5 保罗·利科

发布于:2021-11-29 22:14:58

保罗·利科(Paul Ricoeur)
保罗·利科(1913-2005) ,法国著名哲学家、当代最重要的解释学家。他出生于法国南 部城市瓦朗斯,先后就读于雷恩大学和索邦大学(巴黎四大) ,曾就读于斯特拉斯堡大学、 索邦大学、南泰尔大学(巴黎十大)和鲁汶大学,病曾担任芝加哥大学、耶鲁大学、蒙特利 尔大学的客座教授。利科视野开阔,涉猎广泛。他会通大陆哲学与英美哲学、存在主义与结 构主义、解释学与批评理论、弗洛伊德的心理分析与黑格尔的辩证法、文学理论与宗教哲学 等,被誉为哲学领域久负盛名的翻译家。利科著作等身,曾出版学术著作逾 20 部,范围涉 及现象学、解释学、语言学、心理学、马克思主义、宗教学和政治学等。他曾翻译胡塞尔等 人的哲学著作, 并进行过深入的翻译理论思考。 晚年出版的 《翻译论》 (sur la traduction,2004) 一书,是其翻译思想的集中体现。本文便选自该书英文版。 在文中,利科提出翻译的两种范式:一是语言学范式,即从狭义上讲,翻译是语言间的 话语信息的转变;二是本体论范式,即从广义上讲,翻译是同一话语社区内对整体意义的阐 释。这两大途径都是合理合法的,第一种途径以贝尔曼为代表,认为翻译是“异域的考验” ; 第二种途径以斯坦纳为代表,认为“理解即翻译” 。利科认为,一方面由于人类语言的多样 性和独特性,翻译是有必要的,但在理论和先验上似乎又是不可能的。但是,从另一个方面 来看,人类几千年以来一直在从事“不可能”的翻译活动,这又是不争的事实。因此,传统 的“可译性”与“不可译性”模式没有意义。取而代之的,应该是一种更具实践色彩的“忠 实”与“背叛”新模式。 利科的哲学翻译思想充满了对话和辩证性, 既接受各大流派思想的影响, 又具有敏锐的 批判精神。他指出,翻译是个理论上困难、实践上相对简单的问题。如果翻译在实践层面是 可能的,那么在语言多样性的背后必定隐藏着某些结构。这些结构要么携有已经失去,但必 须找回的原初语言的痕迹,如本雅明所谓的“纯语言” ;要么由一些先验的符码或普通结构 组成,我们必须对其进行重建,如艾特等人所谓的“完美语言” 。利科对这些观念都提出了 批评,认为本雅明的“纯语言”翻译观的说服了仅限于理论层面,这种对原初语言的迷恋对 翻译实践没有任何裨益。 莱布尼茨和艾特等人对 “完美语言” 的追求, 在他看来也不切实际, 必将以失败告终。乔姆斯基的“转换生成语法”所提出的“深层结构” ,虽然在一定程度上 解决了语言的通约性问题, 但仅限于语法层面。 不同语言在语音和词汇层面仍存在难以解决 的“不可通约性” 。利科认为,上述语言观失败的原因有二:第一,在关于完美语言如何将 观念转换成词语方面,人们没有达成任何共识;这种共识预设出这样一种观念,在符号与事

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物、语言表达与现实世界之间,存在着完全对应的关系。这要么导致循环论证,进而命题恒 真;要么因为无法穷尽所有语言现象,从而难以得到完全证实。第二,没有人知道自然语言 是如何从完美语言中派生出来的。 普世语言与实际语言、 先验的东西与历史的产物之间的鸿 沟,似乎难以逾越。 传统观点认为,上帝变乱人类的语言、使其彼此不能相解,是场无可挽回的灾难,人类 被迫通过翻译来扫除语言多样性的*5牵浦髡拧吧埔獾亍敝匦陆舛琳飧錾窕啊W 创世以来,有了宇宙元素的区分,才有混沌与混乱之后的秩序。人类丧失纯洁性,被上帝逐 出伊甸园之后,才开始真正走向成熟和承担责任。上帝使人类子民四散、语言混乱互不相解 之后,人类并未表现出谴责或悲哀,而是去“建设自己的城市” 。也就是说,人类将其视为 一种理所当然的生活现实,而加以接受。如此看来,语言的多样性和翻译的必要性亦是一种 自然而然的事情。利科认为,更持久、更深刻、更隐蔽的是译者“翻译的欲望” ,这种欲求 是一种强大的推动力。翻译可以拓展母语的视阈,促使其形成和完善,发挥其教养功能或重 新发现母语及其丰富的资源与潜能。但是,译者终究难以摆脱“忠实”与“背叛”的两难处 境。完全等同的翻译并不存在。翻译批评的唯一方式,是提出另一种所谓的更好或不同的译 文。就那些重要的经典文本而言,我们不断地在重译。但是,再多的重译也无助于解决“忠 实”与“背叛”之间的悖论,翻译的风险永远的存在, “异域的考验”无法逾越。 利科还认为, 语言具有自身反思性。 同样的事情, 总是可以用另一种方法来表述。 同理, 用另一种方式来翻译,也总是可能的。上述有关翻译的诸多问题,都源自语言的自反性。翻 译不仅是个理论或实践议题,更是个伦理方面的问题。因此,译者应该在翻译中体现出“语 言的好客性” ,即将读者引向作者的同时,也将作者引向读者,哪怕担负“一仆事二主”或 “一仆叛二主”的风险。 “语言的好客性”的翻译伦理意味着,在占据他者语言的同时,也 将其接回自己的家中。好的翻译必定包含某种对“他者”开放的因素。所有的翻译都是自我 与他者的对话,这也就意味着肯定差异性,兼容并包“他者” 。 Selected from Paul Ricoeur, On Translation . Eileen Brennan , ( trans . ) London & New York : Routledge , 2006 .

The Paradigm of Translation
Translated by Eileen Brennan There are two access routes to the problem posed by the act of translating :either take the

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term “translation ” in the strict sense of the transfer of a spoken message from one language to another or take it in the broad sense as synonymous with the interpretation of any meaningful whole within the same speech community . Both approaches are legitimate :the first , chosen by Antoine Berman in The Test of the Foreign , takes account of the solid fact of the plurality and the diversity of language ; the