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Translation, philosophy, materialism

Translation, philosophy,
materialism
Lawrence Venuti

Philosophy does not escape the embarrassment that
faces contemporary academic disciplines when
confronted with the problem of translation. In philosophical research, widespread dependence on translated texts coincides with neglect of their translated
status, a general failure to take into account the
differences introduced by the fact of translation. The
problem is perhaps most glaring in Anglo-American
cultures, where native philosophical traditions from
empiricism to logical semantics have privileged the
idea of language as communication and therefore
imagined the transparency of the translated text. But
even in Continental traditions like existential
phenomenology and poststructuralism, where language
is viewed as constitutive of thought and translating
can more readily be seen as determining the domestic
significance of the foreign text, philosophical argument and speculation give only passing acknowledgement to their reliance on translations.

Philosophy has long engaged in the creation of
concepts by interpreting domestic versions of foreign
texts, but for the most part these versions have been
taken as transparent, and the concepts unmediated by
the domestic language and culture that is their
medium. This is never more true than on the rare
occasions when a translation is actually noticed in
reviews and studies: philosophers assume that transparency is an attainable ideal by evaluating the accuracy of the translation as a correspondence to the
foreign text, chastising the translator for missing the
foreign philosopher’s intention or the full significance
of the foreign philosophical terms. In such cases,
translations are presumably adjusted – brought into a
more adequate relation to the essential meaning of
the foreign text – whereas the adequacy that is in fact
established reverts to a domestic standard, usually a
stylistic canon or a competing interpretation applied
implicitly by the critic.

Translation exposes a fundamental idealism in

24

Radical Philosophy

79

(SeptlOct

1996)

philosophy by calling attention to the material conditions of concepts, their linguistic and discursive
forms, the different meanings and functions they come
to possess in different cultural situations. And in so
doing translation offers philosophy an opportunity for
self-criticism, a scrutiny of philosophical discourses
and institutions and a rethinking of current practices
in the interpreting and translating of philosophical
texts. My aim is to challenge the neglect of translation in academic philosophy by taking a materialist
approach, one that does not abandon the philosophical
project of concept formation but grounds it in the difference that translating opens in the materiality of the
philosophical text. The questions I want to address
are both basic and practical: What does philosophy
. .

stand to gain from thinking about the domestic
determinations and effects of translations? And how
can this thinking contribute to the translating of foreign philosophies?

1. The gain of translation:

Wittgenstein’s Investigations
The reception of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical
Investigations is a remarkable example of the
marginality of translation in the discipline of
philosophy. When first published in 1953, the text
was bilingual, with G.E.M. Anscombe’s English
version facing the German. Very few of the fifteen or
so reviews that greeted it even mentioned the quality
of her translating, and in these instances the
comments were extremely brief, restricted to vague
honorifics like ‘excellent’, ‘well done’, ‘on the whole
very successful and reliable’, ‘adequate and honest’. I
Despite their brevity, such comments make clear that
the translation was judged in terms of its correspondence to the German text, to Wittgenstein’ s unusual
style of philosophizing, to the meanings of his
concepts. Most reviewers tacitly assumed this correspondence by avoiding any reference to Anscombe’s

work at all and devoting their reviews to critical
expositions of Wittgenstein’s ideas and arguments. To
document the latter, they quoted from the English
version as if he wrote it, as if it were a simple communication of his intended meanings. 2
Because of the negligible attention paid to
Anscombe’s translation, criticisms were very slow in
coming. But when they finally appeared, they continued to assume correspondence as the criterion of
accuracy, an assumption that proved to be rather disingenuous because it concealed competing domestic
interpretations of the German text. Saul Kripke
questioned Anscombe’s renderings of ‘Seele and its
derivatives sometimes as “soul”, sometimes as “mind”,
depending on the context’, because he found a sentence
in the German text where “‘mind” might be a less
misleading translation of Seele’.3 If ‘soul’ was ‘misleading’, then it was a mistranslation, an inaccurate
expression of Wittgenstein’s concept. Yet Kripke’s
rationale for using ‘mind’ ultimately had less to do
with communicating the foreign text than with
assimilating it to the domestic culture, to the secularism and anti-foundationalism that prevails in AngloAmerican philosophy, and to Kripke’s own investment
in these values. ‘For the contemporary English speaking philosophical reader,’ he explained, ‘[“mind”] is
somewhat less loaded with special philosophical and
religious connotations.’ This tendency to domesticate
Wittgenstein’s text, to assimilate it to domestic
intelligibilities and interests, was strengthened in 1963,
when Philosophical Investigations began to be
published without the German. Today the Englishlanguage philosophical reader first encounters
Wittgenstein as an English-language philosopher,
which for all intents and purposes he remains, given
the virtual invisibility of translation in AngloAmerican philosophy.

To make Anscombe’ s version visible, we must
avoid the assumption that language, especially
language with the conceptual density of philosophical
discourse, can ever simply express ideas without
simultaneously de stabilizing and reconstituting them.

Wittgenstein’s own philosophy warns against this
assumption by questioning the possibility of personal
expression, arguing that statements of intentionality
are matters of linguistic convention, not logical
necessity. We will go further: any language use is
prone to the unpredictable variation that Jean-Jacques
Lecerc1e terms the ‘remainder’ : linguistic effects
triggered by the variety of forms which the user
employs selectively to communicate, but which,
because of their circulation in social groups and insti-

tutions, always carry a collective force that outstrips
any individual’s control and complicates intended
meanings. 4 Translating increases this unpredictability.

