Letter to my Contemporary Literary Theory 829 class

One of the most difficult classes I am taking is this post-graduate course. Seeing as how I am just catching up on prerequisites, it was stupid to do a course such this at the same time. I guess I should have sought an adviser (or someone there in the Department should have suggested such) instead of allowing to jump into the deep end. As it is, I have been told that the one professor who did “advise” me on how to put together my schedule, didn’t do a good job, as besides taking 100- and 800-level courses in the same semester (i.e. stupid) I have overloaded myself time-wise. However, with more than half the semester over with, I think I’ll be able to hand in there without totally collapsing.

I decided to share a letter I wrote to this 800-level class. (All students must write two “letters” during the course of the semester. It can be to “anyone”… an author we are studying, a character in a book, a classmate, etc.) Here is what I wrote.

16.11.2013, Letter No. 1. Linda Yechiel

Dear Me!

A letter. A public letter. I need to write a letter. A “class” letter. Today, in this 6th week of Literary Theory, I need to follow all the letters so far presented by my amazingly able and clever classmates and come up with something, too, that is insightful, relevant, food for thought.

Dear me! The paper (well, the screen), looms before me—blank and intimidating. What shall I write? Meaningful? What singular thing can I say that is appropriate? “Comparable to a blog” our professor has written. Well, I am familiar with writing a blog. I have three (actually four) blogs out there in cyberspace. Blogging isn’t a problem—when the muse calls: A thought comes to mind, I turn on the computer and spill it. Only problem is that at this particular moment, not a thought comes to mind.

17.11.    Still nothing. So, I shall let my thoughts run out of my fingertips to fill up the page. Let’s see… something relevant about this course, this program: What and how? What will this course mean to me? What will it do for me? How will it change me? How will it make me better in my profession? In my world? In my life?

An MA—that is why I enrolled. The be-all and end-all was that I wanted a piece of paper to hang on the wall, two letters to tack on after my name (and the topic interested me). But while that was the motivation to start down this amazingly overwhelming road (too many course, they say!), it is suddenly not the point anymore. All of a sudden I am immersed in texts and ideas that are new and wonderful.

Greek poetry? Who would have thought? American Drama? I hated reading Miller and Williams so many years ago in high school. Now they are fascinating. And amazingly, I find connections between all the courses: The feminist play in US drama (37-409) follows the discourse of “feminism” that I am learning about in Contemporary Theory (37-829). Reading a word in The Odyssey (37-191), I remember (and remind) that I (we) must keep in mind that every word is the interpretation of the translator (37-726).  I mean, look at my salutation: “Dear Me.” How would you translate that into Hebrew? Oy va voi? L’atzmi hayikarah? Gotcha!

So many words and concepts to learn, and know, and understand: structuralism, deconstruction. rhetoric, signifiers, signified and a Signifyin’ Monkey (now that was fun to listen to!)—the discourse of a culture breaking free from colonialism. Ethos, logos, pathos. Pathetic! Yet exhilarating.

And confusing! Statistics anyone? In the past five weeks, I have read (to the tune of “On the First Day of Christmas”)… 8 US plays, 7 Sherlock stories, 5 “first chapters” (of various books in Hebrew), 3 Greek epic poems (partial), ,  and at least 40 articles or chapters on some theory (of literature of translation)*. Is it any wonder I can’t remember if it was Cassandra or Blanche or Elsie who loses her mind. Or was she murdered? Dear me!

There are certain moments when I feel it is all coming together. There are huge and amazing concepts that are out there that are gelling in my mind, great works I have missed (who would have thought that The Odyssey would have been so enthralling and beautiful?) that I am becoming familiar with. Hey, I am even beginning to appreciate The Sherlock Holmes stories (I didn’t really take to them many years ago). Yes, there are moments now when that the be-all and end-all of my time here isn’t, anymore, that piece of paper  but the knowledge and understanding that I will obtain in its pursuit.

* 3 – Iliad, Odyssey, Agamemnon    /    8 – Hairy Ape, Iceman Cometh, Long day’s, Trifles, Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar, All My Sons, The Price

14 – Luna, Landers (on Translation) +  9 articles on translation, 3 “first chapters”

7  – sherlock holmes stories    / 21 – Klages 6 articles, Hodgson 8, Rhetoric 4, others 3 = 21 articles

The professor wrote this to me in a private email:

Hi Linda.. This is just to you.. Great letter!! You’re an excellent writer.