second , followed by George Steiner in After Babel , ① is directed at the combining phenomenon , which the author summarizes in this way : “ To understand is to translate ” . I have chosen to start from the first , which allows the relationship of the peculiar to the foreign to pass into the foreground , and in this way I will lead you to the second under the direction of the difficulties and the paradoxes created by translation from one language to another . So let us start out from the plurality and the diversity of languages , and let us note down a first fact : it is because men speak different languages that there is translation . This fact is that of the diversity of languages ,to go back to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s title . Now ,this fact is simultaneously an enigma : why not a single language , and above all why so many languages , five or six thousand according to the ethnologists ? Every Darwinian measure of usefulness and adaptation in the struggle for survival is routed out ; this multiplicity , impossible to count , is not only useless , but is also harmful . Indeed , if the intracommunity exchange is ensured by each language ‘ s power of integration ,taken separately , the exchange with what is outside the linguistic community is ultimately rendered impracticable owing to what Steiner calls “ a harmful prodigality ” . But what makes it enigmatic is not only jamming of communication ( the myth of Babel , which we are going to say more about , calls it “ scattering ” on the geographic plane and “ confounding ” on the communication plane ) ; it is also the contrast with some other features which also have to do with language .First ,the well-known fact of the universality of language : “ALL men speak” ; that is a measure of humanity alongside the tool , the institution , burial ; by language , let us understand the use of signs , which are not things , but concern things ②—the exchange of signs in interlocution : the main role of a common language at the level of community identification .This is a universal competence contradicted by its scattered achievements , a universal ability contradicted by its fragmented , scattered and disorganized execution . Hence , the speculations at the level of myth to begin with , then at the level of the philosophy of language when it ponders the origin of the scattering-confounding . In this respect , the myth of Babel , too
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short and too confused in its literary construction , lets us imagine , in a regressive movement , a supposed lost paradisiacal language ; it does not include a guide to behaving in this labyrinth . The scattering-confounding is then perceived as an irremediable linguistic catastrophe . In a moment , I will suggest a more benign reading with regard to the normal condition of human beings .

