Yes, I’m still marking students’ exercises, no teaching to do, which means I’m reading for pleasure texts I needn’t prepare for class. This time it’s been the turn of Gilles Lipovetsky’s simply excellent La felicidad paradójica (2006), which I picked up because a colleague in my research group (‘Body and Textuality,’ beautifully coordinated by Meri Torras) happened to mention him in passing as a fundamental name, in the same way I’d name Michel Foucault.

I am awfully ignorant of too many things but it worried me particularly that I’d never heard of Lipovetsky (a French philosopher like Foucault, by the way –um, maybe you knew?), as this sounded like a really glaring omission. I think I understand the problem better now (I still acknowledge my bottomless ignorance!): the academic world is tightly divided into different language communities, one (to which I belong as an English Studies specialist) uses for theorising bibliography almost exclusively and originally in English, the other (i.e. Spanish academia, to which I belong only secondarily) depends on theory mainly translated from English and, yes, to the same extent from French. Um, theory originally written in Spanish occupies, this is my feeling, a secondary place in our own territory. Our fault?

Here it is: I know Foucault because he’s been translated into English and profusely quoted; I didn’t know about Lipovetsky because only two of his books have been translated, I assume that with little impact as I’ve never come across a quotation from them in English (have I??). In contrast, Anagrama has published practically all of Lipovetsky’s works in Spanish; some, like the one I’ve read, are even included in their popular ‘Compactos’ collection. See the paradox at work. Check the English-speaking Wikipedia page on Lipovetsky… and it sends you to the Spanish version for more info!! Amazing. Check www.worldcat.org and you’ll see that, again atypically, of the 98 items cited under his name only 6 are in English (26 in Spanish… and only 23 in French!).

This, of course, needn’t mean much but, to me, it is essential proof of how badly knowledge circulates across language barriers even in the 21st century. It’s not only that there’s a noticeable time lag because of translation needs but also that whole areas fail to permeate other areas. Dialogue doesn’t really happen. Thus, entering the multidisciplinary research group I belong has plunged me into an enriching but also bewildering bibliographical schizophrenia. I find myself using bibliography in English to write my papers in Spanish because there is no equivalent in Spanish, either translated or original, yet I wonder how many Lipovetskys I don’t know about (and I should, from a Spanish point of view). Quite a mess. Maybe I should start again all over and take a degree in ‘Teoría de la Literatura’ –I wish I could, as it’s vanished from the UAB.

You might think that access to English makes you properly cosmopolitan but I often believe it’s the opposite: it makes you provincial, as what happens in, say, France or Germany, doesn’t exist without translation into English and what happens in Spanish simply doesn’t exist. I won’t even mention Catalan – there we go again: I just did.

I can hear you groan… ‘What! you didn’t know about Lipovetksy? Shame on you…’ Yes, indeed.


  1. How many mute inglorious Lipovetskys lie around? Well, plenty, I can tell you—for you, for me and for anyone. Life is short, bu Theory is long, and Literature even longer. So don’t sweat, «we do what we can». Congratulations for the blog—not many of these in our hyper-discreet Profession. And good luck in building a community of readers. I began blogging in 2004 but I can’t say I’ve managed to do that—and resolution may fail if you feel you’re speaking to a void. I suppose I’ll be around now and then, as I’m keeping a list of blogs in English philology… you’re there, and you’re one of the first items in the list! Recuerdos desde Zaragoza.

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