Plato, Our Comrade?


Daniel Tutt reviews Alain Badiou's Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters, in Berfrois:

In what Alain Badiou calls his “hyper-translation” of Plato’s Republic, we are taken into the world of Plato’s classic dialogue on politics and justice, sped up to the pace of a 21st century New York street corner. Socrates and his sophist interlocutors speak a gritty street talk that is both accessible and familiar, despite the fact they invoke intellectual figures from St. Paul to Jacques Lacan to the mathematician Paul Cohen.

Amanda, a female character who didn’t exist in Plato’s original is introduced. In some ways, Amantha plays the hysteric to Socrates, always pushing him to his next insight. Susan Spitzer’s translation of Badiou’s French into English is clearly designed for an American audience, one that resonates particularly well for a post #occupy angst that is hungry for political change. Badiou has refreshed Plato in more ways than bringing his own philosophical language into it; his wager is larger than this. He manages to traverse the twentieth century’s aversion to Plato as a totalitarian philosopher, and leaves us with new ways of understanding Plato’s conception of truth, the ideal form of government, and how we must participate in politics today.

Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. Two interrelated problems have been raised. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon. For example, the soul becomes the Subject, God becomes the big Other, and the true life becomes Truth – all terms that comport to Badiou’s own canon. Badiou’s hyper-translation is a type of translation that used to be common amongst philosophical texts, whereby the purpose of the translation was not to preserve the static meaning of the original, but to enable the text to speak to us in the present.