① George Steiner , After Babel : Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford : Oxford Paperbacks , 1998 ) . ② The words ,“signs which .....concern things ”render the French signes qui .... valent pour des choses , but the English verb “concern” does not capture a possible connotation of the French verb valoir. In this context ,valoir also carries the associated sense of “being worth something ” , an association that Ricoeur draws upon when he goes on to talk about “the exchange of signs in interlocution” .

But to begin with , I want to say that there is a second fact which must not obscure the first , that of the diversity of language ; the equally well-known fact that people have always translated; before the professional interpreters , there were the travellers , the merchants , the ambassadors , the spies and that makes for a lot of bilinguals and polyglots ! Here we are broaching a feature as remarkable as the lamented incommunicability , namely , the very fact of translation , which presupposes that every speaker has the ability to learn and to use languages other than his own : this capacity appears firmly attached to other more hidden features concerning the practical experience of language , features that will lead us at the end of our journey into the vicinity of intralinguistic translation processes , namely and to anticipate , the reflexive capacity of language , that possibility , always on hand , of speaking on the subject of language , of placing it at a distance , and in this way of treating our own language as one language among others , I shall keep this analysis of the reflexivity of language for later and concentrate on the simple fact of translation . Men speak different languages , but they can learn others besides their native language . This simple fact has given rise to huge speculation, which has let itself become locked into ruinous alternatives from which it must extricate itself . These paralysing alternatives are the following : either the diversity of languages gives expression to a radical heterogeneity--and in
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that case translation is theoretically impossible ; one language is untranslatable a priori into another . Or else , taken as a fact , translation is explained by a common fund that renders the fact of translation possible ; but then we must be able either to find this common fund , and this is the original language track , or to reconstruct it logically , and this is the universal language track ; original or universal , this absolute language has to be such that it can be shown , with its phonological , lexical , syntactic and rhetorical inventories . I repeat the theoretical alternatives : either the diversity of language is radical , and then translation is impossible by right , or else translation is a fact , and we must establish its rightful possibility through an inquiry into the origin or through a reconstruction of the a priori conditions of the noted fact . I suggest that we need to get beyond these theoretical alternatives , translatable versus untranslatable , and to replace them with new practical alternatives , stemming from the very exercise of translation, the faithfulness versus betrayal alternatives , even if it means admitting that the practice of translation remains a risky operation which is always in search of its theory . At the end , we will see that the difficulties of intralinguistic translation confirm this embarrassing admission : I recently took part in an international colloquium on interpretation where I heard the talk given by the analytic philosopher Donald Davidson , entitled : “Theoretically Difficult , Hard and Practically Simple , Easy” . This is also my thesis as regards the two sides of translation , extra-and intralinguistic : theoretically incomprehensible , but actually practicable , for the huge price that we are about to name ; the practical alternatives of faithfulness versus betrayal . Before getting onto the path of this practical dialectic , faithfulness versus betrayal , I should like to state very succinctly the reasons for the speculative impasse where the untranslatable and the translatable jostle together . The thesis of the untranslatable is the necessary conclusion of a certain ethnolinguistics---B . Lee Whorf , E . Sapir----which endeavoured to underline the non-superimposable character of the different divisions on which the numerous linguistic systems rest : the phonetic and articulatory division at the root of the phonological systems (vowels , consonants , etc . ) , the conceptual division commanding the lexical systems (dictionaries , encyclopaedias , etc .) the syntactic division at the root of the various grammars . The examples abound : if you say “wood” [bois] in French , you put ligneous materials and the idea of a little forest together ; but in another language ,
