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Who or What Is Compared?

The Concept of Comparative Literature and the Theoretical


Problems of Translation
Author(s): Jacques Derrida and Eric Prenowitz
Source: Discourse, Vol. 30, No. 1/2, Special Issue: "Who?" or "What?" Jacques Derrida (Winter &
Spring 2008), pp. 22-53
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41389791
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Who or What Is Compared? The Concept
of Comparative Literature and the
Theoretical Problems of Translation1

Jacques Derrida
Translated by Eric Prenowitz

I. WhatCan Be Compared?WhatComparesItself?Gulliver's
or Pangloss'sWake2

Let us suppose thata seminaroccurs{takesplace}3in a department


of comparativeliterature.
Whichis apparentlythecase.
This is a departmentofcomparativeliterature;I just arrived[j'y
arrive ] . Like manyinstitutions, comparativeliteraturedid not wait
forme, itdid notwaitforus,in orderto exist.Nor did departments
of literaturein theWestand elsewhere.To exist,foran institution,
is to affirm itsrightto existence;itis to constantly
refer,moreor less
virtually, butto a certaintypeofparticularlegitimacy,
to a legitimacy,
a historicallegitimacy, an entitlementthathas itsoriginin a histor-
ical act or in historicalactsoffoundation.When thedaycomes that
thisact of foundation - thatfoundsthe law upon nonlaw,upon an
-
ajuridicalsituation the day thisact of foundationis contestedby
anotherclaimto legitimacy, or simplythedaywhenno one feelsthe
necessityor thepossibility of referring to thefoundationof thelaw,
whenno one drawsauthority fromitanylonger,thentheinstitution
dies. It can outlive [survivre ] itsown death, continue to translate

30.18c2,Winter
Discourse, 8cSpring pp.22-53.
2008,
2009
Copyright State
Wayne Press,
UniversityDetroit, 48201-1309.
Michigan ISSN1522-5321.

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?
WhoorWhatIs Compared 23

itselfin rituals,objectivebehaviors,reproductiveprocedures,and
give theexteriorsignsofvitality,
all all theapparentguaranteesofits
smoothfunctioning,of its continuity, of its legitimacy.It can con-
tinuetopretendto havea determined,rigorously identifiableobject
and to relateto itin a living,renewed,effective, productiveway.Even
ifitno longerhas an objectaround whicha livingconsensuscan be
establishedand can bring togethera communityof researchers,
teachers,and students,a departmentin a university can long outlive
the disappearance of itsobject and of the livingconsensusrelating
to it.It is truethat,in thesecases, the survival[survie ] , the timeand
the economyof survival(forexample, the budget,the demograph-
icsoftheinstitution, itsregionofinfluence,etc.) are alwaysruledby
its inscriptionin a larger sociopolitical space, of which we must
neverlose sight.
You have alreadyrecognizedthefacile,worn-out,conventional
schema I have been usingin thispreamble.It opposes not onlylife
to deathas twoterms,italso exploitsa reassuringbelief:thatan insti-
tutionhas a livingand authenticorigin,its livingsource of legiti-
macy,itsintentionalpurpose [finalit] , itsgranddesign,itsproject,
itstelos,or itssoul, and when thislivingpurpose ceases to animate
thecommunity ofsubjects(here,researchers,professors, students),
then thereonly remains,and not forlong, a facade, a desiccated
body,a sterileand mechanicalreproduction.
Now ifI proposed to call thisseminar"The Concept of Com-
parativeLiteratureand theTheoreticalProblemsofTranslation,"it
wasnotin orderto playtherole ofthelatestarrivalin a department,
{latestarrival}whosefirstpreoccupation- and witha tasteforprovo-
cation- would be to putintoquestiontheinstitution thatwelcomes
him,to ask his hostshowlong theyhave livedhere,whattheirown-
ershipor rentalrightsare, under whatconditionstheyoccupy the
premises,wheretheirfundingcomes from,etc.Asyoucan imagine,
itis not at all in thisspiritthatI am askingmyquestions.Nor is itin
myintentions,in mytastes{orwithinmymeans},to organizea gen-
eral and radicalproblematic(as mytitlecould nonethelesslead one
to believe) in orderto beginwitha tabularasaand establishthebasis
of a newfoundation,ofanotherlegitimacy.
Above all, I do notintendto inaugurate,or to criticizeor to ini-
tiate.
What,then,is myintention?And whyhave I begun withthis
alternativebetweenthe livingsoul and the dead bodyof an institu-
tion, between its livingsource of legitimacyand the mechanical
reproductionof its legality?Firstof all to put in place and in the
spotlight(of themicroscopeor thetelescope) a conceptualopposi-
tionthatwe willfindwhereverwe go (at leastthisis myhypothesis),

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24 JacquesDerrida

thatwewillfindin themostdiverseforms,in therichesttranslations,


transformations, figures,and tropes,but alwaysruled bythispow-
erfullogic- whichis perhapslogic itself,thelogic of logic.
Now ifI had to choose threeor fournouns to designatewhat
resiststhisopposition,whatis instituted preciselyto defeatthisoppo-
to
sition, disqualifyit, to make it lose itsentitlements, itsrights,and
itsconditionsofexistence,ifI had to choose threeor fournouns to
designatewhatcontravenesand defiesthislaw,I wouldsay( 1) Insti-
tution,(2) Literature,(3) Translation,and consequently,among
other consequences, (4) Departmentof ComparativeLiterature.
Whatdoes thismean?
The threethingsI just named- institution, literature,transla-
tion- have forcondition,I oughtratherto saytheyare in the con-
dition of language [de langue], of writtenlanguage, of language
[ langage]and/or writing,thesebeing wordsthatare crawlingwith
problemsbut thatI leave forthe momentin theircommonsense
state- ifsuch a thingexists.Who would contestthatwithoutlan-
guages,actsand eventsoflanguage,no institution, no literature, no
translationcould have the least chance of appearing or of even
being imagined?As concernswriting,even ifit is understoodin a
narrowor traditionalsense,thatis,as thetranslation, precisely,ofa
prior verbali
ty,one could stillsay that an institution, a and
literature,
a translationwithoutwritingwouldat leastbe rarephenomenaand
difficultones toconserve,ifnotto conceiveof.Nowifthereis a char-
acteristic[trait]thatis difficultto disregardwithrespect to lan-
guage- writtenor not,writtenin theclassicalsense or not- itis the
possibility of "functioning," of havingeffects, of producingevents,
of maintaininglifebymeansof repetitions thatare at oneand thesame
ralivingand dead, thatmimicthedead as muchas theliving,and
thatensure the traditio, the translationor the tradition,ofmeaning
beyond and independentlyofthelivingintentionality thataimsat it
[le vise],containsor bears it. The so-calledliving,producing,insti-
tutingsubjectno longerneeds to be thereforthe textto function
(textis whatI am now calling the textureof an oral utteranceas
much as, stillin the ordinarysense, the writtensupportor docu-
ment). And a textis made forthis,structuredforthis;itmakespos-
sible thistraditioning[traditionnante] iterability,being itselement
and itscondition.I need onlyrecalltheseaxioms- whichare com-
monplaces today- to make you awareof thisnecessity:one can no
longeroppose, withregardto institution, to literature,or to trans-
lation (and, forexample,to departmentofcomparativeliterature),
the livingoriginof the institution, whichwould be associatedwith
an intentionalpurpose orienting[tendant]a communityof living

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WhoorWhatIs Compared 25

subjectstowardthe same ideal object, and, on the other hand, a


dead or moribundrepetition,thefacade ofa survival[survivance] ,a
mechanized comedy. {This concept of survival[ survie ] (fortleben,
berleben, livingon4) willcome, perhaps,to be at the centerof these
sessions.}These twoterms,these twovalues,can neverbe opposed
to each other,nor even dissociatedin a text(the textof an institu-
tion,a literarytext,a translationtext), anymorethan a livingand
authenticoriginalon theone hand, and a double, a copy,or a sim-
ulacrumon theothercan be separated- we willcome to this.
Neverforget,evenifitis nota problemforyou,thatI am speak-
ing here in French,in whatpassesforFrench,and that,as wewillsee
veryquickly,thisfactcan neverbe simplydiscountedfromthevery
thingI am tryingto get across to you. I am a foreign"visitingpro-
fessor,"5 speakingin his own language,but withinthe enclosureof
an American universitydepartmentdominated linguisticallyby
Englishand whose titleis not "comparedliterature"[littrature com-
pare], but, and I translate, "comparative literature" com-
[littrature
parative .
] Depending on the as
language, you know, the concept that
I name in French"littrature compare" receivestidesor names,in the
Westernuniversitiesthathave such a department{or such a "pro-
gram"6}, whichtranslateintoeach otherbutwhichwe wouldbe mis-
taken to consider as strictequivalents.I am speaking only about
names and titlesin sayingthis;I am not yetspeakingof differences
in style,in method,in traditionfromone university to another,from
one culture(nationalor otherwise)to another,fromone politicsto
another.Alreadyin the name, in the name thatgivesitstitle,com-
parativeliterature7 is not strictlythe same does not mean rig-
"littraturething, which is used
orously the same thing as compare,"
sometimesin the plural,sometimesin the singular (which is not
withoutimportance;we willreturnto this). And iflittrature compare
(or in Italianletterature comparate) is consideredto translate(or to be
translatedby) vergleichende Literatur, thisdiscrepancy,whichcan be
annulledin dailypractice,whichcan be neutralizedin thecourseof
exchange (and we musttake thisneutralizationand itsconditions
intoaccount;we willreturnto thisproblem), nonethelessthisslight
deviationof translationmusttranslatesomething.And,in anycase,
the example thatconcernsus has to do withthe translationof the
veryconcept of comparativeliterature,littrature compare, vergle-
ichendeLiteratur, etc., which is to say,of instituteddisciplinesand
rule-governed practicesin whichthe themeof translationor of the
pluralityof languages occupies a central,organizingposition.The
wordand the concept of translation{ bersetzung, traduction, traduc-
tio} willalso presentproblemsof translationthatwe shall not failto

