Search Results for discourse
It’s often said that communism breeds mediocrity at best, and downright shoddiness at worst. And most in the developed world would agree that communism has failed miserably due to its lack of capitalist incentives for (a) company owners to make better widgets and (b) workers to create a better standard of living through hard work and merit.
But the founders of the communist ideology did make some thought-provoking – if biased and pessimistic – criticisms of capitalist society.
One of those criticisms deals with the notion of false consciousness. The idea of false consciousness is found in Karl Marx‘s theory but it’s not specifically defined by Marx. The term first appears in a letter written by his German comrade, Friedrich Engels:
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.”¹
Subsequent Marxists and lefty sociologists use the term ‘false consciousness’ to apparently account for the dynamics of class-based exploitation. Specifically, the working class (proletariat) distorts their relationship with the ruling class—that is, the worker’s understanding of his or her relation to the owners of the means of production is based on ideology instead of fact.
The proletariat’s true condition of submission to exploitative, dominating powers is effectively replaced by a phoney belief in equality, involvement and duty. Duped into believing ideological stories as if they were truth, the masses willingly – but unconsciously so – participate in their own oppression.
Talking about contemporary society, neoMarxists often say the distortion of actual conditions is largely effected through ads, the entertainment industry, and the mass media. So neoMarxists would say that a song like, for instance, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” stirs up patriotic emotions among workers who happily trudge out to the factory to make widgets for a company owner who reaps obscene profits from their hard labor. And those very same factory workers save money so they can buy “American made” trucks to feel patriotic, a sense of belonging, and pride.
Another example might be what I saw today on Yonge St. in downtown Toronto. A sort of weather-beaten looking fellow who might have been living on the streets was wearing a brand new Globe and Mail baseball jacket with fine gold lettering on black.
The Globe and Mail is Canada’s conservative newspaper. I’ve heard it called an “old man’s” paper, meaning that it generally represents the interests of conservatives with quite a bit of money. And I think it would strike some neoMarxists as ironic – and a proof of false consciousness – that this fellow was wearing that particular jacket.
These two illustrations concerning a rock and roll song and a newspaper jacket are, of course, overly cynical. But this is how many communists thinkers would view things. Someone more sympathetic to capitalism would add that factory workers receive good benefits, have a humane workplace, and are always free to leave and try something else. That is, the possibility for upward mobility exists in capitalism while it’s virtually absent in communism.
Moreover, one could argue that capitalist workers are not as dumb as Marxist theorists tend to assume, and that workers truly believe in the core values of their country—especially when compared to the violent and oppressive regimes that make up many other countries around the globe.
As for the baseball jacket, maybe that person would be out on the street in any social system. And perhaps some kind soul from the newspaper was just trying to help keep him warm.
The idea of false consciousness has also been criticized by academics. Some see it as a condescending perspective generated by social theorists who wrongly believe something along the lines of:
We intelligent theorists know what the average people want better than they, themselves, do.
Other sharp thinkers like Michel Foucault question the very idea of class and the social dynamic implied by it. For Foucault, false consciousness (and the idea of class-based oppression upon which it rests) contains far too many simplifications and faulty constructs that have little bearing on what’s really going on.
For Foucault, the struggle isn’t just about two main groups (company owners and workers). Instead, it’s a complicated, ever changing matrix of discourses, practices, and power relationships.²
² The Foucauldian perspective has its own shortcomings, particularly in its simplistic view of power. But this is a point debated elsewhere at Think Free.
- Ideology and Meanings in Communication (prmarketingcommunication.wordpress.com)
- HOW’S THAT HOPEY-CHANGEY STUFF WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA? (CONT’D): Detroit Nears Bankruptcy: Unemploy… (pjmedia.com)
- Resistance in Theory essay (christophermhenry.wordpress.com)
- Althusser – Ranciere Controversy Part II (millerjacobp.wordpress.com)
- Marx’s Materialism in Relation to Hegel and Feuerbach (symptomaticredness.wordpress.com)
Goddess vs. goddess
Some popular writers like Barbara G. Walker argue that the ancient view of the Goddess differs from contemporary male interpretations. Not to be confused with goddesses, Walker says the Goddess was seen by the ancients as a Great Creative Source of All Being.