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these two meanings will not be connected and will be reassembled in two different semantic systems ; on the grammatical plane , it is easy to see that the systems of verb tenses (present , past , future ) differ from one language to another ; you have languages where the position in time is not marked , but rather the performed or non-perforrned character of the action : and you have languages without verb tenses where the position in time is marked only by adverbs equivalent to “yesterday” ,“tomorrow” , etc . If you add the idea that each linguistic division imposes a worldview , and idea that to my way of thinking is untenable , saying for example that the Greeks constructed ontologies because they have a verb “to be”which functions both as a copula and as an affirmation of existence , then it is the set of human relationships of the speakers of a given language that turns out to be non-superimposable on the set of such relationships through which the speaker of another language is himself understood as he understands his relationship to the world. So we must conclude that misunderstanding is a right, that translation is theoretically impossible and that bilinguals have to be schizophrenics . In that case , we are thrown back onto the other bank : since there is such a thing as translation , it certainly has to be possible . And if it is possible , it means that , beneath the diversity of languages , there are hidden structures that either bear the trace of a lost original language that we must rediscover or consist of a priori codes , of universal structures or , as we say , transcendentals that we must manage to reconstruct . The first version ---that of the original language---was professed by various Gnostics , by the Kabbala , by hermetisms of all kinds , even yielding some poisonous fruit like the plea for a supposed Aryan language , declared historically fecund , which they contrast with the supposed infertile Hebrew ; in his book The Languages of Paradise , with the disquieting subtitle , “Aryans and Semites : a providential pair” , Olender denounces the perfidious linguistic anti-Semitism in what he terms , this“clever yarn”; but , to be fair , we must say that the nostalgia for the original language has also produced the powerful meditation of a Walter Benjamin writing The Translator ’ s Task where the “perfect language” , the “pure language” --these are the author’ s expressions--appears as the messianic horizon of the act of translating , secretly ensuring the convergence of the idioms as they are taken to the pinnacle of poetic creativity . Unfortunately , the practice of translation does not receive any help from this nostalgia , remodelled as an eschatological waiting , and we may soon have to mourn the loss of the wish for perfection in order to take on the“translator’ s task”without intoxication and
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in all sobriety. The other version of the quest for unity is more hardheaded , not about an origin in time , but about the a priori codes ; Umberto Eco devoted some useful chapters to these endeavours in his book The Search for the Perfect Language(The Making of Europe) . As the philosopher Bacon stresses , it is a matter of eliminating the imperfections of the natural languages which are sources of what he calls the “idols” of language . Leibniz will give substance to this requirement with his idea of the universal characteristic , which does not aim at anything less than drawing up a universal lexicon of simple ideas , complemented by a compilation of all the rules of composition among these veritable atoms of thought . Well ! We must go from there to the question of confidence---and that will be the turning point in our meditation ; we must ask ourselves why this attempt fails and has to fail . There are , of course , partial successes as regards Chomskyan generational grammars , but there is a complete failure on the lexical and the phonological side . And why ? Because it is not the imperfections of the natural languages , but their very functioning that is an anathema . Simplifying to a degree what , is a highly technical discussion , let us note two stumbling blocks : first , there is no consensus on what would characterize a perfect language at the level of the lexicon of original ideas entering into composition ; this consensus presupposes a total equivalence between the sign and the thing , without anything arbitrary , thus more broadly between language and the world , something which constitutes either a tautology , a preferred division being decreed a picture of the world . Or an unverifiable claim , in the absence of an exhaustive survey of all the spoken languages . The second , even more fearsome , stumbling block is : no one can say how the natural