:8 that says that the Jewish exiles who returned from Babylon in the sixth century BCE “read from the book of the law of God clearly, made its sense plain and gave instruction in what was read (NEB); he continues by citing the midrashic reading of this verse, “That is to say, they read the Torah with translation and commentary.” Whether or not we date Jewish translation as early as Alpert and the midrash do, Frederick Greenspahn points out that Jewish biblical translation certainly began even before the Bible had been completed and canonized – the Greek Septuagint, the first extant Bible translation (originally only the Pentateuch), is dated to the third century BCE. (pages 14-15)
Seidman has much more to say about Nida pe se. Let us just notice here, nonetheless, how she’s interested in highlighting the record of the histories of Jewish translation of the Bible as a Jewish canon. In contrast, Nida is not. And she notices.

For the wide, not-just-missionary-Bible-translator audience of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, Nida states that the significance of Bible translation has little to do with the Jews. Just before he writes his short “History of Bible translation” as part of his encyclopedia entry, he says, “The significance of Bible translating can be readily sensed when we consider that at least one book of the Scriptures has been translated and published in 2009 languages and dialects, spoken by a minimum of 97 per cent of the world’s population” (page 23). Then Nida sketches the history:

The history of Bible translation may be divided into three principal periods: the Greco-Roman (200 BC to AD 700), the Reformation (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), and the modern period which covers primarily the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or what are often spoken of as ‘the missionary centuries’.

Nida takes each of his principal periods in turn, and writes a paragraph on each (two paragraphs on the missionary centuries in which he mentions his own organization’s work), but in each, his history elides the Jews and hints that if ever one constructs a history of Bible translation that includes the Jews, then it should progress away from them to everyone else. The closest Nida gets to acknowledging Jewishness in this particularly history he’s written for a wider audience is when he starts his history. “The first translation,” he begins with his paragraph on the Greco-Roman period, “was the Greek Septuagint Version of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, made primarily in the second century BC. This translation had an enormous influence on matters of canon, translation principles, and vocabulary employed in Christian Scriptures” (page 23, my emphasis).

Notice how Nida fails to mention Jews at all, though he does acknowledge that it was “the Hebrew Bible” translation that, as a first translation, became an influence on “Christian Scriptures.” Nida mentions none of the Jewish controversy surrounding the legend of the Septuagint. Nor does he discuss (as Seidman and Alpert do) the story, the Hebrew Bible’s own textual and midrashic histories of “the Jewish exiles who returned from Babylon in the sixth century BCE” and who produced a translation long before “the Greek Septuagint Version of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.”

Now we turn to Lynell Zogbo. When the editors of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies decided it was time for a new edition, they invited Zogbo to write the entry on Bible translation. Zogbo entitles her entry “Bible, Jewish and Christian.” She starts in this way:

“The Bible, from the Greek biblia, meaning ‘books’, is the sacred text of both Jews and Christians.”

Her section on “History of Bible translation” within her entry begins this way:
The beginnings of Bible translation can be traced back to an incident recounted in the book of Nehemiah (8:5-8) many centuries before the birth of Christ. After living for several decades in exile in Babylon, many Jews no longer spoke or even understood Hebrew. Thus, when the exiles returned to Jerusalem, and Ezra called the people together to listen to the reading of the Law of Moses, the Levite priests had to translate the meaning of the sacred texts into Aramaic so that people could understand. Since that time, Jews and Christians have continued to emphasize the importance of the Scriptures being understood by all believers.

The earliest known written translation of the Bible is the Septuagint, a translation from Hebrew into Greek of the Old Testament texts, carried out primarily for Greek-speaking Jews living in the Graeco-Roman diaspora. . . . Although this translation and its interpretations of the Hebrew text have been criticized since its inception, . . . the Septuagint retains considerable influence on questions of interpretation and textual matters, and its study continues to shed light on the principles of translation used in the ancient world. However, in the second century CD, Jewish scholars – Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus – produced new translations and/ or revised versions of the Septuagint, . . . . The Targum, literally ‘translation’, is a kind of running paraphrase of and commentary on the Hebrew text in Aramaic, originating from before the time of Christ but still read publicly in synagogues around the world today.
Notice the Jewish centrality in the Bible and in the translation of the Bible and in its history that Zogbo highlights in her entry for the second edition Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. This in contrast to Nida’s entry. It’s almost as if Zogbo talked with Seidman, and listened.

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