Which language(s) will we readers read when we read Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain?
Is it standard American English as we construct that language socially? For example, isn’t it English in the standard variety in America that we’re reading when we read this excerpt?
What language, then, are we reading on the page before that brief excerpt? Here it is:
As we read might it be the case that the novelist has more than one language and is herself using all of her voices. It could be that she has us her readers reading her translanguaging as well. If so, do we sense that she’s clearly demarcating her languages on purpose? Do we feel that somehow one language is superior to another or that “sub standard” ought to enter our minds in the uses of language in the novel?
At Language Log, linguist blogger Mark Liberman writes a quick post in which he starts in with a clip “[f]rom Susan Rice’s interview today with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC.”
The clip is to show what he describes merely as “an interesting example of emphatic multiple negation:”
I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.
Susan Rice’s language may be more fully described as translanguaging. Ofelia García and her colleagues describe that this way in their article, “Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics“:
Translanguaging is the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages.
Susan Rice is deploying a full repertoire of linguistic skills.
In this very context, she is speaking political standard American English and personal person-centered African American English.
Oftentimes, these have to be segregated. In the history of the US, unfortunately, and in the present, just as unfortunately, these two languages must be kept apart, as different, as unequal. And so the speaker and the audience are taught to believe that one language is better than than the other and/or that different contexts demand that the two be spoken separately. For example, in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the white children Jem and Scout call out their black housekeeper Calpurnia for using different languages in different places; and the three together denigrate “colored-folk’s talk” as not “talkin’ right”:
But June Jordan might take exception to this sort of segregation. And when talking of what she calls Standard English and what she calls Black English, June Jordan gives examples of the latter as characterized by “person-centered values” through “the delivery of voice.”
She speaks of translating between the two and of the consequences to punctuate the “person-centered” characteristics:
You cannot “translate” instances of Standard English preoccupied with abstraction or with nothing/nobody evidently alive, into Black English. That would warp the language into uses antithetical to the guiding perspective of its community of users. Rather you must first change those Standard English sentences, themselves, into ideas consistent with the person-centered assumptions of Black English.
Notice her own translanguaging. She uses “nothing/nobody” as a Black English part of her essay also written in Standard English.
When we read her essay, we also see how the characteristics of Black English she enumerates include features much richer than simply “emphatic multiple negation”:
8. In general, if you wish to say something really positive [using Black English], try to formulate the idea using emphatic negative structure.
S.E.: He’s fabulous.
B.E.: He bad.
9. Use double or triple negatives for dramatic emphasis.
S.E.: Tina Turner sings out of this world.
B.E.: Ain nobody sing like Tina
She has already explained the sense of Black English as person-centered, as less abstract than Standard American English must be:
Our language devolves from a culture that abhors all abstraction, or anything tending to obscure or delete the fact of the human being who is here and now/the truth of the person who is speaking or listening. Consequently, there is no passive voice construction possible in Black English. For example, you cannot say, “Black English is being eliminated.” You must say, instead, “White people eliminating Black English.” The assumption of the presence of life governs all of Black English. Therefore, overwhelmingly, all action takes place in the language of the present indicative. And every sentence assumes the living and active participation of at least two human beings, the speaker and the listener.
And the Black English title of her essay is a tribute. It’s a tribute to a person whom she describes in her essay. It’s “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future of Willie Jordan.” The “nobody” in this much-Standard American English essay translanguages into the personal.
When Susan Rice speaks to emphasize, then, she is translanguaging. She’s emphasizing, in Standard-English Black-English, how very respectful and how very personal she must be in her duties as a public servant, the 24th United States National Security Advisor of the US:
I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.
The day before I posted “Ben Carson v Frederick Douglass: when slaves are immigrants,” there were many already making much of some many more siding with Dr. Carson and his repeated stubborn assessment of slaves chained in the dark and dank holds of ships crossing the Atlantic as immigrants. For the Washington Post, for example, one Eugene Volokh, an immigrant himself from Ukraine to the United States when a seven-year-old accompanied by his parents, was quick to name those whose words in print and in speech echoed and mirrored those of Dr. Carson, namely Lolita K. Buckner Inniss and Rhonda V. Magee and Geoffrey Heeren and Martin W. Burke and even President Obama.
So let us then add to the voice of the slave named Frederick Douglass the voice of another. But let this addition be in no way some attempt to balance the scales or to make equal the sides. The voice is that of a mere poetess, if many tried her to deny her that name and title.