Nicole Loraux in Duby and Perrot’s A History of Women, Vol. I points out that, with the exception of Sappho, there’s a dearth of women writers in the ancient world, making our view of the ancient understanding of The Goddess come from mostly male accounts.
Walker says that contemporary spirituality would more correctly depict the Deity with female instead of male terms and images.
Along these lines, some feminist writers believe that the idea of the Goddess emerged before and is more authentic than male God imagery. Other feminists look back to cultures where the Goddess or women were apparently dominant (e.g. Samos, Amazonia) to promote alternatives to male-influenced God images.
The celebrated archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) argued that behind all representations of prehistoric goddesses lies a single, Great Goddess.
Gimbutas did identify the diverse and complex Paleolithic and Neolithic female representations she recognized as depicting a single universal Great Goddess, but also as manifesting a range of female deities: snake goddess, bee goddess, bird goddess, mountain goddess, Mistress of the Animals, etc., which were not necessarily ubiquitous throughout Europe.
In a tape entitled “The Age of the Great Goddess,” Gimbutas discusses the various manifestations of the Goddess which occur, and stresses the ultimate unity behind them all of the Earth as feminine.¹
Gimbutas also believed that excavations from Neolithics sites in Europe and Lithuania suggest a society were women were dominant, in both the worldly and spiritual sense. Her views, although still debated among scholars, gave great impetus to aspects of the feminist movement, mostly among woman scholars, academics and intellectuals who shared her point of view.
Jung and beyond
The Jungian Erich Neumann sees The Goddess as an archetype of the Great Mother.
Meanwhile, Naomi Goldenberg rejects Jung’s entire idea of the archetype, especially archetypes pertaining to an “eternal feminine.” Goldenberg says they constructs are overly generalized, unduly metaphysical and sexist.
In The End of God (1982) Goldenberg suggests the need for depth psychology to develop perspectives about the imaginal (symbolic, inspirational) and literal (physical, social and political) realities of women who find traditional goddess imagery to be an outdated patriarchal legacy.
Apart from the idea of ‘The Goddess’ we also find the minor, small-‘g’ goddess—that is, a female god. Contemporary archaeology points to a tremendous diversity of attributes for a plethora of goddess statues and images discovered around the world. And, to some, attributing all of these different manifestations to a single “Goddess” seems questionable.
Most scholars – male and female – agree that a good number of goddesses are localized, individual deities that emerged from other forms, while other goddesses are, indeed, more universal.
Perhaps most interesting, some goddesses are vindictive, petty, lustful and cruel, just like many of their male counterparts. Meanwhile, others goddesses and gods, alike, are nurturing, loving, chaste and compassionate. So the gender issue arguably could take the form of equality being the right for women to be just as kindly or nasty as men have always been (but this still doesn’t make being nasty right—for women or for men).
The Goddess is also understood as major small-‘g’ goddesses. These major goddesses are often associated with fertility deities in agrarian societies. Some suggest that small-’g’ goddesses are prominent in matriarchal rather than patriarchal cultures.
Graham Harvey conveniently outlines several different attitudes toward the idea of the Goddess. First, it refers to a spiritual unity (Goddess) in plurality (Goddesses), where the plurality is encountered more often than the unity.
Second, Harvey notes that some contemporary women advocate traditional notions of “femininity” in contrast to the idea of “empowerment” as found within much Goddess theology.
