Mistranslations

September 3, 2013

Reading a NYTimes post about women in philosophy, I got to thinking about an old spiritual story.

The Times piece starts off with the author’s difficulty fielding responses to her self-description as a philosopher when people ask her what she does.

In this spiritual story I’m thinking about, a young girl is questioned by some men from another culture what she is.  I suspect they meant whether she’s a servant, a princess, a weaver, etc.  She answers something like “Energy worker.”  She is a shaman, I guess we might say.

They end up pressing her into prostitution.  She at some point blames herself for her easily misconstrued answer; maybe if she had not thought to present herself as accomplished they would have let her alone.

Nowadays we would say she was trafficked and we wouldn’t see her as the cause of her misfortune.

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3 Responses to “Mistranslations”

  1. Jeff in New Jersey Says:

    I read the NYT article you speak of, and also the many comments. The harshest comment was Comment # 27 from a woman in Lisbon, Maria Odete Madeira, who appears to be a real philosopher. She says in part :

    “I started reading the article with some curiosity, and I felt sort of shiver when I understood that academic degrees in philosophy are being confused with what it is to be a philosopher, by someone who supposedly has a background in philosophy. Not distinguishing between to be a philosopher and somebody who teaches, researches … works in philosophy is grave — grave enough to state that the author should tear down her diplomas since they are not worth anything. The author cannot possibly know what philosophy is and does not show philosophial thought.”

    I could not agree more. The whole article was nothing but another biased bleat of political correctness, with the hidden assumption that it is “appalling” if some identifiable groups are underrepresented in some vocational spheres. Thanks to Ms. Madeira, we can see that the intellectual corruption and fear that comes with dubiously “correct” (i.e., orthodox) ideas has not yet extended to Portugal.

    Another comment observed that women are also under-represented as garbage collectors and subway track repair persons. There does not seem to be any “outcry” about that bias or inequality. People want to be equal upward, but never equal downward.

    Those who think like this author will never understand that a healthy majority of women CHOOSE to be wives and mothers because, regardless of their interests or qualities of mind, that seems natural and right to them.

    Postscript : I never did learn just what it was that had you “knashing your teeth” over a David Brooks article. Was it his article about manipulation of default choices to encourage such things as organ donation ?

    • Diana Moses Says:

      It may have been that column, it certainly contains what looks like to me a contradiction: rely on external prompts to develop interior judgment. I think I used a bicycle analogy: if we rely on too many “training wheels,” we don’t learn to keep our balance ourselves, through checking in with our “core.” Nowadays everybody loves to talk about core values and core beliefs and such, but to me, “core” is about that column of energy within us that houses our shard of the universe. It’s not a bunch of items. It’s more like water, a flow, a substance that’s adaptable [to give us answers] for all situations. So we engage in a practice that allows us to access it, and we often get some understanding of how handle a specific issue in our lives that is troubling us.

      It could have been something else. The ignoring of the mental process that is not done through the intellectual mind nor an emotional reaction usually frustrates me, as well. (The attempts at emotional manipulation are just annoying, though, not teeth-gnashing inducing.) I guess I would say that I am reminded of when people were teaching me how to skip when I was a child. You start with a hop-step-hop-step-hop-step kind of thing, but eventually you get a fluid motion going. Or when I learned to play a new piece of music on the piano — eventually there is fluidity, and with some people, there comes interpretation and emphasis and other aspects that I think we talk about as musicality — through that integration of the elements, something else emerges. I think one factor is becoming absorbed enough in the thought or the motion or the playing to let go and go with it, having learned the rudimentary elements. Maybe it’s a little like learning to speak fluidly in public from notes. Don’t know, but I know it when I don’t see it. And then I gnash my teeth.

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I just wanted to add that I think part of my frustration has to do with my sense that David Brooks can actually tap into a flow, for example, in that column he did during the 2012 presidential campaign that was an extended humorous riff on Mitt Romney. I think I thought I detected a river running through it, not just a bunch of discrete jokes. If that’s true, maybe David Brooks finds it easier to let go through humor.


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