Cassin discusses, under the sign of ‘nostalgia’, the connections between homeland, exile, and mother tongue. The Odyssee, recounting the adventures of Odysseus and his endlessly delayed return to Ithaca, is the very poem of nostalgia. Odysseus’s final arrival in his “home” is symbolized by his bed: carved with his own hands from a tree around which he had built his house, a secret shared only with his wife. Rootedness and uprootedness conjoined: that is nostalgia.
As for Aeneas, when he flees Troy in flames, he carries his homeland on his back, his father Anchises and his gods of the earth. He wanders from place to place until Juno agrees to let him found the city that will become Rome, on one condition only: that he forget Greek and speaks uno ore, ‘one tongue’ with the Latin people. The founding epic is, on this occasion, the very founding of a language.
To possess one’s language as a homeland, or even as one’s only homeland: that is how, in dark times, Hannah Arendt, “naturalized” in her American exile, chooses to define herself: not in relation to a country or a people but only in relation to a language, the German language. What is proper? What is foreign? When are we ever at home?
Barbara Cassin is director of research at the CNRS and President of the Administrative Board of the Collège International de Philosophie. Trained as a philosopher and philologist specializing in Ancient Greece, her research focuses on the relationship between philosophy and what is posited as not being philosophy: sophistry, rhetoric, literature. Her publications include Jacques le Sophiste: Lacan, logos et psychanalyse (Epel, 2012); Plus d’une langue: Petites conférences (Bayard, 2012); La Nostalgie: Quand donc est-on chez soi? Ulysse, Enée, Arendt (Autrement, 2013); Sophistical Practice: Toward a Consistent Relativism (Fordham, 2014). Her editorial work includes the seminal Vocabulaire européen des philosophies. Dictionnaire des intraduisibles (Seuil-Robert, 2004; Engl. transl. Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, Princeton UP, 2014). A translator herself (notably of Hannah Arendt and Peter Szondi), she is also the editor of several book series, notably, with Alain Badiou, L’Ordre philosophique (Seuil), and Ouvertures (Fayard). In 2012, the Académie Française honored her work with the Grand prix de philosophie. She is Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series ERRANS. The English verb ‘to err’ has largely lost its positive connotations. It no longer invokes wandering, rambling, or roaming, and is now understood negatively in relation to a prescribed path or goal. To be sure, errors are acknowledged to play an important role in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, but usually only to the extent that their recognition allows for their elimination, correction, and avoidance. Recognizing that a critique of ideals of productivity, success, goal-orientation, and determination is necessarily paradoxical, the lecture series takes the shifting meanings of ‘erring’ – connoting the violation of norms as well as the activity of wandering – as a prompt to explore the critical potentials and risks of embracing error, randomness, failure, and non-teleological temporalities, and to do so across different disciplines and discourses.
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