While I was growing up, I was regularly taken to a synagogue in Algiers, and there were aspects of Judaism I loved -- the music, for instance. Nonetheless, I started resisting religion as a young adolescent, not in the name of atheism, but because I found religion as it was practiced within my family to be fraught with misunderstanding. It struck me as thoughtless, just blind repetitions, and there was one thing in particular I found unacceptable: that was the way honors were dispersed. The honor of carrying and reading the Torah was auctioned off in the synagogue, and I found that terrible. Then when I was 13, I read Nietzsche for the first time, and though I didn't understand him completely, he made a big impression on me. The diary I kept then was filled with quotations from Nietzsche and Rousseau, who was my other god at the time. Nietzsche objected violently to Rousseau, but I loved them both and wondered, how can I reconcile them both in me?
Take, for example, the celebrated essay "La Différence", in which Derrida tried to open out the concept of difference by comparing the French différer with Greek diapherein, Latin differre, and differieren in German. As everyone must know by now, Derrida dramatized his point by coining the non-word différance, spelled with an "a", alongside the ordinary French word différence, spelled with an "e". And since the two forms are pronounced the same, they made a nice illustration of Derrida's point about writing not being a depiction of speech; manifestly, the difference between différance and différence could be seen but not heard.
As it happens, it is easy to reproduce this effect in English. Différance can be transliterated as "differance" with an "a", yielding an English non-word which sounds the same as the ordinary English word "difference", thus translating Derrida's device perfectly. This was the solution adopted in David Allison's translation, published in 1973. But a decade later, Alan Bass produced a new version, which opted to leave différance in French. This crazy translation took off, just at the time when Derrida was becoming a cult author in English, and as a result thousands of English-speaking Derrideans were left floundering for a French pronunciation of différance, apparently under the impression that they were being loyal to its quintessential Frenchness. Unluckily for them, though, différance was not a French concept at all, and - by making the difference between differance and "difference" audible, all too audible - the Derrideans were not only missing Derrida's point, but spoiling it too. It was as if the translator, rather than helping us engage with ideas and argue over them, preferred to fetishize their foreignness and turn us into dazzled spectators of an exotic scene.
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