To the foreign text it attaches a peculiarly domestic
remainder, textual effects triggered by the dialects,
registers and discourses that comprise the target
language, and that therefore exceed the foreign
writer’s intention (and sometimes the translator’s as
well). Hence, no English translation can ever simply
communicate Wittgenstein’ s German text without
simultaneously inscribing it with English-language
forms that destabilize and reconstitute his philosophy.

Consider a typical excerpt from Anscombe’ s
version:

Das Benennen erscheint als eine seltsame
Verbindung eines Wortes mit einem Gegenstand. Und so eine seltsame Verbindung hat wirklich
statt, wenn namlich der Philosoph, urn herauszubringen, was die Beziehung zwischen Namen
und Benanntmen ist, auf einen Gegenstand vor
sich starrt und dabei unzahliche Male einen
Namen wiederholt, od er auch das Wort ‘dieses’.

Denn die philosophischen Probleme entstehen,
wenn die Sprache jeiert. Und da konnen wir uns
allerdings einbilden, das Benennen sei irgend ein
merkwiirdiger seelischer Akt, quasi eine Taufe
eines Gegenstandes. Und wir konnen so auch das
Wort ‘dieses’ gleichsam zu dem Gegenstand
sagen, ihn damit ansprechen – ein seltsamer
Gebrauch dies Wortes, der wohl nur beim
Philosophieren vorkommt.

Naming appears as a queer connexion of a word
with an object. – And you really get such a queer
connexion when the philosopher tries to bring out
the relation between name and thing by staring at
an object in front of him and repeating a name or
even the word ‘this’ innumerable times. For
philosophical problems arise when language goes
on holiday. And here we may indeed fancy naming
to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a
baptism of an object. And we can also say the word
‘this’ to the object, as it were address the object as
‘this’ – a queer use of this word, which doubtless
only occurs in doing philosophy.5
The translation is cast mostly in a plain register of
the standard dialect of English, but the orthography is
British and Anscombe draws noticeably on British
colloquialisms: the verb ‘fancy’, the use of ‘holiday’

and ‘queer’ where American English would substitute
‘vacation’ (or ‘day off’) and ‘strange’. The colloquialisms are heightened by the more educated strain in
the lexicon (,innumerable’, ‘as it were’, ‘address’,
‘doubtless’), which contains as well some philosophical abstractions (‘object’, ‘connexion’, ‘relation’,
‘philosophy’).

25

This heterogeneous mix of Englishes is sufficient to
cast doubt on any effort to evaluate the translation
merely by comparing it to the German text. It might be
thought, for instance, that the different dialects, registers and discourses correspond to the most frequently
remarked qualities of Wittgenstein’s prose, ‘at once
rhetorical and informal’.6 Any such correspondence,
however, can hold only at the most general level: a
comparison of the above excerpt with the German text
immediately reveals points where Anscombe’s version
is deviant and excessive. Nothing in the German
evokes a difference comparable to that between British
and other forms of English, a difference that is national in scope. And nothing in the German quite
matches the colloquial register hit by ‘fancy’ and ‘holiday’: the first avoids the customary English equivalent, ‘imagine’, for the German ‘einbilden’, while the
second excludes the customary range of possibilities
(,celebrates’, ‘stops work’, ‘idles’) for the German
‘feiert’. Anscombe’s choices can’t be classified as
errors in the sense of ignoring the meanings assigned
to these words in current dictionaries. Yet the effect of
her choices undoubtedly goes beyond any equivalence
based on lexicography.

In Anscombe’s English, Wittgenstein acquired a
British remainder that has exerted a powerful force in
philosophical discourses and institutions. The thinking
in Philosophical Investigations was itself eccentric, a

26

departure from the logical positivism that dominated
British philosophy during the 1930s and 1940s. The
diverse language of the translation, as well as the discontinuous and uncertain form of the text (discrete
numbered sections that were in part assembled by
Wittgenstein’s editors), inevitably increased the
contrast to current philosophical trends, where the style
of writing was more formal and less familiar, more
analytically precise and less metaphorically suggestive,
more academic and less popular. Anscombe’s translation can be said to have communicated Wittgenstein’s
ideas, even to have mimicked his style of writing. Yet
in the process both were overlaid with a domestic
remainder that also enabled them to be transgressive:

the translation both marked and crossed the institutional boundaries of British philosophy, allowing
the text to remain irreducibly foreign even as it entered the domestic culture. ‘Each sentence’, wrote a
reviewer of the translation, ‘is clear and almost colloquiaI’, but the cumulative effect of the sentences is
peculiar’.7 This peculiarity hasn’t vanished: although
Wittgenstein’s ideas have deeply influenced British
philosophy, the style of Anscombe’s translation has
not produced any imitators among British philosophers
and her ‘unusual’ renderings continue to be revised by
other commentators. 8 Even the so-called ‘ordinary
language’ philosophers, who, like Wittgenstein,
analyse everyday speech, write with an academic
formality dotted with jargon (e.g. J.L.

Austin’s distinction between ‘performative’ and ‘constative’ utterances). The
case of Wittgenstein shows that from
reading the remainder in an influential
translation, philosophy gains a historical
know ledge of itself, of the hierarchical
arrangement of discourses that exists in
the discipline at any given moment and
that variously affects the importation of
foreign philosophies, admitting, excluding and transforming them in accordance
with domestic values.