Here (after a note about her perhaps, an excerpt of a letter by Phillis Wheatley):
Here (a quite different note on Phillis Wheatley, an excerpt from a poem/essay by June Jordan):
If we were to think, to think critically, it could be a little more apparent that what Dr. Carson (and those many others with him) is doing is not unlike what the writer of The Gentleman Magazine is doing. Theirs is an epistemological doing. Their doing is a colonizing construct, an imperial imperative.
“The only way to promote their civilization, to make them serviceble in their generation, and happy in themselves,” the writer writes, “is to introduce them into a state of activity and industry.” And Dr. Carson says, likewise, that they “worked even longer, even harder, for less, [in order to…] pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
The writer goes on: “Yet most of these try have been compelled by necessity to leave the place of their nativity.” And so does Dr. Carson: each of them can be called “an involuntary immigrant.”
Their doing is an influencing by names: “Instead of SLAVES, let the Negroes be called ASSISTANT-PLANTERS.” And instead of “slaves” per se, “other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even harder.”
The undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Frederick Douglass clearly show how the legal category of “immigrant” used by colonists “neither described nor applied to slaves… for the slave [not being fully human like the immigrant is] could not owe service or make a contract.”
But the undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Phillis Wheatley clearly shows by her poetry and through her letters how hurtful it is for any human whether ancient Egyptian or modern British colonist to value others for their economic benefit as commodities.
As the 45th President’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson gave his first public address in which he said slaves were immigrants.
At the 18-minute mark he says:
There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.
Later on twitter he makes as clear as possible his intent and his definition, repeating what he told the public through his subsequent conversation with a caller on the Armstrong Williams Show:
You can be an involuntary immigrant.
And there is history to his interpretation and his definition. There is Carson’s own history of making and repeating his interpretation of slaves as immigrants. And there is the history of this interpretation against what Frederick Douglass said in a speech much earlier, in which Douglass reminds listeners that slaves were not considered by their owners to be human beings much less immigrant human beings.
In 1997, Dr. Ben Carson gave his first address at the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of President Bill Clinton. There he introduced the notion that African slaves and European immigrants were the same. He repeated portions of this speech in one of his books published a couple of years later:
Then to help his new bid to run for president of the United States, he writes a new book in which he repeats his interpretation. This time he gets very personal, defending his self-identification with Europe “as an African American” by identifying European immigrants, again, with African slaves:
To Carson, the equation of European immigrants and African slaves is a very personal thing indeed. When the first African American president invited him back to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, Dr. Carson took the opportunity to slight President Obama and his policies that would somehow make African Americans not in the family with European Americans. Dr. Carson there gives a parable, insinuating that the Democratic president uses government to favor African Americans over European Americans unfairly:
Here’s a parable: A family falls on hard times. Dad loses his job or is demoted to part time work. He has 5 children. He comes to the 5 children, he says we’re going to have to reduce your allowance. Well, they’re not happy about it but – he says, except for John and Susan. They’re, they’re special. They get to keep their allowance. In fact, we’ll give them more. How do you think that’s going to go down? Not too well. Same thing happens. Enough said.
But, Dr. Carson would attempt to remind, African Americans are equal with European Americans when all are given equal education (and not when government treats them unequally); African slaves, after all, were also hard working immigrants just like hard working European immigrants. Again Carson makes this personal:
Two hundred years ago when slavery was going on it was illegal to educate a slave, particularly to teach them to read. Why do you think that was? Because when you educate a man, you liberate a man. And there I was as a youngster placing myself in the same situation that a horrible institution did because I wasn’t taking advantage of the education.
Carson is saying that African slaves who took advantage of their opportunities were just like European immigrants who took advantage of their opportunities. To fail to live and to thrive is simply merely a failure to seize the hard work of hard work and the hard work of self education. Now perhaps Carson was thinking of Frederick Douglass, an African slave, who was taught to read by a European American owner of him and other African slaves.
What Carson fails to acknowledge, however, is that Africans were not considered by Europeans to be human beings. Europeans considered Africans whom they enslaved to be property, to be beasts, like cattle.
Douglass lived through this ontological segregation, this white European view that his black African body was the body not of another human being but of a mere animal.
And so Frederick Douglass gave a different sort of speech than the sort that Ben Carson has given. On October 22, 1883, Douglass said this:
In the dark days of slavery, this Court, on all occasions, gave the greatest importance to intention as a guide to interpretation. The object and intention of the law, it was said, must prevail. Everything in favor of slavery and against the Negro was settled by this object and intention. The Constitution was construed according to its intention. We were over and over again referred to what the framers meant, and plain language was sacrificed that the so affirmed intention of these framers might be positively asserted. When we said in behalf of the Negro that the Constitution of the United States was intended to establish justice and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we were told that the words said so but that that was obviously not its intention; that it was intended to apply only to white people, and that the intention must govern.
