A German question

What’s the deal with the final syllable of Bewusstsein, the German word for “consciousness”? It seems as though the more natural formation would be something like Bewusstenheit — I’m not aware of other words that substitute a -sein. Does anyone have any insight here, or any passages to cite where a German philosopher makes a big deal about it, etc.?

Yet another concept that is better expressed in German

This time around, it’s not a ridiculous compound, but a single word: “Blase.” It’s the word used to refer to a financial “bubble,” but it also has another meaning: “blister.” The advantages of “blister” over “bubble” for describing the financial phenomenon in question are manifold. A financial bubble sounds wholesome and fun, as though financiers are blowing soap bubbles in the park. Eventually they’ll pop, but why dwell on that? If we believed that there was a financial blister underway, by contrast, there’d be much less metaphorical incentive to let nature take its course — once it got to a certain point, it would need to be lanced in order to avoid an uncontrolled bursting that could lead to infection. Further, the metaphor of a blister is more evocative of the origin of the phenomenon, pointing as it does toward an excessive amount of friction, rubbing a part of the financial markets raw and causing it to become inflamed. A financial blister in the housing market, for instance, would not indicate that the housing market was doing especially well, but instead that an unsustainable amount of work is being demanded of it.

Agamben translation updates

I recently answered copy-editing queries for The Highest Poverty. My next step will be to edit the proofs, which should be taken care of in the next six to eight weeks (i.e., by the end of the calendar year). Assuming everything stays on schedule, the production editor has estimated that the book will be released in April.

This week, I also submitted a completed manuscript of the translation of Opus Dei, which now must be approved either by Agamben or by his designated proxy. The original goal was to stagger the two books by a few months, with The Highest Poverty coming first (by Agamben’s request). If this step takes about the same amount of time as it did for The Highest Poverty, and if the other production steps follow suit, that’s what will happen.

It’s nice that I’m getting these Agamben translations off my desk for a few weeks, because that leaves me time to write my AAR presentation about Agamben and revise an article about Agamben that is going to be appearing in an edited volume about Agamben. Soon I should also be getting copy-edits back on an expanded version of my recent blog piece on Agamben, which will be appearing in a special issue of Political Theology devoted to Agamben. Then over the winter break, I’m planning to read some of the secondaries on Agamben to see if there are any major gaps in coverage that I could remedy with a book about Agamben.

Agamben Agamben Agamben. Agamben!

A strange coinage in Lacan

Yesterday in the Lacan reading group, we were puzzled by an apparent coinage in Seminar III. Speaking of Schreber’s disturbances of language, he says:

Here we go to the heart of the function of the sentence in itself, insofar as it does not necessarily carry its meaning wih it. I am thinking of this phenomenon of sentences that emerge in his asubjectivity as interrupted, leaving the sense in suspense. A sentence interrupted in the middle is auditivated [auditivée]. The rest is implied meaning. The interruption evokes a fall which, while it may be indeterminate over a wide range, cannot be just any old one. Here the symbolic chain is emphasized in its dimension of continuity. (English 100, French 115)

The translator’s note says, “The meaning is unclear, but the context would suggest it means ‘to make audible'” — but there was a general consensus that the context did not in fact seem to suggest that.

Any clue what’s going on here?

A proposal on foreign-language books

A consistent source of frustration for me is how difficult it is to find foreign-language books in the US — and how expensive they are when I do find them. I imagine much of the difficulty stems from shipping costs, but it seems like it would be relatively easy for some university press to arrange US-based reprints. In this day and age, they could even be print-on-demand titles.

Are there practical or legal obstacles to doing this?

Draft translation from Giorgio Agamben’s The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form of Life

Translated from Giorgio Agamben, Altissima povertà: Regole monastiche e forma di vita [The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form of Life] (Vicenza, Italy: Neri Pozza Editore, 2011), pp. 7-10.

[This rough draft translation is intended solely for purposes of personal edification and curiosity-satisfaction. Please do not cite without permission.]


The object of this study is the attempt—by investigating into the exemplary case of monasticism—to construct a form-of-life, that is to say, a life that is linked so closely to its form that it proves to be inseparable from it. It is in this perspective that the study is confronted first of all with the problem of the relationship between rule and life, which defines the apparatus through which the monks attempted to realize their ideal of a communal form of life. It is a matter not so much—or not only—of investigating the imposing mass of punctilious precepts and ascetic techniques, of cloisters and horologia, of solitary temptations and choral liturgies, of fraternal exhortations and ferocious punishments through which the monastery constituted itself, in view of salvation from sin and from the world, as a “regular life” [vita regolare]. Rather, it is a matter of understanding first of all the dialectic that thus comes to be established between the two terms “rule” [regola] and “life.” Continue reading “Draft translation from Giorgio Agamben’s The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form of Life

Draft translation from Agamben’s Opus Dei: An Archeology of Office

From Giorgio Agamben, Opus Dei: Archeologia dell’ufficio [Opus Dei: An Archeology of Office] (Turin: Bollati Birnghieri, 2011), pp., 7-9. Translated by Adam Kotsko.

[This draft translation is intended solely for purposes of personal edification and curiosity-satisfaction. Please do not cite without permission.]


Opus Dei is a technical term that, in the tradition of the Latin Catholic Church, starting from the Rule of St. Benedict, designates the liturgy, that is, “the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ… in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members” (Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, December 4, 1963).

The word “liturgy” (from the Greek leitourgia, “public services”) is, however, relatively modern. Before its use was extended progressively beginning from the end of the 19th century, we find in its place the Latin officium, whose semantic sphere is not easy to define and in which nothing, at least at first glance, would seem to have destined it for its unusual theological success.

Continue reading “Draft translation from Agamben’s Opus Dei: An Archeology of Office

Agamben translations: An announcement

I have been offered a contract to translate two works by Agamben in the coming year: Opus dei: Archeologia dell’ufficio and Altissima povertà: Regole monastiche e forma di vita. The two volumes represent sections 2.5 and 4.1 of the Homo Sacer series, respectively. Opus dei: An Archeology of Office is an investigation of the way that Christian liturgical concepts have informed modern ethical concepts, while The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form of Life presents Christian monasticism as an attempt to conceive of a form of life that would overcome the opposition between life and rule.

We have agreed that I will complete these translations by the end of the calendar year, so now I know how I’ll be spending my summer vacation.

A Note on the Translation Industry

Against my better judgment I am sitting in on a few classes in the Department of Philosophy at DePaul University. I say against my better judgment because I have enough work to stay on top of without adding to it, but I also feel like I can’t pass up an opportunity to study some interesting texts with teachers whom I have and continue to have lots of respect for. Those who know of DePaul’s program will know that it is known for its emphasis on original languages as well as a celebration of translation. It may be one of the few places where, and I could be mistaken about this, but where a translation of a major philosophical book “counts” at the institutional level. I know it at least counts amongst the other faculty here. Continue reading “A Note on the Translation Industry”