Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Métaphrasis. Vol. 1. No. 2. 2016

Publication Details

Title in the language of publication: Метафразис
Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
1940–2007. French philosopher and literary critic, a prominent exponent of post-Heideggerian deconstruction and specialist in German romanticism, the author of translations into French works of Heidegger, Celan, Nietzsche, Hölderlin and Benjamin.
Translated from French: 
Sergey Ermakov
Associate Research Fellow at the Sociological institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Address: 25/14 7-ya Krasnoarmeyskaya str., St. Petersburg 190005, Russia.
P. 33–52.
Language: Russian
Document type: Translation


What exactly does Hölderlin do when at the turn of the XIX century he decides to make a translation of two tragedies by Sophocles, “Oedipus the king” and “Antigone” — a translation that cannot strictly be considered as such, even though not being a mere free interpretation? Why does he raise “Antigone” to the rank of tragedy, exemplarily expressing the Greek essence of the tragic, while “Oedipus” for him proves to be a “more occidental”, to wit modern tragedy”? What historical, philosophical and historico-philosophical consequences for the destiny (and for the very issue of there being a destiny) of the Occident including that of occidental metaphysics, are concealed in this distinction? How is Hölderlin’s vision of tragedy related to speculative and dialectical interpretations of the tragic dominant since Schelling and Hegel’s times?

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1940–2007) suggests a reading of Hölderlin’s translations and the famous Commentaries accompanying them, in which Hölderlin expounds his theory of the tragic, by means of the key term “metaphrasis”, a super-translation, a tendentious and distorting interpreting translation; such a translation turns to be not so much a “genius’ whim” but rather an attitude towards something to which one cannot have a direct relation. By analyzing the way Hölderlin thinks “Antigone” as a tragedy of spontaneous and secret desire of transgression peculiar for Greeks, and “Oedipus” as a tragedy of Knowledge and Logics in the broad sense, Lacoue-Labarthe detects paradoxical Holderlinian hyperbologics — the logics of infinitely increasing contradictions which cannot be resolved and sublated within the standard movements of dialectics of Hegelian kind and thereby speculatively quieted.

As a result Lacoue-Labarthe manages to reveal one of the deepest layers of Hölderlin’s thought, notably his theology or, rather, his attempt to create something like ancient Greek theology different from the myth and grounded not on faith and relation, but on the principled mutual infidelity of God and man, on God’s turning away and yet not absent. It is the paradoxical hyperbologics “the greater infidelity towards God, the greater fidelity to Him” that provides the only possible even if inconsistent relation. However, probably, it is just such theology, in Holderlin’s view, that can only correspond to the fateless (schiksaallos) man of modernity.


Friedrich Hölderlin, translation, metaphrasis, metaphysics, antique tragedy, essence of the tragic, hyperbologics, paralyzed dialectics, nonclassical theology.


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© Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, 2016  © Sergey Ermakov, transl., 2016.

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