The workings of the remainder are
collective and therefore question any
narrowly biographical understanding of
the translation, any individualistic assumption that it somehow mirrors the
intention or experience of the foreign
writer (or the translator). It might be argued, for instance, that the British colloquialisms reflect Wittgenstein’s own use
of English. As a student who attended
Wittgenstein’s lectures in Cambridge

and then as a friend and colleague who hosted him in
the last years of his life, Anscombe would have been
very familiar with his English conversation and writing. Her translation might be seen as adequate to his
version of the text if he had written it in English. Norman Ma1colm, another former student, recalls that
Wittgenstein ‘spoke excellent English, with the accent
of an educated Englishman’, and was not averse to
using colloquial expressions, some distinctly British,
such as when he referred to his lectures as ‘a lot of
rubbish’ or described food as ‘grand’ or mentioned his
fondness for ‘detective mags’ – a notable source of
slang. ‘One of Wittgenstein’s favourite phrases’,
Ma1colm observes, ‘was the exclamation, “Leave the
bloody thing alone!”‘9
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Wittgenstein
wrote Philosophical Investigations in German, not
English. And he didn’t choose the colloquialisms that
appear in Anscombe’s translation. In the specific case
of the German word ‘feiert’, her choice of ‘goes on
holiday’ has actually been criticized as inconsistent
with his intention. The authors of a full-scale commentary on the text have asserted that Wittgenstein
‘preferred’ a different rendering, ‘idles’, although without providing any documentation, apparently on the
strength of a later section where he makes a similar
remark:

Die Verwirrungen, die uns beschaftigen, enstehen
gleichsam, wenn die Sprache leerHiuft, nicht wenn
sie arbeitet.

The confusions that occupy us arise, as it were,
when language idles, not when it is working. 10
Another
commentator has
silently
revised
Anscombe’s version according to Wittgenstein’ s undocumented preference: “‘Philosophical problems”, wrote
Wittgenstein, “arise when language is idling”.’ 11 But
this rendering can be no more than another possible
alternative, no closer to Wittgenstein’s intention than
the version made by his student and friend. Any translation can only submit the foreign text to a domestic
interpretation, based on some sort of reconstruction lexicographical, textual, biographical – that answers
to the needs of a particular interpretive occasion.

The fascinating thing about Anscombe’s version is
precisely the interpretive richness of its remainder. A
colloquialism like ‘goes on holiday’, along with the
vaguely metaphorical use to which it is put, is
unexpected in Anglo-American philosophical discourse,
even in a text as informally ruminative as Wittgenstein’s.

going an uncontrollable proliferation of English meanings.

The statement in which the phrase appears ‘philosophical problems arise when language goes on
holiday’ – has usually been taken as Wittgenstein’s
criticism of certain kinds of philosophy, namely
linguistic analysis that is either metaphysical, conceiving of meaning as a mental or spiritual essence,
or positivist, reducing semantics to the formal rules
of 10gic. 12 In support of this reading, Wittgenstein’ s
commentators point out that he considered the
meaning of a word to be contextually determined, not
essential but conventional, a function of its use in a
specific social practice or ‘language-game’ (Sprachspiel). ‘Language goes on holiday’, then, when metaphysical or positivist philosophers wrongly speculate
on the meaning of a word apart from its practical
application, its job. In one of Wittgenstein’s recurrent
examples, builders can meaningfully exchange terms
for building materials because the terms are defined
by their use on the job.

To communicate Wittgenstein’s criticism of other
philosophers, Anscombe’ s choice must signify the
stoppage of work, which ‘holiday’ definitely does.

But the word also connotes playful activity that is
performed within a conventionally defined period (a
bank holiday, Christmas, summer vacation), and
thereby suggests that the philosophical. use of
language participates in a language-game too; that
when a word is discussed philosophically, detached
from its practical use, it is merely doing a different
kind of work, in a different language-game. Philosophy, it could be argued, is always taking language
on a busman’s holiday. This applies not just to metaphysicians and logical positivists, but to Wittgenstein
as well. Doesn’t his own use of the builders’ terms
depart from the work of building to do philosophical
work, to create the concept of a language-game and
thus resolve the philosophical problem of meaning?

The translation points to the conflicting possibilities in the German (‘feiert’ can be translated by ‘goes
on holiday’ as well as ‘idles’) and opens up a contradiction in Wittgenstein’ s text that reveals the deep
conservatism of his philosophy. He doesn’t see the
methodological likeness between his and the other
philosophies because he is more concerned with their
impact on linguistic problems. In so far as he dismisses philosophies that interrupt the practical application of language, he restricts the evaluation of
language-games to their smooth functioning, their

As a result, it stands out more conspicuously against the

maintenance of the status quo. Wittgenstein’s builders

otherwise standard dialect in the translation, and sets

use language to build a project; not to conceptualize

27

its status as a language-game, nor to discuss their
working conditions or their wages, the relationship of
their work to other projects, other kinds of work,
other people. He believed that ‘philosophy may in no
way interfere with the actual use of language; it can
in the end only describe it’, not explain it, because
explanation depends on theoretical assumptions that
lead to misunderstanding. 13 Yet any description that
‘leaves everything as it is’, far from giving mere facts,
effectively assumes a theory of ethical and political
value wherein language-games are judged to be good
and just, worth the effort to keep functioning. This
value may be construed as a democratic ideal, since
language-games theoretically lose their ability or right
to dominate other games. Yet in practice they are
always arranged hierarchically, whether according to
the use at hand or their institutional function.

