Traduire C'est Trahir—Peut-être: Ricoeur and Derrida on the (In)Fidelity of Translation

B. Keith Putt


Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida agree that translation is a tensive activity oscillating between the possible and the impossible with reference to the transposition of meaning among diverse systems of discourse. Both acknowledge that risk, alterity, and plurality accompany every attempt at paraphrasing language “in other words.” Consequently, their positions adhere to the traditional adage that “the translator is a traitor,” precisely because something is always lost in the semantic transfer. Yet, Derrida notes an important disagreement between their respective approaches to translation and accuses Ricoeur of harboring a nostalgia for unitive meaning and of promoting the possibility of a transcendental signified that could produce a “pure” translation. In this essay, I critique Derrida’s interpretation of Ricoeur specifically by examining their individual interpretations of the Tower of Babel myth. I argue that Ricoeur’s theory of Babel as a non-punitive celebration of diversity and the open play of meaning “out-deconstructs” Derrida’s own notion of dissemination.


Babel, deconstruction, translation, polysemy

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Copyright (c) 2015 B. Keith Putt

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