The leading French philosopher Alain Badiou renders explicit his lack of faith in what's called "comparative literature" in th...

Alain Badiou's Handbook of Inaesthetics || Azfar Hussain

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The leading French philosopher Alain Badiou renders explicit his lack of faith in what's called "comparative literature" in the West, but he rigorously examines the significance of both comparison and translation. There's a great chapter called "A Poetic Dialectic" in his book _Handbook of Inaesthetics_ (mark the word "inaesthetics"), a chapter in which Badiou compares a poem in Arabic to a poem in French--the pre-Islamic Arab poet Labid ben Rabi'a to the French poet Mallarme, that is--to illustrate how "comparison" itself, to use Badiou's own words, "can serve as a sort of experimental verification of its [the poem's] universality."

And as for translation, Badiou puts it this way: "I believe in the universality of great poems, even when they are presented in the almost invariably disastrous approximation that translation represents." Badiou's _Handbook of Inaesthetics_ first appeared in French in 1998 while its English translation first appeared in 2005.

Years later, in 2012, in his conversation with the German philosopher Peter Engelmann (now included in the book called _Philosophy and the Idea of Communism_ which recently came out), Badiou again significantly takes up the question of translation as a sort of verification of a particular poem's universality. 

Badiou maintains:
How is that a great poem, written in German, can be perceived by a French person as a poem with a universal power even though it has been TRANSLATED, transformed, and so on? I don't know German and yet I know that Holderlin is a great poet, and I know this because I've read Holderlin's poems in French. Hence, I haven't read Holderlin's poems as such, I've read something that comes from Holderlin's poem but has been transformed. And so there is indeed something in that poem that's not reducible to the German language in which it was written.

Following Badiou's words above, one might say that it's that "irreducible" something in the poem that matters, something to which translation seems to be testifying--something that Badiou has already ardently accentuated in his _Handbook of Inaesthetics_, his groundbreaking work on aesthetics and poetics, a work (which is not only about comparison and translation, though) I recommend to anyone interested in translation studies and comparative literature:


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