The inside passage : translation as method and relation in Serres and Benjamin

Mercier, Lucie Kim-Chi (2015) The inside passage : translation as method and relation in Serres and Benjamin. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The central premise of this thesis is that translation has acquired a new meaning in so-­‐ called postcolonial times and that this transformation calls forth a renewal of the philosophical conceptualisation of translation. I begin by distinguising between two different philosophical genealogies of translation in modern European philosophy. The first is a Romantic and hermeneutic lineage, in which translation is closely bound to the movement of culture (Bildung), and conceived of as an ‘experience of the foreign’. The second is a relational genealogy of translation, in which translation is a transformation without teleology, yet systematically-­‐oriented. The thesis reconstructs this alternative concept through a parallel reading of Walter Benjamin’s and Michel Serres’ works on translation, contending that Leibniz’s relational metaphysics proved a crucial resource for both of them. Albeit reflecting on different objects (the sciences and the work of art), these two authors converge in thinking translation as a relation and a method, associating translation with their critique of epistemology. By drawing on a generalised metaphysics of language, they both reflect on translation as a transformation in the objective domain, hence as a form of historicity. The thesis is composed of three autonomous yet convergent parts. The first part operates as a backdrop to the whole by expounding the need for locating the philosophy of translation outside of the ethics of alterity. It contends that the link made between linguistic difference and difference ‘as such’ is often insufficiently mediated. The second part examines Serres’ early works, explicating his philosophy of translation in close connexion with the evolution of his structuralism, from his doctoral work on Leibniz (1968) to the last of the Hermès series: Le passage du Nord-­‐Ouest (1980). The third part investigates Benjamin’s philosophy of translation in light of his metaphysics of language, following his concepts of the ‘afterlife’ as a thread through his early and later works. Finally, the conclusion propounds the intrinsic connexion that holds between the translation problem, Leibnizianism and ‘decentered epistemologies’.

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