Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, edited by Barbara Cassin
Translation edited by Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood
Princeton University Press, 2014
1344 pages – Princeton / Amazon
Strictly speaking, does not thought—or the act of thinking—always
have the capacity for operating like a foreign language? 1
d —Rey Chow
“To speak of untranslatables,” as does Barbara Cassin, general editor of the Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, “in no way implies that the terms in question, or the expressions, the syntactical or grammatical turns, are not and cannot be translated: the untranslatable is rather what one keeps on (not) translating.” 2 Insofar as the untranslatable is that which one cannot translate, it is by definition what one cannot help but translate. And yet, in translating the untranslatable—interminably—what will one have communicated?
However intractable “the terms in question, or the expressions, the syntactical or grammatical turns,” whatever the recalcitrance, what will have eluded each of the untranslatable’s multiple and variegated translations is, in ceaselessly inspiring them, the incorrigible foreignness of thought (un mirage interne des mots mêmes, as Mallarmé has it).3 On this point one should amend Novalis with the words of the German travel writer Waldemar Bonsels: Philosophy really is homesickness—homesickness for a foreign country.4
1 Rey Chow, Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 42.
2 Barbara Cassin, “Introduction,” Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, ed. Barbara Cassin, trans. eds. Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), xvii [xvii-xx].
3 Stéphane Mallarmé, quoted in Richard Serrano, “Fans, Silk, and Ptyx: Mallarmé and Classical Chinese Poetry,” Comparative Literature 50, 3 (1998), 228 [220-240].
4 Waldemar Bonsels, quoted and translated in John Zilcosky, Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 4, 29, inter alia.