SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Our School of Criticism and Theory has now entered its second half. I can't believe how fast it went. But because it has entered the second half, I am in a position to know exactly, and to feel, to experience, how wonderful this is. It is really a joy and a continuous enrichment to be part of the school.
And I would like to thank for that, to express my deep gratitude to [? Hent ?] for having invited me to be part of this adventure. I would like also to thank my wonderful seminar-- the people who I meet with great joy bi-weekly, and who are my companions in the examination of the concept of translation. And I thank you, all my colleagues, whom I feel privileged to have now met. And now I know you. Now you are high up there in my contacts. And I would not let you slip out of it, even if you are over there in Israel.
I also understand why Bonnie said last time that it took her a year and a half to recover from the experience. At first, I thought it was just exhaustion. It is exhaustion, part of it.
But it is also the fact that this is the time which would take for us to truly ruminate the experience. I believe that this is something that I'm going to ruminate when I leave [INAUDIBLE] that I also discovered. Nietzsche famously declared that philosophers should share with cows this ability to ruminate.
He also added that they should have the ability to dance. That is true. It sort of balanced the cow comparison. He had in mind, obviously, also very appropriate and reasonable dances, not the kind we have nowadays-- not the Beyonce type, I would say.
So I am adding in my presentation also the ability to be a translator. So I guess that I have turned the very serious thinker of Rodin, the philosopher, into some kind of dancing cow addicted to Alta Vista. So having done that, allow me to visit the work of one of those dancing cows, namely, French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas to start this.
In Humanisme de L'autre Homme, that is what I am interested in in my starting point. And in particular, the pages under the headline "Before Culture," from the chapter of the book with the title "Signification and Sense." In those pages, Levinas extols elevation and verticality as what ordains being, and as the only mode of existence of universality.
Only from the perspective of a signification that, I quote, "could be detached from cultures and situated above them is the necessary judgement on those cultures possible," according to Levinas. And if one asks about the reality of such an overarching standpoint, outside of any particular cultural perspective, the answer for Levinas is Western civilization-- yes, he stresses, the decried Western civilization.
Now, before I complete the citation, let me ask in a parenthesis, decried by whom and for what reason? Obviously, Levinas is speaking of those who, in his words, manifest, I quote, "a radical opposition against cultural expansion by colonization." And those would be first and foremost, obviously, the former colonial subjects themselves.
And if that is the case, what do they, in fact, decry? I would say that it is not Western civilization as such, certainly-- rather, the face that the West presented to the people it colonized, which was not the radiance of civility and civilization. That other face, is, for example, what the Mahatma Gandhi had in mind when he famously answered to the question, "What do you think of Western civilization?" He said, "I think that would be a good idea." I close the parenthesis, and I complete the citation of Levinas that I had left suspended.
This is what he says-- "the decried Western civilization that knew how to understand cultures that never understood anything about themselves." The assumption is that there is a Western civilization which is not a culture among cultures, a language among languages, but the logos itself. Europe simply cannot be another province of the world, to evoke here Chakrabarty's Provincializing Europe.
A Copernican gesture transforming Europe as a planet among other planets is just unthinkable. It is naturally endowed with an anthropological vocation to understand particular cultures that never understood themselves, because it has had, and I quote Levinas again, "the generosity of liberating the truth from cultural presuppositions." I quote him again, "purifying thought of cultural alluviums and language particularism." That is why, in fact, Europe could renounce the very violence of colonialism-- that other face of her-- because, I quote again, "culture and colonization do not necessarily go together."
Now, ours is precisely a time of decolonization. As Levinas writes, it is characterized by the radical opposition against cultural expansion by colonization. And if that comes to mean that even Western cultural expansion has no legitimacy anymore, the result of considering that all cultural personalities in here-- I am quoting again Levinas-- that all cultural personalities realize the spirit by the same rights-- [SPEAKING FRENCH]-- the result is a loss of orientation.
Playing on the words "Occident" and "Orient," Emmanuel Levinas writes, "The world created by this saraband of countless equivalent cultures, each one justifying itself in its own context, is certainly disoccidentalized, but it is also disoriented." It could be said of such a world, in the language of Edouard Glissant, that it is a [SPEAKING FRENCH], a callous world.
Levinas certainly could borrow that expression here, and speak of a callous world, except, of course, that it would not have the positive meaning that the phrase conveys in Glissant's language. As we know, the core of Levinas' philosophy-- his ethics, more precisely-- is that the moral "ought" has its source in the fact that I encounter the naked and vulnerable face of the other person as an absolute transcendence beyond my self-centeredness, and that from that transcendent, she commends me not to kill-- or more positively, to serve and to protect life.
To say that the other comes to me as a naked face is to say that she does not visit, almost in the religious sense of visitation. She does not visit against the background of her culture or with that culture. By definition, the dyadic I/thou ethical relationship excludes all appurtenances.
So the absolute respect for the transcendence that the other person is as naked face does not translate itself as a command for respect for other cultures, or rather, for the others' culture. In a manner that is comparable to the way in which the Emmanuel Kant of The Ethics is certainly not the one who shows disdain for the humanity he describes in his anthropology or geography of cultures. Emmanuel Levinas combines the crucial notion of ethics as hospitality for the other with the strong conviction that of course, no other cultural personality realizes the spirit by the same rights as the West, which is unique and exceptional in its realization of the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome.
It is the same conviction. He will be very surprised to be told about any kind of [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] which would go from Athens, to Baghdad, to Cordova, to Marrakesh, and to Timbuktu. It is the same conviction that Husserl expressed in his Vienna Conference of 1935, "On Philosophy and the Crisis of the European Man," when he declared that, while the rest of the world should understand that it faces the need to Europeanize itself as best as it could, a Europe fully aware of its philosophic telos could not find the slightest reason to indianize itself in any respect. The language of phenomenology-- at least that of Husserl and of Levinas-- is obviously and certainly not that of multiculturalism.
Loss of orientation is loss of universality, because if signification is tied to language, and we are confronted with the plurality of languages in a de-colonized or post-colonial word, the verticality and elevation of the universal is simply impossible as the only dimension we are left with is that of laterality or horizontality-- the horizontality where relationships between cultures and language are, therefore, inscribed. And such a situation will mean no direct or privileged contact with the world of ideas, "No access"-- I quote Levinas-- "to a universal grammar," but instead going-- I quote again-- "from one culture to penetrate another as one goes from one's mother tongue to learn another language."
And Levinas evokes here another phenomenologist-- another disciple of Husserl-- namely Maurice Merleau-Ponty-- as the philosopher who spoke of the lateral universality which is for him, of course, a contradiction in terms. Before I examine what Merleau-Ponty did say and mean, and what his lateral universal is, in order to ask what is wrong with getting out of one's mother tongue to learn another language, let me say here a few words about the fact that today in France, the virulent opposition voiced against so-called post-coloniality and post-colonial studies by authors or such as Jean Francoise Bayard or Jean-Loup Amselle, opposition to what Bayard has called-- the title of his book-- The Academic Carnival of Post-colonial Studies-- this opposition continues, Levinas laments, in the face of a world made of a saraband of countless equivalent cultures.
Thus, the very first pages of L'Occident decroche could be translated as "the West unhooked," "Occident unhooked," by anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle, equal the notion that a dis-Occidentalized world is, ipso facto, a disoriented world-- a world upside down witnessing-- and I quote Jean-Loup Amselle, "a supposed crumbling of the West with the concomitant, competing raise of thoughts, of philosophies which dispute to Europe and America their intention to dominate the world, which means-- according to those who have for them nothing but contempt-- questioning their pretension to universality."