Third, Harvey says Cynthia Eller implies that Feminist Goddess discourse dislocates women from ordinary time and traps them in an obsession with a comforting Golden Age.”²
Harvey also refers to Emily Erwin Culpepper, who is critical of glossing over diversity into some kind of mythic unity:
[With] any monotheism of ‘The Goddess’…She tends to become ‘The Great Mother’ and sweep diverse realities into one cosmically large stereotype.”³
The Virgin Mary
Catholic teaching, however, clearly states that Mary is not a goddess, but a “mediatrix” (mediator) between God and mankind. While Catholic rosary devotions are directed to Mary, these emphasize her humility and “fullness of Grace.”
Unlike Isis, Mary is a saint and cannot bestow boons from her own power. Indeed, Catholicism clearly indicates that all honor, power and glory belongs to God.
² Contemporary Paganism: Listening People Speaking Earth. New York: New York University Press, 2000, p. 82.
³ Cited in Contemporary Paganism, p. 83.
- The Bearded Goddess (armidabooks.wordpress.com)
- Goddesses (kariluvcats.wordpress.com)
- The Goddess (romancingthebee.com)
- The Goddess of the Western World… Where is she? (divinaturism.com)
- Goddess of the “Week” (openingthebroomcloset.wordpress.com)
- Goddesses by Sue Jennings,Ph.D (themagickallibrarian.wordpress.com)
- Crown the Golden Goddess of the Grammys – Who’s Most Fab? (fabsugar.com)
A lot of New Age writers and alleged channelers talk about or, perhaps, dispense supposed “messages” from Gabriel, along with other angels. While this kind of stuff can be compelling, especially if someone is searching for a higher purpose in life, we really have no way of telling if it’s real, imagined¹ or purposely made up by scammers.
The same charge, of course, has been made against organized religions. Their discourses about angels are often said to be divinely inspired. But… who’s to say for sure?
¹ It would be relatively easy for someone to fool themselves into thinking they were divine prophets for some angel or higher being. All they’d have to do is get in a comfy chair, relax a bit, slip into a slightly meditative consciousness, and then let their imaginations or subconscious run wild. Most likely, this is what Jane Roberts did, who claimed to channel the entity Seth. Another possibility, usually dismissed by contemporary psychiatry but a possibility nonetheless, is that a malevolent spiritual being influences the channeler. So the person is channeling. But not what they think they are.
This post needs more content. Why not help us out and expand it? Please remember that copying and pasting large amounts of material from Wikipedia (or some other online encyclopedia) is not what Earthpages.ca is about. We want a fresh view, from you… not from your copy and paste editor!
Michael Clark, Ph.D
- Uriel, a ‘forgotten’ Archangel (deaconjohn1987.wordpress.com)
- Peter Gabriel (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Invoking Archangel Gabriel (mytruthsetsmefree.wordpress.com)
- Angels, we affirm: I graciously receive my personal power and use it to my Highest Good. | RenamixTech (angelicwords.wordpress.com)
- Saint of the Day for Sept.15th is St. Gabriel, the Archangel (witchesofthecraft.wordpress.com)
- Marlene Swetlishoff – Archangel Gabriel – 12 January 2012 (aquariuschannelings.com)
- Suzanne Poulson Spooner – God & Gabriel Message – 2 January 2012 (lucas2012infos.wordpress.com)
- God and AA Gabriel ~ New Year’s Message “Live as if You are the Architect of Greatness” (tauksuzanne.com)
- Archangel Gabriel… Please assist and bless my daughter! Thank you! | RenamixTech (angelicwords.wordpress.com)
Hegemony is a political science term with ancient roots.
In the Greco–Roman world of 5th century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th – 4th centuries BC); King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth, in 337 BC, (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great).¹
In the 19th century historians used the term to describe one nation’s power over another, and by implication, the whole notion of Imperialism.
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) was the first to use hegemony to describe the idea of a ruling class socially and economically dominating others within a given society.
The contemporary sociological meaning of the term hegemony points to an entire system of cultural values and practices existing within interconnected and (apparently) legitimate social institutions (e.g. markets, legal system, government, education, religion and media) which the powerful allegedly use to oppress the powerless.