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26 JacquesDerrida

encounterwhenthetimecomes,and we mustattendto theparadox


of the foldthatis therebycreated.I willclose here theseparenthe-
ses concerningthedominantlanguagein whichthisseminaris tak-
ingplace and thenecessity ofproblematizing thisphenomenonand
of takingit into account as rigorouslyas possible.Allowme to say
briefly thesame thingabout thefactthatin additionto mysituation
as a foreignvisitingprofessor8 comingfroma university worldthat
is to a certainextentforeign,thereis a supplementary complication:
thefactthatI have neverbeen trainedin comparativeliterature9 {as
such)would simplybe thesignofan individualincompetence(and
thisis indeed thecase) - but I am notinsistingon thisto touchyou
or shock you (assuming thatincompetence,even when it is con-
fessed,could stillshockanybodyin theuniversity) - ifitwerepossi-
ble today to know what should constitutea specific training,a
verifiablecompetencein comparativeliterature.
Such is thehorizonofsome of thequestionsI wouldliketo ask.
Because ifmyinitialintentionwas not to undertakea radical cri-
tique of thedegeneracyof an institution compared,precisely, to its
living,authentic,originary purpose (I have already told youwhythis
gesture seemed to me to be charged with too manydogmaticpre-
suppositions), nor to constructtheplansofa comparativeliterature
to come, I nonethelessbelieve thatwe mustnot forbidourselves
fromaskingquestionsabout thehistoricaland structural conditions
ofwhatis called "comparativeliterature."In thisregard,I shallpro-
pose a preliminary distinctionto clarifythingsa litde.I do not take
thisdistinction,either,to be absolutelyrigorousand above all sus-
picion- and I shall explain whythroughoutthisseminar- but it
seems convenientto me to begin with.It is a broad distinction
between{thestudyor thetheorycalled C.L.,) comparativeliterature
itself,ifyouwill,10
whichis tosaythepracticeofestablishingrelations
in all forms(comparison,citation,translation,inheritance,con-
tamination,graft,misappropriation[ dtournement ], etc.) in all fig-
ures and in all tropicsbetweendifferentliteratures(differentin
theirlanguage,be it nationalor not,but also in theirgenres,their
periods,etc.).11In thissense literatures, let us sayliterarypractices,
haveperhaps notwaited,at all,fortheprojectofa systematic study,a
criticaland historicaltheorizationof thesephenomena of compar-
ison or competitionin the broad and diversesense. I sayperhaps
because we should admitthatsuch a practice,amongwriters, ifyou
like,cannottakeplace withoutthebeginningofa study,ofan analy-
sis,of theoreticalknowledge,of theorizationof practice,thuswith-
out a certain comparativescience. Each time a "work" [uvre]
includesa "borrowed"structure[dispositif] , thereis always,at least

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 27

in a virtualsense,but oftenexplicitly, a sortof literarytheorem- it


is easier to speak of comparativeliteratureif thisborrowingcon-
cernsa literaturethatis foreignfroma linguisticor nationalpoint
of view,but since manycomparativists have takenthe theoryof lit-
or
erarygenres types as their own properobject,itis notillegitimate
to speak ofcomparativeliteratureand ofpracticaltheoremswhena
workborrows,utilizes[metenuvre],transforms, grafts,translates,
or transfers an elementcomingfromanothergenreor anothertype
of workbelongingto the same linguisticsphere and the same cul-
turalsphere,assumingthatthesethingshavea rigorous . In the
identity
end, everyrelationbetweenone workand another,betweenone cor-
pus and another,can in all rigorcome under the heading of litera-
ture compared [littrature compare : comparative literature]-
compared to itself. Because later on we willcome to problematize
the ultimatetermsof whatis called here comparisonor compara-
all themoreso in thatthemostcommonpresuppositionofthe
tivity, "
expressions littrature compare ," "comparativeliterature,""vergle-
ichende Literatur" is thatin the end it is withitselfthatliteratureis
compared or itself[secompare ] , withitselfas other,and "se
nherecompares
can take a reflexive sense
compar (literature itself,identicalto
itselfcomparesitself[se compare ] to itself,being at once the subject
and theobjectoftheact ofcomparison,thecomparer(vergleichende)
and thecompared;or else secompare, as one can saywithjust as much
grammaticaljustification in French, can mean thatliteratureis com-
pared, that a nonliterary activitycomparesliterature,compareslit-
eraturesbut again withitselfor themselves[elle-mme(s)]9 in the
singularor in theplural;but in the twocases theunityof literature,
theessence ofliterature, {literariness12}, theself-identity of thecom-
parable is presupposed). I said thatperhapsliterarycomparisonin
the broadestsense did not awaitthe establishmentof a discipline
entitled(accredited13)"comparativeliterature"and thatthisdisci-
pline was perhaps at workin literarywritingitself,as soon as it
relatedto itselfas other.It is not necessaryto be so prudentand to
say"perhaps"whenwe understandthe term"discipline"ofcompar-
ative literature(as {"study,"14} theoreticalproject, as nonliterary
researchand activity) to referto a "university institution" in theWest-
ern and modern sense of the term,accordingto the encyclopedic
model and politicsthatwe began to identify lastyearin theseminar
on therightto literature[ledroit la littrature ] . Because in thissense
theinstitution ofcomparativeliterature, as youknow,has a history, a
recentand relatively shorthistory in sum,a history and a geography,
a juridical or legitimizing process,a politics,a setof conditionsthat
articulatethishistorywiththose of all the other disciplines.How

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28 JacquesDerrida

should we decipher thishistory?How should we define its speci-


ficity?According to what procedures and withwhat hypotheses
shouldwe interrogatetheuniversity institution thatbearsthename
"comparative literature" in the world, Europe firstand then
in
beyondEurope? This is a veryopen setof questionsintowhichyou
I
will, hope, venture with me along the mostdiversepaths in the
course of thesesessionsand beyondthem.I hope thatthroughdis-
cussionsand contributions preparedbysome ofyou,we willbe able
to organizeour workin a trulycollectivemanneraround thisarray
of questions (we willdiscussthisat the end of class and duringthe
discussionsessiontomorrow). For mypart,in thisintroduction{for
severalsessions},I shall limitmyselfon the one hand to a fewprin-
cipiai generalitiesand on theotherhand to whatcould seem at first
glance- but a veryinnocentfirstglance- to be a particularques-
tioninside thisfield,thatis,thequestionof translation.
In thefirstplace,withthemostingenuoussurpriseand themost
naive attention,I would like to note how singularthe word "com-
pared,""comparing,"or "comparative"is whenitcomes to qualifya
science,a researchproject,an objectof study.It is an attributethat
is eitherself-evident, self-evident enough to go unmentioned,inso-
faras everyepistemeis comparative(it has a unityof itsobject and
itcomparesexamples,cases,kinds,or types:zoologyis comparative,
anthropologyis comparative,chemistry is comparative;thisis why
they are not called "comparative," it is too eitherit is
self-evident);
self-evident,I wassaying,and itis notmentionedin thename of the
empirico-inductive discipline,or else itis ruledout bythestructure
of the object: one does not speak of comparativemathematics,of
comparativepure physics.It would be interestingto pursue this
inquirysystematically, askingto whichdisciplinesitis impossibleto
affixthepredicate"comparative," and forwhatreason,whetheritis
because itwould be tautologicalor because itwouldbe absurd,and
whattautologicaland absurdmean here. In thiswaywe could com-
pare and classifysciences, disciplines,or departments,compare
themfromthepointofviewoftheirrespectivecomparativi ty,and of
the typeofcomparativity to whichtheylayclaim.Fromthepointof
viewof the relationbetweengeneralityand comparativity: because
ifthereis paradox therein,ithas to do witha certainconjunctionof
generalityand comparativity. Compare comparativeliteraturewith
otherdisciplinesthatincontestably practicecomparison.Take his-
or if
tory sociology, they exist:theypracticeall sortsofcomparisons,
but (and I say thisat the riskof being veryimprudentagain) one
would neverdream of instituting an entiredisciplineas "compara-
tivehistory." One does thecomparativehistoryof thisor of that,of

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 29

regimesof such and such a type,of warsor of nationalisms,of this


or thatcommunity, of thisor thatpractice,ofreligions,etc. But one
would neverdream of instituting a general comparativehistory;it
would make no sense. Comparativehistoriesare part of a general
history, at least as principiaiproject Whereaswithcomparativelit-
erature,somethingelse seems to be happening- I am speaking
here oftheveryprojectof thisdiscipline.Of course,departmentsof
comparativeliteraturefunctionin factlikemore or less dependent
divisions [ sections ] {"programs"15} or intersectionsdependent on
of
departments linguistically specifiednationalliteratures(English,
Italian,French,German,etc.). But as it is ratherrare,and even to
myknowledgepracticallyexceptional,thatgeneralliterature(I am
not sayinguniversalliterature)be studiedin a departmentspecially
designedforsuch research,ithappens thattheprojectofcompara-
tiveliterature, in itsmostambitiousand interesting aspects,is a proj-
ect of general literature.16 And thisis a hapax, I believe: a general
science,a science thatwantsto be generalis not rare,bydefinition,
nor is a science that,in itsverygenerality, mustappeal to compari-
son in conditionswherethisis so self-evident thatitis noteven men-
tioned,buta disciplinethatwantsto be generaland wantsto keep the
title"comparative" presentsa verysingularand verycriticalproblem.
Arethesethingscompatible?Andwhatdoes itimply?Fromthepoint
ofviewofthemostclassicalepistemologies, a comparativemethodby
itself(I stressthatI am sayingbyitselfand in itsownpropermoment)
can aspireonlytoan inductive, empiricalgenerality, withimpurelaws
and a descriptive form.To begincomparing,no doubtone mustpre-
suppose an essentialknowledgeof the generalessence of the com-
parables.Thus one mustpresupposeknowledgeabout theessenceof
theliterary in general,and theexistenceofa literary elementthatis
one and identical to itselfin general, an element upon whichall
nationalliteratures would depend, as would all literary phenomena
and typesin anylanguageor culture;one mustpresupposethehori-
zon of thisgeneralliterariness in orderthento be able to highlight,
recognize,select,classify, sort,and /? comparablephenomena,
perhaps establishinglaws byinduction,etc. But, in principle,this
essentialgeneralitythatformsthe a prioriof comparativity should
not itselfdepend on anycomparativeprocedure [dmarche]. There
mustbe a generalliterariness, a generalessence ofliterature, out of
whichthecomparativeprojectcould gainconsistency and havesome
chance of becomingeffective. This is a requisiteof classicalepiste-
mologyor philosophy.In order to compare literaturesor literary
phenomena,I mustfirstknow,at leastbywayofprecomprehension,
what the literaryis, lackingwhich I riskcomparinganythingwith

