look, all you people on the edge of your seats keen to understand about the dums and dees of tweedle, it really is time to get serious about hermeneutics and discuss just what it means.
and perhaps after all it’s time for me to throw off my newt suit and admit that i really have got a secret identity, yes folks, it’s me, the wyverne. herman newt is really me after all.
secondly, i have to either explain why i don’t use conventional academic terminologies much, and set out my etymologies with formal exactness in order to reference them to existing work, or start doing so, which is reasonable; and so i’ll do the former.
ten years ago, i was doing an arts degree at deakin university, australia’s foremost distance education provider, and a very reputable university in its own right. i was doing very well and had won recognition for my ‘academic excellence’. i was doing a double major in literary studies and cultural studies (both very strong on postmodernism) and was finding my way towards specialisation in ‘myth and legend and the oral traditions’ in one and ‘hermeneutics, the interpretation of (sacred) texts’ in the other. i had studied the philosophy of knowledge and power, freudian psychology, and comparative religion in support of these two majors, and i’d learnt the art/science of critique from second wave feminism as an extracurricula in my first bash at a university education (in latin and greek at the university of adelaide) when i was in my late teens and early twenties, practiced it diligently through all through the years of my maturation, and refreshed it with a dip into third wave feminism at first year level at deakin.
between my first and second attempts at university education i read intensely on a wide range of subjects from science to linguistics, devoured skeet’s dictionary of indo-european root-words and subsequently satisfied myself that it was self-indulgent fantasy supported mostly by bombast and the power high-up academics have to crush their critics, and still i’m fond of it. i was since my teens a fervid reader of etymologies and prone to get lost for hours in dictionaries which i had opened to look up a word i’d long forgotten about, reading etymology after etymology, lapping ‘em up like lollies, noting with keen attention those that appeared to me to be wrong, bent around politics, twisted round ecclesiastic or hagiographic fibs, or just inadequately researched, and so i brought all this to bear on everything i read. that’s three decades of it a decade ago, so it’s four decades’ worth now.
the climax came when all of these disciplines converged in 1997, when as a deakin undergraduate with lots of nice high distinctions behind me and confident of more to come, i undertook close analyses of the oresteia, gawain and the tain bo cuailgne in the same semester as a study of hermeneutical techniques from ancient to post-modern as applied or applicable to jewish, islamic, hindu, christian and buddhist sacred texts. in all innocence, expecting praise, i whipped out my lens of feminist-style critique, which examines texts critically for political, racist, sexist, religious, and personal bias; not fearing to psychoanalyse, and i added my own psychological slant of recognising, as freud did, that everyone has a neurosis, mental health consisting of the successful management of it; and also that that is best accessed through buddhist notions of samsara, of which all texts will bear evidence of cultural and authorial management or mis-management.
what happened next was okay as far as the t/ain went. cuchullain and emer are old friends of mine. i draw great inspiration from them both. i wrote my first essay of the semester on gawain and got a high distinction for it, (i have to boast sometimes to compensate for not getting the degree,
for here i faltered and finally fell,
withdrew with weeping, sadly i succumbed,
i mean, i’m about to explain why i quit without completing the semester).
even before my gawain essay came back (with a high distinction as it turned out) i got stuck into aeschylus, hoeing right in with a knife and fork, doing all the right things as i’d learned from feminists and was cottoning onto from a brief round with communications studies at first year level, and was now getting helped to from ‘hermeneutics across cultures’, and i found to my horror that what happened when i did all that did not tally at all with what apparently was and still is current belief about aeschylus, homer, cassandra or the greeks. in fact it clashed horribly.
reader, i flipped. the wyverne withered to a skinny wet lizard, and laid a single egg, in which the illustrious Herman Newt was conceived.
at the time, to anyone who wanted an excuse, i mumbled something about massively catastrophic paradigm shifts, crippling arrays of non sequiturs, and a so-called ‘scientific revolution’ looming paralysingly on my horizon with the awful threat that i would be the only person in the world having this particular one and would therefore never be able to pass another essay without lying. cuchullain would despise me. emer would refuse to teach me featherstitch.
