the DICTIONARY OF UNTRANSLATABLES: A philosophical lexicon

K10097Tim Crane at the Times Literary Supplement:

This extraordinary book, a huge dictionary of philosophical terms from many languages, is a translation of Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles, originally published in 2004, the brainchild of the French philosopher Barbara Cassin. If the original project was paradoxical, then the present version is doubly so: not just a dictionary of untranslatable words, but a translation of that dictionary. Rather than despair at the self-undermining self-referentiality of the whole idea, the editors rejoice in it. Indeed, moving the word “untranslatable” to the beginning of the English title proudly asserts the paradox even more forcefully than the original French title does, and forms what the English-language editor Emily Apter calls “an organising principle of the entire project”.

In her preface, Apter comments (apparently without irony) that “the extent of our translation task became clear only when we realised that a straightforward conversion of the French edition into English simply would not work”. She is right, of course: translation is almost never a straightforward conversion. This is why it is such a fertile subject for philosophy. Like so much in philosophy, theorizing about translation (and, of course, about the related concept of meaning) lurches between two unappealing extremes.

more here.