languages , with all the peculiarities which we will talk about later , could be derived from the supposed perfect language : the gap between the universal and empirical languages , between what is a priori and what is historical , certainly appears insurmountable . It is here that our closing remarks on the work of translation within a selfsame natural language will certainly be useful in bringing to light the infinite complexities of those languages which makes it necessary each time to learn the functioning of a language , including one’ s own . Such is the basic assessment of the dispute which brings together the relativism of the terrain , which must conclude that translation is impossible , and the closet formalism, which fails to found the fact of translation on a demonstrable universal structure. Yes, we must confess: from
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one language to another, the situation is definitely that of scattering and confounding. And yet translation is inscribed in the long litany of “despite everything” . Despite fratricides, we campaign for universal fraternity. Despite the heterogeneity of idioms, there are bilinguals, polyglots, interpreters and translators. SO,HOW DO THEY DO IT? I just announced a change in direction: leaving the speculative alternatives—translatability against untranslatability—let us, I said, get to the practical alternatives—faithfulness against betrayal. To put us on the right track for this change in direction, I should like to go back over the interpretation of the myth of Babel, which I would not like to conclude with the idea of a linguistic catastrophe inflicted on humans by a god who is jealous of their success. It is also possible to read this myth, as well as all the other commencement myths, I may add, which take irreversible situations into account, as the non-judgmental acknowledgement of an original separation. We can begin, early in Genesis, with the separation of cosmic elements which allows an order to emerge from chaos; we can continue with the loss of innocence and the expulsion from the Garden which also denotes entry into responsible adulthood, and then we can go—and we are terribly interested in this as a rereading of the myth of Babel—through the fratricide, the murder of Abel, which makes fraternity itself an ethical project and not a simple fact of nature. If one takes up this line of reading, which I share with the exegete Paul Beauchamp, the scattering and the confounding of languages, announced by the myth of Babel, are going to crown this history of the separation when they bring it to he heart of the exercise of language. This is how we are, this is how we exist, scattered and confounded, and called to what? Well?to translation! There is a post-Babel, defined by” the translator’s task”, to take up again the already mentioned title of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay. To give more weight to this reading, I will recall with Umberto Eco that the narrative in Genesis 11, 1-9 is preceded by two verses numbered Genesis 10, 31-32, where the plurality of languages seems to be taken for a merely factual datum. I read these verses in Chouraki’s rough translation:① These are the sons of Shem,after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after ________________________________
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① This is certainly one of those occasion when, reading Ricoeur in English, we have to accept that something has been lost in translation. Thus, losing all sense of the roughness of Chouraki’s French rendition of the Hebrew Bible, we have instead the lyrical cadences of the James version.EB

their nations. These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.

These verses are similar in form to a census, where the simple curiosity of a benevolent glance expresses itself. Translation is definitely a task, then, not in the sense of a restricting obligation, but in the sense of the thing to be done so that human action can simply continue, to speak like Benjamin’s friend Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition. The narrative entitled“ The Myth of Babel”follows, then:

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top[may reach]unto heaven; and let us make, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded[sic]. And the LORD said, Behold, the people [is]one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
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So the LORD scattered them aboard form thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel: because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. These [are] the generations of Shem: Shem [was] an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood. And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad few hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.

