Jacques Lezra talk: "Necrophilology"

Event Date: 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 2:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Phelps 6206C

Jacques Lezra is Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature and a member of the Departments of English and German at New York University. His most recent book is Wild Materialism: The Ethic of Terror and the Modern Republic (Fordham UP 2010; Spanish translation 2012; Chinese translation 2013). Two books are forthcoming: Contra los fueros de la muerte: El suceso cervantino and On the Nature of Marx’s Things. Among Jacques Lezra’s numerous articles are essays on Shakespeare, contemporary and early modern translation theories and practices, Freud, Althusser, Woolf, animality studies, and other topics.

“Necrophilology” approaches the problem of the general equivalent outlined in Marx’s Capital through the singular figure of Bartleby, who by the story’s end appears to have been converted into a stand-in for humanity, an index against which to measure social, moral, even religious value: a messianic commodity, universally consumable, universally valuable. Jorge Luis Borges’s translation of Melville’s story helps to show the ways in which a fantasy of universal translation or of universal translatability undergirds the conventional understanding of general equivalence. Borges’s productive mis-translations of Melville’s story point us in a different direction—for instance, towards conceptions of universality disengaged from the notion of equivalence; toward a notion of aleatory translation; toward “necrophilology.”