Wittgenstein undoubtedly challenged the languagegames currently played in philosophy – yet with an
alternative that would seem, paradoxically, to recommend a quietism toward them, toward the stylistic and
discursive hierarchies in the discipline.

Anscombe’s choice of ‘holiday’ thus makes
possible a competing reading of Wittgenstein’s philosophy – but only when her translation is examined
from a materialist perspective. Reading for the
remainder means focusing on the linguistic and
cultural differences that English inscribes in the
German text and then considering their reconstitution
of Wittgenstein’s ideas. In effect, Anscombe’s
colloquialism establishes a metacommentary on key
themes in the German, notably the language-game and
the criticism of other philosophical concepts of
meaning. But the comment I derived from her
rendering was obviously against the grain of
Wittgenstein’s text: my materialist assumptions
brought to light the determinations and effects, not
only of the translation but also of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, the social conditions concealed by his conservative notion of the language-game. Reading for
the remainder in a translation forces a self-awareness
upon the interpreter, the knowledge that textual
effects can be made intelligible and significant only
from a specific theoretical orientation. This selfawareness is absent from the dominant reading of
Anscombe’s text, where the idealism of transparent
translation is assumed, and the colloquial expression
is interpreted in deference to Wittgenstein’ s philosophy (or at least to the part of it that supports a
particular commentary). Thus, an interpreter who
noticed the peculiarity of Anscombe’s choice – ‘If
language goes on holiday during philosophical rumi-

28

nation, it is a working holiday’ – nonetheless found it
consistent with Wittgenstein’ s ideas: ‘the philosopher’s conception of meaning accounts for his
cavalier attitude toward context’. 14
The remainder is unpredictable. The metacommentary it sets going in a philosophical translation
will take different forms in different contexts, depending as much on the specific ideas under discussion as
on the interpreter’s assumptions. Consider another
passage from Anscombe’s translation, where the
remainder leads not to an ideological critique, but to a
more deferential exposition of Wittgenstein’ s
philosophy:

Denk nur an den Ausdruck ‘!ch horte eine klagende
Melodie’! Und nun die Frage: ‘Hart er das Klagen?’

Think of the expression ‘I heard a plaintive
melody’. And now the question is: ‘Does he hear
the plaint?’ 15
The most striking feature of Anscombe’ s rendering is
the archaism of key words. ‘Plaintive’ is antique, even
if still in some use, reserved for poetical expressions,
whereas ‘plaint’ IS obsolete, appearing most
frequently in British poetry of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries – for example, in Milton’s
Paradise Lost and Goldsmith’s Deserted Village
(OED). The ordinary German words ‘klagende’ and
‘Klagen’ can easily be translated into current English
equivalents that preserve the repetition, such as
‘lamenting’ and ‘lament’ or ‘complaining’ and
‘complaint’. Yet the archaisms are much more effective choices: they add another, poetical register to the
fairly plain style and inscribe the German with a
distinctively English significance that supports
Wittgenstein’s thinking. The passage, however
oblique, seems to assume his concept of meaning as
use in a language-game. Hence, the question ‘Does
he hear the plaint?’ is rhetorical: the person who uses
the expression ‘I heard a plaintive melody’ didn’t hear
any information communicated by the music, no
complaint, but rather remembered previous musical
applications of the word ‘plaintive’ and therefore
applied it to the sound he heard, his physical sensation, and perhaps to the emotion he felt upon hearing
it, his psychological response. The language-game,
for Wittgenstein, is primarily a social practice in
which meaning is assigned to words according to
certain conventions and circumstances. Anscombe’s
poetical archaisms in effect make this point because
they illustrate the idea of conventionality, although in
literature. Their resonance in English literary history
transforms ‘Does he hear the plaint?’ into ‘Does he

I
J

hear the traditional applications of the poeticism
“plaintive” to music?’ Here the metacommentary
established by the remainder can be seen as performative, enacting on the stylistic level the concept
stated on the thematic level.

Of course the unpredictability of the remainder
means that not all of its effects are so conspicuous or
so significant as the examples I have chosen. Some
are subtle, becoming visible only on a comparison to
the foreign text – although a comparison that is
willing to reflect on the deviations and excesses of
the translation, that doesn’t seek a correspondence so
as to eliminate the remainder. The most subtle effects
in philosophical translations are also the most powerful in assimilating the foreign text to the disciplinary
discourses and institutions of the domestic culture.

This domestication occurs with any translating.

Indeed, it is necessary if the foreign text is to become
intelligible and interesting to domestic readers.

It is also at work in Anscombe’ s version, despite
the estranging heterogeneity of her language. When
Wittgenstein discusses the act of defining of words
by pointing to an object, ‘hinweisende Definition’, she
uses the Latinate technical term ‘ostensive’ for the
German word ‘hinweisende’, which can also be
rendered as ‘pointing’, ‘referring’, ‘demonstrative’,
‘indicative’. In choosing ‘ostensive’ Anscombe was

manifesting the tendency of philosophy
– including plain-style British traditions
– to create technical terminologies, to
increase the conceptual density of language and move it away from everyday speech. In other choices,
Anscombe does in fact yield to the
plain style that has dominated British
philosophy since Bacon and Locke, to
its preference for current usage, continuous syntax, and univocal meaning
and its suspicion of figurative language.

