Let’s review before we get in our taxi and get carried forward. There is some language to mind (from the previous post):
Jane Stranz finds a machine that’s built to build a bridge and finds it called “le translateur.” Or “the conveyor.” This is very precise, very technical, very important because nobody wants to go forward over a bridge that can’t carry weight.
Willis Barnstone finds other machines, moving vans, that advertise what they are actually for: “for transportation, for metaphor, and … for TRANSLATION [… as with] every motor truck hauling goods from one place to another.” Perhaps the language here is less technical than the language for the machine for bridge builders, but the truck drivers and those who hire them are most grateful for what they’re for.
Sara Newman finds that philosophers and rhetoric scholars and literary types find the language of Aristotle useful. In modern Athens now where the trucks run over bridges made strong, and beyond, these academicians say that “metaphor can refer either to an ‘implied comparison’ or to ‘figurative language’ more braodly construed.”
I just want us to go back to Jane’s language. How did we get carried from translation to metaphor? And what did Aristotle say about translation? And what if he only said things about metaphor? Then how are we going to solve that problem? And who’s our solution for? And is this really like her sisters singing “how do you solve a problem like Maria”? Wasn’t Aristotle more technical than that? Wasn’t he more like the precise engineers who built something carefully (i.e., a “device built specially to build the bridge”) to build something else carefully (i.e., the bridge), two exact somethings to carry people forward, and over, and across? The name is exact: “le translateur.” Or, rather, we have a metaphor for that technical name: “the conveyor.” So now we have two precise names. And whether you’re monolingual French or monolingual English or bilingual either way, then you’ve got either more precision, or less, with two different terms.
Now, I think we’re ready, then, to translate Aristotle, since he’s been so useful to so many already. We already know what his “metaphor” is for, don’t we?
But in 1875, somebody stirred up trouble. One Sir Alexander Grant, writing precisely and technically and clearly on “Aristotle” for the Encyclopædia Britannica caused a problem. Or, perhaps he just admitted a problem that we here in 2010 may admit to, or not. Here’s what Sir Grant said so carefully. Listen: “[T]he problem how to translate Aristotle into English has not been solved.”
Of course, to be exact, we should explain what Sir Grant means. He means that there’s a problem for translators to know how to translate the Greek of Aristotle into English and that this problem won’t go away, that translators and linguists and rhetoricians and philosophers and poets and playwrights and actors and biologists and astronomers and logicians have not yet figured out a way to carry what Aristotle wrote in Greek across into English. Sir Grant goes on, and so should we:
The problem is how to convey, in readable English, a philosophical style, full of technical terms for which we have no exact representatives. Circumlocution, or paraphrase, becomes necessary; the question is how to use this with the greatest tact, so as, while conveying Aristotle’s exact meaning, to retain something of his manner.
So “metaphor,” Aristotle said much about it. We get this precise, technical term, more or less. If we’re technical scholars of “metaphor” even of Aristotle’s “metaphor,” then it goes one way or gets carried another, as Sara Newman warns us. Maybe Aristotle’s exact meaning was two different ones. Okay, then. But now we have a double problem. How do we translate those two meanings? And what did Aristotle instruct about translation anyway?
Say that again?
What did Aristotle so precisely say translation is? Had he said one thing, perhaps would he have meant by it two different things? But what if he said nothing? So we’re back to “metaphora” and back to “le translateur.” They carry things for us.
One translator, Joe Sachs, carries on as if maybe “Aristotle himself never used technical jargon,” and, so, Joe Sachs himself doesn’t. The problem then becomes difficult because Aristotle does seem to make things technical, does seem to close down meanings, does seem to warn his disciples against ambiguities and vaguenesses and such.
I’m going to get to little Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and how they use “metaphor” and “translate.” I’m going to do that in another post. But I want to imagine Aristotle as little.
When Aristotle was a little child, before his mother died, I wonder how they carried on. Did she take him places, carry him in her arms, put him up on a truck in Athens or a taxi of some sort, cross over a bridge with him? Did he hear her convey the words of a poet to him? Did he listen? I was trying to imagine this sort of thing when acknowledging the technical problem of the adult Aristotle who seems to want to be so logical, and technical. In a dissertation once, where things get really technical, therefore, I wrote:
For example, there is the emphasis on the body, on pregnancy, on the events of birthing and offspring and naming. Metaphorically (to use an English adverb), the Greek word μετα-φορας [“meta-phoras”] is translated “a bearing to full term.” Now, I’m following Sappho. In one of the fragments of her extant texts (a passage with which Aristotle likely would have had more familiarity than we), Sappho writes:
… κατ᾽ ἔμον στάλαγμον,
τὸν δ᾽ ἐπιπλάζοντες ἄμοι φέροιεν
–SapPho, fragment 17
From my distress:
let buffeting winds bear it
and all care away.
–translator Edwin Marion Cox
Of course, φέροιεν [“pheroien”] as bear (the way translator Cox rightly puts it) is the physical, metaphorical, feminine sense in which I am translating μετα-φορας [“meta-phoras”] (i.e., as “a bearing to full term”).
In the technical and precise, there is the imprecise and less technical more embodied carrying of “metaphor” here. This isn’t really to solve the translator’s problem. Maybe it’s to carry us to problems in Aristotle’s Greek to begin with. Did something happen to Aristotle when he grew up? Did he feel a need to make the separations that he did, to see females (like his mother, and his wife, and his daughter) as so different from himself? To see them as botched specimens of the human race? Was it important for him to see Greek as separate from Barbaric mother tongues? Or logic as separate from all other ways of knowing? Did he create the problem, the technical problem, of conveying what he wanted separated so exactly in Greek into an English that can only pretend to be like it? But can’t we imagine “metaphor” as carrying Aristotle just as it carries us? Is it wrong to see a solution with Willis Barnstone, who says (now mind your language) “translation is metaphor”? Translating is bearing to full term. It’s for those of us who need carrying.