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30 JacquesDerrida

anythingin thename ofcomparativeliterature. I wouldcomparefor


a
example painting and a realplant, a cookbook and a constitutional
text,a novel and a bank a
check, speech by Carter and theIliad. Far-
fetchedas theseexamplesappear to you,youare wellawarethatfor
wantof a rigorousa priori,ofan essence rigorously protectedbyits
apriority, one can alwaysargue that such comparisonsbelong to the
fieldof comparativeliterature.Since the existenceof a pure liter-
arinessis and remainstodaymore problematicthanever,the study
of general literatureconcernsan object thatis more problematic
than ever and thuscomparativeliteraturecan also become a wan-
deringdiscipline,as deliriousas it is bulimicin an unbridledency-
clopedism:nothingthathas to do withlanguage is foreignto me,
nothingthathas to do withtheworkof artis foreignto me, it says;
not onlydo all languagesinterestme butso do all artifices, all artis-
ticor artisanalpractices;theyall have to do withlanguage and thus
withliterature, etc.Atthispoint,theexamplesI chose apparentlyat
random willseem less far-fetched to you than theydid at first.So
long as the of
history painting is difficultto dissociatein all rigor
fromthe historyof the cultural,linguistic,and even literarytext,it
is enough toaskliteratureand painting,comparatively, thequestion
of mimesisor of the referent, etc.,forthe questionof the relation
betweena still-life and a so-calledreal plant (a vegetableor a game
animal) to no longer be simplyforeign,a prioriexterior,to the
domain of comparativeliterature,no more so thananytextthatis
writtenor oral, discursive,or plastic,etc. And whatI havejust said
about the painting/plantexample wouldbe even easier to develop
forthe comparisonbetweena cookbook and a constitutionaltext
(no lack of literaturethere),a noveland a bank check,a speech by
Jefferson and a dialogue of Plato. We mustunderstandthe struc-
turaltemptationofthisencyclopedicopening;we musttryto under-
standwhyit cannot avoid opening , in a way,the alleged fieldof the
aforementionedcomparativeliterature.I am going to read a few
lines extractedpreciselyfroman encyclopedia,fromthe Encyclope-
dia Universalis, at theheadingLittrature compare.(I havedeliberately
chosen to refertoan encyclopedia.}Thisencyclopediaarticleis itself
an encyclopedistarticle,whichis to saythatitdescribestheconcept
ofcomparativeliterature, theessentialvocationor thedestinationof
thismagnificentdiscipline,to be an encyclopedic,encyclopedistic
destination.The authoris delightedwiththis,and thisdoes notseem
to presentanyproblemto himotherthanthetimeeach specialistin
comparativeliterature wouldneed to acquiresufficient training,the
fundsthatthedepartmentsshould receiveifpoliticaldecisionmak-
erswouldonlytakecognizanceof thenecessityofcomparativeliter-

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 31

ature,and all the technicalmeans it should put to use. All theques-


tionsconcernthe modalitiesof theimplementationof thisencyclo-
pedia and nottheessenceor thestructure oftheproject.The author
ofthisarticle,whomI fearmaybe seen in theFrenchcomparativelit-
eraturemilieuas one ofitsleadinglights[ ttes , is Etiemble.
pensantes]
His article is veryinterestingbecause it is veryreasonable and
because theveryexpositionhe developsof therationality of thedis-
cipline he wants to defend leads him to such extremitiesthat itmakes
one thinkabout the ultimately paranoiac structure
of this encyclo-
pedic rationality. Ifwe wereto followtheimperturbablelogic of this
articleand ofitsdeclaredproject,theentireworldwouldbecome an
immensedepartmentofcomparativeliteratureadministeredbythe
InternationalAssociationof ComparativeLiterature(whichexists
and which,accordingto E., deservesitsname today,sinceYugosla-
vian sitsnextto Hungarian,Russiannear American,Japanese near
Dutch), a world administeredby the InternationalAssociationof
ComparativeLiterature,givingdirectivesto UNESCO forthe attri-
butionoffundingand thusthelevyingoftaxes,witha seaton theUN
SecurityCouncil in case of disputesbetweennationaldepartments,
and even- whynot,ifwe are to be logicali - disposingofan interna-
tionalpolice contingent.Not onlywillyou see thatI am notjoking
(neitheris Etiemble,and I considerthathe is right,thathe is devel-
opingherea rationality thatis immanentto thethingitself),buteven
thatthisis not the productof a simplyUtopianproject:I claim that
thesestructures ] exist,in a formthatisvisibleor not (there
[ dispositifs
is such an association,thereare internationalfundsproducingcom-
plex decisions,allocations,complexdisputesthatare notveryvisible
but verifiable,thereis even a police force,as thereis in each disci-
plinemoreover, a wayofregulatingrelationsofcohabitationor coop-
erationbyforce,on thenationaland international levels). Here then
is a passage fromthe encyclopedistarticlethatEtiembledevotesto
ComparativeLiteraturein the Encyclopedia In twopages
Universalis.
he hasjust presentedwhathe modestlycallsan appraisalofcompar-
ativeliteratureup to thepresent,as wellas itsprogram,and he starts
a newparagraph:

Thisappraisal
andthisprogram cannotbecarefully
established
solongas
wedo nothavea methodical ofpublished
bibliography works andan
exhaustive
inventoryofwork inprogress(many toomany ofwhich repeat
eachother . [!!! Describe
already) Etiemble's
Ayatollah centralized
factory,
themetropolis
withpanoramic screenanddispatching what
keyboard: aca-
demic,whatresearcher hasnotdreamed ofsuchanempire?] Yethowever
richitmay
seemtobe,nonation canexpectbyitself
toproducethebibli-
ographywithoutwhich therecannotbegeneral thissupreme
literature,

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32 JacquesDerrida

endofcomparative literature. Sincethepurpose ofthis discipline isnotto


poison drinking water, todefoliate plantations [arewesosure?], tobreak
peoples heads[arewesosure? {Cf.Wellek onnationalisms}], toorganize
regressive mutations, inshorttoannihilate thevegetable andanimal
species,aswellasman's sinceitonly
civilization, proposes tocombat allthe
forms ofcultural chauvinism andtoteach therespect ortheadmiration of
others,nocountry grants ita thousandth ofthefunds itlavishes onlabo-
ratorieswhere chemical, atomic, orbiological weapons arefabricated.
Who,other thanUNESCO, willstandinforthefaulty nations? Whowill
havethefinancial means? Thenational commissions ofthemember states
would becharged with collecting materials ineachcountry thatwould be
centralized [my emphasis, J.D.],treated [?],diffused bythis organization.
Inthiswaythewish expressed in1956byMarcel Bataillon intheRevue de
Littrature
(Compare wou1dberealized: "for aninternational bibliography of
comparative literature."
Letusnothidethisfact:thetaskisformidable. Inallwritten lan-
guages [?],itwillbenecessary toidentify, sort,criticize allthearticles and
allthebooks dealing directlyorindirectly [?]with comparative literature,
andtodothisintheorderoftheartsaswellas inthatofletters[?].
Morethanthirty years ago,PaulPaury noted(Arts etlittraturecompare)
thatthespecialist incomparative literature cannot harmlessly separate the
studyoftheartsfrom that ofliteratures. Panofsky's Iconology confirms that
literaturevery often sheds light onpaintings orstatues that, intheabsence
ofanyreference tothetexts thatfound them[?],remain unintelligible.
Halfa century earlier,EmileMlehadalready shown allthat theimagery
ofcathedrals owestoVincent deBeauvais, tovarious theological orency-
clopedic texts oftheMiddle Ages.Furthermore, try toexplain theVoyage
enOrient*7without knowing theengravings from which somany ofitspages
weredrawn. Without beingfamiliar with Wagnerism andmusic, howwill
youbeabletodiscuss ina fully conversant manner theSymbolists' claim
tobecomposing "symphonies" inprose? Works likethose ofC. S. Brown
(Music andLiterature ), LonGuichard (La Musique etleslettresau temps du
romantisme),Thrse Marix Spire( IssRomantiques etlamusique) ,andmany
othersstill,prove thattherelations between music andliterature areno
lessimportant thanthosebetween literature andtheplastic arts.Noone
willbeabletoseriously study theTurkish troubadours without knowing
Arabmusic andArabo-Andalusian poems inzadjal;buttranslated intoGer-
manandEnglish, theTurkish troubadours certainlyshedlight onourown.
Andwithout a goodknowledge oftheorigins ofnonliturgical monody,
whowillspeakfittingly ofthetrouvres ? Themediaeval laydepends, as
muchasthechanson degeste,onmusic. Similarly,inChina, thehistory of
thetseu,a type ofpoemfreed from strict forms, remains18 inseparable
from that ofthemusical airsthat tellthepoetandthereader what type of
versificationitisineachinstance. ... Inother words, sincethehistory of
literatureandoftheartsareinseparable from theevolution ofthesci-
ences,technology, religion, thebibliography ofcomparative literature
practically[quasiment! Admire theadverb!] coincides with theuniversal
bibliography. Suchthat, forbetter orworse, inourtime ofmind-numbing
specialization,itispossible thatthecomparati asa specialist
vist, ofthegen-
couldbeoneofthelastadvocates
eral, andupholders ofwhat wasformerly
calledwithout condescension "culture"

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WhoorWhatIs Compared? 33

This expression,"specialistof thegeneral,"whichis a titletradi-


tionallyreservedforphilosophers,is quite a sure sign thatthe aim
here is indeed to restoreor to maintain,for the best and forthe
worst,thisproject,at once foundational(thefiguresoffoundingand
of thefoundationappear in thetext)and encyclopedic,whichchar-
acterizesthephilosophicalambitionforabsoluteknowledge,totaliz-
ing or finalizingthe historyof meaningor of culture,the historyof
spiritin all itsmanifestations.
Go trytocreatea departmentwiththat.
In effect,the comparativist who is also a generalistdoes notwantto
definein thiswayone fieldor departmentamong others,but rather
Universitasitself,theunified,centralized,state-controlled organiza-
tionon thegloballevel (the referenceto UNESCO isverysignificant
in this respect) of all possible culture in general. Universitasas
rationalrealizationoftheuniversalstateand declineofthestate:this
is a politicalproblematicat the center (not at the margins)of this
greatcomparativeliteraturedream. Althoughit is commensurate
witha certainmodern techno-politics(UNESCO, telecommunica-
tions,giganticmemoriesofcomputerizedlibraries,a certainstateof
inter-state informationtransfer, etc., etc.), the spiritof the philo-
sophico-encyclopedic project obviouslyin synchrony
is withthegreat
speculativesystems ofthe nineteenth century on the Hegelianmodel
(but ofwhichtheHegelian example is itselfonlya particularly pow-
erfuland spectacularphenomenon). I havenotchosen thismanifest
byEtiemble,thisencyclopedictextpublishedin an Encyclopaedia Uni-
versalis,in order to abuse or deride it. I believe thatit expresses
directlyand withoutdetoursthebroad outlineof thespiritthatgov-
erns,thatnecessarilygovernsthe original [principielle] foundation,
theveryconstitution of everydepartmentof "complit."(To be com-
plete or not to be.20)I am less interestedin underliningthe charac-
terat once Utopianand totalitarian, generousand paranoiac,of this
textthanin attemptingto recognizein it,in itsveryprinciple,in its
simplepretensionto legitimacy, a sortof criticalfold.I persistin say-
ing a legitimatepretensionto legitimacy, because who can contest
thatEtiembleis rightto call at once forsuch a bibliography, such
funds,such universalcompetence,such connectionswithall knowl-
edge and all practice,such panculturalism, etc.?There is nothingto
be said against that ambition and those demands. He is correct
throughand through,byright,byprinciple[en droit, enprincipe] . So
whereis thecriticalfold?Wherewillwe locateitin theprojectitself -
I mean independentlyof all the empiricaldifficulties thatcould be
encounteredin realizingit,in convincingUNESCO and all statesto
giveup arms,politics,warso as to servean Ayatollahfullofwisdom
whowillputeveryonetoworkin an immensedepartmentofcompiit?