This is quite a sentence-- the crumbling of the West Amselle evokes. And to paraphrase here-- Derrida himself paraphrasing Kant-- I could make the observation that we are witnessing quite an apocalyptic tone recently adopted by many French intellectuals against the callous world of the post-colonial. Amselle considers that the unhooking from the West which is, according to him, what post-colonial and [INAUDIBLE] studies amount to, means the fragmentation of the world into provinces, with the consequence that the untranslatable-- and what Barbara Cassin has claimed as a consistent relativism, will reign supreme.
Jean-Loup himself would admit that the [SPEAKING FRENCH] against Universalism could be justified in a phase of decolonisation from a Europe which colonized the rest of the world precisely in the name of the universal. One could think here, for example, of the dramatic gesture of Aime Cesaire writing his famous letter to Maurice Thorez as he resigned from the French Communist Party. You know that in 1956, following the events with invasions by the Soviet Union of Czechoslovakia, Aime Cesaire resigned from the French Communist Party.
He wrote a long letter, which was meant to be published, at Maurice Thorez-- a letter to Maurice Thorez-- Maurice Thorez was The Secretary General of the French Communist Party-- in which he basically said this-- he denounced the crimes of Stalin and the Soviet Union. But above all, he said that he did not find that Communist fraternalism-- fraternal of the French Community Party-- was much better than colonial paternalism. Because after all, the French Communist Party was founded upon the notion that it represented the universal class, and that the universal class-- that the proletariat-- is going to bring universal emancipation.
So you colonize people-- you women-- just wait for the universal class to bring emancipation. And ipso facto, everybody will be liberated. And somehow-- somehow-- even a philosopher such as Jean-Paul Sartre was very sympathetic with the movement of negritude, did say the same thing.
If you read his preface to the anthology published by [INAUDIBLE] of black poetry, which he turned into a manifesto for negritude, just because of his flamboyant style in Black Orpheus-- the preface he gave to the work-- Sartre in the end just takes back the agency that he had given to the negritude people by saying, well, negritude itself-- this demand for the liberation of the colonial people-- is a pure invention of poetry, just in the same way as Eurydice had been summoned out of Inferno by the very poetry of Orpheus. But she's bound to disappear in the daylight. In the same way, this movement by Senghor and Cesaire was bound to disappear once the universal class, which the proletariat is, takes things into its own hands.
So I close that long parenthesis. And Amselle would accept that, in that particular context, this demand against the Universalism represented by the Communist Party would have meaning. But that attitude, Amselle continues, was valid then, but is not justifiable anymore, because now-- and I quote Amselle-- "the prevailing situation in this beginning of 21st century is very different from that of the 1950s and 1960s."
In the present context of clash of civilizations, or rather in what looks more and more like a Crusades conflict, strategic essentialism-- of course, this is for my colleague and good friend Gayatri Spivak-- strategic essentialism has become a problematic notion as the affirmation of a radical otherness can be perceived as the ferment of all fundamentalisms. In the world we are now living in, apparently open but in reality perfectly compartmentalized, we must abandon any definition or assertion of identity that restrains the circulation of enunciations through cultural boundaries-- in other words, makes those boundaries exist as such by reinforcing them. End of this long quote from Amselle's L'Occident decroche.
Let me say here that I am in agreement with Amselle, more than he has acknowledged in that book. I am among the people he discusses-- I should say he disputes-- in the book. And more than one could conclude from just the public controversy which opposed us, and which was staged when we were both interviewed on France Culture in public by the excellent Adele van Reet during the [INAUDIBLE] Festival in Lille in 2014.
I do not advocate a world of fragments and insularities. And I have, [? Ady ?] as my witness. I do not advocate the untranslatable.
But what Immanuel Wallerstein has called for after-- I quote him-- "the era of European Universalism," what he called a truly universal Universalism and a language for-- I quote Wallerstein-- "for universalizing our particulars and particularizing our universal in an open-ended process that would allow us to find new synthesis." I believe that such a truly universal Universalism echoes Merleau-Ponty's lateral universal. And that it is synonymous with translation. That is where I stand.
Without the mediation of a universal grammar, as Levinas said, the possibility of a universal and [INAUDIBLE] circulation of pronounciation is just translation. What Amselle is calling for, saying that he doesn't want a world of fragments, because he wants a world in which enunciations can circulate universally-- well, if we take that metaphor seriously, "a circulation of enunciations universally--" that is called translation.
Now here is exactly what Merleau-Ponty says while foreseeing the new context of our colonial times. This is what Levinas was alluding to-- this passage which I quote at length, because it's important. "The equipment of our social being can be dismantled and reconstructed by voyage, as we are able to learn to speak other languages.
This provides a second way to the universal-- no longer the overarching universal of a strictly objective method, but a sort of lateral universal which we acquire through ethnological experience and its incessant testing of the self through the other person, and the other person through the self. It is question of constructing a general system of reference, in which the point of view of the native, the point of view of the civilized man, and the mistaken views each has of the other can all find a place that is of constituting a more comprehensive experience which becomes, in principle, accessible to men of a different time and country."
This was written by Merleau-Ponty in 1960 in one of the texts that were collected in the volume Signes-- Signs-- translated into English in 1964. My first remark is the following-- the point made by Levinas in a dismissive way, that this is like learning another language from one's mother tongue as a definition of lateral universal, is precisely what is stated here by Merleau-Ponty in a positive way. The call is made for the capacity to be in between languages, to be a translator. And that capacity is the lesson to be drawn for Merleau-Ponty from ethnology.
It is important to note that the quote-- the citation I gave-- comes from the text devoted by Merleau-Ponty to a reflection on ethnology and anthropology. And it is entitled From Mauss to Claude Levi-Strauss. It is important-- and this is my second remark-- that the lateral universal, as translation, does not mean transparency in the elimination of the untranslatable.
The view is not that of some sort of naive linguistic and cultural ecumenism. On the contrary, the untranslatable, or the unavoidable misunderstandings, or the mistaken views about each other-- to take Merleau-Ponty's phrase-- are part of this incessant testing marked by the co-presence of many different views. So lateral universality does not have, as its horizon, the establishment of a universal grammar, nor the endgame of a final reduction of the diversity of the callous world to the one and the same.
So what does it mean to learn to speak other languages, thus hearing the injunction from anthropology? This brings me to the second part of my presentation. Speaking to philosophers from the point of view of an anthropologist precisely-- an anthropologist and a linguist-- Edward Sapir had this advice for them. I quote him.
"Few philosophers have deigned to look into the morphologies of primitive languages, nor have they given the structural peculiarities of their own speech more than a passing and perfunctory attention. When one has the riddle of the universe on his hands, such pursuits seem trivial enough. Yet when it begins to be suspected that at least some solutions of the great riddle are elaborately round-about applications of the rules of Latin, or German, or English grammar, the triviality of linguistic analysis becomes less certain.
To a far greater extent than the philosopher has realized, he is likely to become the dupe of his speech forms, which is equivalent to saying that the mold of his thought-- which is typically a linguistic mode-- is apt to be projected into his conception of the world. Thus, innocent linguistic categories may take on the formidable appearance of cosmic absolutes. If only, therefore, to save himself from philosophic verbalism, it would be well for the philosopher to look critically to the linguistic foundations and limitations of his thought."
Now let me take as an illustration of this kind of linguistic turn-- this is akin to what we would call a linguistic turn-- a particular case evoked by Yvon Belaval-- as he precisely called the attention on the very languages in which the philosophers express themselves. This is a book he published a long time ago, entitled Les philosophes et leur language.
