Friday, August 8, 2008

Grab Bag

Taking a break from our discussion while I dip into nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy as well as The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity in the Caribbean and the World by Mervyn Alleyne. Alleyne's is the more substantial tome but they're both good books, well worth having. One discovers from Alleyne (p. 50), for example, that the famous line from the Song of Songs (1:5) "I am black but comely" in fact reads in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament, dating from about 270 BC), "I am black and (kai) beautiful." Most of the early commentators on the Old Testament book also read "and", not "but". It's The Vulgate (fourth century AD) that advances the reading, "black but beautiful". So why would God allow the perversion of his anointed word? He's a funny one, God – to hark back to the previous post, a very interactive teacher. Which brings me to the second item from the grab bag, courtesy this time of an observation from Professor Kennedy's book. He reminds (p. 43-4) that the word nigga pervades lyrics and song titles in rap music, and has done so ever since. He identifies "Niggaz with Attitude" as one of the seminal influences in gansta rap. So that one must wonder about the furore concerning Nas's album title. Assuming that it wasn't all just a PR stunt, might the brouhaha have anything to do with the fact that the Democratic Presidential candidate is a black man? Without doubt, Senator Obama, by insisting on keeping race out of the presidential campaign has, paradoxically, focussed the issue in a very particular way, or set of ways. There is a concern, not just with "a black man running for President" but with "racism", "race relations", "the impact of being a person of colour in America". (I am reminded of a Walcott poem, "Missing the Sea", in which the absence of the sea becomes a palpable presence.) The strategy has enlarged the discussion and, to a not inconsiderable extent, invested it with sobriety, gravitas. Cool move, Barack! The third item in the grab bag is a bit of medical business, an alert, if you will. It seems that many people afflicted with diabetes and celiac disease go undiagnosed for years, during which the body suffers damage caused by the two diseases. There are tests for both. Have a look at the symptoms online or in a reliable medical book. Ask to be tested. And finally, a reminder that we'll shortly be taking a look at the Preface to Jamaica Woman, in particular the first paragraph. Our interest is to identify the criteria according to which poets were chosen for inclusion in the collection, since one or two people appear to have missed it. More on this in our next post. Be well. Enjoy the cooling temperatures.

14 comments:

Jdid said...

I've got the randall robinson book lying around somewhere. I guess the question you cold ask is why wasnt there as big a furore over the naming of his book as there was over the naming of Nas' album.

Maybe Barack does have something to do with it.

FSJL said...

jdid: There was something of a furore over the Robinson book (take a look at the Amazon discussion page). I found it an interesting read (I find all of his books worth reading).

FSJL said...

Pam: The question is what does the original text of the Song of Songs, which is not in the Greek of the Septuagint (the first translation of the original Hebrew text) say? As the old Italian proverb has it, 'Traduttore, tradittore' (translator, traitor).

clarabella said...

fsjl, jdid: We're talking about a book called NIGGER: THE STRANGE CAREER OF A TROUBLESOME WORD, aren't we? Cause the guy whose name is on the cover of my copy is a dude named "Randall Kennedy" who's a prof at Harvard Law School... An easy confusion, I know, given Randall Robinson's writings... I take jdid's point, and yours, fsjl. The difference is of course one of audience and medium. The furore over a book entitled NIGGER is simply gonna be different from the autoclaps attendant upon an album so named – I use the words furore and autoclaps advisedly.

clarabella said...

fsjl: I ain't pretending to be a Bible scholar, just following Alleyne who cites the Septuagint. I don't know what the original Hebrew (or Aramaic, for I don't know which applies), says, nor am I sure who the authority on this might be, for one would indeed need a reliable scholar of Hebrew to supply the assurance that the text said 'and' and not 'but'. I take your point about the traitorous translator completely, of course.

FSJL said...

Pam: Sorry, I was thinking of an entirely different Randall (about whom I recently sat on an MA thesis committee, the less said about the better).

I found Kennedy's book a fascinating read, and should probably reread it.

FSJL said...

Pam: Any translated literary text, and the Bible is just that, is bound to have problems and errors.

clarabella said...

I agree that translation is always a challenge, so, for example, I don't know one sets about translating bricolage into Jamaican Creole, or dege-dege into French. But a jump from 'and' to 'but' is not excusable. Somebody's nasty prejudice inserted itself there.At least I am certainly persuaded that that's the case.

FSJL said...

Pam, perhaps that's so (though not knowing what the original was, neither of us can truly say; after all, we're going by what the first translation into an Indo European language said).

We have to take into account not only the prejudices and racism of the translators, but also the intentions of the writers of the text. Did they mean by 'black' dark-skinned, African featured, or dark-haired?

Sweet Caroline said...

As a black woman, or as my fellow Jamaican's would say 'browning', I have felt more uncomfortable when Jamaican's who are of a darker hue than myself will be telling me that I am white. We seem to make more judgements about our own ethnic kind than caucasians, and we can definitely make the wounds deeper.

But to put a comical note on the first black man running for president, I got an email from my cousin in New York about an old man who was in tears not believing that he would be able in his own life time to vote for a black man who would run for the office of 'President of the United States of Amaerica'.

Well all I have to say to him is that I have been voting for Black men for over 30 years, and I'm BAWLING. So be careful for what you wish for. Colour has no place in Politics.

clarabella said...

Sweet Caroline, great niece of mine!!! Thanks so much for stopping by. I think maybe all those people who say you are white, probably would like to be white themselves! I have to say, though, like that old man, having been in America during Civil Rights time, when people got assaulted, arrested, savagely beaten and, often enough, murdered only because of their colour, I know it's a very big thing that a black man is running for President of the United States. It says the country has come a long way. It means all black people, especially kids, now know that they can aspire to being anything they want, including the President. Of course, he may turn out to be a lousy president, like all those black men you been voting for all these years, that have caused you to BAWL! We'll just have to wait and see. I think the Jamdown situation is very different, very democratic. Anybody can aspire to being Prime Minister, regardless of colour, and of course, we kill people of any colour, for any ole reason, and often for no reason at all. Sad, but true! Stay well, hi to that big son of yours, and stop by again soon!

Jdid said...

whoops sorry clarabella my mistake it is definetly randall kennedy not robiinson. i really do need to finish that book

clarabella said...

Hi jdid. No big thing, and an easy mix-up to make. I'm trying to press on with NIGGER – it's an easy read, so big ups to the Prof – then to carry on with Mervyn Alleyne's book, which is the more scholarly tome, but very enjoyable nonetheless, and also easy to read. One good function of this blog – gets me to read stuff other than crime fiction!

FSJL said...

Sweet Caroline: My youngest brother has just brought to my attention a book on (ahem) Negro Russian History (sorry, that's the title), which mentions the 'Negro' population of Abkhazia, a place currently in the news. Abkhazia is located in the Caucacus, so these Negroes are, ahem, Caucasians. Very specifically Caucasians.