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The Possibility of Translation: Guillaume Le Blanc

Guillaume Le Blanc

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Only starting from the possibility of translation can a lever of exchange between lives—between so-called normal lives and precarized lives, between self-possessed lives and lives deprived of that possession—guarantee the possibility of a reflection on precarity, without accompanying it with a return to the normal as the ultimate lesson of the struggle against precarity. For a translation cannot exist without the equal recognition of languages that are exchanged in the act of translation itself. Translation does not signify that the language of the precarious is placed under the supervision of “normal” language: it implies, on the contrary, the possibility of a play between the value of normality and the voice of precarity.

The possibility of translation. An interplay between languages. While this passage describes philosophy’s work, we—translating these words in a shabby café in Paris’s lively, multicultural 19th arrondissement—couldn’t help thinking of our own project. We had come to France to translate Guillaume Le Blanc’s book Vies ordinaires, vies précaires. Six months earlier, on our own initiative (or whim?) we had emailed the philosopher whose untranslated work captured our attention for the way it brought together a faith in the power of linguistic creativity with a commitment to the philosophical investigation of “precarious lives.” At the core of Le Blanc’s work are contemporary forms of precarious existence, broadly defined as existence outside of social norms, and a large part of this work has to do with listening for the voices of the excluded, the marginalized, the silenced. Le Blanc wrote back not only with his blessing for our translation, but also with an unexpected invitation to come to Bordeaux and discuss his book—an invitation that we were able to accept, thanks to the generous support of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures.

Above and beyond the work of double translation—translation of political speech into the language of the precarious, translation of the language of the precarious into philosophical language—defining a concept of precarity would permit the return of precarized voices back into the concert of today’s democratic voices. If democracy begins in conversation, in the free circulation of speech, it is all the more imperative that this conversation not only maintain the elementary structures of society as it exists, nor even that it progress by reforming the “major language,” but that it be itself a permanent translation of the discordance of voices.

The work of translation. A concert of voices. After a month of translation work, we boarded a train south with half the book, a pile of questions, and a street address in Bordeaux. Le Blanc’s most recent book, Dedans, dehors, devotes chapters to an examination of hospitality, so we should not have been surprised at the welcome that awaited. Paul Ricoeur refers to translation as hospitality, and for our two days chez Le Blanc and his wife, the feminist philosopher Fabienne Brugère, we felt Ricoeur’s insight as lived experience. In between watching Usain Bolt’s 9.63 second 100-meter dash (and some significantly longer synchronized swimming routines) with Le Blanc’s two daughters and their cat, we worked over the finer points of the translation and heard from Le Blanc about his current and upcoming projects. Despite Lindsay’s occasional grammar mistakes, and Walt’s even more occasional grammar accomplishments, our conversations were stimulating, and we left with a suitcase full of books, a new excitement for the project, and a firm conviction about the richness of “starting from the possibility of translation.”

Walt Hunter, Guillaume Le Blanc, and Lindsay Turner

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