Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What the new book by David Bellos offers (and promises)

It's rare to find a book on translation that gets at many different issues.  Some of my favorite books on the topic are these:

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, (2nd ed), edited by Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha

The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice, by Willis Barnstone

Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Afterlives of the Bible), by Naomi Seidman

Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission, by Sherry Simon

After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, by George Steiner

The Translation Studies Reader, (2nd ed), by Lawrence Venuti

Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior by Kenneth L. Pike

And now

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything, by David Bellos

At BLT, I've written a review of the Bellos book. He kindly replied there to acknowledge he'd given Olympe de Gouges the short shrift and to promise that he was correcting that in the French edition due out in January and in the English paperback version to become available eventually.

Also at BLT, quoting Bellos, I've added to the series on Eugene Nida that I began here, and here, here, and here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who's your daddy? Aristotle or Moses? And why not ask who your mother is?

Harold Bloom's name has come up three times now at the blog BLT.  The first time, we found Bloom praising the King James Version of the Hebrew Bible especially and praising Herbert Marks for being the foremost literary critic of the KJV.  The second time, we discovered Bloom meditating on the many places English translators in translating have bettered the Hebrew Bible and have improved on the aesthetics of the Greek of the New Testament.  And most recently, we saw Bloom recognizing how Willis Barnstone, in particular, has with unparalleled eloquence restored the New Testament as a Jewish text.

Now, I want to consider Bloom's line of thinking.  How he has much to say about your thinking and mine!  Especially when we start reading a text, the Bible for example, we show our tendencies to follow others in their thinking.  Our epistemologies, whether we know it or not, derive from and descend down from and are developed by others, Bloom argues. 

Now, immediately, you will want to be defensive.  I feel the same way.  Likewise, Thomas Ferrell seems defensive.  But Ferrell is also grateful, is open to what Bloom has to say.  Ferrell is very different from Bloom; Ferrell is a historian but a rhetoric scholar not a literary critic, like Bloom.  Ferrell is Catholic; Bloom Jewish.  And Ferrell, about Bloom, says this:
The Testimony of Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom is a [USA] national treasure to be cherished. I have always benefited from reading his books, even when I have found particular points to disagree with. In my discussion below, my disagreements with particular points that Bloom makes are highlighted. Despite my explicit disagreements, I am enormously thankful to Professor Bloom for having the courage of his convictions to say the very things with which I happen to disagree. If he had not said these things, then I could not disagree with him about them. For this reason, I am abundantly grateful to him for stimulating me to think about the very points with which I disagree. He has served as an excellent foil against which I have developed my own thinking about certain matters.

Now, I hope you see what I'm trying to do.  Whether you are Catholic or Jewish or a-religious, I'm trying to get you, and me, to consider what Bloom sees.  You cannot read Bloom, moreover, without taking what he says personally.  Bloom gets us looking at who our influences are, and how those influences may have influenced us.  And how they might influence us later today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year.  Another important question is who these influences are:  "Who's your daddy? Aristotle or Moses or Yahweh or Jesus?" And why not ask who your mother is?  Bloom says when you read the Hebrew Bible you might want to ask.

So, without further ado, here's Harold Bloom again:

"Whoever you are, you identify necessarily the origins of your self more with Augustine, Descartes, and John Locke, or indeed with Montaigne and Shakespeare, than you do with Yahweh and Jesus. That is only another way of saying that Socrates and Plato, rather than Jesus, have formed you, however ignorant you may be of Plato. The Hebrew Bible dominated seventeenth-century Protestantism, but four centuries later our technological and mercantile society is far more the child of Aristotle than of Moses."
--Harold Bloom, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, 2005, page 146

"Frequently we forget one reason why the Hebrew Bible is so difficult for us: our only way of thinking comes to us from the ancient Greeks, and not from the Hebrews. No scholar has been able to work through a persuasive comparison of Greek thinking and Hebrew psychologizing, if only because the two modes themselves seem irreconcilable."
--Harold Bloom, Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present, 1991, page 27

"[T]he first author of the Hebrew Bible, the figure named the Yahwist or J by nineteenth biblical scholarship (the "J" from the German spelling of the Hebrew Yahweh, or Jehovah in English, the result of a onetime spelling error) . . ., like Homer, a person or persons lost in the recesses of time, appears to have lived in or near Jerusalem some three thousand years ago, well before Homer either lived or was invented. Just who the primary J was, we are likely never to know. I speculate, on purely internal and subjective literary grounds, that J may well have been a woman at King Solomon's court, a place of high culture, considerable religious skepticism, and much psychological sophistication."
--Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, 1994, page 4

Friday, October 7, 2011

2 Feminist Critiques: Systemic Attention Paid to "Men vs. Women" Research, Statistics, and Sexist Conclusions

Here are some "conclusions from [USA] national data ... supported by research at ... the College of St. Benedict, and at Saint John's University":
  • Women underestimate their abilities and express lower levels of self-confidence than their abilities suggest. Men overestimate their abilities and express higher levels of confidence than their abilities warrant. This difference arrives with them as first-year students and leaves with them as seniors.
  • Men in college spend significantly more time in leisure activities (especially, for example, video-game play and athletic pursuits) than do women. College women are hyper-scheduled participants in co-curricular activities.
  • Women have higher GPA's than do men—when they enter and leave college—even when the sexes show equivalent aptitude on standardized tests. 
Here are some conclusions from William J. Bennett, new author of The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood and former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush:
  • For the first time in history, women are better educated, more ambitious and arguably more successful than men.
  • The Founding Fathers believed, and the evidence still shows, that industriousness, marriage and religion are a very important basis for male empowerment and achievement.
  • If you don’t believe the numbers, just ask young women about men today. You will find them talking about prolonged adolescence and men who refuse to grow up.
Bennett warrants his claims here with these numbers:
  • In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two.
  • In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% were not working, the highest ever recorded.
  • Men are also less religious than ever before. According to Gallup polling, 39% of men reported attending church regularly in 2010, compared to 47% of women.
Now how should we attend to these statistics? Is higher education making no impact on the divide between women and men, as the data suggest? Or is education actually giving women advantage over men in every way, as Bennett argues?

MaryAnn Baenninger, President of the College of St. Benedict, speaks out to critique the former. (She is well aware of the American Council on Education report that "The percentage of [US college] presidents who were women more than doubled, from 10 percent in 1986 to 23 percent of the total in 2006, but women's progress has slowed in recent years" so that in 2011 "about 25 percent of college presidents are women.") She says, "Clearly, our conclusions about gender must be nuanced, and we would be wise to suspend assumptions about whether women or men are doing better or worse." See her wonderful wisdom here.

And Theophrastus, a blogger and "a professor at a US university with strong interests in applied issues in linguistics," speaks out to critique Bennett. Theophrastus says, "Bill Bennett’s article claims to be about the emasculation of American men and the need to 'empower' them. But clearly, his ultimate motivation has to do more with the domestication of American women." See the brilliant critique here at BLT.