In Wittgenstein’ s criticism of other linguistic philosophies, for example, she
translated ‘wenn die Sprache leerliiuft’

(,when language idles’) as ‘when language is like an engine idling’, thereby
removing an elliptical metaphor and
making the analogy more explicit for
the English-language reader. 16 Behind
such choices we can ultimately perceive the long-standing dominance of
fluent strategies in English-language
translating, where the aim is immediate
intelligibility and the absence of any
linguistic or stylistic peculiarities that might pre-empt
the illusion of transparency. 17
The remainder at once enriches and redirects the
interpretation of philosophical translations. The sort
of interpretation it demands continues to be philosophical, engaged in conceptual analysis, but now
made more literary, concerned with the formal properties of language, and more historical, concerned with
various domestic traditions – linguistic, literary, philosophical. The addition of effects that work only in the
target language thickens the semantic burden of the
foreign text by posing the problem of their relation to
its concepts and arguments, their potential articulation
as a metacommentary. Understanding those effects
also involves the problem of their relation to a range
of domestic practices and institutions: the competing
interpretations that domestic philosophers have put
forward for the foreign text, the hierarchies of styles
and discourses that characterize domestic academic
philosophy, and the social functioning of philosophy
among the other practices and institutions in its
historical moment. The remainder in a translation
demonstrates, with varing degrees of violence to the
foreign text and the target language, that the philosophical project of concept formation is fundamentally
determined by its linguistic and cultural conditions.

Translation remains the dark secret of philosophy

29

precisely because the remainder shatters the bedrock
assumption of this project in its modern academic
form: the stability and authority of the philosophical
subject as the autonomous agent of reflection.

2. Strategies of philosophical
translation
To be useful in translating foreign philosophies, the
remainder requires a reformulation of the notion of
accuracy, a broadening that takes into account both
the foreign text and domestic readers. It would be
more precise, in fact, to reserve the term ‘accuracy’

for lexicographical equivalence and instead refer to
the translator’s ethical responsibilities. Translation is
a complicated act of communicating, a communication
through a reconstitution of the foreign text, and it
should not be seen as good unless it signifies the
linguistic and cultural difference of that text for
domestic constituencies. The ethical value of this
difference resides in alerting the reader to a process of
domestication that has taken place in the translating,
but also in preventing that process from slipping into
a wholesale assimilation to dominant domestic values.

The translator’s opportunities to perform these tasks
occur first in choosing a foreign text and then in
developing a discursive strategy to translate it. Foreign philosophies can retain their difference in translation when they differ to some extent from those that
currently dominate the discipline at home, or when
they are translated so as to differ from prevailing domestic interpretations of their concepts and discourses.

The best philosophical translating is itself philosophical in forming a concept of the foreign text based
on an assessment of the domestic scene. But the concept ought to be defamiliarizing, not based on a ratification of that scene. 18
The translator’s responsibility is not just twofold foreign and domestic – but split into two opposing
obligations: to establish a lexicographical equivalence
for a conceptually dense text, while intelligibly maintaining its foreignness to domestic readerships. Translating motivated by this ethics of difference seeks to
inform domestic readers of foreign philosophies, but
also to provoke them. It acknowledges that foreign
concepts and discourses can change domestic institutions by forcing a self-criticism and by stimulating
the invention of new philosophies, new philosophical
canons and curricula, new qualifications for academic
philosophers. And it takes responsibility for these
possible consequences by manipulating the remainder,
the effects in the target-language that signal the
second-order status of the translation by distinguish-

30

ing it from the foreign text. From this point of view,
translation is less responsible when it follows an
ethics of sameness, when it chooses foreign texts and
develops discursive strategies so as to shore up institutional limits, establishing a domestic equivalence
for foreign concepts and discourses that minimizes
their unsettling differences. This translating, although
it may be considered accurate within the discipline, is
questionable because it has less regard for the foreign
text than for the domestic status quo. The linguistic
peculiarities released by the remainder provide a
textual basis for judging a philosophical translation
because they constitute a means of gauging how much
the foreign text has succumbed to or resisted the
domestication performed during the translating process. It was in fact Anscombe’s strikingly heterogeneous language that allowed her to preserve the
eccentricity of Wittgenstein’ s philosophy – and attract
the criticisms and revisions of more domesticating
commentators.

English-language translators of philosophical texts
have long shown an awareness of the remainder, of
the irreducible difference introduced by the translation, but they have tended to restrain it by adhering
to the Anglo-American preference for fluency, immediate intelligibility, the illusion of transparent
communication. As a result, they have not been very
critical of the domestic values that the remainder
inscribes in the foreign text. Benjamin Jowett, the
distinguished Victorian translator of Plato, asserted
that a translation ‘should be based, in the first
instance, on an intimate knowledge of the text’, but
also that ‘it should read as an original work’, concealing not merely its status as a translation, but the
translator’s decision to ‘sacrifice minute accuracy for
the sake of clearness and sense’. To secure transparency, Jowett recommended a homogeneous English style that relies mostly on current usage,
recognizable and therefore highly accessible: ‘no
word, however expressive and exact, should be
employed, which makes the reader stop to think, or
unduly attracts attention by difficulty or peculiarity,
or disturbs the effect of the surrounding language’.