Here is the example-- in his treaty The System, 18th century French philosopher Etienne Bonnot de Condillac critically analyzes an argument made by the late 17th century Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche. We know that a general feature of sensationalistic or empiricist criticism of rationalist and [INAUDIBLE] philosophers is usually to accuse them of verbalism, in the sense that they would invoke as real entities things that are, in fact, the sheer production of the inventive, creative power of language, beyond what is actually the state of affairs-- beyond what is given. This is one general feature of such criticism.
Here in this particular case, it is different. But this idea that you have to just denounce this kind of crazy, mad, generative power of language is something that we find in Condillac's criticism. As the French phrase expresses it well, the criticism is that these rationalist and [INAUDIBLE] philosophers [SPEAKING FRENCH]-- literally reward themselves with words.
Now here, the criticism from Condillac is aimed at a particular aspect of Malebranche's core thesis that the ultimate cause of everything is God. So that what we call causes in the plural are only occasions for God's unique agency. We could say, for example, that fire burns, or God burns through the occasion of fire. And you could say, also, that when Diego Maradona cheated and scored a goal with his hand for Argentina, he was absolutely right and occasionalist saying that it was the hand of God.
One crucial objection against occasionalism, as the system is known, is then raised. If God is the general cause of all natural inclinations to be found in our minds, how can we account for the possibility of sinning? For Malebranche, the answer to such an objection takes the form of an analogy between the principle of inertia as a natural law of physics, and what happens when our natural inclinations are deviated in the direction of wrong-doing.
Condillac stresses that this is an aspect of the general analogy established earlier by Malebranche between matter's capacity to receive movement, our understanding's capacity to receive ideas-- in particular, innate ideas as they are imprinted upon us by God, and the will's capacity to receive inclinations, which for Condillac manifests that, contrary to his claim, the Cartesian priest that Malebranche is has no clear and distinct idea of the notion of will, since its explanation is by analogy.
This is the ultimate Cartesian test-- clear and distinct idea is what makes me know that I am really thinking something. Malebranche's answer to the objection of sin is the following-- I quote Malebranche. "In the same way that all movements follow a straight line if they do not encounter some extraneous and particular cause that determine them and change them into curved lines by opposing them, all inclinations that we receive from God are straight, and could not have any other end than the possession of the good and the true. Were it not for some extraneous cause which would determine what was impressed upon us by Nature towards bad ends."
And this is the passage that the Condillac himself quotes, and to which he simply responds, "What would have Malebranche done if that metaphorical expression, 'straight inclinations,' had not been in French? " I will not examine the discussion in any detail, as this is not what is at stake here. What I'm interested in are the following two points-- first, Condillac calls Malebranche's attention to the fact that he is speaking French, and that the peculiarities of that language incline him to think according to the possibility that the language offers.
But there is nothing necessary and universal in those linguistic accidents, by definition. If philosophy does not leave anything unexamined-- that is, its basic definition-- we need to pay attention to the fact that a given language in which we happen to philosophise inclines us to be led by words to think in a certain unexamined way.
Second point is implicit in Condillac's criticism. The implication is an invitation to always translate-- that is, to always test our arguments by transferring them into another language. That is the etymological meaning of transducare-- to lead-- trans-- dia, via, or across. So to transfer them into another language-- be it simply virtual-- in order to measure how sound they are in a way that would mean independently from the particular language we think in.
So Condillac is, in some respect, asking Malebranche to translate his statement into a language in which "straight" cannot be used in the metaphorical sense upon which it rests. Of course, that does not mean actually performing the translation. And as I said, the other language can be simply virtual-- thank God, because after all, being monolingual is widespread, even among non-American philosophers.
The injunction is just about being aware that there are out there many languages where the peculiar use of "straight" is absent. I would like to generalize this into the following memento-- think in the presence of the polarity of languages. In other words, remember that to philosophize is to speak a language among languages, and that what you say should undergo the test of translation-- "the test of the foreign," to use Antoine Berman's title.
Edouard Glissant famously declared, [SPEAKING FRENCH], I write in the presence of all the languages of the world. In a way, that is what Condillac's amounts to. And this is the posture that Merleau-Ponty's notion of lateral universal invites philosophers to adopt.
Of course, philosophers have always known that the curse of Babel happened, in that there are many languages. But there is also among them a strong belief in the necessary existence of the logos-- that is, both reason and language-- ratio et oratio, as the Latins rightly translated the Greek word "logos". To philosophize is to speak logos, and establish one's separation from the languages of the barbarians.
When the plurality of languages is considered, is still to ask if the logos-- the language of philosophy-- can be incarnated in one of those given languages. It is, really, in such a framework that the Heideggerian concept of a historial language and his notion that philosophy speaks Greek-- used to speak Greek, and now it speaks German-- are to be understood. Cicero's premise that philosophy can also speak Latin is still a tribute paid to the notion of a language of philosophy.
After all, when in his book, De finibus et bonorum et malorum, he starts looking at the best ways to translate this Greek concept into Latin, et cetera, his idea is to convince his own compatriots that they could philosophize also in their own language, which is a way of saying our language can also be a language of the logos, can also be an incarnation of the logos. In other words, you are not destroying the logos. You are reinforcing it by paying tribute to it through your own translation.
This is different from the notion that I use in my work, which has been coined by Barbara Cassin, of philosophizing in tongues-- a biblical expression which takes seriously our post-barbarian condition, and which conveys the double idea that first, before there are concepts, our concepts are words. They are words in languages, [SPEAKING FRENCH], inscribed in languages.
Second if universal varies-- and I'm here quoting Barbara Cassin-- if universal varies, I'm not sure that the word is adequate. She's the one who adds that. It is not an overarching one, but a lateral one. And it names is "translation."
In fact, when she writes that sentence that I just quoted, Barbara Cassin is making a reference to my own identification of the lateral universal of Merleau-Ponty with translation. There is one fundamental difference between my good friend Barbara Cassin and myself. She believes in the untranslatable. She believes in what she calls "a consistent relativism".
And having been a student of Louis Althusser, I am fundamentally a Universalist. I do want something like the universal to happen. That will be the difference between the two of us.
So this is why she says, I am not sure that the word is adequate. And if there is a universal, it can only be lateral. Because I am among those who work in her project, within the framework established by her Dictionary of the Untranslatables, those she refers to in her introduction of [SPEAKING FRENCH] as, I quote her, "The 150 companions and friends for the journey of more than 10 years, who explored another kind of freedom and philosophical practice at once more global and diversified, connected with words in languages." I did not realize until I read it right now that she also has this quite apocalyptic tone in describing what we are doing.
The assumption shared by those companions beyond the divide between Universalists and relativists is that there is no logos standing in its separation and in its vertical universality. With the example of Condillac and his criticism of Malebranche, one isolated word was considered-- the question of translation is expanded when we consider philosophical statements as they involve the very grammar of a language, and not just the particular use of some words. "Being is, not-being is not," or "I think, therefore I am," are such statements, for example.
Translation between Indo-European languages can be problematic. It is even more so when we are considering a non Indo-European language. In particular, "zero copula" languages, as they are called by linguists-- languages where you do not have the verb "to be" functioning the way in which in functions in Greek, or English, or Latin, or French-- when dealing with those kind of ontological statements.
When Descartes says, "I am. I exist," establishing an equivalence between the two-- "I am," and "I exist"-- how do we translate his statement in a language where the absolute use of the verb "to be" does not work, or does not work in the same way. When you say "I am" in certain languages, people would expect you to say you are what? You are who? You are where?
You are how big? Does your mother know about your whereabouts? No, scrub that. This Rwandan philosopher, Alexis Kagame, has declared in his La philosophie Bantu-Rwandaise de l'etre that one could not translate Decarte's "cogito ergo sum" into [INAUDIBLE] Rwandan language.