Along these lines, the French social thinker Bourdieu, Pierre (1930-2002) introduced the idea of “cultural capital” to try to explain the complex relations contributing to societal inequity, discrimination and domination.
For all its flaws, the recent “Occupy movement” (where protestors are sweeping the globe in protest of being “have-nots” apparently marginalized by a few wealthy “haves”)² raises the question of institutional legitimacy, which just a few decades ago, was certainly not a mainstream issue and hardly questioned by most people in the G8.
- US Hegemony and Global Power Relations: Now What? (atthefootnote.com)
- Can America function without a dominant culture? (demolishingdisparity.wordpress.com)
- Behold the Awesome Power of Demographic Hegemony (chariotofreaction.blogspot.com)
- Eleventh Circuit Dismisses Alien Tort Statute Claim (volokh.com)
- Gramsci and Foucault: A Reassessment. Call for chapters (2011) (foucaultnews.wordpress.com)
- The Meanings of Space (scienceray.com)
- The Salad Days: Hegemony Rome (rockpapershotgun.com)
- What was the result of Peloponnesian war for Athens and Greece (wiki.answers.com)
- Why I don’t write (chariotofreaction.blogspot.com)
- WHY DO JOURNALISTS love Twitter and hate blogging? “Blogging was a direct attack on MSM hegemony at… (pajamasmedia.com)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher often associated with idealism.
Hegel is arguably misunderstood by many, especially by those who suggest that he advances an elaborate metaphysical system without providing any real empirical support for it.
This kind of critique of Hegel’s “grand theory” isn’t necessarily fair. If one takes the time to go to his actual works, we find that Hegel takes great pains to support his theories with actual historical examples.
His influential theory of history, for example, could be taken as a scientific attempt to develop theory from observation. Here Hegel sees pure Spirit manifesting itself within a teleological human history.
Any given moment in history is a necessary but imperfect manifestation of Infinite Spirit. Historical events observed in the material world are progressively transformed through an ongoing dynamic known as the dialectic.
Although Hegel never used the words “thesis,” “antithesis” and “synthesis” to describe his own theory, they’re often used by academics and writers when trying to explain his idea of dialectical becoming. This kind of usage has been roundly criticized. Walter Kaufman, for example, argues that Hegel’s system is far more complicated than a simple triad moving towards perfection.¹
Hegelian dialectic, usually presented in a threefold manner, was stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis, which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis.²
Hegel himself spoke of “overcoming” (Aufhebung) the negative in the march of human history. This overcoming of resistance to the good has also been translated as “sublation,” both terms trying to express the idea that the essential, positive core of something is retained while its limiting factors are left behind.³
While critical of generalizing triadic thinking to all of Hegel’s thought, Kaufman does, however, concede that Hegel shows a marked tendency toward it.4
So a Christian theological application of the Hegelian dialectic could go as follows: Jesus Christ enters the world as the perfect Son but meets opposition from less than perfect people living during the Roman occupation of Israel under the Emperor Tiberius.
The “thesis” of the perfect, human Christ is physically destroyed by the “antithesis” of the evil actions of the people around him. But Christ’s bodily resurrection and ascension signifies an overcoming, and the conflict between thesis and antithesis is surpassed.
This example is not too far fetched. Hegel was a baptized Christian and has been roundly critiqued as a theologian posing as a philosopher, a critique that arguably exhibits the narrow and reductive thinking of some but certainly not all philosophers.