i spent a few weeks gibbering in corners and when the gibbering had passed from excited, rapid and febrile to disconsolate and murmurous, and had almost stopped, i took up irish, cornish, ancient greek, latin, spanish and dutch, brushed up my french, toyed with my little bit of german and practiced my few sentences of serbian with my serbian best friend the son of satan. ya mislim da mosemo. mi smo bili ovde sinoch. ya sam bog. all those things serbs say.
i’ll soon be moving on to welsh, polish, icelandic, finnish, sanskrit, hebrew and russian, two to three years of each. as even the sorcerer, de saussure said, ‘learn languages’. later i’ll do cheroke, basque, arabic, moroccan, igbo and ngaranjeri. or along those lines. i have to fit danish in somewhere, and fairly soon, i think! my day is divided into six or seven lesson times so that it’s no harder than the matriculation year at high school, with the added lightener that it’s done for love.
anyway, that was because it had become clear to me that one has to do one’s own translations – you can’t let all that stuff hang on the hermeneutical decisions of a very few who died long ago, without ever reading bilimoria on truth and transcendence, bell hooks on permeant racism in earnestly idealistic discourse dominated yes dominated, sister! by white middle class, educated women, or the wyverne on hermeneutics (modest blush).
i mean what hit me, what floored me, what threw me clean off my perilous seat, o loved ones, most cherished, was that cassandra was caesa(r) an dra, whose plural even in greek would be – if provided with 2nd declension case endings and let’s do it, hey, just to make ourselves gibber, just to see the embryonic herman newt quiver in his egg – would be draoi, the irish word for druid – and if she, ha ha, is a druid (apart from that she’s no sexy spear prize – their education was so long they were elderly before they got to be druids) well, shit, so is julius caesar isn’t he? (caesar is pronounced kaess-ar, not seesa, benjamin, and don’t carve things on your desk with your compass please – it isn’t smart – caes rhymes with mass. caesars were cathars who couldn’t say th, not roman emperors, except when a cathar was a roman emperor. but the romans were terrible fibbers, so don’t believe a word they say.)
i mean, ‘she’ was probably a wizened little old man about four feet tall with a shiny bald domed forehead fringed with lots of fluffy white hair and a big white beard and long lovely moustaches and i’m sorry he had to die that way – i really am.
there’s a lot of gender confusion caused by grammatical gender or something that sounds like it being mistaken for actual gender. e.g., for years i gave poor old mircea eliade a mental sex-change purely on the basis of the final letter of his first name – it wasn’t till i read the small print, all that waffle on the back cover and the forewards by prominent anthropologists that i discovered he was a man and gave him back his dick and balls. i daresay he’s grateful, though he might have benefitted from the shamanic experience of it. they did things like that a lot. so perhaps he was a she.
so the whole scenario shifts. troy was celtic. so aeneas is celtic. you remember all you who did latin, how he scarpered when troy fell with his grandad anchises on his shoulders. but it wasn’t the whole man. ‘anchises’ is irish for ‘the basket’ for feic’s sake. it had his ancestor’s bones in it. the skulls. the skulls. the sacred bones of the ancestors. skulls and long bones. jolly old rogers. skulls. ostoun. ho stone, the stone, the bone.
so rome is celtic. is rome celtic?
a year’s long radical revision would arrive at where rome is celtic.
i mean hermeneutics begins by asking all the questions and while underlining the ones that get answered, ‘i don’t know’, bravely faces those that get answered, well, that, but no it wouldn’t be that, no one else thinks it’s that, mumble, murble, gibber gibber.
look that’s way over me thousand words – i’ll slither back into my other identity now and see you all later.
and sorry to shock you all, i’m not really a nice slimy newt, i’m really only a tacky little wyverne in greeny-gold lamé after all.