In fact, there is always a way of rendering it. But the point he's making is that realizing that "I am" is an untranslatable could have opened up the question of the very possibility of making an immediate move from "I think" to "I am," which is precisely a criticism that will be leveled at Decartes' cogito.
So now I end with a very short third point on the difference between logical analysis of language and philosophizing in tongues, asking this questions-- is this, what I have just said, this call for translation, the same as conducting a logical analysis of language according to the Leibnizian program of overcoming the saraband of our post-Babel world by learning to go beyond the surface grammar of our languages, and retrieve the true grammar of thought or of understanding? That grammar is the one that Leibniz called philosophical, and of which he believed that it would be universal.
For Leibniz, such a philosophical grammar of thought and, therefore, the universal language is the language of algebra, or rather, the speciosa, as he called it. And the task of reconstructing the philosophical grammar of all our languages offers a path back to the Adamic language-- the pre-Babel condition of [INAUDIBLE]. This task is clearly assumed by two heirs of Leibniz' program of a lingua characteristica universalist and of a calculus raciocinator-- George Bull, and Gottlob Frege.
Bull, for example, writes, we could not easily conceive that the [? ennumbered ?] tongues and dialects of the Earth should have preserved, through the long succession of ages, so much that is common and universal were we not assured of the existence of some deep foundation of their agreement in the laws of the mind itself. The analogy could be made between the idea of going deep down to the laws of the mind, and reconstruct philosophically the language in which all is already translated in Walter Benjamin's pure language. Logicians following Leibniz were also looking for the language of all languages, the language of our agreement that would turn [? disputatio ?] into [? calculemos ?]. Any kind of dispute would be settled by calculus.
Philosophizing in tongues, on the other side, means establishing oneself comfortably in our post-Babelian condition. It is not the research for the philosophical grammar of our language. But it finds its starting point in the inescapable reality of the grammatical philosophies, or philosophies of grammar present in our empirical languages-- a concept that you have recognized as coined by Nietzsche, who considered grammar the conceptual matrix of metaphysics.
And I am here referring to the famous Article 20 from Beyond Good and Evil, where Nietzsche says, "philosophizing is so far an atavism of the highest order, the wonderful family resemblance of all Indian, Greek, and German philosophizing is easily enough explained. Where there is affinity of languages owing to the unconscious domination and guidance of similar grammatical functions, it cannot be that everything is prepared at the outset for a similar development and succession of philosophical systems, just as the way seems [INAUDIBLE] against certain other possibilities of word interpretations. It is highly probable," Nietzsche continues, "that philosophers within the domain of the [SPEAKING GERMAN] languages, where the conception of the subject is least developed, look otherwise into the world, and will be found on paths of thought different from those of the Indo-Germans and Mussulmans. The spell of certain grammatical functions is ultimately the spell of physiological valuations and racial conditions-- so much by way of rejecting Locke's superficiality with regard to the origin of ideas." A well-known quote from Nietzsche, which echoes, obviously, what I just read concerning Edward Sapir.
Now I conclude by coming back to Levinas. Lateral universality is not to be dismissed in the name of verticality. It is not a contradiction in adjecto, and therefore an empty phrase. Its meaning is "translation."
The language of all languages, as Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o declares, is translation. And this could echo also what Umberto Eco said when he said that the language of Europe is translation. In fact, we can just expand this to the whole world and say, like Ngugi, that the language of all languages is translation, and not a logos identified with Greek, or German, or English. That is the invitation expressed in the journey of The Dictionary of the Untranslatables-- to discover that every language is always [SPEAKING FRENCH]-- a language among others.
That leads me to a pedagogical utopia to end. We know that the pediment of Plato's Academy said, "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." The new Academy of the 21st century global world may ask, "Let no one ignorant of a radically other tongue than his own enter here."
After all, Goethe, who was discussed last week in [? Elie's ?] paper, said that one who does not know but one's own tongue, in fact, does not know it. That is, for Merleau-Ponty, the significance of lateral universality-- a lesson to be drawn from anthropology. And he indicates that Husserl himself, at one point, when he received the book from Levy-Bruhl on primitive mentality, understood the necessity to pay attention to other languages and life forms through anthropology that he had decried, as all other social sciences in his work-- that we have to learn how to think from language to language, or between languages, is the significance of lateral universality. Thank you for your patience.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So we have now plenty of time for discussion.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] portion of the [INAUDIBLE] thesis that what is known by [INAUDIBLE] cannot therefore be [INAUDIBLE]? And this is precisely what [INAUDIBLE] contested, and that you also contest this kind of idea, as far as the thesis of lateral universality. And so let me think about it another moment.
In your talk, I really want to ask why do you say that translation is synonymous with lateral universality, rather than translation being the best metaphor for lateral universality, or maybe even the best mentality for lateral universality? Because translation is always involved, or always [INAUDIBLE] these things happen. Because I know that when [INAUDIBLE] says x is synonymous with y, he really means it. So that's why I ask.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Yes, well, thank you very much, Maya. About Condillac, you're absolutely right. I do not endorse the idea that if you know by analogy, you have no real idea. Because sometimes that's the only way of knowing precisely. To say that x is to y what z is to d is, if you know the other terms, knowing exactly what the unknown is. That is how you progress from the known to the unknown, as well.
But Condillac has a point here. If you are a Cartesian philosopher-- and Malebranche is a Cartesian philosopher-- you do not accept anything less as a criterion of evidence than this grasping-- [INAUDIBLE] by one single act of the mind the truth of the thing. If you cannot look at the real, and grasp intuitively what it means, and have a clear and distinct idea of the significance of the real-- if you need to take the detour of saying that the real is to the inclinations it receives what matter is to the movement it receives, then you are not being a good Cartesian philosopher.
You and I are not having that kind of demand for clear and distinct ideas. Because you and I are very approximative people, who like poetry, and believe that we live in approximative world anyway. And why I didn't say-- that is part of your question-- it is the best metaphor.
And I insisted on this identification of the lateral universal and translation because what I have done is already a kind of metonymic reduction of cultures to languages. I don't want to talk about relationship between cultures, because I don't know what that means. I mean, it is very fashionable to talk about dialogue of cultures or dialogue of religions, but nobody has ever seen cultures or religions sitting together and discussing.
But you can have peopl-- real people-- sitting together and using languages, and using languages with all the capacity of misunderstanding that is involved in language, and so on, and so forth. And that is why I proceed with more than just saying it is a metaphor. And I used a strong identification instead.
AUDIENCE: Thank you very much for the talk. The question of translation takes on a whole new meaning when thought of through the notion of prayer-- prayer seen as something not just that you have to be able to speak the original language, but you speak the original language because you're sending thoughts, words, back to God, so to speak. Malebranche famously defined prayer in terms of attention.
He said that attention is a natural prayer of the soul, which I think is what makes him a Cartesian because that's what Descartes was interested in as well. The cognito was more of an intuitive insight, precisely because it was the development of attention that came by this intuitive moment of [INAUDIBLE] distinction. In that way, could the tension be thought of as the universal [INAUDIBLE] rather than translation?
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Yes, except that in this case, attention would be rather the universal silence than the universal language. It would be universal precisely because it is a radical moment of silence. This silence, even in prayer, when Malebranche says that attention-- and attention, as you know, is a very strong concept in Cartesian philosophy. When Descartes says that the ideas that are clear and distinct appear as such to an attentive mind, this is precisely the mind that has bracketed out in some kind of epochal everything else, and which is just fixated on the presence-- the overwhelming presence-- of the idea.