When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that the immigration or importation of such persons as any of the States may see fit to admit shall not be prohibited, and the friends of liberty declared that that provision of the Constitution did not describe the slave-trade, they were told [by white European American owners of slaves] that while its language applied not to slaves, but to persons, still the object and intention of that clause of the Constitution was plainly to protect the slave-trade, and that that intention was the law. When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due,” we [black African Americans] insisted that it [that is, the notion of an immigrant] neither described nor applied to slaves; that it applied only to persons owing service and labor; that slaves did not and could not owe service and labor; that this clause of the Constitution said nothing of slaves or the masters of slaves; that it was silent as to Slave States or free States; that it was simply a provision to enforce a contract; to discharge an obligation between two persons capable of making a contract, and not to force any man into slavery, for the slave [not being a human being] could not owe service or make a contract.
This week American President Trump quoted John 15:13 in his first address in the US Capitol. He was regarding, as a martyr, “a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens, [who] died as he lived, a warrior, and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”
In 2008 and again in 2015 an Irish monk of Worth Abbey, West Sussex, Father Martin McGee also quoted John 15:13 in his books Christian Martyrs for a Muslim People and Dialogue of the Heart: Christian-Muslim Stories of Encounter. He was regarding individuals too: “In 1996 on the night of March 26/27 seven monks from the Trappist monastery of Tibhirine, 96km south of Algiers, were kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists, and 56 days later, on May 21, all of them were beheaded.”
Already, we may see the contrast of interpretations by Pres. Trump and by Fr. McGee. If you will look more closely with me here, I think you’ll agree that the contrast is very stark. The President, quoting the words of Jesus, begins to sound like the very ones he intends “to demolish and destroy” and “to extinguish from our planet.” The Father, quoting the words of Jesus, begins to sound much different, as he intends “[t]o engage in… interreligious dialogue [that] requires ‘an open and neighbourly spirit,’ a willingness in other words to recognise that whatever our religious differences we all share a common humanity.”
So let’s look more closely together.
President Trump called out “radical Islamic terrorism” and particularly “this vile enemy” namely “ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians and men and women and children of all faiths and all beliefs.” As Commander-in-Chief he authorized a military operation against this enemy, and he sent Ryan Owen into harms way. Here’s his recognition:
We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero –- battling against terrorism and securing our nation. I just spoke to our great General Mattis, just now, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you. Thank you. And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record [for the length of a standing ovation during my speech]. For as the Bible teaches us [in John 15:13], there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom –- and we will never forget Ryan.
Father McGee, in contrast, wrote of heroes who sent themselves as non-Muslims to learn from and to serve Muslims. One of these non-Muslims was protected from extremists by a Muslim, who gave up his own life in the act of protection. In turn, this non-Muslim and his cohort stayed on living among Muslim sisters and brothers at risk to their own lives. Here are two pages from the respective two books:
In summary, we have encountered two different uses of John 15:13.
President Trump, on the on hand, quotes the words of Jesus, and adds to them, to say that his military effort to “to extinguish [his] vile from our planet” necessitated his sending “a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens” into harm’s way, and that his death due to that enemy’s defense of itself, nonetheless, made him “part of a highly successful raid,” and that for this he is in heaven, happy at America’s applause, the recognition of a national martyr.
Father McGee, on the other hand, quotes the words of Jesus, in order to ask with Father Christian the rhetorical question, “Do we [non-Muslims attacked by terrorists] love them [e.g. the Algerian Muslims also attacked by terrorists] enough?” And he suggests, “as Western society struggles to find a way of responding to the fanatical wing of Islam,” that extreme, obsessive militarized attempts at demolishing, destroying, and extinguishing extremists from the planet bears less fruit than does Muslims and Christians laying down their lives for each other in learning from one another and in giving to one another.