Hegel’s thoughts on the person of Jesus Christ stood out from the theologies of the Enlightenment. In his posthumous book, The Christian Religion: Lectures on Philosophy of Religion Part 3, he espouses that, “God is not an abstraction but a concrete God…God, considered in terms of his eternal Idea, has to generate the Son, has to distinguish himself from himself; he is the process of differentiating, namely, love and Spirit”. This means that Jesus as the Son of God is posited by God over against himself as other. Hegel sees both a relational unity and a metaphysical unity between Jesus and God the Father. To Hegel, Jesus is both divine and Human. Hegel further attests that God (as Jesus) not only died, but “…rather, a reversal takes place: God, that is to say, maintains himself in the process, and the latter is only the death of death. God rises again to life, and thus things are reversed.” Hegel therefore maintains not only the deity of Jesus, but the resurrection as a reality.5
Many commentators today say that the triadic dynamic in Hegel’s work had a profound influence on Karl Marx, who adapted it to his own, entirely materialistic theory of history.
Also, Hegel’s dialectic arguably had an indirect effect on Michel Foucault. For Foucault, the idea of dialectical tension could be improved upon by explaining history through a more open-ended, discontinuous outlook, one characterized by struggle.
3 “Roughly, the term indicates preserving the useful portion of an idea, thing, society, etc., while moving beyond its limitations.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic#Hegelian_dialectic
- The Same Tolstoy and Hegel (slog.thestranger.com)
- More on Hegel (nplusonemag.com)
- Nature in Whitehead, Hegel, and Schelling (footnotes2plato.com)
- After Hegel: An Interview with Robert Pippin (readysteadybook.com)
- Types of Explanation in Whitehead and Hegel (footnotes2plato.com)
- Zizek’s Hegel in The Parallax View (teresawinter.wordpress.com)
- talking hegel (3quarksdaily.com)
- Notes on the Dialectic of Lordship and Bondage in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (teresawinter.wordpress.com)
- The End of American Conservatism (rogueoperator.wordpress.com)
- On Zizek and the London Riots (nplusonemag.com)
The word ideology is fairly well known today but not too long ago its mention, except among sociologists and historians, would probably have been met with a blank stare.
Ideology refers to a body of social, economic or political ideas and beliefs informing a person, a group or a nation. At least, this is the standard dictionary view. Social thinkers – who tend to question dictionary definitions – argue that ideology is an often deceptive set of beliefs willingly or possibly unwittingly advanced by those with the social power to do so.
According to Karl Marx, Roland Barthes and, to some extent, Michel Foucault, the unwitting masses tend to reproduce ideologies until the point where they become aware of the shallow and deceptive character of a given ideology.
At this time the so-called ordinary person, and not just the so-called intellectuals, may try to change or even revolutionize ideologies.
It’s been argued that all religions contain an ideological component. And this may be true. But to reduce the spiritual aspect of religious experience to mere ideology is probably a mistake or, at least, incomplete.
Academic treatments of the idea of ideology are often complicated and extensive. And, one could say, that although they may appear radical and progressive to naive young students, in reality the academic treatment of ideology is still, for the most part “safe,” and thus ironically reproduces the very social structures and attendant issues which are outlined in class (along with those issues that are overlooked).
That’s a cynical view, of course. And like any opinion, it’s biased and incomplete. Another view is that it’s better to talk about some things than entirely ignore or deny their existence. And social change need not be revolutionary but can, in fact, be gradual or subtle. So, university is not necessarily just “finishing school” but can help to spark young minds into positive action.
Another thing to consider about ideology – or, more properly, academic views about ideology – is that it need not be an evil or sinister process. Ideologies can be good or, at least, better than competing ones. This point is often overlooked by derisive professors who seem to be lopsidedly critical and unfairly trash the very system that gives them their bread and butter.
In the arts, Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn had this to say in the 1980′s song, “Call it Democracy.” I’m not sure what his stance would be today.
Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament –
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology.¹
¹ Full lyrics and subsequent author comments (up to 2005) here: http://cockburnproject.net/songs&music/atcid.html
- My Political Ideology (palakmathur.wordpress.com)
- The Tea Party continues to show its intellectual,ideological and moral bankruptcy (thekeyview.com)
- Modernizing and liberalizing the Communism – releasing socialist activists linked to communists. (eekaa.wordpress.com)
- How do we take control of the agenda from the GOP? (americablog.com)
- The Ideology of the London Riots (forbes.com)
- Ideological Inebriation on Capitol Hill (nader.org)
- The Willful Ignorance of Positive Thinking Ideology (scotteriology.wordpress.com)
- Ideologies 101 (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Yet the Left Wonders Why the President Spurns Them?: (brothersjuddblog.com)
- Ideology Serves No One (albw51.wordpress.com)
William James (1842-1910) was an American pragmatist philosopher/psychologist and the brother of the famous novelist Henry James.
James suffered poor health and frequent bouts of psychological exhaustion but this did not adversely affect his work. His Principles of Psychology (1890) became a popular textbook for psychologists, influencing Carl G. Jung among others.
His collected lectures on religion, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), remains a classic in religious studies.
James was raised in an affluent and literary Presbyterian family in New York City, later moving to various European cities, Boston and eventually Cambridge Massachusetts. Prominent guests frequented his New England residence, to include statesmen and intellectuals.
This diversity of blue chip characters and opinions likely influenced his outlook. Jung says that he was struck by James’ curiosity and fresh approach to psychology, calling him one of the few open-minded psychological researchers of his era.
James’ theory differentiates the personal and social dimensions of religion. He advocates a religious plurality to accommodate the specific needs of diverse individuals.
In describing direct, unmediated religious experience (i.e. mysticism), James, like Rudolf Otto, says the Godhead possesses a mysterious, non-discursive authority. His ‘Four Marks’ of mysticism have become standard fare in university religion courses.
James says these four marks of mysticism are
- Ineffability: Mysticism must be experienced first-hand, it cannot be adequately described to others through language
- Noetic Quality: The experience is accompanied with an increase in knowledge that cannot be obtained through discursive reasoning
- Transciency: Mystical experiences do not last very long (nuns, monks, yogis and some religious persons would likely disagree on this point)
- Passivity: While bodily exercises or meditation may prepare, facilitate or, perhaps, generate an experience of mysticism, the experience itself is overwhelming, rendering one a passive receptor
James also makes a distinction between “healthy-minded” – i.e. positive – approaches to religion and the morbidly pessimistic “sick soul.”
His comments about the value of saintliness reveal a materialistic bias, especially in his discussion of St. Teresa of Ávila. In keeping with this bias, James’ Principles of Psychology outlines a functionalist approach.
- On This Day In Psychology History – April 22 (psychology.about.com)
- Death Followed by Life (psychologytoday.com)
- Stob, “‘Terministic Screens,’ Social Constructionism, and the Language of Experience” (631rhetoric.wordpress.com)
- Those Fabulous James Boys (psychologytoday.com)
- Poppy Field (bethparkerart.wordpress.com)
- Research linking booze and cancer won’t put us off drinking, because alcohol gives us a religious experience (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Bibliography: History of Functionalism (ahp.apps01.yorku.ca)
- Wisdom (Week 2 – Day 1) (celestialpsychology.com)
- Sunday Devotional: Authentic Mystical Experience by Richard Rohr (zoecarnate.wordpress.com)
- Study of Vision Tackles a Philosophy Riddle (thehandiestone.typepad.com)
In the academic world it’s often assumed that the acquisition of different languages makes for a better, more valuable scholar. While this often may be the case, it’s not always.
For Bourdieu and other sociologists like Max Weber, social institutions – like universities – tend to legitimize themselves. Western universities, for example, are compelled to justify high tuition fees coupled with boring, run of the mill professors exhibiting mediocre analytical skills and a limited ability to think creatively.
As socially recognized and highly competitive organs of knowledge dissemination, universities strive to produce a certain quota of publications. Meanwhile, many scholars and the reading public tend to uncritically associate the knowledge of original languages with rational, coherent thought and scholarly legitimacy.
