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am 30. März 1999
Merely a passable English translation of Le Pli, a late masterpiece by the sublime Gilles Deleuze, would merit five stars on the scale, but alas...!
The explanation of how such a travesty can be perpetrated must involve both the necessity of publishing that presses upon young academics - if you can believe it, this Tom Conley is a professor of French! - and the frenetic pace of production that afflicts the publishing industry as any other under the reign of capitalism. (That's some excuse!)
"Comment aurait-il une volonté libre, celui dont 'la notion individuelle renferme une fois pour toutes ce qui lui arrivera jamais'?" When I came to this on page 94 of the French edition, it translated itself automatically, unproblematically, as: "How could he have a free will, he of whom 'the individual notion encloses once and for all what will ever happen to him'?" But here's Conley [pg.69]: "How could there be free will, a will whose 'individual notion encloses once and for all those who will never come to it'?" Now this is an interpretation that would have occurred to no one without Professor Conley's help. (Thanks a lot!) Besides the question of what Conley's sentence could possibly mean in the context of Deleuze's thought in this passage, the "individual notion" is indisputably not that of "free will" because "volonté" is feminine and the pronoun "celui" is masculine! The most amazing thing about Conley's performance is that most of this sentence is not even new Deleuzian prose, expressing a novel late-twentieth-century idea, but a direct quote of Leibniz, referring to a well-known aspect of his system: The "individual notion" of each monad includes everything that will ever happen to that monad and is thus seemingly - that is the question! - an obstacle to the monad's possession of free will. (In the back of his book, Conley lists the editions of Leibniz that Deleuze himself would have consulted and informs us that he has relied upon previous English translations, where available. Elsewhere he has "directly translated Deleuze's quotations or translations of material taken from those texts...")
Where does Conley's "those" come from? - the fantasmal subjects he has performing the hallucinated action of "never coming to" the will whose individual notion nevertheless encloses them once and for all (huh?!?). There is no plural pronoun in Deleuze/Leibniz's sentence, but Conley finds one by disassembling the idiom "une fois pour toutes" ("once and for all," "definitively"). Likewise, he interprets "arrivera" literally, "will come to," rather than idiomatically, and accurately, as "will happen." (I have detected a tendency toward overliteralness in another Conley effort, where he seems to show off his awareness of what the actual French "really" says. In this case, however, he has totally missed the primary meaning!)
When Conley writes the exact opposite of the French edition, one may suspect that a compositor has dropped a negative. But too often the confusion is clearly Conley's own - for example, when Deleuze [pg. 61] says "prime numbers are primitive/original because..." and proceeds with their definition, Conley [pg. 45] says "the first numbers ["one, two, three..."?] are primary..." Whatever that would mean.
And then there are matters of taste. Where Deleuze describes a state of indecision and the contemplation of his options of spending the evening at a nightclub or staying in and working [pg. 95], Conley changes Deleuze's "le bruit des pages" to "the hum of the word processor" [pg. 70]. Anyone who's ever seen (or read about) Deleuze's fingernails would be unable to picture him typing. Why did Conley decide that Deleuze's phrase needed updating? The philosopher's longhand seems symbolic of the time he took to formulate his thought and the infinite care he took in transmitting the thought of others.
This translation is still better than nothing for someone interested in Deleuze and unable to read him in French. But since the real shame is that, with this on the market, no one is likely to undertake another English translation anytime soon, it is to be hoped that Tom Conley will seek to correct some of the flaws of his effort.
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