Now I understand why sometimes you get so tired in class. But glad it’s coming together and you find your mind expanding and being stimulated. I know you’re  not happy about missing the classes for the Hanukkah break, but after reading your letter, I think you need a vacation for a while!!!


So that was nice. Well, here I am, 3 am, and just decided to add this in before I head to bed, having just finished up two assignments for tomorrow.


Streetcars in US Drama

We are learning “A Streetcar Named Desire” and I mentioned to my professor about the Simpson’s “A Streetcar Named Marge.”

I downloaded the episode and tried to upload it as a “private” upload to Youtube, but still got a “strike” for uploading copyrighted content. Boy are they fast on the draw! I renamed it although maybe had I renamed the clip on my computer it wouldn’t have caught it. Or do they have some method of checking everything that people put up, every second, to compare it to copyrighted content? Wish I knew.

Anyway. Using MovieMaker, I edited it down to take out irrelevant stuff (only saved about 4 minutes) and saved it “for email”…and I’m still left with a 128-mb clip that is too large to mail. So I was going to try adding it here, but it seems for that I need a “video upgrade.”


Anyone have any ideas?



The Odyssey – It’s a translation, d’uh

So, in  “Introduction to Literature 109” course  we are reading The Odyssey.  Of course it’s not THE  Ὀδύσσεια, it’s that which was translated. (This particular version was translated by Fitzgerald. ) Yet it seems like we are to accept what we are reading as THE ODYSSEY.

As a student of translation, I know that there are no perfect translations.

In Book 5, Odysseus says to  Kalypso:

“My lady goddess, there is no cause for anger.
My quiet Penelope–how well I know–
would seem a shade before your majesty,
death and old age being unknown to you,
while she must die.

The professor asks the class to discuss exactly what HOMER meant by “quiet” and why that was a virtue. Warning bells go off in my head! What Homer meant?! Maybe this is what Fitzgerald meant. Unfortunately, but didn’t get a chance to utter my profound observation in class.

But I couldn’t let it go!

I checked out another translation, this time by Fagles, and found that whatever the word was in Greek had been rendered “wise.”

This was too interesting! I can’t resist a challenge! I had to find the Greek original. And by chance, I managed. Here’s how I did it:

  • Luckily, because of my mathematical background, I am familiar with the Greek letters, so I found a Greek version online.
  • I noted that the passage was about halfway through Book 5, and I noted, too that both the stanza in question and the one before had the word “Odysseus” at the end of their first lines.
  • By positioning myself in the Greek version about halfway through,  I  managed to find two consecutive stanzas with Ὀδυσσεῦ  at the end of the first lines.
  • From there, it was easy enough to find the line in question, since I could make out the word Penelope in Greek — Πηνελόπεια (pi, eta, nu, epsilon, lambda, omega, pi, and the “eia” at the end)!  So I found περίφρων Πηνελόπεια  (see this site line 216)
  • Now I could see the word describing Penelope, which was  περίφρων, and which I looked up in the Greek dictionary attached to the site (you just have to click on the word!)  
  • The translation given was “very thoughtful, very careful” … which could be interpreted as either quiet or wise!

I wrote my professor:

Dear Prof. K
Yesterday we were discussing the passage about Odysseus’s “quiet” Penelope and you questioned the meaning behind the word “quiet.”
The fact that this is a translation of Greek must be very CAREFULLY taken into account, and unless one can actually go and examine the original Greek (and understand THAT) we cannot take this word as Homer’s. Indeed,  Fagles  translated the passage as “Look at my wise Penelope. She falls far short of you…”  Other translators ignore the matter, as in, for example  http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.5.v.html
It is very problematic when we “analyze” meanings of a translated text, because, in effect, the translator has “analyzed” it for us first. …
At any rate, I think that this is a very important and CRUCIAL point to remind the class.

To which he replied:

Now all you have to do is learn Greek!

Which is when I did my detective work.

 At class that afternoon, he did mention my first comment, but he hadn’t yet seen my email with the Greek. I told him I had indeed “found” the original. “You know Greek?” he asked. “Well, I know as much as I know from math.” He actually called up a colleague to confirm it. (I was correct, natch!) 😉

And that’s the end of this story.


This post is really late in coming. But I am happy to inform my followers that I have started studying for my MA in English Literature with a Focus on Translation (that’s the actual name of the program!) at Bar Ilan University.

I have so much to think about and so much to say, but really no TIME to make a decent job of posting.

There is no question in my mind that the quality of my editing and translating will improve as the program continues. During the course of my studies, I will be adding insights and thoughts about my studies.

Hope you enjoy!