Friday, 30 January 2015

The inexplicable and untranslatable

This interesting piece deals with untranslatable philosophical concepts. It is a review of a translation of a French book and the Frenchness of it is one of the main points of interest. How about this for example: "philosophical French is “a language of women and the working class rather than of scientists”. Philosophy in French is “violently polemical . . . ignoring consensus . . . still opposed to the academy it speaks (politically) to the public and not to colleagues”"? The source of those aper├žus also argues that Descartes’s dedication of his Principles of Philosophy to Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia “is in reality a basic democratic intention that turns philosophical discourse towards discussion and seduction, towards Venus rather than Minerva, moving it as far as possible away from academic or scientific entrenchment”. The gap between this and what passes for philosophy on this side of the Channel (or elsewhere in the Anglosphere) is not just a linguistic one.

All of which brings me neatly onto phenomena which are inexplicable and untranslatable even though there is no language barrier at all. I refer to this: "Now, it's pretty much a given that every sorority will have a 4-8 minute video—impeccably produced by professionals—to debut during rush." (At the link, you will find some highly regrettable examples of these videos.) All the words in that quotation make sense - even the use of "debut" as a verb - and yet there is something there that makes no sense at all. I am only sorry that Elisabeth of Bohemia (who seems to have had some pertinent points to make about Cartesian dualism) is not here to use some violently polemical language on the topic.

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