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34 JacquesDerrida

Wherewillwe locate thiscriticalfold?Preciselyin thisvalue of gen-


erality,in theconceptofgeneralliterature, thatorganizesanddisor-
ganizes this entire discourse.
You have seen thattheverythingwhich,under the heading of
general literature,was most reasonable, most legitimatein the
deploymentof the requiredcompetencies,in whatextended them
to all languages,all formsof art,whetherdiscursiveor not,plastic
and musical,and ultimately to all culture,necessarilycame to blur
[dissoudre] veryconcept or essence of literaturethatwas sup-
the
posed to organizethe deploymentof theobject and of the compe-
tence. What is literatureand what is not literaturein all of this?
There is nothingfortuitous in thefactthatEtiembledoes not even
askthequestion.Eitherhe shouldsaythatall ofthisbelongstowhat
he calls comparativeliteratureas generalliterature, in whichcase it
is not clear whythe name of literaturewould dominate [seraitpr-
valent], whythiswould not be called general philosophy,general
history, generalculture,(generalanthropology}, generalaesthetics
at least; or else we insiston maintainingthe irreduciblespecificity
of literature,in whichcase, among all the formidableproblemsof
the "literariness" of literature,we are facedwiththoseof itsbreak-
downin an encyclopedicfielditno longerdominatesor covers,the
problemof itsarticulationwithotherfields,not onlyall the other
fieldsin generalbutmorenarrowly theone thatin theWestis called
art and withinart,between the nondiscursiveand the discursive
arts,and more narrowly stillbetweenthe discursiveartsofwhichit
is not certainfromtheoutsetthattheybelong to literature(poetry,
philosophical dialogue, song, theater,etc.). Withinthisproblem-
aticand historicalsphere,theformidablequestionsofthehistory of
literature[ de la littrature]also appear- not onlythe historyof its
worksbut of itsconcept and of its name: at whatmoment,under
whatconditions,in whatsense did people begin to speak of litera-
ture,to no longer confuseit withpoetryand belles-lettres ? By what
right can one call the Chinese ts'eu or theArabo-Andolusian poems
in zadjal, to use those examples, literature?We addressed these
questions- in particularthe question of the formationof the nar-
row concept of "literature"in the eighteenthcentury - last year,
under the titleof droit la littrature .21Is literaturein the narrow
sense, if there is such a thing,compatiblewiththe encyclopedic
project of general and comparativeliterature?Because compara-
tiveliterature,ifthesewordshave the meaningthatthe consensus
has alwaysattributedto them,comparesliteraturewithitself,some
literature[de la littrature] withitself,literatures,or literaryphe-
nomena amongstthemselves.Whetherwe speak ofcomparativelit-

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 35

eratureas a workor as a discipline,italwaysclaimsto be at once on


theside of thecomparingand ofthecompared.Comparative,com-
pared, or comparing literatureshould, in the finalanalysis,only
have to do withliteratureor withliteraturesas itsspecificobject or
subject.And one can identify literaturesor literaryphenomena,lit-
eraryproducts productions,onlyifone knows,ifone at leasthas
or
a precomprehension,ofwhat"literature" or the "literariness"
oflit-
eraturemeans. Is thisa "critical"question and in whatway?Does it
inaugurate[ouvre]a crisis?Does it put the concept and the institu-
tionof "comparativeliterature"in crisis?And whatrelationdoes it
have withthe problemof translation?These are questionswe will
addressin our nextsession.

. Anatomiesof ComparativeCriticism

Whydid I giveour lastsession the tide "Pangloss"?It was a literary


reference,of course, and we are speaking of literaturehere. {We
claim to be, in anycase.} Panglossexistsonlyin literature,he is a fic-
tivebeing, as we say,who never takesplace outside the enigmatic
element called literature.He appears, in literature,at about the
timewhen literaturewas constituted,or at least, ifyou find that
statementtoo brutaland imprudent,at a timewhen the word "lit-
erature" became attached to a certain content that is neither
poetry,nor belles-lettres,
norfinearts(in anycase, thisiswhatwe tried
to show last time {lastyear})- and a contentupon whichwe con-
tinue to live today,upon whichthe comparativist projectin litera-
turewas formulated,no doubt in the nineteenthcentury,withits
share of overflowingoptimismand already something critical,
something threatened inside itself.Furthermore,Pangloss is a
propername. I wantedto announce in thiswaythattheproblemof
thepropername willbe verynear thecenterofwhatwe willbe talk-
ing about thisyear- in the vicinityof comparativeliteratureand
translation.{Whatis a propername?22}Can a propername be trans-
lated?And whatare we to do withpropernames in literarytransla-
tion?As a rule,in the consortium(I cannot simplysaythe family)
of the so-called great European languages withinwhich depart-
ments of complit are most often confined (German, English,
French,Italian, Spanish, Latin-Greek,and more rarelythe Slavic
languages), personal proper names (I insist on the personal,
because, as we willsee, logiciansalso speak ofpropernamesbeyond
personal names,civilpatronymicor matronymicnames,and here
we willalso have an entiredimension [porte ] forour problem of

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36 JacquesDerrida

translation)personalpropernamescannotbe translated.Theyare
sometimesadapted, in pronunciationor transcription(like the
propernames of cities;Londres,London, Venezia,Venice,Venise;
but Londres is not a translationof London), but theycannot be
translated.They are takento be untranslatablebecause theyhave
no meaning,no conceptualizableand commonmeaning;theyonly
have a referent,as one says,a unique referent,and when theyare
pronounced one can designate [viser]onlya single,singularindi-
vidual,one unique thing.{Whencea contaminationoftheuntrans-
latable, an expansion of the untranslatableto all that touches , all
thatis contiguous the
with, proper name in a text or in a language.}
There is onlyone Washingtonin theuniverse,one cityor one man
named Washington,and according to the determiningcontext,
each time,Washingtondesignatesa singleindividual,whetheritbe
a greatstatesman,Washington,DC, or the otherone or the other
one, or whoeverbears thispropername. All thesenames,all these
occurrences of the name Washington,are related to each other
throughpure homonymy;each time,to all appearances, theydes-
ignate individualswho do not referto any common concept. We
willcome back to this.In anycase, propernames cannot in theory
be translated.And Pangloss is a proper name, the problemmade
more acute by the fact that the singular referentmeant by this
propername is a fictivereferent,one thatwas invented,ifyouwill,
by Voltaire. This distinguishes for example, fromLondon or
it,
Washington, which are supposed to be real,not to be contained,in
theirsubstance,withina book, a so-calledworkof literatureor of
the imagination.You willsayto me thatLondon, the unityof Lon-
don or of Washington,is also a fiction,no one has ever seen any-
thing, no one has ever seen or beheld before their eyes an
individualnamed London (London is an entitydefined [ dcoupe ]
by symbolic,legal, political conventions; it is even a modifiable
entitythatcan be stretchedout byadding suburbsor even erased
fromthemap withoutremovinganypartofitsphysicalreality). The
same can be said ofWashington,and even of the individualWash-
ington.Admittedly. But,havingsaid this,thefictionality ofLondon
or ofWashingtonis not of thesame typeas thatof Pangloss,of this
literarycharacterbaptized by his presumedauthor,Voltaire.The
conventionalfictionnamed London does not in theorybelong to
literatureand- let us make do withthisremarkforthemoment-
itwasnotproduced,invented,accordingto thesame proceduresof
nomination.In thecase ofPangloss,I shallonlybe concernedwith
whathas to do withcomparativeliteratureand translationin this
procedureof nomination.

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?
WhoorWhatIs Compared 37

The problem I wanted to bringto yourattentionrightawayis


the following:when a so-calledproper name is not simplyproper,
when it maintainsmeaningfulrelations [rapports ] with
signifiants
common nouns and the meaning meant [le sensvis]bycommon
nouns, itsresistanceto translationcarrieswithit entireregionsof
untranslatability [despansentiers d'intraduisible]. Since whatI am say-
is
ing perhaps not veryclear in this form, I shall takea fewexamples,
preferablyexamples we have worked on in previousyears.Think,
forexample, about the proper names Francis Ponge or Maurice
Blanchot.There are entirestrataofPonge's oeuvre (in factdifficult
to dissociate fromthe rest) that play,in French, with the name
Ponge accordingto all sortsof figuresof displacement,of contam-
ination,of breakingdown,etc. This goes forthe sponge [ponge],
thepumicestone [pierre-ponce] , forall thelogicand semanticsofthe
spongy even when the signifierpongeis not readable as such. The
same is true of the name Francis (francit[Frenchness], franchise
[frankness],withplay on the H thatwe studied a fewyearsago).
Same thingwithblanche-eau [whitewater],blanchtre [whitish],etc.
What happens to these possibilities(which alwaysexistin all lan-
guages,and whichproduce effectseven iftheyare not theoccasion
of deliberateconscious literaryoperations) in the wake of transla-
tion,which leaves the proper name intact,but necessarilyhas to
alter the entire networkof common nouns, adjectives, verbs,
adverbs,syncategoremsthatforma necessary,tightly wovenfabric
withthe proper name into which one cannot cut, slice, sacrifice
withoutdestroyingthe textureof the text?23 1 do not believe that
one mustconclude thattranslationis impossible[ l'intraduisible],
but thatthisbringsus to transform the concept of translationand
what,lateron, I shall call the economic problematicsof translation.
These are some of the reasons thatmade me giveour last session
the proper name Pangloss. Note thateven as it visiblymade refer-
ence to the character in Voltaire's novel, Pangloss became the
proper name of somethingelse, according to a figureof displace-
ment thatI am unable to name. A titleis a proper name, and Pan-
gloss became the proper name (an inheritedone, but proper) of
the session to whichI gave thistide. But therewere stillotherrea-
sons forthisbaptismalchoice. Already,the factthatthereare rea-
sons forthe choice of a proper name makesit meaningful,givesit
meaning and semanticizesit, conceptualizes it, if you will. And
thenceforththereferenceto a singularindividual,real or fictive,is
contaminated,enriched,deflected[dporte] accordingto an entire
semanticnetwork,an entireweb withinwhichone cannot easilysit-
uate it or findit a fixedlocation.

