The last week was spent dealing with the final typeset proofs and compiling the index for Future Christ: A Lesson in Heresy (Amazon: US, UK). This means that all my work on this project is done it is completely in the hands of Continuum now. It brings to a close a project that I started last summer (after the months of waiting on the French publisher for the rights and then all the business to do with contracts) and that I’ve tried to occasionally document here as adventures in translating. I would have liked to write more, but the actual work of translating while co-editing another book, translating two public talks by Laruelle while organizing one of the events, and working on my dissertation took precedent over any reflection. I simply didn’t have the energy to step outside the situation; I had become a proper worker.
It was this labour aspect of the work that surprised me. I felt like I had done some proper work, gotten my hands dirty with material and produced something. Obviously there are some problems with this feeling. After all, the pay for academic translations, especially via a non-UP, is very low and I did it partly as a work of love and partly in the hopes it would accumulate intellectual credit that might help in the future. This may not pan out, but either way, on the other end of this project I can see that this was intellectual labour, that I found myself proud of the work in the same strange way I found myself proud of my data entry skills at my pre-grad school job, while the translation induced more anxiety since it was also something I care about on a personal/intellectual level.
And for that, with its confusing complication of selling my labour power in a way that undercuts its value, I found it really intellectual rewarding. This was threefold. Firstly, there was the obvious benefit to my French-language skills. Secondly, I really know this book now and, since the whole of Laruelle’s system is contained in various intensities in each of his books, I also feel I have a very good understanding of Laruelle’s project. Thirdly, I found the research I did into Gnosticism, so I could get a sense of English vocabulary used, to be really interesting and likely wouldn’t have dug into that without the translation. This is likely to form a future project, one combined with an interest in French philosophies of Islam (Corbin, Jambet) that I also hope to augment with a translation.
I mentioned above that I undertook the translation for very little pay with the hope that it would “pay off” in other ways. This clearly has happened, as people began to contact me wanting to discuss Laruelle. That was part of the reason I did the translation, as I mentioned in an earlier post, and I have also had articles on Laruelle solicited by journals I am quite excited to have my work appear in. I don’t think this would have happened without the aura of authority – however illusory! – completing a translation provides. When I first began the translation I was quite nervous about contacting Laruelle himself. I had a somewhat awkward meeting with him in Rome in 2008, owning to my poor spoken French (which still isn’t where I would like it and probably never will be unless I live in France for a longer period of time), but when I finally did contact him he was incredibly gracious and kind. I’m guessing that the translation was also what brought me to the attention of Pete Wolfendale and Tanya Osborne when they were organizing a public lecture by Laruelle at the University of Warwick, which led to the event at Nottingham that I co-organized. It was an incredibly stressful time, but really rewarding as well and it may lead to future projects exploring the work of Laruelle more and producing Anglophone non-philosophy.
Finally, a few comments on the translation of the book itself. I mention this in my introduction, but the translation is perhaps more literal than preferable. I did this because of Laruelle’s obsession with syntax, which I didn’t know how to keep while making it fully idiomatic. This was my first professional translation as well and so there is going to be a few moments of skittishness and failures of nerve that come with inexperience. I am planning on doing another Laruelle text within the next few years and hopefully a Corbin text. Already I have a few ideas of things I will do different with the Laruelle text because my early consideration of the Corbin text suggests that he, in contract with Laruelle, translates rather easily into idiomatic English, so the problem isn’t with my own fumbling nature with the French and English, but is intentional and part of Laruelle’s style. Still, the first half of the book (comprising two chapters) is harder to read than the final half (comprising four chapters). I found this to be the case in the French as well and so I shouldn’t be surprised it worked out that way in the English, but was worried for a time that it was my translation. I really owe a lot of thanks to people who looked over weird sentences (they get them in the acknowledgments), but the biggest thanks go to my friend up in Dundee, Nicola Rubczak, who looked over the whole of the manuscript alongside the French. Her French-language skills are much better than mine, as is her ease with English grammar, and the book simply wouldn’t be as good without the gift of friendship she offered. It was John Mullarkey, another Dundonian, who also offered a gift of friendship when he backed the proposal and put me in contact with the editors at Continuum. So, there is a kind of translation at work behind the translation, one of friendships and intellectual projects and chance encounters with people who are interested in the work and have something to say.
I will wait until the book is out to discuss in detail the ideas of the book. I am pretty proud of the translator’s introduction, with the title “The Philosopher and the Heretic”, as I aimed to be as clear as possible, a challenge for someone at my age (we tend to want to prove our intelligence and I’m no exception, more inexperience I think) and with a difficult and new thinker. I make one rather bold interpretative gesture in the introduction relating to the relationship of the One, the (non-)One and the non(-One). I give a synthetic and formalist reading of what is actually very complex and that changes shape throughout Laruelle’s work, but I think it will still work for people who need some point of entry into his work. It would be perhaps shameful promotion if we did a book event here, but we might and even if not I am hoping that some discussion will happen, perhaps bridging the Continental philosophy blogs with the theology ones (though I would like to avoid the kind of piss poor ekklesia project and Radical Orthodoxy readings of Laruelle that Badiou, Žižek, Meillassoux, Negri, and other contemporary philosophers have been subjected to, perhaps because Laruelle is so aggressively heretical his fate is saved already).