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The Dictionary of Untranslatables

The Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon

In 2014, Princeton University Press published the long-awaited English translation of the Vocabulaire européen des philosophies: Dictionnaire des intraduisibles (2004), rendered into English as The Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon. This monumental text
– over 1200 pages in length, and containing over 400 entries – includes words from Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and English. Understanding the untranslatable not as what we do not translate, but as what we constantly retranslate, it details the translations that have been historically suggested and used for a given word – such as logos, which has over 20 English translations alone – and explores the various philosophical, literary and political ramifications of those translation choices over the past two millennia. The Dictionary/Vocabulaire thus crosses, unsurprisingly, the terrain of many different disciplines in the humanities. Indeed, it may be said to embody the very aims of the JHI, since the Dictionary/Vocabulaire is both the result of closely-knit collaborative work in the humanities and demands, in turn, sustained collaborative work to fully grasp its multifaceted dimensions. The aim of this working group will thus be to examine the various aspects of the Dictionary of Untranslatables, and treat it both as an object of interpretation in its own right, as well as a means of interpretation to discuss issues of the untranslatable from the viewpoints of philosophy, politics, history, religion, and literature.

The working group aims to be collegial and involve scholars from all levels of research. It will, accordingly, bring together faculty, postdoc, graduate and undergraduate scholars, all of whom are currently researching various topics related to translation. Since any understanding of the multiple issues that arise from the untranslatable must be, by necessity, interdisciplinary and multilingual, the group includes scholars from Comparative Literature, English, Religion, German and Philosophy, with knowledge of Ancient Greek, Latin, German, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Mandarin. Moreover, we intend to base our sessions around entries in the Dictionary/Vocabulaire suggested by members of the group. The working group will thus be led by the research interests of all its members.

In 2015, we will also hold a one-day symposium – which will be open to the public – on the Dictionary/Vocabulaire. Our plan is to invite one of the editors of the English edition of the book, namely, Emily Apter of NYU, with two of the translators of the English edition, namely, Jeffrey Melhman of Boston University (who has translated Derrida, Lacan and Blanchot), and the professional translator Steven Rendall (who has translated de Certeau, Le Goff, Gennette, Blumenberg, Habermas and Walter Benjamin). Inviting two of the translators in addition to one of the editors of the Dictionary/Vocabulaire will give us the unique opportunity to explore both theoretical and practical matters of translation, as well as how they intertwine in various ways. This will be, we predict, a landmark event insofar as it will be the first English-language symposium on the Dictionary/Vocabulaire since its launch at the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) in NYC in 2014.

In sum, the aim of the working group will be to bring together scholars that can extend the JHI Mellon theme of 2013-14 (‘Translation and the Multiplicity of Languages’) into new areas, so as to lay the ground for possible future collaborations not only between members of the group, but with those who have written and translated the Dictionary/Vocabulaire itself.

Oisín Keohane, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Philosophy
Willi Goetschel, Germanic Languages and Literature & Philosophy
Rebecca Comay, Comparative Literature & Philosophy

Ruth Marshall, Religion
Ming Xie, English
Chester Scoville, English and Drama (UTM) Farshid Baghai, Philosophy (UTM)
Jill Ross, Comparative Literature

Natasha Hay, Comparative Literature
William Ohm, Germanic Languages and Literature
Baharak Beizaei, Comparative Literature
Fan Wu, Comparative Literature
Clinton Debogorski, Philosophy

Alexa Winstanley-Smith
Peter Povilonis

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