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38 JacquesDerrida

Take the name Pangloss.It is a veryrichphenomenonof com-


parativeliterature.
1. It is thepropername ofa characterwho has no existenceout-
side of a literary work.24
2. It is a unique propername- as a signifier. Pierreis a proper
name, as is Washington, in that each time they supposed to des-
are
a
ignateonly singleindividual, but the same name can be givento
more thanone individual(whencean additionaldifficulty fortrans-
lation) . Whereas Pangloss is not a
only propername,designatingan
individualwho has no existenceoutsideof the book, butmoreover
it has never (to myknowledge,at least,and pendingfurtherinfor-
mation) been givento anyoneelse in "real"or literary This
history.25
is not the case of Cungonde or of Martinin the same novel, of
JacquesLe Fataliste,or ofMarcelin theRecherche du tempsperdu.Pan-
gloss is a proper name thatwas forged to be used only once.
3. It is a name thatwas forgedand formedfroma language,
Greek,thatis foreignto thelanguageofthenovel.In thissense,itis
in itselfa productof practicalcomparativeliterature.
4. It is a name loaded withmeaning,withconceptualizable
meaning.It functionsdoublyinsofaras it refersto a singularindi-
vidual on the one hand (the characterof the novel), but at exactly
the same time,as soon as the reader can translatethe meaningof
pan-gloss,itdesignatesa semanticfigureto whichI shallcome in a
moment.You willsaythat,at leastvirtually, thisis trueofeveryname.
Admittedly, but the functioning of thissemanticization is different
each time.The firstrelayis thereferenceto anotherindividualwith
thesame name. IfMillermeans meunier in French,in thefirstplace
one willnotcall HillisMiller"Hillismeunier pin France,and above all
when hearing"Miller"one willlook in the firstplace to a singular
individualwho is real and inscribedin the familyor the lineage of
otherindividualswiththesame name,and in our contextfirstofall
his father.He received the name of his father,an individualpre-
sumed to be real. In the same way,if a firstname like Pierre has
meaningoutside of the immediatefamilygenealogy,it willbe, for
example,in referenceto anotherindividualin history who bore the
name Pierre and markedit withmeaning (although the relation
between Petrus and the rock [la pierre]is loaded with a rather
idiomatichistory) . Butthereis nothingofthesortin thecase ofPan-
gloss,whichnotonlydoes not referto anyreal individualoutsideof
thenovel,butnoteven to anyotherindividualin history who might
have had the same name. As a unique proper name, havingcome
froma language foreignto the (French) novelisticcorpusin which
it appears,a name namingan individualwho is not real but fictive,

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WhoorWhatIs Compared? 39

Panglossoughtto be untranslatable, moreuntranslatablethanever;


to tellthetruth,Voltairehimselfbaptizedhimwithouttranslating it,
in anotherlanguage.It is a foreignbodyin thelanguage,as perhaps,
paradoxically,everyproper name is in the end. We could venture
the followingparadox: a proper name, unlike any other noun, is
perhapsthatwithoutwhichthereis no language,butalso thatwhich
does not belong to the language,whichnot onlyis not translatable
[ traductible ] fromone language to another but is not translatable
[ traduisible ] in theverylanguage "in"whichitseemsto functionnor-
mally. With whatdoes one replace a propername; howcan one find
an equivalentforit in anylanguage at all? This is one of the forms
of our problem.
5.26And yet,as singular,proper,and untranslatableas itseems,
Panglossis a propername as close as possibleto a common noun; it
is loaded withmeaningand visiblyreaches (in a figuraior allegori-
cal fashion,as youwish)wellbeyonditsindividualbearer,itsnovel-
isticcharacter.In thisregard,it is not onlytranslatable[ traductible ]
but a pure productof translation,it is nothingbut translated[ un
traduit ] , itexistsonlyin translation,
itis a translationwithoutan orig-
inal version,a translatingwithouttranslated[un traduisantsans
traduit ] ; and, betteryet,thisis whereI wantedto lead you,it is the
figureof a thesison translationand comparativeliterature.This
proper name is an entiresentence,an entirediscourse;it is articu-
lated,ithas severalparts.Panglossmeans "alllanguages,""everylan-
guage,"suggestinga personwho speaks or knowsall languages,or
again "universallanguage." Panglottismis moreovera word that
existsand thatwas forgedat a giventime.Panglottismcan referto
someone who "speaksall languages,"but panglossiatendsratherto
designate the universallanguage, or even universalwriting,for
which projectsproliferatedafterDescartes and above all Leibniz
fromthe end of theseventeenthcenturyuntilthebeginningof the
nineteenthcentury.Now you knowthatDr. Pangloss (because he is
a Dr.,a scholaror a sage; he is also the authoror thedefenderof a
thesis,a PhD, he is a doctorin philosophy),Dr. Panglossis the rep-
resentativein a satiricalmode ofLeibniz,ofLeibnizianoptimismin
its caricaturalform;Pangloss is the one who prides himselfwith
rationallyevaluating"effects and causes,thebestofpossibleworlds,
the origin of evil,the nature of the soul and pre-establishedhar-
mony,"theone whosays,likeLeibnizbutnaturally caricaturing him,
"all is forthe bestin the bestof possibleworlds."27 In facthis name
pointsin the directionof theencyclopedismthatmarksLeibnizian
philosophyand above all in the directionof Leibniz's projectfora
universallanguage and writingsystem.In thisway,not onlydoes he

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40 JacquesDerrida

have a proper name thatis verycommon,thatis translatable[tra-


ductible ] and in advance translated,but withit he carries,he trans-
ports, philosophyof universaltranslatability
a and an
[traductibilit]
ethicsof comparativeliterature.Whichis whyPanglosswillbe
7. thenicknameofDr.Etiemble.And thisis thejourneyI wished
to makein thecompanyofDr. Panglossand Candide in orderto cir-
cle back towhatwe weresayinglasttime.You willrecallwhatseemed
to be an encyclopedicprojectanimatinga certaindiscourseon com-
plit and the ambiguity[equivoque]thatthisencyclopedism'smost
reasonable and most incontestablelegitimacyinherentlycarried
withregardto thisconceptof "generalliterature," a conceptabout
whichwe cannot saywhetherit should include all earth'scultures
and knowledgeor be restrictedto literarity in the strictsense. If
thereis such a thing- and theentirequestioncomes down to this.
It goes withoutsayingthatthisquestionis inseparablefromthatof
languagesand translation, and thisiswhatI wouldliketoclarify now.
Havingposited the "encyclopedic"imperative with an optimismas
touching and irrefutableas Pangloss,Etiemble cannot avoid draw-
ing the following conclusion: universal language, and, ifit is inac-
cessible:traincomparativists as translators"whichis to sayas artists
oflanguage,and greatereven thanwriters"28 (I am quoting,and we
will returnin a momentto thisformulation)."One is not born a
comparativist," E. says,

[0]nebecomesa comparativist
through theinsatiable
desire
forencyclo-
pedism,
through labor.
daily Onemust await
patiently oldagetoproduce
thebestfruits
[notethismetaphor:
itseemstrivialandcursory;infact,
morethanonceinthis
seminarwewillencountera bio-organicist
rhetoric
that
doesnothauntthese ofcomplit
regions andtranslation .20
byaccident]

Furtheron, E. continues:

Thisisenough todiscouragemany anenthusiasticnovice.Thecompara-


tivist
willindeed alwaysbeboundbytheimpossible. Thisiswhy heisnot
asmuchinthecapitalist
trusted, world asinthesocialist Yetif
countries.
manstillhasa future, thecomparativist,
whose vocationistounderstand
everything,ifnottoforgiveeverything,couldcontributetoitsreconstruc-
tion[thisisPangloss beforeLisbon;hehasjustproved thattheroadstead
ofLisbon wasmadeonpurpose fortheAnabaptistJacques tobedrowned
andinthefaceoftheLisbon
there, earthquake, hecalmly askshimselfin
thecodeofLeibniz, whose spokesman ortranslator-interpreter
heis,"what
canthesufficient reasonofthisphenomenon ifonlybecause
be?wso], he
condemns all nationalisms
[soa goodcomparativist shouldcondemn
nationalism:onecanonly approve,butnotwithout being a bitanxious
all
thesame, especiallyifhecondemns itinfavorofwhat Etiemble doesnot
hesitate
tocall"atrue international
ofgreatminds"] infavor ofa true
inter-

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 41

national
ofgreat minds Unfortunately thenations'
rulersdonotoften
havea comparativist
mind. Everything that
suggests fora longtime hence
they willferociously
resist
itsecumenismanditstolerance.Theyrepeat
afterClaudel,"Tolerance?Therearehousesforthat."[Andhereisthe
properly orpanglottic
pasiglottic which
project istheinevitable
result
of
thisencyclopedism:]
Forexample, an international
agreement mustbe
established a few
concerning working and,ifpossible,
languages a univer-
sallanguage.31

Naturally, I am notcitingE. here simplyto have a laugh or to spend


a momentwitha pleasantPangloss(a bitone-eyed,itis true- do not
forgetthatPanglosshad onlyone eye,he had lostan eyeto sickness,
but thathad onlygivenhim more vigorand optimism;he onlysaw
thegood side ofthings{Asingleeye:a singleuniversallanguage.32}) .
It is because the demand fora universallanguage is as consistent
withanycomplitprojectas itseemsto me to be in contradictionwith
theessence ofliterature, ifthereis such a thing.The dreamofa uni-
versallanguage (even as a dream,and, as youwillsee, Etiembledoes
not hide the theoretico-u topic characterof thisdream)- naturally
thisdream even as a dream cannot inhabitliterarypracticeon the
productionside,ifyouwill,comparativeliteraturein action [enacte],
whichseems to be irreduciblytied to natural,or even national,lan-
guages and whichwould lose everything ifitwereto lose language.
Whatis at issue is thusa universallanguage of scholars,of scientific
specialists,of researchersin theso-calleddomain of Complit.What
is at issueis thusa universalmetalanguageintowhichtheveryobject
of research,thatis to say,the works,could be transcribedwithno
remainder[sans reste].{Hjelmslevdefineslanguage: "A language is
a semioticsintowhichall the othersemioticscan be translated:all
the otherlanguagesas wellas all the othersemioticstructures con-
cernedw( Prolegomena toa Theory ofLanguage)}. You see here all the
problems that will occupy our seminar. Beyond the translation of
one literary language into another, it is a question in thiscase of the
translationofall literatures, consideredas theobjectofcomparative
general literature,into one singleand unique universallanguage.
Etiembleneverputs the pure legitimacyof the projectinto doubt;
he does not problematizethe ideal finality of thisgrand design of
universallanguageand writing. The onlythinghe hesitatesand won-
ders about is thefact,the realization,the practicalimplementation
ofthismagnificent ideal. Ideally,itoughtto be possibleto transcribe
all literaturesand the totality ofculturein general,to tellthe truth,
intoa universalcode, as iftheythemselveswereonlya more or less
perfect,diverse,approximate,shimmeringnetworkofmeanings,of
contents,ofthemes,ofideas belongingto a universalreserve[fonds]

