Adventures in Translating: Final Reflections on Translating Future Christ

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).

11 thoughts on “Adventures in Translating: Final Reflections on Translating Future Christ

  1. Out of genuine curiosity I wondered if you could comment briefly on why the poor readings you refer to are mis-readings?

  2. I’m looking forward to this work as it’ll be my first real encounter with Laruelle. Hopefully, I can do some sort of mini-book review on my blog whenever I get my hands on it. Congrats.

  3. Nathaniel, as in why is a poor reading equivalent to a misreading?

    Certainly it’s fair to say that RO/Ekklesia readings tend to be apologetic, involving a significant degree of hermeneutical violence.

  4. Funny, I see a pretty long, pleasant post up there about translating books, but nathaniel drake carlson appears to think it all about readings of continental philosophers by theologians. Apparently he has never read this website before.

    Congratulations APS!

  5. Nathaniel,

    I would have to go through each one to explain, but you’ll find that nearly no one outside of theology takes their criticisms of individual philosophers that seriously. You’ll also find a certain abuse of the reader as there will often be copious footnotes, but if you track them down they tend to be blind alleys. Sometimes there are even references to experts in a figure (say Spinoza or Deleuze) that they appeal to back up their reading, but when you look them up they are saying something completely different than the implication in the text. I have also found a certain lazy reading of Badiou and Zizek that uses them to undergird some meaningless theological phrase like “eucharist is the event par excellence” or arguing against them on the basis that the true revolution is the Christian one. Whatever your faith commitments and commitments to a particular faith community it seems very difficult to look at world history and hold to such a bizarre proclamation. You even have folks now appealing to Kierkegaard, the critique of Christiandom, in the name of RO, the neo-Christiandom movement.

    I think that suffices for this discussion here though. I just felt you were owed a response since I opened up the door with my final snarky sentence.

  6. I’m glad you posted this; it’s good to read that in the midst of all the crap that seems to go along with the pursuit of an academic career that there is some genuine satisfaction to be found, somehow, somewhere.

  7. Thanks, Anthony, for that clarification. I’ll say again, fwiw, that I was just genuinely interested in a little explication of this point, specifically what was being missed or misunderstood about Laruelle by these writers. I was by no means trying to start some unnecessary argument. Sorry if it came across that way.

  8. I was just starting to try to read Christ Futur with the aid of your translation, which I’m really grateful for, incidentally, and I noticed that on the first page for “une absence de pensee impressionnante mais desolante” you write, “an absence of impressionistic, but distressing, thought.” I would have translated it as “an impressive but distressing absence of thought,” taking “absence of thought” rather than “thought” as what was being modified by the adjectives. The only reason I even bring it up is that if it is as you translate it, it raises a lot of questions for me. As someone who’s not so conversant in the entire range of recent continental philosophy maybe that’s as it should be!

    Anyway, feel free to post this or not– I just wanted to let you know in case it was a mistake and, again, I’m really happy and thankful to have an English translation of this work and for the work you’ve done to make Laruelle’s work accessible to English-speakers in general.

  9. Tom,

    The sentence is unclear, but your rendering may be better. I expect you’ll find many more of these kinds of sentences. Michael Naas, one of Derrida’s best translators, told me I shouldn’t be surprised to find two or three errors per page. Not because the translation would be awful, but just because that is the nature of translating this kind of work. Hopefully it is still readable though and those who are very keen, like yourself, will track down the original.

    Incidentally, on p. 117 I put “Christian-organon” when it should be “Christ-organon”. This is quite a fuck up since it completely gets the meaning wrong. I think it was an auto-correct issue… a feature that I plan to turn off next time I translate.

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