For further research on what might motivate the contrastive views of John 15:13 of Donald Trump and of Father McGee respectively (and some other not unrelated items):
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s view of women in military with men (implying that the national military martyrs must be men, who may be survived by their widows) “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?“
The GOP 2016 platform on women in combat: “We reiterate our support for both the advancement of women in the military and their exemption from direct ground combat units and infantry battalions.“
The ISIS view of women in combat: “They are not allowed to fight [even if those recruited from the West for marriage to the male fighters since they] are obviously attracted [both] to a medieval ideology, and at the same time,… some attitudes [that] are very Western.“
Father McGee’s view that Muslims sometimes practice what Jesus taught before non-Muslims do: “There were also deeply personal reasons why [Father] Christian should be willing, if necessary, to lay down his life for his friends. While on national service in Algeria in 1959, during the Algerian war of independence, he had befriended a local policeman, Mohammed, a father of 10 and a devout Muslim. One day an attempt was made on Christian’s life. Luckily Mohammed managed to shield him and save his life. The following day, however, his friend was found assassinated by the roadside. This incident left an indelible mark on Christian. He could never forget that an Algerian Muslim friend had sacrificed his life for him.”
Father McGee’s view that extremely religious people are not the only ones to practice what Jesus taught and neither are extremely nationalistic persons either: “This insight is not just shared by Christians but has been lived out by many ordinary Tunisians who courageously risked their lives to save innocent tourists from the IS inspired gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui. One man, Ben Aisha, put it succinctly: ‘You have to understand, I don’t save them [guests] because they are foreigners, but because we are all the same. A Tunisian, an English, an Italian, we have the same body, we have the same soul, we have the same dreams, we are the same people.’“
An American’s recent view on self-denying actions of love: “I am touched by this expression of interfaith – and human – solidarity, and awed by the selflessness of the Muslim community. In return, I am asking more of myself and more of my own [non-Muslim] faith community.“
Since the Federal Government is at work to make America great again for transphobic citizens this week, it seemed good to review how some Bible readers are likely to respond.
The majority of Bible readers self-identifying as Southern Baptists have for nearly two years been as clear as they can be publicly on their stance against how “some public school systems are allowing access to bathrooms and locker rooms according to a child’s self-perception of gender and not according to their biological sex.” And so in their own self-perception they have read Jesus reading Genesis as employing a strict and precise binary of “male / female” so that they may, then, as a society of Bible readers, resolve to “affirm God’s original design to create two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6).”
To be absolutely clear, Southern Baptists once upon a time also regarded a strict and precise binary of “master / slave,” invoking the Bible to point to God’s design to create two distinct and complementary classes of human economics; and they’ve now re-read Genesis and Matthew more carefully, in order to re-verse themselves and to apologize:
- for, “Our relationship to African-Americans… hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention [by white male masters of slaves]”
- and for “our Southern Baptist forbears [having] defended the right to own slaves, and either [having] participated in, [having] supported, or [having] acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery”
- and for their having “failed, in many cases, to support, and [for having] in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans”
- and for their “Racism [that] has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation”
- and for “Many of our [white] congregations [who] have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership.”
The majority of Southern Baptists have made these declarations, assuming the binary.
Not all white-privileged, white cis-gender male Southern Baptists have always read the Bible in such a strict and precise binary sort of way. Some have read Genesis, for example, the way Jesus might have read it, with regard to human sexuality and human economic classes. And so I want to go to one of these, one Clarence Jordan. He earned a Ph.D. in Koine Greek just to translate the gospels of Jesus into Southern American English.
Here’s Dr. Jordan’s translation from Matthew 19:
And here’s another cis-gender white male Greek scholar translating the same passage similarly. This is from Dr. Richmond Lattimore, who grew up speaking Chinese in China coincidentally and who, while translating the Gospels, became Roman Catholic; here’s from his Matthew 19:
Now, if we go back to the original, to Matthew’s gospel, we read him going back to the original, Moses’s first of five books of the Bible. And Matthew is recording the speech of Jesus, including the quotation of the Hebrew Bible, in Greek. In all likelihood, Jesus was speaking neither Koine Greek nor the old Hebrew of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, he speaks not only of “male/female” but also of this other group of individuals, who, like him, are not ever in a complementary male-over-female marriage. Likely he called them by this phrase:
An important way to read this Greek word for the Semitic phrase of Jesus is with the help of Esther, the Septuagint translation, as follows:
τῷ εὐνούχῳ τοῦ βασιλέως τῷ φύλακι τῶν γυναικῶν
A function of the castrated boys was to be the cis-gender male King’s protectors of his harem of girls and women.
Jesus’s discussion of marriage from the beginning between those grown up being boys and those grown up being girls is followed by a discussion of a different sort of sexual human. And that further discussion describes the choices made about their biological sex parts from the beginning, and imposed by others, and elected by themselves. There is not just the birth sex male, in marriage, over the birth sex female. There is also gender determined, by the birth process, or by others, or by the individual.