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42 JacquesDerrida

of humanity, of human society,or of general logic,and whichthis


universallanguageoughtin principleto be able to reconstitute, hav-
ing in fact made it a
possible priori. This ideal is not put into ques-
tion,and it is indeed possiblethatit is an ideal sharedbytheworld
community ofcomparativists - evenifitis translatedherebyEtiem-
ble intoa somewhatcaricaturally and directformin the
voluntarist
of a
style comparativist scout movement. The questionthatwillpre-
occupy us is whether or not literature getsanythingout ofit [ytrouve
soncompte ] . In anycase, Pangloss does notdoubt theideal,butsince
the de factoobstaclesare veryevidentto him- as empiricalobsta-
cles to theconstitutionof thisuniversallanguage- he fallsback on
translation, thepolyvalenceofcomparativists as translators, as artist-
translators, and in more than ten languages ( dekaglottismus is the
name given by a Hungarian comparativistwho was a disciple of
Goethe to the ideal competenceof the comparativist: to knowand
practice ten languages). Since the universal language (pasilalyor
pasigraphy) does not exist and cannot be expected anytimesoon,
letour comparativists be incomparabletranslators, incomparablein
the keyboardof languages at theirdispositionand in theirtalent,
whichshould notonlyequal but- and herewe willhaveto seriously
question thishyperbolethattheymustbe "artistsof language,and
greatereven thanwriters/' I mustread you anotherpassage from
thesame text:

Forexample, aninternational agreement must beestablished concerning


a fewworking languages and,ifpossible, a universallanguage. ... Inthe
human itwould
sciences, obviously bemost wisetoadoptasworking lan-
guagetheonlyonethatcorresponds towhatDescartes imagined about
thebestuniversal language theonewhosesigns
possible: couldbe pro-
nounced byeachperson inhisorherowndialect [comment, explain: the
ideaofsimple" ascondition ofthistranslatability
[traduribilil
],the"eco-
nomic" motif, etc.].ButsincetheseareChinese ideograms [Why?????
Etiembleisa Sinologist . . .],neithertheRussians northeAmericans will
acceptthisreasonable solution. Shouldwetherefore choosethelanguage
ofa nationthatoffends nooneandcannot aspiretouniversal domination:
Swedish,Dutch? Thegreat powers willnotagree[Thisproblem isneces-
saryifnotwellformulated. Develop: ofcomparative
politics literature,etc.
{Computing [informatique ] anddatabase. Whomakes computers?}]: each
ofthem insists
onimposing itsownlanguage, ifpossible,because todayit
isthemost efficient
means ofcolonization. However, forlackofa working
language,wewilllosea great dealoftimereading intwenty
articles lan-
guages,andwhen atlastwewillbeready tobecome comparativists, wewill
beclosetodeath. Forlackofa universal language tofacilitate
their work,
must
comparativists grant translationtheimportant roleithasintheir dis-
andwhich
cipline, cannot beavoided, ontheother hand,inthecontem-
poraryworld.Itispossible thatthetranslatingmachine willonedaygive
ustherawinformation [????] wewillneed;thedayisnotnearwhen trans-

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WhoorWhatIs Compared
? 43

latingmachineswillenableustoreadworks ofpoetry (andevenprose)in


translations ofthis
worthy name[????] . Comparativists
musttherefore
help
totrain[myemphasis] notinterpreters (thatisthebusiness
oftheCook
agency [!!!Comment ontheevaluation]) buttranslators,
whichistosay
artists
oflanguageandgreater eventhanwriters;itisnecessary
totrain
[!!!]many ofthem,
which isdifficult
initself,
andtopaythem well,which
seems moreorlessimpossible today(serioustranslators a bitless
earning
thana cleaningwoman. [!!!!])34

A translator "greaterthana writer":thisinteresting idea, towhichwe


willofcourse have to return,is sufficient- I shalllimitmyselfto this
motifforthemoment- to transform comparativeliteratureas a dis-
of
cipline study, as research or theory,into literature,into literary
practice. What will happen to the veryidea of theuniversity theday
itwillbe accepted thatwhatis done thereis not simplystudy,teach-
ing,reading,interpretation butliteraryproduction?The bestor the
worst,I shallnot decide forthemoment.It seems to me thatone of
the imagesof theworstwould be thatthe Panglossesof the institu-
tionshould claim,havingcentralizedeverything accordingto their
wishes(and thiscentralizingwish,in whatis mostlegitimateabout
it- everybodyof knowledgeand everyresearchshould gain in effi-
ciencybybeing centralized- is amplydeveloped byEtiemble,after
a fewusual precautionsabout the risksof bureaucratizationand
tyranny, in a book entitledComparaison n'estpas raison5about the
crisisin complit,in a chapterwhose titleis "The Teachingof Com-
parative LiteratureMust Be Centralized" and where he gives a
numberof instructions - whichare as legitimateas theyare terrify-
ing - about what the rationalityof this communityof research
should be) , I wassayingthatone oftheimagesoftheworstwouldbe
thatthe Pangloss-in-chief of thiscentralizedcomplitshould tellthe
researchers-translators-writers (one could no longer make the dis-
tinction)whatgood literatureis or oughtto be, in otherwordsthat
he should produce normsof production,an axiomaticsof evalua-
tion,a tastein some sense- not onlya tastefortheevaluatingjudg-
mentbut a tasteforproduction.36 Whatwould literaturebecome if
itsonlyambitionwas to submitto thetasteofPanglossII? Ifall those
whowrotewantedto please Etiembleor receivea prizefromhim (or
froma jury that he would preside over or inspire more or less
directly)?Or worse,a literaturethatwould want to imitatehim,
because, suitinghis action to his word,Etiemblealso writesnovels.
I am not exaggeratingat all, I am not pushingthesuspiciontoo far
byspeakingof the normativeand prescriptive desire [volonte]that
can be read throughthis imperialist,Panglossical,encyclopedic
project.I quote:

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44 JacquesDerrida

Asmuch asthetranslations,
andalmost asmuchasa universal a
language,
meticulously critical
andprudently
normativehistorical ofthe
dictionary
entire vocabulary ofcomparativism
must becompletedassoonaspossible.
[!!!!]. . . Thankstowhichmenwillperhaps behelped[because hedoes
notonly want tohelpcomparati
vists, orstudents
researchers, in
interested
literatures but"men"]togiveupvaguelinguistic andall
approximations,
thewords thatnolonger
meananything bydintofsignifying
somuch.37

And here is thisnormativecomment[propos ] in itsmostambitious


and I mustsayitsmostdisturbingform:theproductionofa poetics
thatwould laydown the law,thatwould be thelaw in termsof eval-
uation:

Oncethey haveelaborated theirpoetics,thecomparati vistswillbeableto


helpman[wehavegonefrom "men," which wasalready quitesomething,
to"man," anditisindeedcomparativism as humanism thatisatstake]
choosetheleastadulterated values[morality
[frelates] andthepolice
couldnothaveheldoffmuch longer] forwant ofthesurest values.When
everything around usisindecomposition; when therefusal ofallform,of
every norm, claims tobethepanacea, wewould dowelltoaskourselves
why theEgyptian offering the16th-century
table, Dutch the18th-
still-life,
century French painting [whatcategories!] allbringtogether a number of
given objects ina certain way,more or lessthesame way[!!!!!myempha-
sis],toproduce beauty, orwhy theChinese playwright whowrote hisown
Avare under theMongol dynasty[!!!],comes upwith scenes andwords that
Plautus hadimagined, thatMolire inturn willinventinhisplayonthe
same subject [!!!].
Bysucceeding in thisproject, comparativism wouldhelp20th-
century mantoresolve theconflict thatpitscertain revolutionariesand
evencertain champions ofanthropology against allhumanism. Byspeci-
fying, ifpossible, thenotion ofaesthetic invariants [comment oneach
word] - invariants thatwouldbeobtained byinduction from a general
investigation andnolonger deduced from theologies, metaphysics, oride-
ologies - comparativism would contribute tothereconstruction, uponthe
ruins ofa reviled andattimes effectivelyreprehensible humanism, ofthe
humanism thatistoday ingestation, andallthemoreproblematic inthat
peoplepretend they nolonger know what thisword means[!!!].38

Conclusion:

Andwhatifthefruits
ofthehumanism ofthefuture ascomparar
were,
tivism
already theequitable
suggests, sharinganddistribution
ofallthe
goodsofthis
world?39

If I have seemed to be obstinatelyattackingthe Etiemblecase,


itis notat all in orderto enterintoa polemicor evenbecause ofany
interestat all in thepersonthusnamed or hiswork.It is to savetime
[pareconomie ] , because thiscase and thediscoursethatgoes under

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WhoorWhatIs Compared? 45

this name happens to be at the symptomaticintersectionof an


entirehistorico-theoretical networkthatitseems to me necessaryto
situate.
As a pointofreferenceforthiscomparativeliteraturesituation,
let us take the date 1958. Paris,1958, Sorbonne,Jean-MarieCarr,
who held the Chair in comparativeliteratures(plural), dies. The
successionis open; Etiembleis a candidate.He is elected,but in an
"
atmospherethatis suggestedbythefactthathe is called the enfant
terrible"and the "rebel" of comparativeliterature.Before his elec-
tion, himselfannouncesthat,iftheSorbonneacceptshim,he will
he
make a wind of innovationsweep throughthatold institution(of
whichyou havejust had an aftertaste).The same year,at the invita-
tionof the rectorof the University of Paris,he publishesan article
in which he outlines his conceptions- those that you have just
"
glimpsed- under the title Littrature compare ou comparaison n est
raison 40 tidewas reused, as well as the bulk of the contents,
pas (the
in the book publishedtwenty yearslater41 ) . The articleis reprinted
in a collectionwitha significanttide,Hygine deslettres[Hygieneof
letters],vol. 3: Savoiretgot[Knowledgeand taste].42In the same
yearthatthiseventtookplace, thegravity ofwhichhas not escaped
Etiemble,who regularlyremindsus ofitas a revolutionary date,just
as he remindsus of the"epithets""enfant terrible" and "rebel"ofcom-
parativeliterature,in the same yearthatthe Sorbonne elected this
man who concluded his book byinvokinghis "inseparableexperi-
ences as professorand writer"(I mustread you thisjuicyconclusion
to thebook:

