Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Farquhar, Sandy and Fitzsimons, Peter (2011). “Lost in Translation: The power of language”. Educational philosophy and theory, 43 (6), p. 652-662.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00608.x

The paper examines some philosophical aspects of translation as a metaphor for education-a metaphor that avoids the closure of final definitions, in favour of an ongoing and tentative process of interpretation and revision. Translation, it is argued, is a complex process involving language, within and among cultures, and in the exercise of power. Drawing on Foucault’s analysis of power, Nietzschean contingency, and the inversion of meaning that characterises the work of Heidegger and Derrida, the paper points towards Ricoeur’s notion of linguistic hospitality as the ethical dimension to the inevitably inadequate representation of the ‘other’. In this exploration, translation is posited as a creative and interpretive act-involving neither image nor copy, but poetic transposition.
The power of language emerges in the close association between power and knowledge, in which the ability to define what is real generates the realm of future possibilities. From a Foucauldian perspective, language functions as a creative strategic relation-a form of power that structures the field of other possible actions. It is through the mediation of translation, the paper argues, that language communicates, leaving us with a world of difference (i.e. ‘lost in translation’), as both our curse and our blessing as part of the human condition and as part of our ethical endeavour as educators. The contingent and arbitrary nature of language problematises what appears natural and necessary, generating the possibility of creative dialogue.

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