TRANSLATION AS INTERPRETATION IN HEIDEGGER

Speaker: Dr Stuart Elden, Brunel University, on 1 June 1999

"Tell me what you think of translation, and I will tell you who you are". Throughout his career, Heidegger suggested that all translating must be an interpreting, and to appeal to a dictionary is to appeal to one interpretation. This paper began by discussing Heidegger's understanding of translation, showing that it is a carrying over _ a trans-lation _ from one language to another, or even within the same language. In Greek the word hermeneutiké means both translation and interpretation.

In order to illustrate this, the paper turned to a discussion of the Greek word which is transliterated as polis and is the root for `politics'. When polis is translated it is usually as `state' or `city-state'. Heidegger initially understands the word in this sense, though he recognises its inadequacy. At this time, through an interpretation of Plato's call for philosopher-kings, he justifies his political decision to serve as Rector of Freiburg University in the early years of Nazi Germany. He sees this as providing intellectual leadership to the new German state.

After his resignation from this post in 1934, Heidegger engages in muted criticism of the regime: almost exclusively at the level of ideas. One of these criticisms is, I suggested, achieved through a rethinking of the word polis, and in consequence the meaning of `politics'. Contrary to Carl Schmitt's understanding of the concept of the political, predicated on the friend/enemy distinction, which risks confusing the political with the polemical, Heidegger suggests that polis should be rethought as the `site', the site of abode of human history. Such a rethinking, principally achieved in lecture courses in the war years, provides a potential for rethinking politics in terms of its situatedness and spatial elements, and also shows, in part, how Heidegger came to distance himself from the Nazi regime.

The session therefore raised issues both about the politics of translation, and the translation of politics. The session was well attended, and there were some interesting questions from the floor.

Stuart Elden