Sunday, July 25, 2010
From the Borges story "Averroës's Search".
His quill ran across the page, the arguments, irrefutable, knitted together, and yet a small worry clouded Averroës’ happiness. Not the sort of worry brought on by the Tahafut, which was a fortuitous enterprise, but rather a philological problem connected with the monumental work that would justify him to all people—his commentary on Aristotle. That Greek sage, the fountainhead of all philosophy, had been sent down to men to teach them all things that can be known; interpreting Aristotle’s works, in the same way the ulemas interpret the Qur’an, was the hard task that Averroës had set himself. History will record few things lovelier and more moving than this Arab physician's devotion to the thoughts of a man separated from him by a gulf of fourteen centuries. To the intrinsic difficulties of the enterprise we might add that Averroës, who knew neither Syriac nor Greek, was working from a translation of a translation. The night before, two doubtful words had halted him at the very portals of the Poetics. Those words were “tragedy” and “comedy.” He had come across them years earlier, in the third book of the Rhetoric; no one in all of Islam could hazard a guess as to their meaning. He had pored through the pages of Alexander of Aphrodisias, compared the translations of the Nestorian Hunayn ibn-Ishaq and Abu-Bashar Mata—and he had found nothing. Yet the two arcane words were everywhere in the text of the Poetics—it was impossible to avoid them.
Indicated by Franco Volpi in his paper "Heidegger, el problema de la intraducibilidad y la romanidad filosófica", from the proceedings of the colloquium Heidegger, Linguagem e Tradução (2002).

Volpi continues:
Like Averroes, Heidegger didn't have a good grasp of foreign tongues. During the second world war the German Cultural Institute of Lisbon, founded the 21st of January 1944, wanted to invite notable German thinkers. Amongst others taken into consideration were Heidegger and Nicolai Hartmann, but in the end they were dropped because they did not speak any foreign languages and they could only give their talks in German. Too hard for the Portuguese public. In their place were then invited Carl Schmitt, adept in Castillian, and Gadamer, who spoke in French.
An anecdote is told about the encounter between the Spanish thinker Ortega y Gasset and the philosophus teutonicus Martin Heidegger...Their conversation at a certain moment fell upon philosophy in Spain. Ortega, skeptical, observed that already the phrase "Spanish philosopher" was contradictory. And to the "And why is that?" from Heidegger, he responded: "Do you believe a German bullfighter could exist?"
My translation from Volpi's Castillian.
Interesting factoid which seems to confirm Heidegger's provincialism.

Peruse a few of Hegel's lectures and you will note copious quotes in french and latin, with greek terminology as well. Nietzsche was also multi-lingual as well, reportedly. Even Bertie Russell could manage a bit of french.

Zizek reportedly knows a few languages--tho if his castillian's anything like his Anglo, he's probably considered a buffoon in Mexico City ..or Caracas as well as LA and SF
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