The sex “normal” is categorically challenged by Jesus here. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Lattimore are looking not at a purely Semitic phrase סָרִיס. Rather they both consider the translational Greek phrase εὐνοῦχοι. They read this, in this context, not as some sort of “guard” of the “bed” of the King, where he has his orgiastic hetero-sexual sex with virgins and other kept females. Rather, they read what others transliterate as “eunuch” to be those rendered to be without sexual capacity or those who are made sex-less men. This certainly is one way to emphasize the whole discussion of Jesus in Matthew in Greek translation. Since it is Greek, we may find ourselves tending toward the binarying, given how much about sex – in the binary mode – male Greek ancients such as Aristotle were prone to write. But then we would be forgetting how other Greeks, such as Sappho and Aspasia, talked about and wrote about and represented gendering in vastly more dimensioned ways.
Now without a whole lot of trouble some can read the discussion of Jesus here as applying to getting beyond this problem of narrow and precise binarying. And without too much inference there can be applications made to transgender human beings as well as to cis gender ones.
And so I just want to offer this now as a tweetable response to what the President is now doing to so many by fiat. Here is a reasonable translation of Matthew 19, if you can accept it:
Some aren’t biologically “boys” at birth; some are re-sexed by others; some transgender for heaven’s sake. Accept it if you can.Matthew19:12
Over the holidays, I had a conversation with a good friend who, when asked to call his senators to support something, adamantly refused. I’m not political, he declared. I vote in every election, but that’s the extent of it. I expect my representatives to represent me, and if they don’t, I’ll vote against them next time.
I was certainly taken aback, but I was especially struck by that assertion that he was “not political”. Because I don’t think what I have now just begun to do is “politics.” I think it is what the founders envisioned when they designed our governmental system. It’s not “politics” — it’s “active citizenship.”
When I was growing up, it was reasonably common to hear Americans referred to in public discourse as citizens. As I got older, somehow this changed — now we are most commonly referred to as consumers or voters (except during campaign speeches when some of us become working families and the rest of us are disappeared).
When I was growing up, I learned the theory of how our government was supposed to work, with elected representatives who were responsible to their constituents. But I never had a civics class per se, and I never had anything like a practicum in active citizenship — so I knew the theory, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how the process actually worked, the nitty-gritty implementation details.
As an adult, occasionally there would be an issue in the news that I cared about, and so I would call my senator or representative, and what I wanted to do was talk to my elected official and argue the merits of my case. But I never got to talk to them – it was staffers who picked up the phone, and I generally got the impression that all they were doing was counting “for” or “against” on the issue in question. It was demoralizing and frustrating. I felt as if I’d called once, so I had had a chance to express my opinion on this issue and I shouldn’t call again.
In the weeks following the election, many people voiced their desire to do something but they weren’t sure what or how, and delightfully, a number of experienced people, including some who presently or formerly worked as staffers, have stepped up to teach us how this active citizenship thing actually works. They have been kind and patient, consistently encouraging people to ask even baby questions, and I am profoundly grateful to them.
So here are some baby lessons that this newly active citizen has learned in the last few weeks:
– It’s okay to call more than once. It’s okay to call every day. This is called keeping the pressure on. They’ll know we’re calling every day because this is an issue that is important to us.
– It’s better to call than to send email. It’s better to call during office hours when you can talk to a staffer than to leave a voicemail. But it’s better to do any of those things than to do none of them. Faxes and letters also work. The important thing is to do what you can.
– If you call and can’t get through because the line is busy, be encouraged! This means that you are not alone: plenty of other active citizens are also calling to express their opinions.
– But also, be persistent: keep calling until you get through. I used to become discouraged and give up after 2 or 3 tries, or figure that the lines were flooded now and I should try again later, or even that I didn’t have to call because obviously everyone else was. Now, I think of it like those contests that radio stations have sometimes, where the Nth caller who can answer the question wins tickets to a concert or so forth. Did you ever enter those? Then you know the key is to hang up and dial again if you get a busy signal, over and over, to try to get through. And it’s easier now than it was when I was a teen – now we have a redial button!
– The national level isn’t the only thing that matters. You’re a citizen of your state and of your city or county, too, and your voice is proportionately louder at the local level because each elected official represents fewer constituents than at the national level. Politicians typically get their start on the local level, so you want to encourage the ones you approve of.
There are plenty more things I don’t know yet, but I’m learning, and I’m determined to stay active even after (please God) things become less dire. Because I’m not political — I’m a citizen.
Tips of the Hat to:
- Whoever it was that wrote something like “the era of armchair citizenship is over” somewhere that I could read it in December but have been unable to find it since for proper citation.