This is a book for people, not for scholars. Real scholars will read the Sanskrit; would-be scholars, or scholars from other fields, will fight their way through the translations of Geldner (German), Renou (French), Elizarenkova (Russian) and others; they will search the journals for articles on each verse, and on each word; they will pore over the dictionaries and concordances (Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 11).
And in footnote:
See appendix 3 for a bibliography of translations into European languages (Ibid).
While O’Flaherty lists noteworthy Asian commentators and Asian translators who render the Veda into European languages, interestingly enough, no mention is made of translations into contemporary Asian languages like Japanese, Korean or Mandarin.
She says the European translations are intended to encourage the “would-be scholar to make a better guess” than her own “educated guess on several problematic points” arrived at “by using the available scholarship” (Ibid., p. 12).
Does O’Flaherty contradict herself by elevating the ability of so-called “real scholars” while conceding that knowledge of an original language does not guarantee “correct” understanding?
If knowledge of original languages did guarantee correct understanding, the meanings of specific words and phrases in most ancient texts would not be continually debated and re-translated. By way of example, there’s no need to try to figure out what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say with his three laws of motion, because we all get it. Ancient words and phrases, however, are continually being reinterpreted by self-proclaimed experts on the basis of new archeological findings, shifting academic approaches and societal changes.
With the exception of O’Flaherty and a handful of others, most translators go to great lengths to try to justify their particular rendering of problematic terms. They attempt to convince the reader that their ability to discern original meanings is as strong or stronger than all the other ‘specialists.’
And not only that. Many scholars push narrow-minded or far-fetched claims to make their translation of certain terms conform to their own point of view. In short, linguists and translators can disagree quite dramatically. These conflicted meanings arguably arise partly from incompetence, ignorance, ambition, and opinionated or wishful thinking.
Translation is clearly subject to human bias. Even with concerted and informed attempts to offer accurate translations, it’s doubtful that these biases may be eradicated. And even if translators could go through a time machine and be present when the ancient texts were actually written, the central obstacle to a precise and exact understanding of certain terms would persist: The translators themselves did not write the original text.
It seems safe to say that one can, in most instances, never fully understand another person’s mode of thinking and intent. To complicate things, consider contemporary English literature about which English-speaking scholars produce seemingly endless commentaries about the actual or “intended” meanings of certain English words and symbols. These intense debates occur within the very same language as that of the original texts.
Here, the student of religion may argue that religious texts differ from fiction because the former refer to fixed, unalterable truths. But this claim is complicated by the fact that the meaning of some religious terms change over time-such as angel and asura.
Moreover, the religious believer could say they have an advantage over regimented scholars because they possess higher forms of perception-that is, the alleged true meaning of a term is revealed or infused by God, even when reading that term in translation.
The scholar of religion cannot really prove or disprove such a claim. But scholars do point out that many apparently ‘revealed truths’ among believers often seem to contradict one another.
Meanwhile, several postmodern writers intentionally write texts with open-ended, ambiguous meanings. This creates, they say, a living dialogue between writer and reader instead of a dead monologue from writer to reader. The result, they seem to believe, is a ‘literary novel’ of higher value than say, ‘trashy pulp fiction.’ But arbitrary distinctions like this can become ingrained among literary circles, and are often loaded with unsavory, elitist connotations.
Another point to consider is that some believe that writers, themselves, may not be fully aware of their own intended meanings. And this is the underlying basis to a psychoanalytic approach to literature.
Clearly, scholars can and do produce insightful works without much knowledge of original languages. A good example would be John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993). Kerr openly admits to drawing upon the work of several translators. And perhaps this is a stronger method than merely relying on one’s own particular and possibly idiosyncratic translation of original texts.
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- The Relevance of Sanskrit Language in The Modern World (socyberty.com)
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- The Last Lingua Franca by Nicholas Ostler – review (guardian.co.uk)
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The word myth is derived from the Greek mythos, meaning anything passed on orally.
