Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

A lively debate has been going on lately in Al Jazeera, following the question posed by Hamid Dabashi in an article provocatively titled “Can Non-Europeans Think“? Dabashi’s piece, published earlier in January this year was a response to an article by Santiago Zabala, Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona. Zabala’s article, entitled “Slavoj Zizek and the Role of the Philosopher”, was actually on an entirely different issue, as will be evident from the title. Zabala attempts, in this article, to read in Zizek’s persona and oeuvre, the possible implications for the philosopher as such. He dwells on Zizek as a figure who is at once a philosopher and a public intellectual – a role not very easily available, according to him, to academic philosophers.

If most significant philosophers become points of reference within the philosophical community, he says, “few have managed to overcome its boundaries and become public intellectuals intensely engaged in our cultural and political life as did Hannah Arendt (with the Eichmann trial), Jean-Paul Sartre (in the protests of May 1968) and Michel Foucault (with the Iranian revolution).” Zabala explains this rare ability/ possibility by invoking Edward Said on the ‘outsider’ status of the intellectual and by underlining the direct engagement of the thought of such philosophers with contemporary events. He says:

These philosophers became public intellectuals not simply because of their original philosophical projects or the exceptional political events of their epochs, but rather because their thoughts were drawn by these events. But how can an intellectual respond to the events of his epoch in order to contribute in a productive manner?

In order to respond, as Edward Said once said, the intellectual has to be “an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society”, that is, free from academic, religious and political establishments; otherwise, he or she will simply submit to the inevitability of events.

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Keynote Address at The Ninth Annual South Asia Graduate Student Conference, University of Chicago, April 5, 2012.

Translation as paradigmatic of any conversation, and every act of translation as shot through with power relations – this understanding is now very much part of a certain common sense arising from a formidable body of scholarship. One point of departure from here is in the direction of seeing translation as a hermeneutic project of understanding, an ethical project of destabilizing the Self through engagement with the Other; another is in the direction of recognizing the constitutive misreading underlying any project of translation.

Today, taking on board much of this work, I would like to reflect particularly on another aspect of translation – as a project of rendering intelligible. What are the limits to this project? Who seeks intelligibility? Who evades it or simply in daily quotidian ways, by-passes its operations? Is the quest for mutual intelligibility implicit in all social interaction? But more critically – is this very assumption of the possibility of mutual intelligibility complicit in projects of power?

I will lay out four stories that speak to these questions in different ways – the story of Arabic philosopher Ibn Rushd and his encounter with the Greek philosopher Aristotle (also known, in an act of translation of a more banal kind, as Averroes and Arastu in each other’s cultures); the story of the ignorant schoolmaster, Jacotot, as told by Ranciere; the story of The Spirit Eaters, a piece of performance art recently enacted by the artist Subodh Gupta in Delhi; and finally, the story of the struggle of practising psychoanalysts in India to establish proper masculine subjectivity in Freudian terms. (more…)