- John Senior for his essay at Political Theology presenting a transactional model of politics with voting as the last step in the process (and contrasting it to a liturgical model, which is the thing that made me read the essay).
- @celeste_pewter as one of those patient, kind, and helpful persons who is sorting out for us what the process is and what are the most important things to do today.
- Doug M, for saying the thing that prompted this essay.
And high-fives to all the other people out there who, like me, are trying to do this for the first time in their lives. I see you, trying to figure things out, asking questions, making calls, writing letters, gradually getting the hang of it. Doing it even though you’re scared. Doing it because you’re scared. I see you. Rock on!
According to translator Bérengère Viennot, the highly non-linear speeches of Trump, particularly his ad-libbed and extemporaneous remarks present particular challenges to translation.
“Trump is not easy to translate, first of all, because, most of the time, when he speaks he seems not to know quite where he’s going. In my essay, I took the example of the interview he gave to The New York Times. He seems to hang onto a word in the question, or to a word that pops into his mind, repeating it over and over again. He shapes his thought around it and, sometimes, succeeds in giving part of an answer — often the same answer: namely, that he won the election. Trump seems to go from point A (the question) to point B (himself, most of the time) with no real logic. It’s as if he had thematic clouds in his head that he would pick from with no need of a logical thread to link them.”
“Je ne traduis pas des mots, je traduis des pensées. Des situations, des personnalités, des moments. Et j’emballe tout cela dans un vocabulaire, un champ sémantique qui en français devra créer chez le lecteur la même impression, la même réflexion que celles qui ont été suscitées chez le lecteur d’origine. Dans le cas d’Obama, c’était plutôt simple: la pensée est claire, le message précis et maîtrisé, le vocabulaire châtié, la syntaxe impeccable. Paradoxalement, la pensée de Trump qui est beaucoup plus creuse et qui tourne souvent autour du même sujet (dans le cas de cette interview, sa victoire), est bien plus compliquée à rendre. En cassant les codes du discours, en utilisant un vocabulaire limité et une syntaxe hachée et décousue, cet homme politique (si si, on est bien obligé de lui accorder ce statut maintenant) force le traducteur, il ME force, à réviser, à réduire et à appauvrir mon champ sémantique de travail.”
Those of us Americans who have read and taught To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee sense the deep irony in the calls to ban the book from schools. And never more was that irony accentuated than by the fact that the President of the United States encouraged us each this week and in the coming weeks to learn from it. I’ll just stop this blog post, then, with two quotations:
I’m not disputing this is great literature. But there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that, and right now we are a nation divided as it is.
— Marie Rothstein-Williams, whose son is mixed race and who does not address the fact that one of the boys in the classroom in the novel calls his new teacher, Miss Caroline, a “sl*t.”
But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.
We have to pay attention and listen.
— Barack Hussein Obama, who is a mixed race man and is self identifying here in the context of literature on race and reading in America and whose quotation of Scout Finch’s father comes at the point in the book where the sources of her learning to read and write are revealed
If you are in Washington DC, I would highly recommend your taking a couple of hours to visit “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.” This is the “National Museum of Women in the Arts” which “brings recognition to the achievements of women artists of all periods and nationalities by exhibiting, preserving, acquiring, and researching art by women and by teaching the public about their accomplishments.”
Of course you can visit the website here. And let me share with you two of the works that most struck me as I toured the museum. These are a sculpture by Sarah Bernhardt in the permanent collection and a painting by Cecily Brown in the special exhibit, “No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection“:
My apologies for poor quality photos. Hopefully this encourages all the more to see the works with your own eyes without mediation.
My own commentary is that these two artists are re-mediating the dominant male artist male art. The art historian notes on the wall, for instance, tip us off to the fact that Bernhardt is riffing off of Michelangelo’s work (which happens to be one I’ve seen and appreciate very much). Rather than a holy high church piece of an adult mother grieving the death of an adult child, the Son of God, however, this other sculpture is from a woman artist ambiguously drawing attention to a horrific experience of a different mother, with the artist herself as witness, encouraging our empathy.
And Brown paints a woman nude. This seems cliche perhaps, when a male artist does this. And yet this female is lying stomach down, not exposed, her genitals not available to the male gaze at all. Then look closer, at the other “objects” in the painting. Are they birds? Angels? Look again. What if they are the male anatomy? Look again. Why do works of art have to take the human sexual form and draw attention that way? Look again. See the effect, the sensation of being awkward when female when gazed upon as an object?
