I often use the word “eisegesis” rather than “exegesis” when I write about Lacan’s original texts. If we break the words down into their rudimentary components, we notice that both commitments share interest in the -getical or interpretative methods of reading a text. However, the difference between exe- and eise- has to do with the direction of the movement of interpretation. Whereas the exegetical approach presumes to begin from within the materials of the text and to thus assume an objectivity of the text itself the eisegetical approach assumes that one inserts oneself into the text even while interpreting it.
Recall that Badiou believes that philosophy is for everybody. This means, at some level, that philosophy must allow everybody to insert themselves into the text. There is a distinction drawn here between philosophy as a rational system that can be interpreted and shared by everybody and mysticism as a quick-route to the goal of philosophy but only for the select few. I invite readers to read over my hyper-translation of Badiou’s text on the distinction between philosophy and mysticism, here. The point that I am trying to make is therefore between something which is philosophical and something which is either mystical or positivist.
The mystical reader has a direct connection with the essence of the text and this is what makes his experience exegetical. The mystical reader feels the text but can not inscribe the experience whatsoever. I’ve often felt this way reading Slavoj Zizek’s work or, at times, some of Bataille’s more arcane essays (for example, “the method of meditation”).
The positivist, on the other hand, is exegetical because they believe that they have removed themselves from the text sufficiently so as to reproduce the meaning – perhaps in more potent form – for another readership. The positivist, for this reason, is essentially conservative. Recall once again that the positivist believes that their knowledge of the text exhausts all possible interpretations of the essence of that text. Those of you who are not familiar with the distinctions that Badiou makes between positivism and philosophy can go here.
The philosophical reader much rather inserts himself and his historical moment into the text. He moves through the text according to proper stages of dramatization. The distinction that Badiou is making seems to be something like the one that is often made between exoteric and esoteric teachings. Esoteric teachings, as it typically goes, are revealed only to the qualified few whereas exoteric teachings are revealed in their literal interpretation to everybody. At this point, I will provisionally agree with Badiou and claim that neither of the two positions ought to be ruled out. If philosophy is exoteric then it is positivist or mystical and if philosophy is esoteric then it is for everybody.
Finally, if philosophy is indeed for everybody then a hyper-transcription must also be a strategy employed for (and made available to) everybody. I mean to suggest that hyper-transcription is a philosophical practice rather than a mystical experience or a positivist repetition.
Badiou’s strategy of hyper-translation is (according to the English translator of Badiou’s translation – this distinction is confusing, I know):
Hypertranslation […] describe[s] [Badiou’s] treatment of Plato’s Republic. Not a simple translation into French of the Greek original, then, and still less a scholarly critique of it, Badiou’s text transforms the Republic into something startlingly new by expanding, reducing, updating and dramatizing it, leavening it with humor and revitalizing its language with his own philosophical lexicon. […] Badiou’s work, albeit consistently faithful to the spirit of the Republic, nevertheless departs from it freely at every turn.
It is in this spirit that I want to inaugurate a trend toward hyper-transcriptions. The practice is essentially the same as hyper-translation but is more suited to the world of blogs.
In Badiou’s words, we must treat the text, and this necessarily implies:
- Understanding the text by transforming it into something which speaks to you, the reader. Lacanian psychoanalysts will note that this is essentially the process of hysterization. The hysterical question that the reader must begin to ask himself is the following: what is this text for me? and, what am I to this text? Thus, Badiou writes: “I [treated] The Republic, the Master’s pivotal work […] to show how powerfully it speaks to us today.” Moreover, he writes: “I started out trying to understand it, all of it, in its own language. […] I set about it with single-minded determination; I didn’t let anything slip by me; I wanted every sentence […] to make sense to me. That initial effort [involved] a one-on-one encounter between the text and myself. I didn’t write the thing: I simply wanted the text to speak to me and not keep any sly secret hidden deep in its recesses.” One notes that this hystericization is the necessary first step in analysis and hence the crucial first step in coming to know the truth of oneself or the truth of infinity. Without it, the prospect of clinical psychoanalysis (for neurotic analysands) is rather dim.
- Stage two involves experimentation. There is a process of fusion whereby the text and the transcriber or translator are fused into one by way of a putting into practice the theory which was previously digested. This is what constitutes hyper-translation as a thinking: it is the unity of theory and practice (see my previous post about thinking). Badiou writes the following: “Next, I would write whatever thoughts and sentences were afforded to me by what I’d understood of the portion of the Greek text I considered I had mastered.”
- This provides the result. The result, claims Badiou, is that one “never forget[s] the original text, not even in its details, [even if the resulting text is] almost never a ‘translation’ [or transcription] in the usual sense of the term. Plato was ever-present, although perhaps not a single one of his sentences was restored exactly as he wrote it.” At this point, you will notice that my previous hyper-transcriptions were not exactly in the same terms as Badiou spoke them. They were digested by me.
The question which remains is the extent to which the resulting text is faithful to the original. Mystical or positivist thinkers would perhaps claim that their text is directly connected to the experience or the knowledge of the text. However, the philosophical claim would be something different: the resulting text remains in fidelity to the truth of the text. Mysticism and positivism (or academicism) loses truth at the expense of the pure experience or the pure knowledge.