Yet despite this effort to control the excesses of the
remainder, Jowett’s own literary and religious values
visibly shaped his work. He allowed that ‘equivalents
may be drawn from Shakespeare’, provided that they
are ‘used sparingly’, and ‘a similar principle should
be observed in the employment of Scripture’ .19
Jowett’s version of Plato mixed Jacobean with later
literary forms, especially the style of the King James
Bible, producing a rich strain of archaism that George

Steiner has described as ‘the language of 1611 …

filtered through that of the later seventeenth century
and that of the Victorian poets’ .20 This translation
aligned the Greek texts with dominant traditions in
English culture, helping to ensure that Platonic philosophy would simultaneously lose some of its pagan
unfamiliarity and retain its canonical status in
academic institutions.

Continental philosophy has most inspired Englishlanguage translators to challenge the discursive
regime of transparency and experiment with the
remainder. And the experiments have often been successful in preserving the linguistic and cultural difference of this philosophy on the Anglo-American
scene. Translators of Heidegger’s texts have been
particularly effective in developing new translation
strategies, not only because his neologisms and
etymologies, puns and grammatical shifts demand
comparable inventiveness but also because his texts
address translation as a philosophical problem,
exploring its decisive role in constituting the meaning
of concepts. With rare exceptions, these translators
have been academic philosophers who allowed
Heidegger’s philosophy to increase their translatorly
self-consciousness, as well as to inform their own
philosophical research. Even here, however, the pull
of domestication hasn’t diminished, just taken different shapes. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson’s

version of Being and Time does more than enough to
reproduce Heidegger’s stylistic peculiarities, partly by
finding English that is equally peculiar and partly by
relying on various scholarly conventions, like a
glossary of key terms and detailed footnotes that
explain the limitations of particular renderings. All
the same, the translators admit to making ‘numerous
concessions to the reader’ that conform to current
English usage and alter the conceptual density of the
German – for instance, inserting ‘personal constructions where Heidegger has avoided them’ and thereby
complicating his anti-individualistic concept of human
subjectivity.21
In 1962 such deviations proved to be inconsequential, too minimal to make Heidegger’s philosophy
any more accessible to English-language readers. The
American pragmatist Sidney Hook wrote a mixed
review that acknowledged Heidegger’s enormous
influence in Europe, but concluded that ‘few
philosophers will find the rewards of discovery commensurate with the pains of diving into and dredging
[his book’s] murky depths.’22 The first step in
preserving the foreignness of Heidegger’s text was of
course Macquarrie and Robinson’s decision to translate
it: Heidegger’s essays had been translated throughout
the 1950s, amid popularizations of existentialism by
academic

philosphers

(e.g.

Barrett,

What

is

Existentialism? , New York, 1947), but
his style of thinking deviated so widely
from the logical analysis prevailing in
Anglo-American philosophy that he
remained an alien figure in English deep
into the 1970s. Today, when Continental philosophical traditions have gained
greater acceptance in British and American universities and leading American
philosophers like Richard Rorty feel
they must take account of Heidegger’s
work, it is clear that his translators
played a crucial role in reforming the
canon of foreign philosophies in English.

For the translation of philosophy, the
most important factor in this development
is
its
experimentalism.

Heidegger’s
translators
created
equivalences that tampered with current
usage. They didn’t just communicate
his difficult concepts; they practised
them through various discursive strategies. David Farrell Krell’ s version of

31

‘The Anaximander Fragment’ is a dazzling enactment
of the translation theory that Heidegger himself at once
expounds and enacts in translating Anaximander’s
Greek. Following Schleiermacher’s notion of translation as bringing the domestic reader to the foreign
text, Heidegger argues that ‘our thinking must first,
before translating, be translated to what is said in
Greek’ by abandoning modern ‘presuppositions’ that
are anachronistic and antithetical to the ancient experience of ‘Being’.23 Because Anaximander was able
to think of ‘Being’ as the ‘presencing’ of things, we
must avoid assimilating the fragment to later metaphysical traditions that are positivist or idealist, that
follow Aristotle or Plato in aiming to analyse or transcend existence, what Heidegger calls the ‘collapse of
thinking into the sciences and faith’. These traditions
enter into the ‘standard translation’ of the Greek text,
where Anaximander’s thinking is represented as a
moral cosmology, a ‘philosophy of nature’ in which
‘inappropriate moralisms and legalisms are enmeshed’ .24 Heidegger cites the classicist Hermann
Diels’ close version, written in a modern German filled
with moral and philosophical abstractions:

es on de e genesis esti tois ousi kai ten phthoran eis
tauta ginesthai kata to chreon. didonai gar auta
diken kai tisin allelois tes adikias kata ten tou
chronou taxin.

Woraus aber die Dinge das Enststehen haben, dahin
geht auch ihr Vergehen nach der Notwendigkeit;
denn sie zahlen einander Strafe und BuBe fUr ihre
Ruchlosigkeit nach der festgesetzten Zeit.

But where things have their origin, there too their
passing away occurs according to necessity; for
they pay recompense and penalty to one another for
their recklessness, according to firmly established
time. 25
For Heidegger, the translation that best reproduces
early Greek thinking is ‘poetizing’: it does ‘violence’

to everyday language by relying on German
archaisms whose kinship to the Greek words he
demonstrates in elaborate etymological interpretations. The essay concludes with his partial version
of the fragment, a free rewriting that even includes a
parenthetical insertion:

… entlang dem Brauch; gehoren namlich lassen sie
Fug somit auch Ruch eines dem anderen (im
Verwinden) des Un-Fugs.

