Australian Journal of French Studies

Was the Defeat Undone? The Two English Translations of Alain Finkielkraut’s La Défaite de la pensée

Australian Journal of French Studies (2022), 59, (2), 144–157.

Abstract

This article examines the curious English-language life of Alain Finkielkraut’s 1987 book La Défaite de la pensée. Uniquely in his corpus and very unusually for contemporary philosophy, this work exists in two different English translations: Dennis O’Keeffe’s The Undoing of Thought (1988) and Judith Friedlander’s The Defeat of the Mind (1995). O’Keeffe’s work was an effort to secure a place for Finkielkraut in discourse of Anglo-American conservatism, whereas Friedlander was far more invested in recovering Finkielkraut as a student of Levinas and as an heir to a certain kind of French Jewish intellectual community. What these different translations show us today is the folly of ascribing an Anglo-American “left-right” dichotomy to French intellectual debate, something that holds just as true for Finkielkraut’s most recent writing, including his recent collections of actualités such as L’Identité malheureuse (2013) and La Seule Exactitude (2015).

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Author details

WHITE, JERRY