And there is almost something religious in that notion of an attention. And it is not surprising, then, that Malebranche, who is a priest, takes Decartes' notion of attention to that point, where it becomes the true, only possible prayer that you can address God. The only way of praying God should be through absolute silence.
You pray God, and you send to him words, and usually his own words. When he is this Deus absconditus, some kind of behind-the-veil, you don't really see him, you really are not sure he is there. Then you send him all your possible [INAUDIBLE], oh, my Lord, et cetera, et cetera.
But if you are in His presence, there is nothing you are going to ask. Not really-- you shouldn't be asking anything at all. Only in the belief that God is the absent god, Deus absconditus, could you pray and say, oh, my god, help me with my PhD and my writing, and stuff like that. In his presence, you aren't going to ask for anything at all. And this is probably the highest form of prayer-- just having the sense of your own ontological poverty, and the way in which that ontological poverty is fulfilled by God's will Himself.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. So my question is clustered around three things. One is when you mentioned your difference with the consistent relativism of Barbara Cassin. I would love-- because yours is a very different solution. And then you just slip that in. If you were to have to talk with her philosophically about this, I would love to know how it goes.
That's the first part of the question. The second part is the fungibility of translation-- whether one can talk, not just about cultural translation, but for me the question is historical translation. How do you not colonize a past period of time? How do you allow it-- know that you are involved in the act of translation, not the act of appropriation?
It's got to be our history whether it's religious history, or national history, or Western history. But it's really hard to do, because you've got [INAUDIBLE]. And so that kind of metaphorical use in order to translate-- when does the metaphor break down?
Because in fact, I do find that we were discussing [INAUDIBLE] spaces, which in [INAUDIBLE] really has this strange combination of standing, but also revolution or rebellion. And so there seems to be full of motion and at the same time so static. And it's a very, very important concept in that cultural situation.
So I don't think that excludes language. So it's not just a nice metaphor. But I wondered how you would respond to that.
And then the third thing-- and also, it's connected-- is when you talk about Benjamin's idea of pure language. Yes, it could be that it's pure and therefore, totally erroneous language, or if, allows for the theological, it could be another way of saying-- [INAUDIBLE] what the Quran says in-- I may be wrong about it-- I don't remember, but I think it's Chapter 47, or stanza, whatever-- it's 47:13. I think that's it. But I know that it says, Oh, people, I have made you, man and woman, and of various nations, let's say, languages, so that you may get to know one another.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Yes, you quoted it right. Indeed, the Quran say, "I have made you different nations that you may know each other." Let me start with that aspect of your question, which is actually something that goes in the direction of what I am calling for, in some respect.
Because I do believe-- and this is the kind of verses from the Quran that I emphasize myself-- I do believe in pluralism. One correspondent one, equal to this quote that you just made from the Quran, is also another passage of the Quran, where it says, "If we had so wanted, we would have made you one single nation. Understood, we did not want it. But we made you different in your colors, and in your languages, and even in your spiritual orientation, and traditions, and religions, et cetera-- any kind of diversity that one could imagine.
And it continues saying, what you should be doing, then, is to compete in good deeds, knowing that when you come back to me-- God-- I am the one who's going to tell you about your divergences. So this idea that pluralism is in the order of things, is something wanted, and something which has to be as it is. And it is something good. And that then, you have to translate. You have to compete. But you compete in good deeds.
And what you are left with is precisely translation-- from the diversity of your languages, all equivalent languages, the saraband of countless equivalent languages that Levinas did not want to fragment the world-- that the only way of having a kind of perspective above all our divergences and our differences is the point of view of God Himself. It is only when you come back to Me that you will understand who was right, or what was the nature of your own differences.
If you take that kind of verses seriously, then you are a pluralist. But-- and I connect this to your first question-- I believe that pluralism is some kind of middle between Universalism-- abstract Universalism-- and relativism, be it a consistent one. The idea that plurality and pluralism is not the negation of the claim for something true, and is something that I try to formulate. It's an in-between position. And like all in-between positions, it is a difficult one.
And this is the conversation I am actually having with Barbara. This is something we discuss any time we meet. And for example, if you consider the work of the untranslatable, as I said, when Kenyan and Rwandan philosopher Alexis Kagame says, "I think, therefore I am," is untranslatable in Kinyarwanda, one can understand exactly what he is saying.
He's saying that you do not have this absolute use of the verb "to be" in his own Kinyarwanda language. But you have many other languages where you don't have it. In Hebrew, you don't say "Being is, not being is not." You just say, well, being is. And there is no nothingness-- something like that.
But if you have to translate the poem of Parmenides, you can manage. Actually, the poem of Parmenides ends up being translated in all languages. And I quoted Edward Sapir.
My friends in my seminar and myself were laughing at the fact that Edward Sapir thinks, actually, that Kant should have been an Eskimo. Because he thought that Eskimo language was much more appropriate for the expression of what he has to say than German. So much for the historial language of Heidegger.
So yes. So translation is this impossible task that in the end always succeeds. That's what I would like to have as being my position. Because it is involved what [INAUDIBLE] has called this work of mourning, but at the same time, you do the job. When you start translating, it is impossible for you to translate. And in the end, you do the job.
Now, how are you going to do it? And you know, of course, about the Bermannian reflection coming from Schleiermacher about serving two masters. Are you going to bring the work to the reader, or the reader to the work? Are you going to displace the reader, or try to make him stay comfortably in his own language, in which you are going to transfer what you translate?
I believe this is connected with what you say about historical translation. If I want some kind of modern adaptation of Milton, and I ask Adam's permission to say such an enormity here, I could do that. I mean, it could be fun to have Paradise Lost resembling Kanye West's rap. But that would not be really what I want to do.
I believe the historicity adds to the dimension of translation, which is just that-- bringing the reader to the text, to the work, or the work to the reader. If it is at a certain time-- you have this distance in time-- you may want, if you translate Shakespeare in Wolof, to have an old state of the Wolof language to match Shakespeare's language, but these are decisions you have to make. It is the very crux of translation, as you know better.
Stasis-- when we had that conversation about stasis, it was very interesting. And I want to go back to read Agamben on that, because I don't see how one could reconcile these two meanings of stasis-- standing, on the one hand, and civil war on the other hand. One question that I would like to ask-- and I return it to you-- do we absolutely-- in fact, I haven't read Agamben's text on that-- but do we absolutely need to reconcile these two?
In other words, if you have a dictionary which says that this root or this word could mean A and B, why do you have to work out a logic that would connect A and B? Let me finish this, and then I'll ask you the question. I encountered this very question when I looked at the root, the Arabic root, for translation, [SPEAKING ARABIC], which has given the word [SPEAKING ARABIC], a translator, and which is also a word that went into French as [SPEAKING FRENCH].
When in French you say [SPEAKING FRENCH], it is an Arabic word, in fact. It could sound Latin, but it is an Arabic word-- this Arabic word [SPEAKING ARABIC]. And the interesting thing with [SPEAKING FRENCH] is that once [SPEAKING FRENCH] was adopted to mean translation, [SPEAKING FRENCH] had a very specialized use as simple tool.
You say [SPEAKING FRENCH] Mon dieu-- that is almost always the phrase in which you use it. And it has lost its meaning as translation. But this is a very long digression.
My point is that the same root [SPEAKING ARABIC], which you find in Tarjuman translation is a root for someone being lapidated. The Satan in the Quran is called [SPEAKING ARABIC]-- the lapidated-- Satan the lapidated. What in the heck is the connection between lapidated and translation? I could spend the rest of my life looking at the connection, or just decide, like Hegel said we should say in the face of mountains, "It is so." [SPEAKING ARABIC] means "translation" on the one hand, and on the other hand, "the lapidated."
