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Rediscovering “a” Textuality

April 18, 2015

Yesterday morning I read “a” chapter of “a” book of “a” gospel in “a” few versions of “the” Bible. One of my own children had just experienced a profound tragedy the day before, and she was grieving. And so was I. Upon awaking the next day, I was using the occasion of solitude to connect in private somehow with others who’d experienced deep loss and nearly unimaginable disappointment. I turned to the story of individuals named Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the most familiar of family members and the closest of friends. Of course, you now recognize this from your sitting-in-church days or perhaps your Sunday-school days or from some other likely Christian context as the story found in a”book” called John, in a chapter numbered 11. I read it in Greek first in a set of manuscripts called “SBL Greek New Testament 2010”; next in an English translation called The Restored New Testament where “Miryam came to where Yeshua was” expressing regret for his inaction and where “Yeshua saw her weeping” and others “with her” also weeping and where this protagonist of that “book” then “raged at his own spirit, harrowed himself” and then where “Yeshua wept.” I read it next in the King James Version and again, then, in the Stephanus Textus Receptus 1550.

My wife, by that time, was awake and came and sat with me, and we two together talked and wept. I think I brought up the text. We had read it before together when our daughter was much younger and had received a death sentence of sorts from a team of expert scientists called pediatric oncologists, who informed us in the gravest of terms that they did not know how to cure her or to heal her since the disease in her was so very advanced and presented in ways that was not found in any of the published research or in any textbook.

Yesterday morning we were experiencing new grief and had returned to an old text of grief we had “read” many times before. She also had grown up going to Sunday School. And so my spouse was tolerant of me, as I spouted off the fact that the Greek phrase used for the weeping of the agonized Jesus in this context is expressive of wetness falling from his eyes, of his body giving way to drops of tears. I remarked how he turned his head, his face, those eyes “up,” skyward, and called out something to someOne else, higher, above while he acknowledged in his comments skyward his dear friends and their family members around. She sighed. It was not really the time to talk of texts. Texts and Greek terms and the book, the βίβλος. We sat a few moments together, in silence. In shared grief.

I tell this personal true story to talk about another day. I got up this morning and after moments in solitude and in reading texts and in turning my head and my face upward, I went back to texts. This time I turned on the computer. There I read what Bob MacDonald had written. A friendly note recalling many moments of interacting as people, as friends, through the internet. And I read this textual comment written by David Ker, noticing he had already been awake:

What’s strikes me this morning reflecting on TBWWTY is that I grew up with the idea that the Bible was a thing. It was Latour’s object. But “The Bible” has almost completely disintegrated for me in the way that I interact with it, how it is consumed. I no longer have “a” Bible. I no longer even read “a” book from the Bible. The proliferation of translations in our era is part of that. And the new medias which favor distraction. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a negative but it is easy to get caught up in a nostalgia for the days in which the Bible had a more monolithic role in our families, churches and culture at large (speaking as an American, here). So now with the Bible largely an unknown book in American culture, it could potentially be rediscovered as a subversive and revolutionary text.

I read Bob’s and David’s comments after I had read another comment at a different blog I had discovered while looking for the question of whether Yeshua, as in the gospels of the Christian Bible, might have been a third culture kid. Never mind why I was looking for that except I’d heard somebody suggest the day before that the TCK experience shatters textuality and so do the gospels. (TCK refers to “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.”) Maybe I’ll think about that more, and write some about that here. For now, let me repost here a bit of text I found at that other blog. It goes like this:

Although the title of the blog may seem somewhat arbitrary, I assure you that it is not. As it turns out the lived experience of third culture kids (TCKs) immersed in what is supposed to be their society is remarkably similar to that of a woman under a patriarchal society. In both situations it is quickly made clear by those who enforce the rules of conformity that you simply don’t fit. Furthermore any consequences suffered by virtue of your inability or unwillingness to fit (the powers that be do not really care which it is to be honest) are clearly the fruits of your labour. You are deviant.

If you’ve been able to track with me this far, then please know how subjectively I’m almost raging and harrowing and weeping over texts. This may not be your experience. Grief is very individual, my wife told our daughter the day before yesterday as she encouraged her and consoled her, as she wept.

If you’ve been tracking, then you know that friends online, like Bob and like David, for me (and maybe not so much for you, or differently for you perhaps), can be valuable to me. My access to them, and theirs to me and to one another, happens much over texts. We use English although we “talk” by text about other languages when we “converse.” Bob and David speak other languages besides English. And so do I. My point is that our friendship often gets reduced to writing, and to written English of a particular, peculiar sort of text.

If you’ve tracked, you may have gathered (whether you care or not) that my experience is one of a TCK. My parents took me to a war zone that Americans call Vietnam when I was three years old. I grew up there into adolescence until the war ended and they were forced to move our family. We first moved to the United States for a year, and then they went to live on the island of Sumatra and moved me to the island of Java for a few years. I grew up hearing my father preach every Sunday, as an American missionary, in Vietnam. On the big event Sundays, when he would invite US military personnel to church, he would preach in English and ask one of his lay pastors to interpret in Vietnamese. My siblings and I heard and overheard that (bi-lingually), and I’ve written about it here. I didn’t think about that until this morning reading the bit of text that David had written this morning. My old text describing what occurred in my childhood experience goes like this:

Mikhail Epstein (who coins stereotexting) calls this interlation. Missionary kids (like me and my siblings and “cousins”) live with interlation. MKs live without choice among peoples of at least two cultures, and MKs live without any effort at all in mastering two languages at least. MKs live with hints of what’s at stake on both sides for the rhetorical adult choosers of cultures and languages and texts. In the simultaneous translation of a sermon, for instance, the preacher and the interpreter are up to things! Bilingual listeners (like the MKs) get the issue. Call it literal or dynamic equivalence or something else too. What really is most interesting, and most dangerous perhaps, is how adults in the act of translation or in the inevitable practice of interpretation insist on “text” alone, by pretending that pretext, subtext, metatext, and context are lesser if important at all. (The stereotexting deconstructs this pretense. And the deconstruction of the “text-is-everything” pretense transforms – or translates — the speaker, the listener, the reader, the writer, the translator, or the interpreter).