… along the lines of usage; for they let order and
thereby also reck belong to one another (in the
surmounting) of disorder. 26

32

Krell’s English follows Heidegger’s German closely
and manages to find an equivalent for at least one of
the key archaisms. Whereas Heidegger resorts to two
words from Middle High German, ‘Fug’ and ‘Ruch’,
which he redefines as ‘order’ and ‘care’ on the basis
of later variants, ‘Unfug’ (‘nonsense’, ‘disorder’) and
‘Ruchlos’ (,reckless’), Krell uses ‘reck’, an AngloSaxon word that fell into disuse during the early modern period, was revived in the nineteenth century as a
poeticism, and is currently obsolete (OED). The repetition of the unfamiliar ‘reck’ throughout Krell’s version works powerfully upon the English-language
reader: it underscores the conceptual density that
Heidegger assigns to the German Ruch, the archaic
ontological value of the term, while calling attention
to the foreignness of his thinking in relation to contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. The translation made reviewers aware that they were reading a
translation, and a very accomplished one, not to be
confused with the text that Heidegger wrote. Thus,
they not only judged Krell’s work successful because
it was ‘faithful’, but praised it for clarifying the
German. 27 ‘What more can one say about a translation’, wrote John Caputo, ‘than that it helps one to
understand the original?’

The unpredictability of the remainder, however,
comes back to haunt the translations, Heidegger’s as
well as Krell’s. Archaism is undoubtedly a very
effective choice in translating an essay whose theme
is ancient thinking and whose method is etymology.

Krell peppers his version with other English
archaisms to render German words that are not obsolete, but in common use. He translates ‘Graben’

(,trench’, ‘ditch’) as ‘abyss’; ‘in ihrem tiiglichen
niederen und hohen Gebrauch’ (‘in its daily low and
high use’) as ‘in common everyday parlance as well
as in its learned employ’; ‘Bestiindigen’ (‘standing’,
‘fixed’, ‘enduring’) as ‘perduring’; and ‘miichtiger’

(,powerful’, ‘potent’, ‘mighty’) as ‘puissant’ .28 In
making these choices, Krell is clearly following
Heidegger’s call for a poetizing translation of philosophical texts, yet the poeticisms tend to be linked to
early modern English literature, to the work of
Sidney, Shakespeare and Milton, among others. This
is most obvious when Krell translates ‘aus den
Fugen’ as ‘out of joint’, in which Heidegger’s
concern with the disappearance of Being gets
refracted through Hamlet’s anxiety about the moral
chaos of the Danish court: ‘The time is out of joint’ ,
says Hamlet, ‘0 cursed spite/ That ever I was born to
set it right!’ 29 Krell’ s translation subtly links
Heidegger’s philosophy to canonical texts and

traditions in English, helping in some small degree to
situate him in the English-language canon of foreign
philosophies. Yet this literary allusiveness questions
Heidegger’s belief that poetizing translation is somehow more ‘faithful’ to early Greek philosophy
because ‘its terms are words which speak from the
language of the matter itself’. 30 On the contrary,
Krell’s version shows that translation, even when it
experiments to preserve the linguistic and cultural
difference of the foreign text, is likely to contain
anachronisms, deviations and excesses, because it
releases a domestic remainder. Krell’ s archaisms
communicate Heidegger’s philosophical theme and
imitate his peculiar style, but they suggest that the
ancient Greek experience of Being isn’t disclosed but
displaced in translation; that it can never be more than
the historical variations of the translating language,
and these can only be glimpsed when contemporary
linguistic practices are disrupted. 31
The translation of philosophical texts can be
improved, and the issue of translation productively
introduced in philosophical interpretation, if translators take a more experimental approach to their
work. Current translation practices show that translators’ prefaces, glossaries and annotations are helpful
in clarifying the conceptual density of key terms and
in indicating their foreignness among domestic philosophical trends. But any such apparatus can only
gesture at the effects of the remainder, its literary and
historical resonances in the target language and the
metacommentary they make possible. This means that
philosophical translation must become more literary
so as to release an appropriate domestic remainder
for foreign concepts and discourses. However unpredictable the remainder may ultimately be, it nonetheless requires translators to respond creatively to
the stylistic pressures exerted by the philosophical
project of concept formation.

Deleuze and Guattari have remarked on the ‘element of style’ in philosophical writing:

some concepts must be indicated by an extraordinary and sometimes even barbarous or shocking
word, whereas others make do with an ordinary,
everyday word that is filled with harmonics so
distant that it risks being imperceptible to a nonphilosophical ear. Some concepts call for archaisms,
and other for neologisms, shot through with almost
crazy etymological exercises … The concept’s
baptism calls for a specifically philosophical taste
that proceeds with violence or by insinuation and
constitutes a philosophical language within language
– not just a vocabulary but a syntax that attains the
sublime or a great beauty.32

By developing a philosophical language, then, the
philosopher faces a choice between maintaining or
varying the major language – that is, the standard
dialect, the philosophical canon, the dominant
concepts and discourses. The taste that the philosopher exercises is not simply literary, but social,
having some bearing upon institutional limits: a style
of philosophical writing may insinuate itself among
or violate the philosophies that currently hold sway
in the discipline, adhering to the major language or
admitting the minor linguistic forms that it excludes
(e.g. the ‘shocking word’, archaism, neologism) and
thus creating what Deleuze and Guattari elsewhere
call a minor literature. 33 A stylistic innovation in a
philosophical text might indeed be too esoteric, too
discipline-bound, for the ‘nonphilosophical ear’; yet
if it is drawn from minor forms, from linguistic and
literary traditions that deviate from the dominant
philosophical discourses, then it might indeed reach
non-specialist readers. If philosophy is practised as a
minor literature, it marks and crosses the current
limits of the academic institution.