MODERATOR: Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: So I think you might have answered my question already. But I asked this in class, as well. So I have some difficulty reconciling a certain way in which [INAUDIBLE] anthropologists speak about translation and [INAUDIBLE] do.
So one thing that I always saw [INAUDIBLE] not doing, is that I think what he does is that he misreads grammatical difference as an intrinsic difference in the content of experience [INAUDIBLE]. So even though experience [INAUDIBLE] might be something beyond [INAUDIBLE], it can only be understood insofar as we can decide what grammatical language is being spoken in. So I have a couple of questions there.
So one question is that, because you are speaking of a translation at a certain universalising [INAUDIBLE] gesture, and you're not going, or you're not proceeding from a vision of specific languages to specific [INAUDIBLE], I wonder, then, is there a limit to universalizing [INAUDIBLE] besides [INAUDIBLE] latter? Because for me, the one thing that ascends in the notion of translating languages and understanding cultures is precisely the notion in which, because one cannot have some kind of a comprehensive and accurate understanding of what [INAUDIBLE] might be, it's almost resolving the problem of understanding culture [INAUDIBLE].
And [INAUDIBLE] radical skepticism in which, OK, because you can't go, because there is no solution to it, we don't do it at all. [INAUDIBLE] translation. I'm always reminded of [INAUDIBLE] anthropologists, when they talk about [INAUDIBLE] reminded of this sort of statement [INAUDIBLE] says if [INAUDIBLE] we still would not be able to understand. Even though there might be language, but really there is no understanding what is said.
And [INAUDIBLE] example in which grammatical differences are not going to [INAUDIBLE] experience at all, per se. So I'm wondering if maybe you could elaborate on that movement. Because [INAUDIBLE] there is a certain sense in which a horizontal understanding of language, sort of intertwined with our understanding of the question of the other [INAUDIBLE], whether it is [INAUDIBLE] or whether [INAUDIBLE] a philosophical other in the other-- that there is some sense in which they can't be so separated.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: I mean, this is a wonderful and crucial question you are posing. Somehow, I have it easy by this metronymical reduction of culture to language. I'm really looking at languages, and all my language is about languages, and not considering the whole cultural package that comes with the whole thing.
So yes, I concentrate on, for example, the way in which both Sapir and Nietzsche do on the grammar of a given language. What does a grammar say? What do you do when you are dealing with zero copula language, and so on?
But you are right. One can also say that in the process of translation, trying to put yourself in the shoes of the other is not just having this navigation between two different grammatical philosophies, to use Nietzsche's concept, but also worldviews, cultures, and so on. I would have the kind of answer that you and I, and our other companions in the seminar have been considering when we read Quine-- this notion of practical psychology and empathy-- the notion that empathy, what was labeled-- an expression that I don't like-- the principle of charity, but for which, probably, "empathy," that Quine uses in his latest works, is better.
So to what extent does that count is a question I pose myself. And I don't have a precise answer to offer here. The experience of reading a translation, a work in translation-- which is obviously displacing me, dis-centering me.
It is speaking to me in the language that I can read, because that is what the translation is about. But at the same time, I can feel not only in the way in which the sentences are written, but also references that are made, that there is a whole world behind these words that I am reading. And to what extent do I enter that world is a very important, interesting question. Which, by the way, we tried to raise in our meeting, when we read [INAUDIBLE], who is, obviously, bringing with him all this world of culture.
And if you read him, we were one Wolof and a half-- and I count [INAUDIBLE] half if she would allow me-- in the class. But we all read the same text, in some respect. But this is not something that you can decide generally.
I don't think there is a kind of general universal discourse about what you just raised. It is something that is decided on a case by case basis. In what sense does this translation do the job of also bringing to me not only a language, but also a worldview and a cultural context?
AUDIENCE: Bachir, if you lay down the philosophical landscape [INAUDIBLE] French, obviously, determined by the [INAUDIBLE] language. And given your focus on [INAUDIBLE], I was surprised that [INAUDIBLE] picture. [INAUDIBLE] ask to pay attention to the fact that [INAUDIBLE] language, which is the same in languages, for the fight jokingly and seriously, at the same time the construction of more than one language.
Also, I think [INAUDIBLE] criticism of [INAUDIBLE] in fact, he has leveled significant criticism. He has [INAUDIBLE]. So since you made explicit here your dialogue and your difference with [INAUDIBLE], I was wondering-- it seems to me that the risk here in ongoing dialogue, even though it's unspoken, it could be bad. I'd like you to express more on that.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: You are 1,000 times right. It is true that, in fact, if I were to publish my presentation today, I would put, as an epigraph [SPEAKING FRENCH] which is the Derrida-ian, well-known phrase. In this case, obviously, I would think that Derrida is very much present in what I was saying. And as he is present in Barbara Cassin's work, by the way.
So yes, indeed, you are absolutely right pointing that. My only line of defense would be to say, I was kind of breathing Derrida so naturally that he was very much present in what I was saying, but did not come out thematized as such. If I had considered-- because I was going to consider that aspect, but I was already being too long-- this idea that intra-linguistic translation is perfectly possible, which is what he himself said in his dialogue with Khatibi on the [SPEAKING FRENCH]. And there are also passages in his dialogue, if I'm not mistaken, with [INAUDIBLE], where the issue of language and of translation also is very much echoing what I was saying.
AUDIENCE: And I was wondering, because the question is, I thought, how you tied the task of translation to you yourself. And I thought that maybe, you said you disagreed with Barbara Cassin within the common framework of translation, because [INAUDIBLE] plural universality as opposed to [INAUDIBLE]. And so I was wondering where you would situate Derrida with [INAUDIBLE].
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Well, I think that I am more on the side-- what I'm saying is probably more on the side of Derrida, I believe. I'm thinking here, saying that to-- well, first of all, everything that I said about this logos-- the language of languages. But at the same time, the notion that we have this horizon of the task of universality.
In other words, universality is not a given. We have not such a thing as an overarching universal. But we still have the task and the horizon of looking for some form of universalization. Actually, the verb of action-- the action of universalizing-- would be, probably, something I would like to consider more.
One concrete example would be the discourse on human rights. What does it mean that, when these nations-- 58 nations-- met in UNESCO in 1948, they had a declaration which demands for its own universalization, the circulation of those enunciations, to use the language of Amselle, through all different languages and cultures. Which is a very interesting point.
I mean, this would be the kind of concrete example that [? Swayam ?] was asking for earlier. Because I have seen translation of the Universal Declaration in Wolof. Depending on the word you choose to say, for example, "rights," you are doing things that are very different.
You have two ways of saying "rights" in Wolof. One is the old Wolof phrase for that, [SPEAKING WOLOF], what you can demand. Another word is just the adoption of the Arabic word-- because Arabic language is very present in many African languages through Islamization and hybridization of the languages-- is to use [SPEAKING WOLOF].
So if you use the word [SPEAKING WOLOF], then all the connotation-- the religious connotations-- also come with it. Because [SPEAKING WOLOF], to come back to the kind of etymology that we were discussing with Susan-- means also not only "right," but "true," and so on. So depending on which word you use for that translation, you are implying many different connotations in your translation of the Declaration.
This is the kind of aspects I am very much interested in-- how translation is transformative, which is something we find also in Benjamin. For Benjamin, the act of translation transforms both languages-- the target one and the source language. But thank you for calling my attention to Derrida on this issue.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Professor. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the relationship between horizontal universalism and vertical universalism. How is it that [INAUDIBLE] horizontal universal interact [INAUDIBLE] history of translation that has been used as tools of colonization?