What willperhapsseemencouraging,orconvincing,
tomeisthatI came
totheseideasallbymyself,andthatonthestrength
ofa principle
ofthe
- nullius
oldestrhetoric addictus inverba
jurare magisti Ep. 1,L
(Horace,
14)- I onlyacceptedtoreadthetheoreticians
ofourdiscipline
afterhav-
ingelaborateda fewideasoutofmyinseparable asprofessor
experiences
andwriter.43

It is truethatthissame chapterof conclusionsbegan in thisman-


ner: "On rereadingwhat I have written,I wonder how I dare col-
lecting and puttingforwardso manybanalities.Is thisthe 4enfant
'
terribleof comparativeliterature?Is this all? Banalities,yes, but
whichthe Trench school' long consideredto be revoltingand rev-
olutionary"44) - I close these parenthesesin order to say thatthis
veryyear,1958,wastheyearofa congressthatmarkedtheworldhis-
toryofcomparativeliteratureafterthewar:thefamousCongressof
Chapel Hill, whose name resonateslike the name of a battlefield,
and where,afterthe no lessfamousreportbyRen Wellek,pitched

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46 JacquesDerrida

battlesbroke out on the subjectofwhatwas called at thattimethe


CrisisofComparativeLiterature,KrisederKomparatistik, Crisedela lit-
traturecompare.In the course of thiscongress(all thepoliticalcon-
ditionsofwhichoughtto be studied,afterthewar,at theend of the
cold war,at a veryprecisemomentin the developmentof compar-
ativeliteratures),a confrontationtook place between,let us say,a
morehistoricistic and factualistic trend,representedbyFranceand
theUSSR (note that,forwantofa visa,Etiembledid notparticipate
in the congress45),and a more criticaltrend,in the more axiologi-
cal, evaluational meaning of the term,notablyrepresented by
Wellek. Now, afterthe fact,Etiemble took Wellek's side in this
debate,46not onlybecause he consideredWellek'scareer itinerary
and trainingand expertiseto be exemplary("Fromtimeto time,"
he says,"a man appears in comparativeliteraturewho has been
admirablyendowed by the fortunesof history:Ren Wellek,for
example, who, being of Czech origin,raised in central Europe,
thenemigratedto theAnglo-Saxoncountries,is equallyat ease in
the Slavic,Germanic,and Romance domains"47),but also because
hejudges thehistoricaland factualist traditionoftheFrenchschool
to be insufficient,and he thinksthatthe evaluatingjudgment,the
distinctionbetween the good and the bad, is a dutyforthe com-
parativistand in a generalwayforthe generalist,the literarycritic
in general. Althoughthe crisisof comparativeliteraturein those
yearsalso involvedall sortsofmethodologicalproblemsconcerning
literarycriticismin general,it oftenand regularlyopposed on the
one hand a historicistand factualisttrend (havinga tendencyto
exclude both thestudyof literaryformsas such and theevaluation
of works,notablyaestheticevaluation) and on the other hand a
more formalistand evaluationisttrend- even whilethe twocould
geton more or lesswelltogetherfromtimeto time.The firsttrend
was representedat Chapel Hill byFrenchand Sovietparticipants,
the second mainlybyAmericanssituatedbetweenNew Criticism
and Ren Wellek. We can formulatewhat might be called the
tendency" lafranaisesorbonicole"4*
positivist-historicist of the time
in precisetermsbycitingE tiemble's predecessor, Jean-MarieCarr,
when he says,

Comparative literature
isa branch
ofliterary itisthestudy
history: ofinter-
national ofthefactual
relations,
spiritual relations
thatexistedbetween
Byron andPushkin, Goethe andCarlyle,
WalterScottandVigny,between
theworks,theinspirations,
oreventhelives
ofwriters
belongingtoseveral
literatures.
Itdoesnotconsider works fortheir
essentially value,
original
butisconcerned aboveallwiththetransformations
that eachnation,
each

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?
WhoorWhatIs Compared 47

author, ontheir
imposes borrowings. . . finally, literature
comparative is
notthat literature
general thatistaught intheUnitedStates.49

-
- one speaks also of Goethe's Weltliteratur
This general literature
is thusone of the stakesof thisdebate. And, even ifhe agrees,say-
ing that comparative literature is not general literature or
Etiemble,Carr's successor,statesthattheone oughtto
Weltliteratur,
prepare us for theother.And here again he evokestheauthority of
Ren Wellek,whomhe sideswithon thispoint:

WithRenWellek, I consider
that
comparativeliterature
iscondemned to
nevercomeintoitself ifhistorical
study,which theFrench andSoviet
arecorrect
schools doesnottakeasitssupreme
tovalue, goaltomakeus
capableoffinally
speaking ofparticular
literatures "litera-
[byitalicizing
Etiemble
tures," seemsconcerned nottoforget that
what isatissuemust
beliterature,
always whichseemstometocontradictthelogicofmany of
hispropositions
elsewhere andwhich,ina nonhistoricist
mode,itistrue,
impliedorledtothedissolution
oftheliterary],
orevenofgeneral litera-
ofaesthetics
ture, andrhetoric.50

And,furtheron, itis preciselywithregardto thecategoryofevalua-


tion and tastethathe appeals to [rappelle] thisinterestforlitera-
ture.What he reproaches the positivist-historicist-factualistsforis
not being ignorantor veryunconcernedabout whatconstituteslit-
erature,the literariness[littrarit]
of literature(the onlything,we
mustadmit,thatcan ensure the unityof a general literature). No,
no one in those circleswas veryconcerned withliterarinessat that
time {exceptWellek}.The literatureEtiemblewantsto impose on
the positivist-historicists
is on the one hand a source of aesthetic
pleasure thatgivesrise to tastejudgments (in whichthe positiviste
have lost interest)and on the other hand whatEtiemble himself
calls invariants- invariantsthatalwaysappeal in thelastinstanceto
a human natureand thatat timestake a thematicform,a formof
contents,whichis practicallythe exclusivefocusof interestin cer-
tainGermancomparativists' and at othertimestakea
Stoffgeschichte,
formalform(typologyof modes, of genres,etc.). These twomotifs
(pleasure and aestheticjudgment on the one hand, studyof the-
maticor formalinvariants on theother)are supposed to assistin res-
cuing the of
specificity general comparative literature from
historicistpositivism.On the firstpoint, here is another citation
fromEtiemble (I promisethattheseare the lastones). You willsee
thatit is again a question of offeringRen Wellekhis arm,but this
is clearlyEtiemble's gesture,whichI considerto be symptomatic at
a certainmoment,butwhichI do notconsideras such to commitor

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48 JacquesDerrida

I do not know what he would have


compromiseWellek himself;
of
thought thiscompanionship:

I would
likeourcomparativisttobeequally
a manoftaste andofpleasure.
I wouldlikeallhisprevious
studies
tobeonlythemeans forhimtoread
textswithgreater andconsequently
intelligence with greater
joy,greater
thanthose
voluptuousness, whoknow nothing I would
orlittle. likehimto
bea lover
ofpoems, oftheater,
orofnovels,
asLanson wanted hishistorian
ofliterature.
Wemust alsoconsider
theCongressofChapelHillin1958to
beauspicious,where several
scholars
oftheAmerican school,repeating
ideasamply expressedinComparative
Literature,
vigorouslyrehabilitated
toooften
criticism, byourcomparati
neglected Mr.RenWellek
vists. does
notforgetanymorethanI dothat incomparativeliterature
thereis'com-
buthedoesnotacceptanymorethanI do that'literature'
parative,'
shouldbeforgotten.51

That is thecritical-aesthetic
motif(let us notforgetliterature,which
is to say,pleasure and evaluation,thevaluejudgment). Here is the
"invariants"motif.Etiemble has just been braggingabout how in
Montpellierhe taughtwhatwasapparentlythemostconformist and
irreproachable class on European pre-Romanticism, at the end of
whichhe added, "I mustinformyou thatall mycitationsabout the
birthof pre-Romanticismin Europe come fromChinese poets,
betweenK'iu Yuan,who livedbeforethe Christianera, and theera
of theSong." And he concludes hisstoryin thismanner:

BecauseifI canclarify allthethemes ofeighteenth-century


[myitalics]
Europeanpre-Romanticism withcitations borrowed fromChinese
from
poetry before Christianityandthefirsttwelve
centuries
oftheChris-
tianera,thisis clearlybecauseforms, exist;inshort,
invariants
genres,
becausemanexists, andliterature. from
[!!!!Passing invariant
themes to
invariant
forms, thentoinvariant genres, thewholething embedded
inman,with
[noy] a leapplacingtheexistenceofmanandofliterature
inapposition!!!!
Comment. (Elsewhere,withregardtothefeelingoflove
anditsdiverseliterarymanifestations,hespeaksof"whatmust becalled
human nature."52)]53

Everything in thisbook is not on thesame level (forexample,what


he saysabout thenecessityofa comparativestudyoftranslations and
of a theoryof translation, of thestudyofworksin severallanguages
simultaneously),but if I have spent a long time,too much time,
readingit today,it is because the referencepointof 1958 (and of a
situationthatI can onlydescribesummarilywhile invitingyou to
analyze it in an infinitely more differentiated fashionthan I will
here) leads us to wonder what has aged so terriblyover the past
twenty yearsin theuniversity, a certainzone oftheuniversity,
and in

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?
WhoorWhatIs Compared 49

whatwayand why.I do not believe thatin theiressentiallines,and


beyond the somewhatcaricaturedand ostentatious{and showy}54
formtheytakein Etiemble,theproblematicsof thattimehavebeen
extinguishedand do notcontinueto program,moreor lessdirectly,
the academic workdone in the name of complit.Nonetheless,the
landscape has changed,and itis noteasyto evaluatethereal nature
of the changes. It can certainlynot be said thatcomparativelitera-
turehas nowattaineda statusofscientificity or ofautonomy,ofauto-
of
foundation, rigorousunity that itdid notyethaveat thattimeand
for which people (naively) believe it was obscurelysearching. I
believethattheuniversity institutionthatbears thisname, thistide,
thisambition,is less assured thaneverof itslegitimacy. And thatit
survives,thatitis livingin the aftermath of a greatdream whosehis-
toricaland structural conditionsremainto be analyzed.And yetthe
verypositionof the problem,the veryevaluationof the projectof
comparativeliterature, theanalysisofitspossibilities,
ofitssuccesses,
and ofitslimitsor itsfailures,has changed in twenty years.Why?In
whatway?Returningto thesequestionsnextweek,I willorientand
accelerateour studyin thedirectionof theproblemsof translation.