Homer used mythos to signify stories and conversation based on fact instead of fiction. Later, Plato used mythos to refer to discourses containing shades of truth but which, for the most part, are fiction.
Among its contemporary meanings, myth often points back to a quasi-historical epoch or heroic character.
The term mythology may be used synonymously with myth or, more commonly, with a body of myths. ‘Mythology’ also involves a somewhat analytical (as in scholarly or philosophical) view of myths. A mythologist is someone who studies myths in this way, whereas a mythographer is more a compiler of myths.
Some mythologists trace historical conditions and archeological findings under the assumption that myths are just stories loosely based on historical events (as with the Hindu Ramayana).
In The Greek Myths Robert Graves says this about all myths—i.e. myth is something like a political cartoon.
Some rationalists contend that myth is an early protoscience that attempts to explain natural mysteries, not unlike contemporary science.
The functionalist theory sees myth as serving a positive social purpose. Emile Durkheim, for instance, argued that so-called primitive religion bonded community members and defined precise social classes and roles. The notion that social roles are defined and legitimized by mythology and sacred scripture seems to be partially supported by the Hindu caste system, by Greek and Nordic social stratification and by the Bible and the Koran.
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory views myth as a folk tale that reveals more about psychological than historical truths. Freud sees myth mostly in terms of wish-fulfillment, denial and sublimation.
Despite Robert Graves’ attack on C. G. Jung for being too metaphysical, Jung himself says myths are “psychological truths” that are historical because they reveal the attitudes of a group at a particular juncture in history. Interestingly, Jung admits to creating his own modern myth through his psychological theories. He also admits to using scientific language to convince otherwise skeptical readers as to the relevance of his ideas.
In a sense, then, Jung’s approach to myth-making could be seen as somewhat postmodern in that he knows full well he’s creating a social truth, if not a permanent truth. While some third-rate thinkers may see this as some kind of moral threat, it’s not that at all. Jung’s goal in myth-making is to create a sense of meaning and purpose appropriate to his times.
Joseph Campbell notes that myth, in combination with rites and ceremonies, serves a pedagogical function. Campbell says myth provides a thread of sensibility running through various stages of life, teaching us how to belong and contribute to society, from birth to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and eventually to the grave.
In the Tibetan Book of The Dead, the importance of myth extends beyond the grave.
The structuralist theory of Claude Levi-Strauss looks at myth as something arising out of pre-set, universal linguistic structures. For Levi-Strauss, meaning is not separate but explicit to the structure of myths, which apparently pose a series of binary oppositions (e.g. good-evil, male-female, hot-cold, helpful-harmful) that demonstrate how the human mind thinks.
Levi-Strauss’ views have been challenged by Sir Evans Pritchard who says not all mythic systems are constructed in simple binary oppositions. Other opponents say that meaning may exist on top of structure. The statement “the yellow laugh looked wet” for example, is grammatically correct but most would see it as meaningless.
The poststructuralist Michel Foucault sees practically all statements and related practices in terms of myth or ‘fictions.’ For Foucault, societal morals, scientific truths as well as economic, ideological and political imperatives are myths which, when invested with social power, exhibit tangible effects. Sometimes these very real effects of myth are pleasurable and other times not.
- Into the Mythic: A fresh look at some old ideas (earthpages.org)
- E2.0: Enabling Digital Realities, Embracing Myths (fastforwardblog.com)
- DVD Review: Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (blogcritics.org)
- Review: A Short History Of Myth (runesoup.com)
- Vamsee Juluri: Writing Mythology in an Age of Reality Crisis (huffingtonpost.com)
- Mistletoe (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- DVD Review: Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (writer.fitzhome.com)
- Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth from Greyhawk Grognard (greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com)
- Beyond belief: why Egyptian art outlives its myths | Jonathan Jones (guardian.co.uk)