Translation and Charles Péguy

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“Everything is external to everything else, and it takes difficult work to link any two things” – thus summarises Graham Harman one of Bruno Latour’s metaphysical points (Prince of Networks, pp. 104-105). The blog medium makes linking unrelated things rather easy, so hopefully it is not an entirely frivolous act to link transaction-cost economics with actor-network theory through the figure of Charles Péguy. The Organizations and Markets blog has just highlighted that the following Péguy quote is evoked at a crucial moment in Oliver E. Williamson’s (yes, this year’s economics Nobel Laureate) 1996 book, The Mechanisms of Governance, in support of  the ” microanalytic program” of TCE:

“The longer I live, citizen. . .” — this is the way the great passage in Peguy begins, words I once loved to say (I had them almost memorized) — “The longer I live, citizen, the less I believe in the efficiency of sudden illuminations that are not accompanied or supported by serious work, the less I believe in the efficiency of conversion, extraordinary, sudden and serious, in the efficiency of sudden passions, and the more I believe in the efficiency of modest, slow, molecular, definitive work. The longer I live the less I believe in the efficiency of an extraordinary sudden social revolution, improvised, marvelous, with or without guns and impersonal dictatorship — and the more I believe in the efficiency of modest, slow, molecular, definitive work.” (pp. 13-14)

As the O&E  post points out, Williamson somewhat “botched” the quote, being unable to cite the source and having conflated two different segments. The original (from Péguy, Charles. “Encore de la grippe”, Cahiers de la quinzaine, volume I, number 6, March 20, 1900.) should read something like this (in Randy Westgren’s translation, who adds the following caveat: “Péguy is also noted for involuted literary style, so amateur translation isn’t easy”):

– … And genius demands patience to work, doctor, and the longer I live, citizen, the less I believe in the effectiveness of sudden illuminations that are not accompanied by or supported by serious work, the less I believe in the effectiveness of sudden, wondrous, extraordinary conversions, the effectiveness of sudden passions, – and the more I believe in the effectiveness of modest, slow, molecular, definitive work.

– The longer I live, responded the doctor gravely, the less I believe in the effectiveness of a sudden, extraordinary social revolution, wondrously improvised, with or without guns and impersonal dictatorship, – and the more I believe in the effectiveness of modest, slow, molecular, definitive, work for society.

Putting aside the issue of what may have been lost in the translation, the interesting connection with ANT is of course that Bruno Latour’s first published article was on Péguy’s theology and Péguy figured heavily in Latour’s doctoral thesis, “Exégèse et ontologie: une analyse des textes de résurrection.” In a recent speech (“Coming Out as a Philosopher“, PDF), Latour reflects on the significance of this early work: “That this PhD thesis was never read except by rats and mice doesn’t mean that it was not for me an essential learning experience… ” The concerns of what came to be known as actor-network theory and its central concept, the notion of translation, have already been present to some extent in this work according to Latour.

Translation as betrayal, “betrayal by mere repetition and the absence of innovation, and betrayal by too many innovations and the loss of the initial intent” was the key focus of the dissertation, which Latour had done “through  a  close  reading  of  Charles  Péguy’s amazing book CLIO, the topic and manner of which was precisely on the question of good and  bad  repetition  (a  question  that  was  also  taken  up  by  Deleuze,  in  DIFFÉRENCE  ET REPETITION published at the same time)” (p. 3).

The interesting question for the theory of the firm is whether it is Williamson’s transaction-cost economics or the competence perspective of the Schumpeterian tradition that is more in tune with Péguy and Latour’s insight about the relationship between routine and innovation.

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One Response to “Translation and Charles Péguy”

  1. cont… | logical regression Says:

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