. Babel55

All of thiswould not have happened ifwe knewwhatliteratureis.


None of thiswould have happened ifwe knewwhattheword"liter-
ature"means.
It must be said thateverything we situatedschematicallylast
timeconcerninga crisisin comparativeliteraturewould have had
no meaningand no chance of arisingifa fundamentalindtermi-
nationdid notremainat thecenteroftheconceptofliterature.The
minimal contract, the poorest consensus capable of bringing
researcherstogetherin comparativeliterature,is thatthe element
of the comparable or of the compared,of the comparable or com-
pared terms- whethertheybe understood in the singularor the
plural- is called literature,literaryphenomena, works,produc-
tions,and thatliteratureis a proper name, properlylinked to a
unique meaningor contentor corpus.Ata certainmoment,litera-
turemustbe a proper name, mustfunctionas a proper name, not
onlybecause whatit names should tolerateno substitutionand no
operation of metaphorizingtranslation,but because literature,
whichis neithernaturenor a group of ideal objectslikemathemat-
ics, names somethingthatis constitutedbywhatare called works
that are unique each time (irrespectiveof the repetitions,the

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50 JacquesDerrida

resemblances,the thematicaffinities, the groupingby typesand


genres, each work - and there are only worksin literature - is
unique, and the literarycorpus in its ensemble, if there is such a
thing, is an open yetunique ensemble of {unique} individuals that
existaccordingto a certainmode butthat,as such,are unique) . Lit-
eraturewould thereforebe the proper name of an ensemble of
propernames,and iftherewas a crisisin comparativeliteratureat
a particularmoment- and no doubt permanently - itis because in
theend we do notknowwhoand whatare designatedbythisproper
name of proper names. And because we have knownsince A. that
the science of proper names and of the individualis not without
problems.
Above all whenone claimsto compare propernames and indi-
viduals,and above all when,in a logicalparadoxwithwhichwe have
onlyjustbegun to struggle,thecomparisonintendsto compare the
comparable withthe comparable, the comparable withitself,but
withitselfas otheror as different. The minimalconsensus,thechar-
ter of the comparativists,is that one must compare literatures
among themselves,literaryphenomena among themselves,or in
any case phenomena havingan essential relationwithliterature
among themselves.One mustcompare literaturewithliterature.
Do not forgetthat this idea is at once verytrivialand very
strange,and the conditionsof its appearance are farfrombeing
clear today.Itwilltaketime,I presume,and manyprotocolsforour
workbeforewe can seriouslyapproach such a question.Whatdoes
itmean, whatcould itmean, to compare literaturewithliterature?
Whoeverhas had even the mostelementaryexperience ofwhatis
called the logic of theviciouscircleor the hermeneuticcirclewill
quicklyrecognize a typeof theoreticaldifficulty here: in order to
compare literatures or literaturewith itself,one must alreadyhave
a precomprehensionofwhatliteraturemeans,and thusof theori-
gin of the literature,ifonlyso as to choose the objects of investi-
gation. . . .

Notes
1Ij>concept
delittrature etlesproblmes
compare delatraduction
thoriques [Thecon-
ceptofcomparativeliterature
andthetheoreticalproblems oftranslation],
a series
ofsixlectures
delivered
byJacquesDerrida inFrench atYaleUniversityin1979-80
(typedwithsomehandwrittenadditions
andmodifications[JacquesDerridaArchive,
ofCalifornia-Irvine,
University box15,folder 1]). TheFirst
twolectures,andthe
beginningofthethird,arereproduced herewitha modified tide.Excerptstaken
from theopenings
ofthefirst
threelectureswerereadbyHlneCixous (inFrench)

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?
WhoorWhatIs Compared 51

andGeoffrey Bennington (inEnglish) attheUniversity ofFlorida conference in


Gainesville inthefallof2006.Thepresent version includes a number ofmodifica-
tionsproposed byGeoffrey Bennington, forwhich I amgrateful. Needless tosay,I
takeresponsibility foranyremaining orsubsequent mistakes. With theexception of
thelecture Derrida's
titles, handwritten additions areplacedin {curly brackets};
untranslatable bitsofFrench arein [square brackets]. Squarebrackets alsosetoff
comments placedbyDerrida withina number oflonger citations.Derrida's syntax
andpunctuation havebeenmaintained asmuchaspossible, although somesystem-
aticmodifications havebeenmade.Allnotes arebythetranslator. Financial support
forthistranslation from theInternational Center forWriting andTranslation atUC
Irvine isgratefully acknowledged. Succession Derrida 2009.
2Thetwoquestions inthisheading translate thereflexive construction Qu'est-ce
se
qui comparei inanattempt toreflecttheglossDerrida himself effectively offersof
thisexpression inwhatfollows. Thisphrase couldalsobe translated as "What (or
Who)isCompared?" or"isbeingCompared?" Therestoftheheading isinEnglish
intheoriginal.
3InEnglish intheoriginal.
4InEnglish intheoriginal.
5InEnglish intheoriginal.
6InEnglish intheoriginal.
7InEnglish intheoriginal.
8InEnglish intheoriginal.
9Thenounusedhere, comparatiste{jen'aijamais reudeformation decomparatiste)
,
means "aspecialist incomparative literature." Thesameword canserve asanadjec-
tive.Inbothcases,itwillgenerally be translated hereafter bytheneologism "com-
parativist."On theotherhand,comparatisme willbe translated as "comparative
literature."
10Thetranslation doesnotperhaps makeasclearasitshould thatthedistinc-
tioninquestion hereisnotbetween comparative literatureandsomething else,but
between "comparative itself"
literature ; thatis,between comparative literatureand
initself.
itself, Thisdoesbecome clearer inwhat follows.
11Manuscript annotation:"There isaninteresting ellipsishere.CiteWellek, p.
290."
12InEnglish intheoriginal.
13This"entitled" translates
tworelated words, "intitule thesecond of
(attitre),"
which means "accredited" or"authorized."
14InEnglish intheoriginal.
15InEnglish intheoriginal.
16Manuscript annotation:"RecallWellek, p.290."
17Etiemble's articleadds"byGrard deNerval" here.
18Here,after theworddemeure , Derrida typed "/dumbo, /," which he then
crossed out.

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52 JacquesDerrida

19RenEtiemble, "LittratureCompare," inEncyclopaedia Universalis(Paris:


Encyclopaedia Universalis, 1977),7:140-46, quotation on 143(Derrida's emphasis,
except forthelastword) .
20InEnglish intheoriginal.
21"Theright toliterature," butalso"straighttoliterature."
22Thisannotation continues:"Inthetwosenses," withanarrow thatseemsto
suggest thatthese "two senses"oftheproper namerefer tothedistinction mentioned
a fewlinesbelow between "personalnames (desnoms depersonne)"andproper names
thatare"beyond" personal names.
23Manuscript annotation: "Onomatopoeia and100-letter word inJoyce."
24Manuscript annotation thatseems tosay"Itnames literature I amlit-
laterally.
erature."
25Manuscript annotation: "Youcouldalways doit,callyour dogPangloss oryour
catAbelard, but. . ."
2f)
This5seems tohavebeenmodified intoa 6;thenext isnumbered
paragraph
7.
27Voltaire, Candide andOther Romances,trans. Richard Aldington (London:
Routledge, 1996),8.
28Etiemble, "Littrature Compare," 144.
29Ibid.,143.
30Voltaire, Candide andOther Romances,38.
31Etiemble, "Littrature 143
Compare,"
32Thereareseveral words
illegible here.
partly
33Aword isapparently missinghere.
34Etiemble, "Littrature Compare," 143-44.
35RenEtiemble, Comparaison n'est
pasraison , la crise
dela littrature
compare
[Comparison isnotreason: thecrisisincomparative literature](Paris:Gallimard,
1963).Atthispointinthetypescript, Derrida wrote "Gallimard 1977";thisispre-
sumably a confusion with thepublicationdateofEtiemble's "LittratureCompare"
entryintheEncyclopaedia Universalis
(seenote19).
3fiHereDerrida typed andthenx-edout"Thisnormative imperialism."
37Etiemble, "Littrature Compare," 144.
38Ibid.
99Ibid.
40"Comparative literature
orcomparison isnotreason."
41Presumably thisisa referencetoEtiemble's bookComparaison n'est
pasraison
(seenote35),which waspublished onlyfiveyears after thearticle ofthesametitle
Derrida hasjustmentioned. The"twenty years later" probably comesfrom a confu-
sionwith the1977publication dateofthe"Littrature Compare" entryintheEncy-
clofmedia Universalis (see note19). It is truethatin thislatter entry Etiemble
reproduces much ofthe"Littrature Compare" chapter from hisHygienedeslettres
,

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WhoorWhatIs Compared,
f 53

vol.3:Savoir etgot Gallimard,


(Paris: 1958),butnotthetitle Comparaisonnestpasrai-
son.
42Etiemble, Hygienedeslettres,
vol.3.
43Ibid.,324
44Ibid.,323
45RenWellek, "TheCrisis ofComparative inProceedings
Literature," oftheSec-
ondCongressofthe International
ComparativeLiterature vol.1: Comparative
Association, Lit-
ed.Werner
erature, Friederich,UniversityofNorth CarolinaStudies inComparative
Literature23(ChapelHill:University ofNorth CarolinaPress,1959).
46HereDerrida andthenx-edout,"whom heconsiders,
typed, bytheway,tobe
a product ofgoodluckandanexemplary exceptioninthehistory oflitt,"
thislast
fragment presumably beingthefirstpartoflittrature
compare.
47Etiemble, Hyginedeslettres,
3:71.
48Thatis,"inSorbonneified French manner."
49Jean-Marie Carr,preface toLittrature
Compare,byMarius-FranoisGuyard
(Paris:Sorbonne, 1958),7.
50Etiemble, Hyginedeslettres,
3:72
51Ibid.Ina notereproduced byDerrida, EtiemblerefersheretohisHygiene des
vol.3.
lettres,
52Ibid.,95
53Ibid.,71.Manuscript annotation:"CiteWellek,p.295."
54Derrida hascrossed out"somewhat andaddedinthemargin
journalistic"
"m'astuvu."
55Thislecture hasa typewrittentide,"TheTaskoftheTranslator," whichhas
beencrossed outandreplaced withthehandwritten "Babel."

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