When I first wrote that, I was first beginning to blog. I think I didn’t yet know the term Biblioblogger (i.e., somebody who blogs incessantly about “the” Bible). I certainly at the time did not at all think of myself as one of those. This morning what David wrote got me recalling what I’d written so long ago about what I’d grown up experiencing evening longer ago. And so did Anthea, blogging as a TCK and as a woman. “You are deviant,” she experiences. Her text de-scribes this. Well, I clicked on the link in that text above, the hyperlink over the word interlation. The page, “the” text where the link once pointed to had disappeared.

I found that text, and I’ve retrieved it below, because Mikhail Epstein, who wrote it says in that text some pretty de-script-ive things, I think. And you’ve tracked so far here, I thought you yourself (whatever your experience with text) might appreciate it.

Now, as many do with narrative text, please allow me to conclude a bit here. You have surmised that my little daughter whose experience with the grave disease for which a cure could not be found in the expert texts is alive today. This morning, after a morning in which she experience a young adult grief, she is also very much alive. We have texted and emailed and phoned and wept and prayed. Figuratively and literally, I write to you readers here, to announce that the clouds have begun to part and the sun has begun to shine down on her, on us. We are different places on this planet. And yet we share many experiences.


M I K H A I L    E P S T E I N


The globalization of cultures radically changes the role of languages and translation. It presupposes translingualism, or what Bakhtin called “polyglossia.” “Only polyglossia fully frees consciousness from the tyranny of its own language…” 1

With the spread of multilingual competence, translation will come to serve not as a substitution but as a dialogical counterpart to the original text. Together they will comprise a multidimensional, multilingual, “culturally curved” discourse. Bilingual or multilingual persons have no need of a translation, but they can enjoy an interlation, a contrastive juxtaposition of two or more apparently identical texts running simultaneously in two different languages—for example, a poem of Joseph Brodsky in the Russian original and in English autotranslation. Interlation is a multilingual variation on the same theme, where the roles of “source” and “target” languages are not established or are interchangeable. One language allows the reader to perceive what another language misses or conceals.

Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation. By contrast, interlation increases, indeed doubles the benefits of poetry. In addition to those metaphors that connect words within one language, a new layer of imagery emerges through a metaphorical relationship between languages and provides a surplus (rather than loss) of poetic value.

For instance, Joseph Brodsky’s poem “To Urania” contains the line, “Odinochestvo est’ chelovek v kvardrate”–literally: “Loneliness is a man squared.” Brodsky’s own translation of this line into English reads, “Loneliness cubes a man at random.” It would be irrelevant to ask which of these expressions is more adequate to Brodsky’s poetic thought. They together represent the scope of its metaphoric meaning. A stereo effect is produced, not by Russian or English lines as such but by their figurative relationship. The English “cube” amplifies and strengthens the meanings of the Russian “square,” as a lonely man self-reflects and self-multiplies, growing multidimensional as a compensation for his losses. English “cube” and Russian “square” both serve as metaphors for loneliness, but in addition they are metaphors to each other and thus build up the next level of figurative relationship between languages. Thus bilingualism makes this poem a work of special verbal art that can be called “stereopoetry,” which has more metaphorical layers in it than “monopoetry.”

Stereo effects may be intended by an author or produced in the reading experience–for example, if we take Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography as a stereo text in two languages and three consecutive versions: Conclusive Evidence (1951), Drugie berega (Other Shores) (1954), and Speak, Memory (1967). Nabokov himself empasized that these versions relate not merely as a translation, but as a metamorphosis . “This re-Englishing of a Russian re-vision of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.”2

Born at the crossroads of languages is a new work of stereo prose, which may be characterized in Bakhtin’s words:

[I]n the process of literary creation, languages interanimate each other and objectify precisely that side of one’s own (and of the other’s) language that pertain to its world view, its inner form, the axiologically accentuated system inherent in it.3

Translation as the search for equivalence among languages has dominated the epoch of national cultures and monolinguistic communities, which needed bridges of understanding more than rainbows of cocreativity. In the past, the mixture of languages was called “macaronic” and used mostly as a comic, a parodic, technique. When languages were enclosed within monoethnic cultures, their combination was perceived as artificial — a device. With the globalization of culture and automatization (on the Web) of literal translation between languages, it is untranslatability and non-equivalencies among languages that reach the foreground. A work written in parts, English, some French, and some Russian, can now find an audience able to savor precisely the discrepancies among languages.

More fundamental questions follow on the recognition of stereotextuality. 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?

back to issue one


1 Mikhail Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination , ed. By Michael Holquist, trans. By Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin : University of Texas Press, 1992, p. 61.

2 Vladimir Nabokov, preface to Speak, Memory , pp.12-13.

3 Mikhail Bakhtin. The Dialogic Imagination , p. 62.

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The above is excavated from an archaeological dig, from the following site:

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 18, 2015 10:32 am

    “Her text de-scribes this” – lovely. It’s not, actually, the text alone, it’s the presence into which we may be drawn by the text. It’s the I-Thou, with a voice as of the sound of many waters, and drawing many other voices into its streams. I pay attention to the old texts, but the newer, non-canonical texts, are also lovely. Mind you, there are so many, one can only pay attention selectively to a few of these strands, if water can be said to have strands, and if I can hope to be not stranded. (No man is an island of himself.)

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