And so I'm thinking of [INAUDIBLE] La Malinche, who was the indigenous translator who Cortes used in his [INAUDIBLE]. And so I'm wondering how it is that translation might occasion a possibility, not of communication, but a possibility of decoding, so as to kind of extract. So I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that aspect of translation, but also how it relates to [INAUDIBLE] horizontal.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Yeah, I'm happy that you are using that example of the translator of Cortes, because this is something I'm very much interested in-- the colonial interpreter. The one who, in a given colonial space or a space of domination, is supposed to be the one who conveys the orders of the master, and also gives him the information that he would need to do. So in this case-- and I come back to the word [INAUDIBLE], the interpreter is supposed to be simply a [INAUDIBLE], which never happens, actually. They always take some kind of agency. I'm sure that the translator of Cortes took it on his own, also, to sort of do more than just interpret things.
But on the latter-- the universality-- let me give you, to make it more precise, something that Merleau-Ponty said and that I just alluded to. Husserl, as you know, is someone who just did not believe in anthropology. I mean, after the radical criticism of Frege, Husserl got rid of anything having to do with some kind of psychological consideration.
You have to deal with the eidos in itself. And when you talk about truth or the phenomenological approach of things, you bracket out everything that is not just the relationship of the transcendental subject and the object as it is constructed in this phenomenological relation. So nothing having to do with anthropology-- anthropology is just some kind of distraction from the universality of that kind of relationship that you can have the object itself in this relation with the ego transcendental.
Now in 1935, which is exactly the same date where Husserl gave the Vienna Conference that I alluded to-- this is when he had this exchange with Levy-Bruhl, who sent him his book On Primitive Mentality. And Husserl, in writing, had a fairly long response, saying that he should be-- in fact, that he was realizing that you cannot just deduct, so to say, deduce the other life forms by some kind of variation within your own transcendental experience. You cannot just retrieve what humanity is, and what human condition is, by just having this kind of [INAUDIBLE] variation using your own.
You have, at one point, to deal with the plurality in the world, the actual plurality in the world. This is a moment when Husserl seemed to say, well, I have to pay more attention to anthropology, because there is something that is not just something that I can draw a conclusion from my own premises remaining in this strictly [INAUDIBLE] type of reduction. Having to go out there in the anthropological world is something that seemed important, to the point where Merleau-Ponty said that this text by Husserl should be really emphasized in the coming publication of collected works by Husserl that was going out at the time.
So this notion of laterality means just that-- you cannot know, fully know, if at one point you do not deal in a material way, in a concrete way, with the plurality of the world. And that plurality cannot be reduced to the logical or phenomenological categories, and be concluded from those categories. And in the particular case of colonialism, it means that you do not have, anymore, a culture that would present itself as universal, which would say, I am naturally the universal. You have to orient yourself towards me.
Which is what Husserl said in that 1935 conference, which is also what, somehow, Levinas is saying when he laments that a decolonized world is also a disoriented world. This is very, very French, by the way. Valerie famously said, we French have the particularity of being universal. And I am afraid this was not all joke from him. [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: I should like to know where you commensurate [INAUDIBLE] and that [? Emmanuel ?] [INAUDIBLE] wrote to [INAUDIBLE]. He wrote this-- I did not write Moby Dick in English. I wrote it in outlandish. Outlandish-- which Emmanuel [INAUDIBLE] translated [SPEAKING FRENCH], language from [INAUDIBLE].
And it's from [INAUDIBLE] poetry of Goethe. Do you think that [INAUDIBLE], in the desire to be universal, [? Alain ?] [? Merrill ?] thought he was not translatable, untranslated? And my question, also, is could we think that each language has the specific economy of silence?
And that when we are [INAUDIBLE] or learning a new language, it's very often to overcome the silence of [INAUDIBLE]? This is the question or proposition I am doing. In the same way, I was thinking about the question of Lacan.
What is language of the unconscious? And in the [INAUDIBLE] he tries and tries to learn Chinese [INAUDIBLE]. During two years, Lacan tried to speak Chinese, write Chinese, understand Chinese, thinking, desiring, hoping, that Chinese could be the language of the unconscious.
After two years, he gave up, and decided to go to mathematics and [INAUDIBLE] and all the [INAUDIBLE]. And I am not sure that it was really a success. But I was thinking about, on the other [INAUDIBLE] of Lacan, who said that or wrote that-- what is to be heard in what is said [INAUDIBLE] that could be written?
[INAUDIBLE] with three levels-- what is heard, what I am hearing, and what is said that I could write. Asking the question of the translation [INAUDIBLE] the language of the unconscious, but also the transmission of knowledge about who is listening during the [INAUDIBLE]? So that's two questions about translation-- poetry and psychoanalysis-- language of the unconscious and the question about silence and translating of Moby Dick.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Moby Dick, outlandish, yes. These are very difficult questions. And thank you for the comments they constitute. I would suspect that Lacan's statement-- I did not know that one-- it seems to paraphrase the old Aristotelian hierarchy between sounds-- they are the closest to the mental image-- and then the written, about which Derrida writes in Of Grammatology, by the way, this notion that the oral logos, the word of God, is there.
And then what is closest to it is, obviously, our own mental representation, which we express through sounds. And writing derived, just a sign of sign, as a trace of that. I think that in these three layers that Lacan is presenting, it is a kind of evocation of that.
Now, about poetry and writing in outlandish, I do think that there is some form of pursuit of something universal in the way in which the language becomes poetic, or goes back to its original poetry. Maybe it is not the logician who is looking for the universal language in the mathematical science of algebra who is right. And by the way, this infatuation with Chinese language in Lacan is a way of repeating the admiration that the Leibnizian program had for the Chinese-- not language, in this case, but writing-- the idea that picturing immediately ideas, the hieroglyphic writing could be somehow superior to the alphabetical writing.
But in this matter, I think that when it comes to-- learning Chinese, in the case of Lacan, was an excellent thing. This would go along the lines of my own pedagogical utopia. Everybody should be thinking, learning a language radically different from their own language, and philosophize the way, for example, Francois Jullien does. Francois Jullien is very good at looking at philosopheme in between languages, in between Chinese-- not only Chinese and French, but also the classical languages that he knows.
To come back to poetry, the point when the language that poetry is after is that fundamentally poetic language which could reach a point when you could even say that it almost doesn't need a translation, as it becomes so close to music. We may want to go in that direction. Well, for that reason poetry is, at the same time, probably what is most difficult to translate, and at the same time, maybe the most universal language.
If I did not know English, and you just recite with some kind of melodious voice, "It was long, and long ago, in a kingdom by the sea, there lived a maiden who you may know by the name of Annabel Lee," I could just be there and just take in the musicality of what you are saying, and listen to it like I listen to opera. And [? Michal ?] gave me authorization not to pay attention to the words, but to just have the opera come in.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Bachir. That was wonderful. I had only one moment of [INAUDIBLE] puzzlement, because I was wondering whether Levinas not be a bigger element for your argument and project than he now was summarized.
And so I would repeat that Levinas has not registered the injunctional [INAUDIBLE]. That's something I would [INAUDIBLE] immediately. And that has much to do with his allegiance to technology, [INAUDIBLE], psychologism, socialism, culturalism, and what have you. But there are two moments that I thought might make Levinas less of a defender of the abstract universal of Greek Eurocentric philosophical logocentrism, as it were.
And so two things-- my sense is for Levinas, rightly or wrongly, anthropology figures only negatively or largely, in the sense that anthropology describes-- and [INAUDIBLE] explicitly describes, the world at which the human self is absolved by an amorphous, indistinct other. So that would be the role of mythical participation.
