Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Circumscription of Triangles & Squares

Spirit/soul/life, pneuma/pysché/zoè or bios, spiritus/anima/vita, Geist/Seele/Leben­­­—these are the triangles and squares in which we imprudently pretend to recognize stable semantic determinations, and then to circumscribe or skirt round the abysses of what we ingenuously call translation.
–Jacques Derrida, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. G. Bennington and R. Bowlby


I've been working on translating Derrida's insights on translation into a language that someone who hasn't studied the history of philosophy might could understand. I think I still have a ways to go, although I am proud of the 1200-word essay I wrote Sunday on the myth of originality in translation.

In my dissertation, I translated from German, French, Latin, Greek, Polish, and Russian. And I might be forgetting one or two more. You see, I've been thinking a lot about translation for a while now, about all the registers of translation we seem to forget are at issue (across time, space, consciousness, cultural awareness/literacy, etc. as well as across language).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm much more interested in the philosophical problem of translation than I am of actually translating. But I know enough to know that translation occurs most acutely while in the act of translating.

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