[Note: In this rather long-winded post I take way too long to get to the punchline. So let me first just say that my students Mark Ohm and Leah Orth, with help from me and my wife Emily, are putting up an English language mirror site of the Atelier de métaphysique et d'ontologie contemporaines (please check out our translation of the Introduction to the Workshop to get an idea of what's going on). As we post translations of each paper or discussion, I'll do a post here at NewApps linking to it and describing the content. Now on to the long-windedness.]
Readers of this blog know of my worry that two factors systematically distort Americans interaction with non-American philosophy: (1) the effective monolingualism of the overwhelming majority of students in American philosophy classrooms, and (2) the fact that it is books that are translated.
This is the main reason, I think, that American continental philosophy tends to be more focused on key authors of books rather than on the march of dialectic as it takes place over communal discussion. To the extent that we construct a dialectic it is always in terms of books written by a few great men and (only recently, finally) women.
This kind of narrative, for example as constructed in books such as Ian James' The New French Philosophy, can lead to some serious blind spots. By focusing on how the linguistic turn is rejected by people influenced by Derrida (initially Nancy and Marion) James risks giving the impression both that all French thought funnels through Derrida and that French philosophers who now reject the linguistic turn still (as did Nancy and Marion)* try to cling to the anti-metaphysical pose that was part and parcel of that turn.**
But in part because the dialectic is forced to be represented as a march of authors, key relevant authors end up getting left out. Consider that (as far as I know) the key insights of metaphysicians such as Frédéric Nef and philosophers of logic such as Jaques Dubucs are nowhere to be found in any English language Whig history of French Philosophy.
More recent metaphysicians such as Claudine Tiercelin, Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, and Tristan Garcia are, to the extent that they are mentioned in the odd footnote here or there, often misrepresented as carbon copies of Badiou. And the true path of dialectic, which funells and takes shape much more through thousands of people who either don't write books, or whose books don't get translated into English, is covered over in a predictable and systematic way.***
But can anything be done about this besides kvetching?****
To me, two things are essential.
- Bits of dialectic other than books need to be translated and readily available to scholars and students,
- People interested in views, perspectives, and arguments that are surpressed by standard Whig histories need to get involved in this translation and preservation.
This was not possible prior to the internet. But it is possible now and I, two of my students (Mark Ohm, who runs the page and does first drafts of the translation, and Leah Orth, whose is the second primary translator), and my wife are, with the blessings of ENS' Raphaël Millière, doing our small part to help with the problem I have outlined.
We are now in the process of putting up an English language mirror site of the Atelier de métaphysique et d'ontologie contemporaines.
As you can see from following the link and comparing with the original page, we currently have everything up except for the presentations (which are the real meat of the site), and we aim to translate these at the rate of two a month. Since the Atelier is on hiatus in Fall while Millière is at NYU, we should be caught up by the time it starts again in Spring, at which point we hope to keep things up to date, lagging by one or two weeks.
As we get translations of papers up, I'll link to them here with a description of the paper's content. The stuff we've worked through thus far is dynamite. For example a 1958 Colloquium at Cérisy-la-Salle discussion between Strawson, Van Bredaa, Jean Wahl, and A.J. Ayer will make you (if you are an Anglophone philosopher) question everything you thought you knew about the history of the analytic-continental split. As will the inaugural paper by Millière, the translation of which we will be posting next week.
Anyhow, please check out the site as well as the original French site. It's fascinating stuff and a key instance the internet's capacity to change philosophy for the better.
*To be clear, by 1999 Marion completely abandoned, and indeed incisively critiqued the distinctions made by those who (like his earlier self) conclude that we are somehow beyond metaphysics. I hope to do a post about this at some point, but only after I'm more confident about how the post-post-metaphysical Marion fits with received views about him here in the States as well as with his earlier work.
**But let us be fair. There is nothing a priori wrong with telling stories that simplify and distort the vast sweep of dialectic. And by telling the kind of story one does in this kind of book, James manages to craft a deep and accessible introduction to a set of vital contemporary philosophers such as Stiegler, Malibou, and Badiou. The book is excellent and I highly recommend it. Moreover, with Robert Brandom I think these kind of Whig histories are actually an inevitable precondition for thought itself.
***Again, this in no way should be taken as slighting the genius and importance of philosophers like James, Mullarky, or Gutting whose interpretive skills and storytelling I find to be essential.
****And we should also realize that this kind of kvetching that is in itself dangerous in an American context, as it can be too easily misinterpreted as unearned contempt for the Guttings and Critchleys among us, people to whom the American philosophical community owe a profound debt. And we have all seen how on the internet, this kind of contempt can mestastize into even more massively unjustified contempt for French thought itself. Feh. . . Freedom fries anyone?]