And the greatness of Greek philosophy is to have broken apart those mythical, diffuse developments-- these absorptions of the self by the other-- by having posited the self as an identity [INAUDIBLE]. And then now, in its quest, starts to absorb the other, to the point that we have a philosophy of identity, of totality, of the neuter, ontology, you name it-- everything that goes into having of the Western [INAUDIBLE].
Now, what [INAUDIBLE] seems to suggest is two things, it seems to me-- that on the one hand, it is the greatest, unsurpassable absorbing of that Western/Greek/European thought, that for all its identification and vocalization of everything out there, [INAUDIBLE] turn itself against itself. And that's a major claim, although it may be false. But it is not very different from what Nietzsche would have said, when it's the spirit of [SPEAKING GERMAN] or introspection of self-questioning of Christianity itself, that allows us to diagnose the cataclysmic form that nihilism will take. Or it's not so different from what the dialectical thing that we have [INAUDIBLE] that somehow, dialectical negativity ultimately can turn itself against dialectical totalities of sorts, that have turned everything into the [INAUDIBLE].
So that makes the [INAUDIBLE] form of philosophical imperialism in the sense of inscribing the philosophical idea of [INAUDIBLE] in a particular nationality that [INAUDIBLE] might have said-- that [INAUDIBLE] can be from Greece to [INAUDIBLE]. But it is, in a sense, also a self-critical form. So [INAUDIBLE] exactly where the anthropological critique of colonialism-- and he mentions explicitly [INAUDIBLE] talks-- could only have succeeded by standing on the shoulder of Eurocentric thought that [INAUDIBLE].
So that would be one element. The second element would be that I don't think that he has to defend in the footstep of Husserl an ethical universal or an ethical [INAUDIBLE] substitutes for the rate of the theoretical logos that Husserl may have been after, at least in early pants. But I think there are two elements that may have a place in your whole project.
One would be [INAUDIBLE] Levinas, the ethical universal or the ethical absolute is not intuitively given as a clear and distinct idea, but actually the result of a process not of translation so much, but of [INAUDIBLE]. And where Levinas will say, if you look at the [INAUDIBLE], we have to grasp Spinoza. This is composed, constructed [INAUDIBLE] of many, many links.
And that [INAUDIBLE] don't make the miracle of the Bible less. It makes it, actually, greater. And then there's not just the Bible, not to mention old rabbinical covenants that, for Levinas, belonged to its [INAUDIBLE].
But there's also [INAUDIBLE] literature. And Levinas even, I think, in that same context [INAUDIBLE] Levy-Strauss as well, it may very well be the case that Buddhism has sensed this being of ethical otherness. But I don't know. I don't know [INAUDIBLE]. That would be for others to add.
And in addition to this, multiple worlds of diversifying, translating, or [INAUDIBLE] the typical language [INAUDIBLE] of Jerusalem, there are real differences. What you get out of the Bible of the rabbis and [INAUDIBLE] you might just as well [INAUDIBLE] before they're out of Shakespeare, out of Dostoyevsky, out of [? Bolstory ?] and [? Bupeppi ?].
But the bottom line-- OK, this may be why-- the difference would be you and Levinas-- that would be Levinas and Merleau-Ponty is that something in that particular essay that you referred to in [INAUDIBLE] insists on something which he calls-- I think, if I remember correctly, a signification without context. And it seems to me that that can easily take the place of very [INAUDIBLE] imperial logocentric force, even in an ethical guise. But they also allow for some critical potential.
And I always feel that [INAUDIBLE] all this being steeped in certain traditions and not others. And for all the fact that there are insensitivities in many of the [INAUDIBLE] that he has made, that perhaps [INAUDIBLE] or avoid. Nonetheless, I hope the whole idea of signification without a context is [INAUDIBLE].
And I think it takes a very simple form-- that for me alone, there would be no language. But for me and my peer, or kin, or the one other that I love, or with whom I have a partnership, that would not be a genuine language of ethical impetus, either. So there has to be one other, and that one other who will be the signification [INAUDIBLE] for within our combined context. In that one other, there is [INAUDIBLE].
But what I find difficult is to squeeze that into a notion of lateral or more comprehensive or universality. I think it's an [INAUDIBLE] thought of the absolute, not as the other, but as that which exalts itself for my present context, or that's in context of myself and one other, within my [INAUDIBLE]. It's the one [INAUDIBLE] other. And that, I think, is hard to think without invoking vertical [INAUDIBLE].
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: It is true that he explicitly says that we need some kind of return to Platonism-- to a form of Platonism, which is the only way for him to speak about cultures. I do think that the blind spot in Levinas' philosophy is how you talk about the others in the plural. How you talk about the other in the singular-- that is beautifully done in The Ethics and the I/thou dyadic relation.
The other is the one who caves naked. And the equivalent of the naked face is-- and you are absolutely right-- this idea of signification, also, without context. So his is not a classical Eurocentrism, where you would be talking about the exceptionalism of European values. If there is something exceptional, it would not be the European values. It would be, on the contrary, the capacity of Europe to interrogate and question values-- the valuation itself.
So when he says that Europe has this anthropological vocation to understand the others better than they have understood themselves, it is true that this is not just a given. It is because for him, Europe has done that self-critical turn upon its own self, and reached some kind of transparency to itself, which would justify it. So you are absolutely right.
He just thinks that the location where the signification without context is possible-- and therefore, this self-critical discourse about oneself is possible-- is Europe, and because of philosophy. And in that sense, he is a continuator of Husserl. And to which I would adopt the response given by Amartya Sen, who said that if we now change the significance of Eurocentrism-- and we are not saying anymore that there is an excellence of European values, but Europe is the location of the spirit criticizing itself, of self-criticism-- he says we are not better off.
We have to consider that this self-critical capacity is inscribed, in fact, in all human cultures. There is not such a thing as a division between a location where one can be self-critical of oneself, and other locations where people just adhere to their own traditions, values, and so on, without being able to create the critical distance from which they would be seeing it. That is one aspect.
But when I say that the blind spot is the discourse about the others, I don't think that he is truly equipped in his thinking about [SPEAKING FRENCH], otherwise than being, or this ethical relation to just look at the spectacle of a world where you would have equivalent culture and languages being given out there. And yes, you have these passages when he elaborates more about this idea of transparency. But you have, also, other passages where he just says things that are not worthy of him.
For example, he has this quote about look at people in South Africa dancing at funerals, as very dismissive, disdainful quote about people in South Africa. It is true that in the culture of Mandela, when someone dies, Mandela did have that move that he had. But at the same time, the face given by Mandela's culture to the adventure of the human being in general is not something that should be talked about so lightly, to the point when he coined the expression of "dancer cultures" in opposition to a culture in which you do not dance at funerals.
So this kind of insensitivity, to take your word, does show that this is, I think, the discourse on cultures and translation. And when I consider translation-- this is another point that I would have added to my first comment, to [? Maia's ?] comment, is that I am very much insistent on the Bermannian notion that translation is a putting in touch of languages, and a form of creation of reciprocity. The notion of reciprocity which is involved in language is something very important.
And this is why the lateral universality, for me, can only be a universality if it is something in which reciprocity and equivalence are engaged. But it doesn't take out anything about Levinas' philosophy. And this is a philosophy that I admire very much, not just the ethics, but also, as you mentioned, the [INAUDIBLE]. I like his Talmudic readings, for example. They are admirable, I think, as well.
MODERATOR: I think at this point we should all thank Professor Diagne.
SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE: Thank you.
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Souleymane Bachir Diagne, professor of French and philosophy at Columbia University, spoke at Cornell on July 6, 2015, as part of the School of Criticism and Theory public lecture series.