Monday, January 22, 2007

Ricoeur in/on translation

John McGowan has a thoughtful review of a posthumous little book by Paul Ricoeur, On Translation, reminding us that all communication involves, at some level, an act of translation.

The possibilities of alienation (these words do not reveal the real me) and of misinterpretation (no, that’s not what I meant at all) are ever present. Our desire to translate ourselves to ourselves and to others is always shadowed by the fear of failure and by resentment of the very necessity of the task. The development of “linguistic hospitality,” the welcoming of the foreign into the privacy of the self, is the ethos Ricoeur promotes as the proper and humble response to the fact that some ideal union between a text and its translation, between our sense of self and the words with which we express that sense, and, ultimately, between the self and others, can never be ­achieved.

Ricoeur insisted, especially in later works such as Oneself as Another (1995), that the path to ­self-­understanding lies through the detour of an encounter with the other. His essays on translation dramatize this call to recognize in the foreign the lineaments of one’s own ­imperfection.

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