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published on May 1, 2020

Peggy Kamuf

How Not to Translate—the Untranslatable

This essay proceeds from the assertion that Derrida’s work has consistently been concerned with translation. This has been clearly evident since “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1968). This concern comes to the fore in Geschlecht III, where countless features of Heidegger’s language are underscored as untranslatable. This does not prevent Derrida from proposing re-translations, of doing what he describes as “harassing” Heidegger’s language “with wave after wave of touches, caresses, and blows.” Untranslatability, as he argues here and elsewhere, is simply a matter of economy, of the one-word-for-one-word principle, according to which standard every text is untranslatable. But translation is also for Derrida a touchstone for the broadest questions posed by or to philosophy. One such important question or problem is hospitality, which, as he asserts in his 1995–1996 seminar on the topic, is “basically the same problem” as translation. This confluence of the questions of hospitality and translation is particularly relevant for his reading of Heidegger’s essay on Trakl, “Die Sprache im Gedicht.”

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