And that made me wish to compare ἀποστροφή in Oedipus at Colonus (1473) with LXX Genesis (3:16) in my own poetic formatting and in translation here: apostrophe-by-sophocles-lxxtranslators-rendered-by-j-k-gayle.
There’s lots to consider here, and I believe there’s considerable lexical and semantic overlap between the two very short Greek passages, don’t you?
September 28, 2016
We desired for there to be a stable and standard text that would serve the reading, memorizing, preaching, and liturgical needs of Christians worldwide from one generation to another.
We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake. We apologize for this and for any concern this has caused for readers of the ESV, and we want to explain what we now believe to be the way forward. Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.
In the sufficiency of God’s grace,
Lane T. Dennis, PhD
President and CEO
After reading a few posts here and elsewhere, and especially after reading About That Desire over at Women In Theology, I decided to check the Vulgate to see how the preposition in question was translated there. Whatever its flaws, the Vulgate was extremely influential in the Western church for about a thousand years, so I often check it out for an early Catholic perspective.
Given that the discussion of the Hebrew focused on “desire for or towards” as the dominant and traditional English translation; and given the prevalence in Catholic thought that things are ordered towards certain teloses (ends, purposes), I fully expected to see a nice little ad in the Vulgate.
Not only didn’t I find ad, I didn’t find desire!
Here’s the Latin, per the Blue Letter Bible:
mulieri quoque dixit multiplicabo aerumnas tuas
et conceptus tuos in dolore paries filios
et sub viri potestate eris
et ipse dominabitur tui
To the woman he said,
I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth,
and in sorrow you will bear children
and under the power of the man you will be
and he will have dominion over you
There’s no desire in this passage. None. There’s no reference to the woman’s agency at all, in fact: she is the passive object, not the active subject, of the last half of the verse.
As our coblogger Suzanne wrote:
The Vulgate was basically Jerome and Paula’s translation from the Hebrew, made while they were living in Bethlehem in the 4th century with the aid of local Jewish scholars which they were able to smuggle into their convent from time to time. Jerome made a point of saying that it was translated from the Hebrew in contrast to the Old Latin versions, which were translations of the Septuagint.
So what happened to the desire?
Did Jerome, or Paula, censor it from their translation? It was unusual enough that Jerome was collaborating with a woman. Perhaps they feared that a translation that openly discussed sexual desire would have pressed the bounds of propriety too far.
Is it hidden, implicit, in that “under his power”? Are we meant to read that as if the woman’s sexual desire for the man is so strong that it controls her, so that she has sex again and again despite the pain of pregnancy and childbirth? (And if so, is it possible there’s more than a little fantasy, wish fulfillment, self-aggrandizement going on here on Jerome’s part here?)
Was it omitted from the text, along with the woman’s agency, to double down on the patriarchy? As Kurk has written, Jerome certainly seems to have had sexist views of at least some women (unsurprisingly for a man of his time and place).
Or might “desire” actually have been absent from the Hebrew text they were using? Jerome’s Vulgate was translated from the Hebrew text several centuries before the Masoretic Text, which is the source text for most modern translations of the Hebrew Bible, was written down. The second half of the verse has power and dominion, potestate and dominabitur, in a parallel construction typical of the Hebrew scriptures: that’s awfully suggestive.
What do you think?
Well before the ESV Permanent text announcement and the blogging around the peculiarity of the new and now-final rendering of Genesis 3:16, Suzanne McCarthy had a few things to say.
Rather, she asked a few things and engaged in research and conversation. For example, in one reply to one commenter, she said:
My main purpose in this post, is to ask if Pagnini and so on used a translation that was pejorative to women.
This post about which there was the discussion is the one here, called Rashi, Pagnini, Zwingli and a woman’s desire.
When she wrote that, she had already puzzled a good bit of the questions. And a couple of years earlier she showed that when writing, Pagnini and Bushnell.
She clearly did not agree with Catherine “Kate” Bushnell on everything, and especially not simply because she also was a woman. And yet Suzanne did list her with other notable scholars in this post she entitled, Female Biblical Scholars Meme.
These years, when she was engaging others in talk about Genesis 3:16 and how the Hebrew had been translated, Suzanne was acutely aware how male translation bias, particularly how “complementarian” man-superiority, entered into Bible translations such as the ESV. Here is the entire concise post that gets right to this, with links to others, including to two of us who would become with her BLT co-bloggers right here (and if you follow the comments afterwards you’ll find a third eventual BLT co-blogger in the mix):
No women Bible scholars?Apparently, according to the ESV Study Bible, there are no women qualified to write commentary on the Bible. This came up in a comment on my post a couple of days ago. Marg has taken up this point in her own post. I also found her story of moving towards biblical equality to be very compelling – and amusing. Thank you, Marg.
