By Niina Bailey, Oisin Harris and Toby Smollett
Whilst there are many works of theory in translation to be celebrated, from literary theorists like Aristotle, Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva to famed philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin and Immanuel Kant or even political philosophers like Hannah Arendt or Friedrich Hegel; we wanted to focus on newer theory being translated. Although the global situation leaves a lot to be desired, it’s been an abundant time for all sorts of marvellous works of theory to emerge in translation. There’s Mona Chollet’s In Defence of Witches (trans. by Sophie R Lewis), which argues that three archetypes used in past witch hunts are now being mapped to an extent onto modern women. Or Edoardo Nesi’s Sentimental Economy (trans. by Antony Shugaar), which seeks to understand how our global lives have been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and how personal and economic considerations affect us all. There’s also the fascinating notion of “Green Colonialism” introduced by Guillaume Blanc in The Invention of Green Colonialism (trans. by Helen Morrison). Blanc dismantles the Eurocentric view of Africa as a lost Eden to be saved arguing that the Global North’s battle to “preserve” Africa is destroying it. Read on for more great theory in translation!
A Philosophy of Loneliness by Lars Svendsen. Translated by Kerri Pierce. Published by Reaktion Books in 2017.
Loneliness is something that affects everyone at some point in their lives and many are afraid of being alone. In his book, A Philosophy of Loneliness, Lars Svendsen examines loneliness and how it manifests in people. Loneliness affects people in different ways: some will feel lonely in a crowd while others will feel it when alone. Regardless of when it appears, loneliness can severely impact someone’s life.
Svendsen explores the positive and negative aspects of loneliness and the questions that arise when thinking about it. He combines the latest research in philosophy, psychology and social sciences to investigate this complex state of being. To balance the theory in the book, he uses stories, for example, from Norwegian culture. Svendsen argues that instead of there being too much loneliness in modern society as one might think, alternatively there is not enough solitude. He claims that being in solitude can help us understand ourselves and our place in the world better, which suggests that loneliness serves some kind of purpose in our lives. If you are interested in learning more about human nature, this might be the book for you.
Lars Svendsen is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bergen in Norway. He has written multiple books about the philosophy of human nature including boredom, fear and freedom.
Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han. Translated by Erik Butler. Published by Verso in 2017.
In Byung-Chul Han’s book, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and new Technologies of Power, he is described as a “star of German philosophy.” This feels slightly excessive on the first read, the kind of superlative that has become commonplace in literature where every author is either the next best thing or the best right now. The difference with Byung-Chul Han is that he truly merits this status.
As the title suggests, this work explores the ways in which current technologies are designed to act upon our psyches. This understanding of politics moves beyond the well-established realm of biopolitics, which examines the forces of power over an individual’s body. Key to this book is the rise of big data and the change this has had on the way individuals are controlled.
When we speak of big data, it is often discussed as removed from our daily lives, the kind of technology relevant only to statisticians. And yet, we all have experienced the unsettling moment where we talk about a potential interest or purchase (“I’ve been thinking of picking up yoga recently!”) and then days later see a bizarrely specific advert (“Yoga mat – half price.”)
This is the key and largely misunderstood (in Byung-Chul Han’s opinion) aspect of new controlling technologies – they control through open communication. Big Brother doesn’t want you quiet, submissive and afraid. Big Brother wants you to feel comfortable, to speak openly as it monitors everything you do and calculate exactly who you are. Your BeReal is an insight into where you generally are at different times in the day. Your Twitter feed shows what you think and believe, what will interest you and what won’t.
When we speak of echo chambers, we forget that someone is stood outside, listening to everything said and recording it. Byung-Chul Han reminds you that someone is always listening, and they know who you are.