You heard: there is no recrimination, no lamentation, no accusation:” So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. They left off building the city! That is a way of saying: this is the way things are. Well, well! This is the way things are, as Benjamin liked to say. Starting from this fact of life, let us translate!1 To speak accurately about the task of translating, I would like to mention, following Antoine Berman in The Test of the Foreign, the desire to translate. This desire goes beyond constraint and usefulness. There is certainly a constraint: if we want to trade, ② to travel, to negotiate, indeed to spy we definitely have to have messengers who speak the language of others. As for usefulness, it is patently obvious. If we want to save ourselves the bother of learning foreign languages, we will be very pleased to come across translations. After all, this is how we have had access to the tragic writers, to Plato, to Shakespeare, Cervantes, Petrarch and Dante, Goethe and Schiller, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Constraint, usefulness, so be it! But more tenacious, more profound, more hidden than that there is: the desire to translate. It is this desire that has driven the German thinkers since Goethe, the great classicist, and von Humboldt, whom I have already mentioned ,through the Romantics, Novalis, the Schlegel brothers, Schleiermacher(the translator of Plato, we must not forget that),even H? lderlin, the tragic translator of Sophocles, and finally Walter Benjamin, H? lderlin’s heir. And at the stern of this fine crew, Luther, the translator of the Bible ----Luther and his will to“germanize”the Bible, held captive by St Jerome’s Latin. What did these people with a passion for translation expect from their desire? What one of
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them called the broadening of the horizon of their own language -----together with what they have all called formation, Bildung, that is to say, both configuration and education, and as a bonus, if I may put it that way, the discovery of their own language and of its resources which have been left to lie fallow. The following line is H? lderlin’s:“What is one’s own must be learned as well as what is foreign.” For goodness’sake, why does this desire to translate have to be fobbed off with the prize of a dilemma, the faithfulness/betrayal dilemma? Because there is no absolute criterion for good translation; for such a criterion to be available, we would have to be able to compare the source and target texts with a third text which would bear the identical meaning that is supposed to be passed form the first to the second. The same thing said on both sides. As was the case for the Plato of the Parmenides, there is no ________________________________ ② This again is the King James version. ②The original French text reads as follows: si on veut commencer,voyager,négocier,voire espionner il faut bien disposer de messagers qui parlent la langue des outres. As the word commencer, meaning“to begin”, makes little sense in this context, assume that this a typesetting error and that the correct word is commencer, meaning“to trade”.

third man between the idea of man and such-and-such a specific man 一 Socrates,so as not to name him!一 nor is there a third text between the source text and the target text. Hence the paradox, before the dilemma: a good translation can aim only at a supposed equivalence that is not founded on a demonstrable identity of meaning. An equivalence without identity. This equivalence can only be sought, worked at, supposed. And the only way of criticizing a translation 一 something we can always do 一 is to suggest another supposed, alleged, better or different one. And this, moreover, is what happens in the world of professional translators. As far as the great texts of our culture are concerned, we essentially live on a few retranslations which are reworked over and over again. This is what happens with the Bible, with Homer, with Shakespeare, with all the writers cited above and with the philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche and Heidegger. Thus barded with retranslations, are we better armed for solving the

faithfulness/betrayal dilemma? Not at all. The risk which the desire to translate is owed [se paie], and which transforms the encounter with the foreign in its language into a test, is insuperable.
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Franz Rosenzweig, whom our colleague Hans-Christoph Askani took as "a witness to the problem of translation"(this is how I venture to translate the title of his great Tübingen book), gave this test the form of a paradox: to translate, he says, is to serve two masters, the foreigner in his strangeness, the reader in his desire for appropriation. Before him, Schleiermacher broke the paradox up into two phrases:” bringing the reader to the author”,” bringing the author to the reader”. For my part, I venture to apply the Freudian vocabulary to that situation and to talk, not only about the work of translation, but also about the work of recollection and the work of mourning, as Freud does. The work of translation, won on the battlefield of a secret resistance motivated by fear, indeed by hatred of the foreign, perceived as a threat against our own linguistic identity. But the work of mourning too, applied to renouncing the very ideal of the perfect translation. Indeed, this ideal has not only nurtured the desire to translate and, occasionally, the happiness of translating, it has also brought sorrow to a H? lderlin, broken by his ambition to found German and Greek poetry on a hyper-poetry where the difference in idioms would be abolished. And who knows whether it is not the ideal of the perfect translation which definitively maintains the nostalgia for the original language or the will for control over