What do you think Suzanne would make of how the Hebrew grammar and syntax goes now, and how it forever like that goes on, for Genesis 3:16?
White supremacy reigned and the other side of white supremacy is black inferiority. We were taught, as reasonably well bred white Southerners, to behave decently, but the whole racial etiquette that governed the way black and white interacted with each other, all of those customs and folk ways that were part of the Jim Crow South I absorbed. And the word I use in the book [The Making of a Racist] is osmosis. A lot of it, you didn’t have to be told. You just looked as a child growing up…. So you just absorb this stuff, and you’re told over and over again, this is best for both races.
— Charles Dew to Diane Rehm and Isabel Wilkerson (and to my white American mother-in-law, who grew up in Florida when he did)
Not long ago on a road trip with my mother-in-law we listened to historian Charles Dew.
We then began sharing in the car with one another our own experiences as children, growing up.
Hers and those of Charles Dew overlapped substantially, she also being born in the 1930s and of having her first memories and her first interactions as supposedly superior white people with supposedly inferior black people. Her account, she confessed, is also a recollection of the making of a racist.
Here is my own confession, a recollection of the making of a racist, a sexist, and a colonialist.
My very first memories are during the Jim Crow era in a little city where my white father was the pastor of the large Southern Baptist church. It was 1964. While my white mother was in the hospital giving birth to my younger sibling and then not long after for an operation, elsewhere, at home my elder sibling and I were being raised by “the help,” our own “Calpurnia,” our “maid,” whom we called by her first name, Nancy. When my maternal grandparents visited, my grandfather called her by the n-word. They also brought me and my elder sibling presents, “Indian headdresses.” When my father’s adopted parents visited, they also brought presents, “Indian headdresses,” and my memories of these are very specific because the feathers and size and colors of these gifts born to me were different.
There are three things I’d like to add about these my earliest memories. First I do not recall ever hearing Nancy’s family name until half a century later, when my father was dying of cancer. In the final stages his brain was riddled with tumors which for some strange reason helped him recollect memories he’d never spoken to us about before. Apparently there was something going on in his diseased brain that allowed him to remember more clearly than ever with great specificity far back in his life. And at the same time there was a hospice nurse in his home, whom he was referring to both by first and last name and calling her his “first African American friend.” So I thought it would be a good time to see if he recalled Nancy’s last name. My mother didn’t remember Nancy’s family or family name, and I confirmed that by asking her first. Without hesitation, my father knew exactly what Nancy’s full name is. For all of those fifty years of my life our family had never spoken this name, and until that day I had never heard the family name of my other mother, Nancy. Second I do have a really good memory and can recall difference, such as my grandfather’s use of the N-word and the various different colors and types of “Indian headdresses” (if I have no clue as to why “Indian” tokens made good gifts for grandchildren). Third these earliest memories of mine on this planet were in Corsicana, a place in Texas USA, named after the colony Corsica, the birthplace of the father of the privileged colonist who gave the town its name. The legacy of my first memories, then, is a heritage of a superior race, by superior fathers, white men from superior places.
One year after these earliest memories of mine, my Southern Baptist father took his wife and three children with him to South Vietnam. My earliest memories there are of living in a French colonial home on a hill where my new surrogate mother was nicknamed Chị Năm. I never met her family nor did I learn her family name or her given name until my father was dying of cancer, tumors there ostensibly helping him to recall her name. My Vietnamese mother would take me with her to the open air market in Đà Lạt (a former resort city for the French colonists). There in the market she was subject to ridicule for her privilege of working for the American missionary. And I was called her little Amer-Asian, her bastard, half-breed son, which implied an adulterous relationship or worse some sort of sexual subjugation of hers to my father. The term was Mỹ lai. It literally means Beautiful mongrel. The first part, Mỹ, happens to be the Vietnamese word for America. The two parts together also happen to be the Vietnamese name for the place where the American massacre of innocents in the war took place, Mỹ Lai, the village of the “Mỹ Lai Massacre.” Well, that atrocity was not to occur for another three years. When I heard this term for the first time, and when it referred to me, my white face was being pinched pink by the women in the market mocking Chị Năm. My skin was a different color from theirs. My body sex was a different sex from theirs. My father’s country was a different place from theirs, closer in class and in religion to the French fathers who had been there before us.
What I absorbed in my earliest memories were separations of race, of sex, of place all of which placed me and mine as superior to them and theirs. These experiences were the makings of a racist, sexist, colonialist.