lost in translation
On occasion, I do my own bad translations of texts I can’t seem to find in English - mostly Foucault’s shorter essays and interviews. Some of which are/will be reproduced below:
«Nul de nous n’est sûr d’échapper à la prison. Aujourd’hui moins que jamais. Sur notre vie de tous les jours, le quadrillage policier se reserre : dans la rue et sur les routes ; autour des étrangers et des jeunes ; le délit d’opinion est réapparu : les mesures antidrogues multiplient l’arbitraire. Nous sommes sous le signe de la «garde à vue». On nous dit que la justice est débordée. Nous le voyons bien. Mais si c’était la police qui l’avait débordée ? On nous dit que les prisons sont surpeuplées. Mais si c’était la population qui était suremprisonnée ? »
[Signed by J.-M Domenach, M. Foucault, P. Vidal-Naquer. Read out by M. Foucault and distributed to the press, 8 February 1971. Reproduced in Dits et Écrits vol. 1]
“No one among us can be sure of avoiding prison. Today less than ever. The systematic policing of our day to day lives gets tighter: in the street, on the roads, closing its grip on foreigners and young people; thought crimes have returned: anti-drug measures proliferate arbitrarily. We are all under the shadow of police custody. We are told that the courts are overwhelmed. We can see that much for ourselves. But what if it is the police that have overwhelmed them? We are told that the prisons are overpopulated? But what if it is the population who have been overimprisoned?”
Monarchs don’t have faces. A king could roam the streets, disguise himself as a coachman and eat his supper in a tavern. No one would recognise him unless by chance they had a sovereign in the palm of their hand. Then all that was needed was to bustle the runaway back into his carriage and drive him back to his throne.
Kings only existed as busts – an old form of deification. Whether these are in profile, engraved on coins or head on, enthroned in all their majesty, on seals and medals. If they possessed nose, eyes and hand closed around a sceptre, these functioned in the same way as the crown, as the visible marks and forms of their power. Their appearance only occurred as part of a ceremony. Their bodies supported ritual: they belonged to and took effect within a form of political conjuring. It is quite possible that all monarchs worldwide – and probably also heads of families – more or less lost their heads during the Revolution. But it also seems to me that they lost their bodies as well. At that moment the political and theological miracle of the king’s body, perceived as royalty incarnate, the material temple of sovereignty, the sacred blood, the site from which all signs of power emanated, disappeared. In its place a crowd of political figures were born.
And the difference is not simply that the latter are numerous and trivial with little power. Since there have been entire dynasties which run their course very quickly and whose position was more fragile than that of party leaders. The difference is that politicians are not made of the same stuff as kings; their blood isn’t the same colour nor does it possess the same force; their flesh doesn’t have the same density and doesn’t emit the same waves or effects. Their bodies are completely different. And if they also appear in profile or head on, these are for them simply two ways of showing their face.
Sovereignty functions through signs; the mark engraved onto metal, stone or wax. The body of the king engraves itself. Politics functions through expression; the soft or hard mouth; the arrogant, coarse or grotesque nose, and the bald and stubborn forehead. The faces produced by politics show, reveal, betray or hide. Ugliness and openness called into the service of politics. […]
Extract from M.Foucault, ‘Les têtes de la politique’ (1976) in Dits et Écrits II, p.9-10.