language by means of the universal language? Giving up the dream of the perfect translation is still the acknowledgement of the impassable difference between the peculiar and the foreign. It is still the test of the foreign. It is here that I return to my title: the paradigm of translation. Indeed, it seems to me that translation sets us not only intellectual work, theoretical or practical, but also an ethical problem. Bringing the reader to the author, bringing the author to the reader, at the risk of serving and of betraying two masters: this is to practise what I like to call linguistic hospitality. It is this which serves as a model for other forms of hospitality that I think resemble it: confessions, religions, are they not like languages that are foreign to one another, with their lexicon, their grammar, their rhetoric, their stylistics which we must learn in order to make our way into them? And is eucharistic hospitality not to be taken up with the same risks of translation-betrayal, but also with the same renunciation of the perfect translation? I retain these risky analogies and these question marks... But I would not like to close without having said why we must not neglect the other half of the problem of translation, namely, if you remember it, translation within the same linguistic
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community. I would like to show, at least very succinctly, that it is in this same language's work on itself that underlying reasons for the insuperability of the gap between a supposed perfect universal language and the languages that we term natural, in the sense of non-artificial, are revealed. As I have suggested, it is not the imperfections of natural languages that we would like to do away with, but the very functioning of these languages in their astonishing peculiarities. And it is the work of internal translation that in fact reveals this gap. I come close here to the statement that commands the whole of George Steiner's book, After Babel. After Babel, "to understand is to translate” . This is about much more than a simple internalization of the relationship to the foreign, in accordance with Plato's adage that thought is a dialogue of the soul with itself--an internalization that would transform internal translation into a simple appendix to external translation. This is about an original investigation, which lays bare the everyday processes of a living language: these ensure that no universal language can succeed in reconstructing its indefinite diversity. This is really about approaching the mysteries of a language that is full of life, and at the same time, giving an account of the phenomenon of misunderstanding, of misinterpretation which, according to Schleiermacher, gives rise to interpretation, the theory of which hermeneutics wants to develop. The reasons for the gap between perfect language and a language that is full of life are exactly the same as the causes of misinterpretation. I will start from this substantial fact, characteristic of the use of our languages: it is always possible to say the same thing in another way. This is what we do when we define one word using another word from the same lexicon, as all the dictionaries do. In his semiotic science, Peirce places this phenomenon at the centre of the reflexivity of language. But this is also what we do when we reformulate an argument which has not been understood. We say that we are explaining it, that is to say, that we are opening out the folds [nous déployons les plis]. Now, to say the same thing in another way—in other words—this is what a moment ago the foreign language translator did. Thus we rediscover, within our linguistic community, the same enigma of the same, of meaning itself, the identical meaning which cannot be found, and which is supposed to make the two versions of the same intention equivalent; this is why, as we say, we do not get out of it, and very often we make the misunderstanding worse with our explanations. At the same time, a bridge is thrown between internal translation, this is what I call it, and external translation, namely, that within the same community, understanding requires at least two interlocutors: these are not
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foreigners admittedly, but already others, other close relations, if you want this is what Husserl, talking about the knowledge of other, calls the everyday other, der Fremde, the foreigner. There is something foreign in every other. It is as several people that we define, that we reformulate, that we explain, that we try to say the same thing in another way. Let us take another step towards those great mysteries that Steiner never ceases to visit and revisit. With what do we work when we speak and address an other? With three kinds of units: words, that is to say, signs that we find in the lexicon, sentence, for which there is no lexicon (no one can say how many sentences have been and will be uttered in French or in any other language), and finally texts, that is to say, sequences of sentences. It is the handing of these three kinds of units, one checked off by Saussure, another by Benveniste and Jacobson, the third by Harald Weinrich, Jauss and the text reception theorists, that is the source of the gap in relation to a supposed perfect language, and the source of the misunderstanding in everyday usage and, as such, the occasion for multiple and competing interpretations. Two words on the word: each of our words has more than one meaning, as we see in the dictionaries. We call that polysemy. The meaning is thus defined each time through usage ,which basically consist in screening the part of the words meaning which suits the rest of the sentence and with it contributes to the unity of meaning expressed and offered for exchange. It is the context each time which, as we say, determines