Friday, July 26, 2013

Narrative, continued

I still hate the word "narrative".

The Ninth Commandment is traditionally listed as:
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.   Exodus 21:16 KJV
Most parents typically explain this to their children as "Don't tell lies."  but it seems like an extremely archaic, round-about way to command that.

If you look at the tail-feathers of the quote, you will see "Exodus 21:16 KJV"  The KJV stands for King James Version.   KJV is a translation that King James commissioned from a bunch of Biblical scholars to translate from Latin and Greek into English.

Literal vs dynamic translation:

A fundamental decision any interpretter must make is to choose whether they are going to make a literal or a dynamic translation.  Both types of translation have strengths and weaknesses.

An example of a literal translation is in the Greek Prometheus myth.  The gods punish Prometheus by chaining him to the top of a mountain and a vulture pecks out his liver every day. Each night his liver grows grows back and his skin is made whole.  That seems like a bizarre punishment to the modern reader until they dig a little bit deeper and learn that ancient Greeks believed that the liver was the home of courage. And that highlights one of the shortcomings of a literal translation, the author's meaning is less accessible to the casual reader.

So you might ask, "Well, why not change the story to read, '...pecks out his heart...'?"

That would be a dynamic translation.  One of the primary shortcomings of a dynamic translation is that the interpretor is making decisions for you, decisions that might unintentionally delete or alter meaning.  Dynamic translation loses nuance.  For example, there are two kinds of courage.
-There is "Take heart" courage that is the root of the word encouragement.  It is the courage of being all-in and having no equivication.  The courage of overcoming setbacks.  This kind of courage is an emotion.
-Then there is the courage of "guts".  Guts is where you may be internally divided but you proceed along the path requiring more courage in spite of your reservations of sore muscles. This kind of courage is a decision.

A dynamic translation deprives the reader of having to think about the story and make choices.  Does the "liver" mean "heart" or "guts" or perhaps both?

The King James Version is a literal translation.  There are several reasons for that.  Fidelity to author (as in authority) was highly valued.  Today, singers add extra warbles and whoop-tee-dos to solemn songs like the National Anthem to "make it their own."  Back then, that would have been seen as presumptuous and ignorant...a bit like spray painting your name on the original Declaration of Independence.  Also, the translaters were devout men.  There are many injunctions in the Bible that "Woe betide..." any who delete or add to God's word.


The upshot is that we can be pretty sure that the stone tablets the Jewish people were hauling around the desert to the south and east of modern day Israel listed the literal equivalent of "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor." and not "Don't tell lies."


What is gossip?  Gossip is the volunteering of speculation, assumptions and stereotypes as fact.

Picture the Jewish nation wandering the desert for 40 years.  It may have been as small as 12 family groups of roughly 10 people each for a rousing total of 120 people.  It was a desert of food and water, and it was a desert of entertainment.  There was no cable TV.  There were no friendly interactions with the natives.   There was little change of scenery.

The forty years in the desert was like forty years in a lifeboat.  Among other things, it was an extreme-sport shake-down cruise of the rules for interpersonal relationships that God gave his people.  

Photo by Jeff Lynch, Sugar Land, Tx  Link

While the temptation to gossip for the purpose of entertainment was huge it could not be allowed. The corrosive effects would be fatal in a passive sense because unstinting cooperation was mandatory due to the hostile environment.  Gossip could also be fatal in the active sense.  There were undoubtedly significant tensions within the group.  Leadership was questioned.  People grumbled about the food, the water.  There was no option to move to a different dorm room, a different suburb or a different state.  Given those underlying tensions, gossip it could easily incite fights that would escalate into blood feuds that would be fatal to the participants and to the larger culture, thus destroying the Israel Nation.


What is narrative?  Narrative is the volunteering of speculation, assumptions and stereotypes as fact.  Prefacing clot of words with the word "narrative" is the teller's way of acknowledging they are about to share something other than fact.  That is, they know that they are about to be a "false witness", a gossip.

You might be a relativistic kind of guy.  You  might diminish "false witness" by observing that it was number nine.  "Heck," you might think, "it was just a couple of commandments away from being bumped off the end of the bench.  It cannot be that big of a deal."

It is a big deal.  It is a big deal because we now have social media that enables us to inform 859 'friends' about some salacious or corrosive or divisive bit of gossip.  Incidentally, 859 is not a random number.  I just looked up my 16 year old daughter's Facebook page and that is how many 'friends' she has.  This is a social media that will chase you.  Changing your dorm room or zip code to leave your problems is no longer a very robust solution.

It is a big deal because the economy is shrinking.  Just like the Jews leaving the security and 3 hots and a cot of Egypt for the thorn bush and adders (snakes, not accountants) of the desert, we appear to be heading for a long, hard slog.

It is a big deal because the potential exists for extended blood feuds to erupt and consume us all.  There are already vast swaths of the inner cities and areas along the southern border that are ceded to gangs and drug violence.  The nuclii are there.

I hate the word "Narrative" because it has the stench of the sly wink-and-a-nod.  It acknowledges that the transmitter of the message knows that it is not true, that they know it is gossip and that they are transmitting it solely for entertainment purposes.  They think they are sly and clever because they believe that they are insulated from any of the negative consequences.

I hate the word "Narrative" because it creates the illusion of distance between the gossip and the bloated bodies, blood stained pavement and flies so gorged on human flesh they cannot fly but only buzz.

I hate the word "Narrative" because that distance will close and the violence will consume us all, both as individuals and as a culture.  In many ways we are more fragile than the 12 nations of Israel wandering the desert. 

I hate the word modern usage of the word "Narrative"?

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