Nancy’s Response to the SUNY Albany Affair

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

As many of you know, The University at Albany (the place from which I received my PhD) has decided to close its French, Italian, and Russian departments. There are a range of reasons that make this an uninformed decision; for a rundown see Rosemary Feal’s The World Beyond Reach. More entertainingly, though, Jean-Luc Nancy, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Strasbourg and the European Graduate School, has written a rather snarky critique of Albany that pretty much sums up what is at stake here. Since it is short I have reposted the entire response (with permission):

Choisir entre supprimer le français et supprimer la philosophie… Quel beau choix ! Enlever plutôt le foie ou le poumon ? Plutôt l’estomac ou le coeur ?

Plutôt les yeux ou les oreilles ?

Il faudrait inventer un enseignement strictement monolingue d’une part – car tout peut être traduit en anglais, n’est-ce pas ? – et strictement dépourvu de toute interrogation (par exemple sur ce qu’implique la “traduction” en général et en particulier de telle langue à telle autre). Une seule langue débarrassée des parasites de la réflexion serait une belle matière universitaire, lisse, harmonieuse, aisée à soumettre aux contrôles d’acquisition.

Il faut donhc proposer de supprimer l’un et l’autre, le français et la philosophie. Et tout ce qui pourrait s’en approcher, comme le latin ou la psychanalyse, l’italien, l’espagnol ou la théorie littéraire, le russe ou l’histoire. Peut-être serait-il judicieux d’introduire à la place, et de manière obligatoire, quelques langages informatiques (comme java) et aussi le chinois commercial et le hindi technologique, du moins avant que ces langues soient complètement transcrites en anglais. A moins que n’arrive l’inverse.

De toutes façons, enseignons ce qui s’affiche sur nos panneaux publicitaires et sur les moniteurs des places boursières.

Rien d’autre !

Courage, camarades, un monde nouveau va naître !

Jean-Luc Nancy, professeur émérite d’une vieille Université française (pas pour longtemps).

What’s that you say? You can’t read it because it’s in French? Well luckily for you, despite the best efforts of the Albany adminstration there are French Studies Faculty left. So, you can read it in translation:

To choose between eliminating French or Philosophy . . . what a fabulous choice! Should one rather take out the liver or the lung? The stomach or the heart? The eyes or ears?

We need to invent teaching that is, on the one hand, strictly monolingual – for isn’t it true that everything can be translated into English? – and strictly lacking in all forms of questioning (for example concerning what is implied by “translation” in general and from one language to another in particular). A single language unencumbered by the static [parasites] of reflection would be a great subject for university study, smooth, harmonious, easily submitting to the controls of acquisition.

We should propose eliminating both of them, French and Philosophy. And everything existing in proximity to them, like Latin or psychoanalysis, Italian, Spanish or literary theory, Russian or History. Perhaps it would be wise to introduce in their place, as requirements, certain computer languages (like Java), as well as commerical Chinese and technological Hindi, at least until such languages are able to be completely transcribed into English. Unless the inverse were to happen first.

In any case, let’s teach what is displayed on our advertising billboards and on the stock exchange monitors. That and nothing else!

Courage, comrades, a new world is about to be born!

Jean-Luc Nancy, Emeritus Professor of an old French (not for long) university.

Translation by Professor of French and English David Wills (fair disclosure David was my dissertation director).