the meaning that the word has acquired in such-and-such a circumstance of discourse: from then on, the arguments over words can be endless: What did you mean? etc. And it is in the play of the question and the answer that things become clearer or become confused. For there are not only obvious contexts, there are hidden contexts and what we call the connotations which are not all intellectual, but affective, not all public, but peculiar to a circle, to a class, a group, or perhaps even a secret society; there is thus the whole margin hidden by censorship, prohibition, the margin of what is unspoken, criss-crossed by all the figures of the hidden. With this recourse to the context, we have gone from the word to the sentence. This new unit, which is in fact the first unit of discourse, the word falling within the domain of the sign unit which is not yet discourse, brings with it new sources of ambiguity chiefly concerning the relationship of the signified — what we say — to the referent — that about which we speak, ultimately the world. A vast programme, as they say! Now, for want of a full description, we only
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have points of view, perspectives, partial visions of the world. That is why we have never ceased making ourselves clear, making ourselves clear with words and sentences, making ourselves clear to others who do not see things from the same angle as we do. So, the texts come into play, these sequences of sentences which, as the word indicates, are textures which weave the discourse into longer or shorter sequences. Narrative is one of the most remarkable of these sequences, and is particularly interesting for our talk insofar as we learned that we can always tell a story in another way by changing the plot, the fable. But there are also all of the other kinds of texts ,where one does something other than narrate, for example arguing, as we do in moral philosophy, in law, in politics. Rhetoric plays a part here with its stylistic devices, its tropes, metaphor and others, and all the language games in the service of countless strategies, among them seduction and intimidation at the expense of the honourable concern with persuasion. All that we were able to say in translation studies about the complicated relations between thought and language, about the spirit and the letter, and about the eternal question as to whether we should translate the meaning or translate the words follows from this. All these problems associated with translation from one language to another find their origin in language’s reflection on itself, which made Steiner say that “to understand is to translate”. But I shall turn to what Steiner is most fond of and what could easily tip the whole talk over in a direction contrary to that of the test of the foreign. Steiner enjoys investigating the uses of speech where one aims at something other than the true, other than the real, that is to say, not only the false declaration, namely, the lie—although to speak is to be able to lie, to conceal, to falsity— but also all that we can classify in terms of something other than the real: let us say, the possible, the conditional, the optative, the hypothetical, the utopian. It is incredible—you have said it!— what we can do with language: not only can we say the same thing in another way, but we can say something other than what is the case. On this subject — and with what confusion! — Plato mentioned the figure of the Sophist. But it is not this figure that has the greatest capacity to change the nature of our talk: it is language’s propensity for the enigma, for artifice, for abstruseness, for the secret, in fact for non-communication. Hence, what I will call Steiner ’s extremism which leads him, through hatred of chattering, of conventional usage, of the instrumentalization of language, to contrast interpretation with communication; the equation “To understand is to translate” closes, then, on
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the one to oneself relationship in the secret where we rediscover the untranslatable, which we had though we had moved away from in favour of the faithfulness/betrayal pair. We rediscover it on the vow of the utmost faithfulness route. But faithfulness to whom and to what? Faithfulness to language’s capacity for safeguarding the secret contrary to its proclivity to betray it; consequently, faithfulness to itself rather than to others. And it is true that the glorious poetry of a Paul Celan is bordering on the untranslatable, bordering at first on the unspeakable, the loathsome, at heart of his own language as well as in the gap between two languages. What are we to conclude from this series of reversals? I confess that I am still perplexed. I am inclined to favour entry through the foreign door, that is for sure. Have we not been set in motion by the fact of human plurality and by the double enigma of incommunicability between idioms and of translation in spite of everything? And then, without the test of the foreign, would we be sensitive to the strangeness of our own language? Finally, without that test, would we not be in danger of shutting ourselves away in the sourness of a monologue, alone with our books? Credit, then, to linguistic hospitality. But I see the other side perfectly well too, that of language’s work on itself. Is it not this work which gives us the key to the difficulties of translation ad extra? And if we had not skirted the disquieting regions of the unspeakable, would we have the sense of the secret, of the untranslatable secret? And our better, exchanges, in love and in friendship, would they save this quality of discretion—secret/discretion—which safeguards the distance in the proximity? Yes, there really are two routes of entry into the problem of translation.

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