Many of my college-level ESL students will comment on how America has no smell, is pretty much rid of smells in public. Body odors of residents of the USA? Not really. Distinctive aromas in homes they visit? Not so much. I’ve heard this comment from individuals who’ve lived in and visited various states of the US. Smells are extremes, or so we Americans think. But take a whiff again. Could it be that “no smell” is really something extreme?
I think about this a lot, and thought about it a great deal, when reading through the works of Aristotle. He cautioned or rather extremely warned his students against extremes, and in language against hyperbole. Is there something in America, a melting pot where English is the main and primary language, that borrows from Aristotle? Wasn’t Aristotle preparing his student Alexander for Politics? Hadn’t he himself been preparing for Plato’s and Socrates’s pan-Hellenic Republic? The whiffs of sects and of sophistry and of epic mythic histories were to be erased? The smells of extremes?
Yesterday, I re-read something by Naomi Seidman that got me thinking about this sort of erasure all over again. She’s written a book examining Jewish translation practices, and particularly Jewish Bible renderings, and especially these in comparison and contrast to many Christian practices. It’s called Faithful Renderings. As you read it, you begin to wonder “faithful” to what, to whom?
Here’s a bit:
… in recommending that translation “go to the Jews for the Hebrew grammar and to the [Christian] theologians for the sense,” Martin Luther separated the (Jewish) body of the Hebrew letter from its (Christian) spirit and laid the groundwork for a Protestant approach to the Hebrew Bible unmediated either by the Jews or by Rome. The invisibility of the translator, from this perspective, is no historical accident–it is a politically and religiously overdetermined erasure. The absence of the Jew, as both privileged and suspect interpreter of Hebrew sources, not only is necessary for the Christian appropriation and German domestication of the Bible, it is also paradoxically central to the development of modern translation in the West. (page 33)
I’m quick to think of Martin Luther’s background of scholarship in Aristotle, in Aristotelianism, which he tries to distance himself from. But then I’m interested in how Seidman traces influences of the “erasure” view and practice from the LXX (from which the word “Holocaust” is derived, and she focuses much on Jewish “Holocaust” literature in translation as a kind of sacred writing like the Bible in translation) to Augustine to Eugene Nida. Let me not, then, try to pin “all” on Aristotle.
What I’m trying to get at is there may be something smelly about translations of the Bible that get at just the “communication” or just the “meanings” but “ignore” or “erase” the Hebrew language (or the Hebrew Aramaic or Hebrew Greek for that matter). Sometimes deodorant smells, really stinks, say some of the individuals I talk with.