I have completed a full draft of my translation of Agamben’s Karman: A Brief Treatise on Action, Guilt, and Gesture. A lot of work remains to polish and whip it into bibliographical shape, but that is all mop-up. The Italian version does not seem to have been published yet, so this could wind up being one of the smallest gaps between the original and the English translation in the history of Agamben (not due to anything I did, just coincidentally).
The text brings together a lot of familiar themes in a new way, and it includes some quite unexpected references to Buddhist thought (which ultimately seem to be doing much the same work his account of the Myth of Er from Plato’s Republic). I think it will help people to get a little more purchase on Opus Dei, which is one of those texts that seemingly fell onto the philosophical scene with a great deadening thud, and also some of what he’s trying to do with responsibility and guilt in Sacrament of Language — but tying the themes from both texts more closely to his concern with law (which is, additionally, more obviously “relevant” to contemporary life than either liturgy or oaths). So out of the small trickle of tiny books I’ve translated since The Use of Bodies, this feels like probably the most significant text.
4 thoughts on “Agamben translation update”
Always excited to hear any developments Adam! Always enjoy your translations – your book on Zizek really took the cake for me and led me to follow this blog and APS’s podcast.
I hope this is an appropriate channel to contact you, but History MA student hoping to apply Agamben’s work to minor post-war Holocaust tribunals. I read your article in the LA Review of Books on how to read Agamben, but I was wondering if there were any texts other than Remnants of Auschwitz and The State of Exception you would perhaps recommend to grasp Agamben’s work as it specifically relates to critical legal methodologies.
Actually, this book will be great for that when it comes out. There are a couple essays in Potentialities, plus Homo Sacer would be good (covering some of the same territory as SE, but from different angles, etc.).
I don’t know if this is the place for this but I’d really like to hear about how you got into translating at some point. How did you get the gig? How proficient were you in Italian when you started (and what did you do to gain that proficiency)? Does translating get in the way of your own writing projects? Under what circumstances would you recommend it or not recommend it?
I learned Italian to read The Kingdom and the Glory, when I already had a pretty strong reading knowledge of French (at least for philosophy/theology). I e-mailed Stanford to ask if they needed a translator for K&G, and though that was already in process, they asked me to do a short sample translation for Sacrament of Language and then offered me a contract after they found it satisfactory. So I’m not sure if my process would be duplicatable — it’s partly a matter of luck and happenstance.
I don’t find that translating gets in the way of my own stuff. It’s a different kind of work — a little more mechanical, less intellectually taxing — and it’s actually nice to have it in the mix, because different moods and energy levels lend themselves to different tasks. From what I hear, it doesn’t do much for your career or job prospects directly (only your own published work “counts”), but it can be a great way to build up your academic network and you also obviously get to know the texts really, really well. I’m not sure I can make generalizations about whether anyone should do it, but if you have specific circumstances in mind maybe I would have thoughts.
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