For the translator, a more literary approach turns
the philosophical translation into a minor literature
within the literature of philosophy. The experimental
translation is minoritizing: it creates a philosophical
language that challenges the domestic hierarchy of
philosophical languages. The translatic>n ·that in
contrast avoids stylistic innovation will have an
insinuating impact on the domestic discipline, assimilating the foreign text to the standard dialect, the
dominant philosophies, the prevailing interpretations.

Only the experimental translation can signify the
linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text
by deterritorializing the major language and opening
the institution to new concepts and discourses. By
taking account of translation, philosophy doesn’t
come to an end, doesn’t become poetry or history,
but expands to embrace other kinds of thinking and
writing.

Notes
1. G. Nakhnikian, review of L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (trans. G.E.M. Anscombe,
edited by G.E.M. Anscombe, R. Rhees, and G.H. van
Wright, Blackwell, Oxford, 1953, p. 19 – hereafter PI),
Philosophy of Science 21, 1954, p. 116; A.J. Workman,
review of Wittgenstein, PI, The Personalist 36, 1955,
p. 293; S. Hampshire, review of Wittgenstein, PI, The
Spectator, 22 May 1953, p. 682; J.N. Findlay, review
of Wittgenstein, PI, Philosophy 30, 1955, p. 179.

2. See, for example, P.P. Strawson, review of Wittgenstein, PI, Mind 63, 1954; P. Feyerabend, review of
Wittgenstein, PI, The Philosophical Review 64, 1955.

3. S. Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language:

33

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

l7.

18.

An Elementary Exposition, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge MA, 1982, p. 49.

1.-1. Lecercle, The Violence of Language, Routledge,
London, 1990.

Wittgenstein, PI, p. 19.

Hampshire, review of PI, p. 682.

R. Hamilton, review of PI, The Month 11, 1954, p.

117.

O. Hanfiing, “‘I heard a plaintive melody” (Philosophical Investigations, p. 209)” in Wittgenstein
Centenary Essays, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, p. 117
n.l; see also P.M.S. Hacker, Insight and Illusion:

Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1986, p. 113 n.3; and 1. and
M.B. Hintikka, Investigating Wittgenstein, Blackwell,
Oxford, 1986, passim.

N. Malco1m, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 2nd edn,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984, pp. 24, 38, 96,
124, 69.

G.P. Baker and P.M.S. Hacker, An Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein,
Understanding and Meaning, University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1980, p. 221; Wittgenstein, PI, p. 51,
my translation.

O. Hanfiing, Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy, State
University of New York Press, Albany, 1989, p. 51.

E.g. A. Ambrose, review of Wittgenstein, PI, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 15, 1954, p.

111; C.W.K. Mundle, A Critique of Linguistic Philosophy, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1970, p. 198; G.

Hallett, A Companion to Wittgenstein’ s Philosophical
Investigations, Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY,
1977, p. 114.

Wittgenstein, PI, p. 49.

G. Hallett, ‘The Bottle and the Fly’, Thought 46, 1971,
p. 101.

Wittgenstein, PI, p. 209.

Ibid., p. 51.

See L. Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History
of Translation, Routledge, London, 1995.

For a discussion of this translation ethics, see L.

19.

20.

21.

22.

23.

24.

25.

26.

27.

28.

29.

30.

31.

32.

33.

Venuti, ‘Translation and the Formation of Cultural
Identities’, Current Issues in Language and Society 1,
1994, pp. 214-15.

Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. lowett, 3rd edn,
Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1892, pp. xv, xvi, xxii, ibid.

G. Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and
Translation, Oxford University Press, London, 1975,
pp. 345-6.

M. Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. 1. Macquarrie
and E. Robinson, Harper & Row, New York, 1962, p.

15.

S. Hook, review of Heidegger, Being and Time, The
New York Times Book Review, 11 November 1962, p. 6.

M. Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, trans. D.F. Krell
and F.A. Capuzzi, Harper & Row, New York, 1975,
pp. 19,22.

Ibid., p. 40; p. 22.

M. Heidegger, Holzwege, 5th edn, Vittorio K1ostermann, Frankfurt am Main, 1972, p. 296; Heidegger,
Early Greek Thinking, p. 13.

Heidegger, Holzwege, p. 342; Early Greek Thinking,
p.57.

M.L. Collins, review of Heidegger, Early Greek
Thinking, Library Journal 100, 1975, p. 2056; I.D.

Caputo, review of Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking,
Review of Metaphysics 32, 1979, p. 759.

Heidegger, Holzwege, pp. 303, 313, 328, 341; Early
Greek Thinking, pp. 19, 28, 42, 55.

Heidegger, Holzwege, p. 327; Early Greek Thinking,
p.41.

Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, p. 14.

Cf. A. Benjamin, Translation and the Nature of Philosophy: A New Theory of Words, Routledge, London,
1989, pp. 31-8.

G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, What is Philosophy?, {fans.

G. Burchell and H. Tomlinson, Verso, London, 1994,
pp. 7-8.

See G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus:

Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi,
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987,
especially ch. 4.

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