All Languages are Jargon - All People are Migrants - Translation as Ethics of Otherness

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


According to Agamben the modern political culture is based on a philosophical confusion stemming from the conception of government as unilateral, mere executive power, and on a connection between two unclarified concepts: people and language. It therefore conceals remnants of an undemocratic oppressive feudal vision. On the basis of research on early renaissance literature such as from Dante, Agamben formulates a critique on the people-language connection proposing the reversal thesis that all languages are in fact vernaculars, dialects, jargon or argot, and all people are migrating, moving, dislocated, unidentifiable gipsies. In this paper I argue this thesis by focussing on another text source that is also fundamental to Agambens political theory, namely Primo Levi. Answering to the recommendation of Agamben and also to current social challenges, my reflections will not be primary linguistic or literary but political and philosophical. However, in the texts of Primo Levi all the questions and disciplines come together, also with the matter of translation. Levi testifies in a narrative way of the concentration camp experience, using a lot of linguistic variations (plurilinguismo) and in particular the ones inspired by changes in space. In the meantime he reflects on translation, and searches for a hybrid language that suits the humanistic ethics of otherness. In a sense he accomplishes the program suggested already by Dante: we should not react to the jargon character of vernaculars by imposing a grammar and national language, but on the contrary, we must transform the verbal experience itself into poetics, narratives, and politics. We can add, as Levi does: by inventing languages of migration and continuously translating them. To corroborate the idea of all languages as jargon, all people as migrants, and translation as ethics of otherness, I will also briefly refer to Walter Benjamins idea of The Task of the Translator and Susan Sontags lecture of The World as India.

Giorgio Agamben, 'Le lingue e i popoli' in Mezzi senza fine. Note sulla politica
Primo Levi, 'Il canto di Ulisse' in Se questo è un uomo
Primo Levi, 'Comunicare' in I sommersi e i salvati
Walter Benjamin, 'The Task of the Translator' in Illuminations
Susan Sontag, The World as India (The St. Jerome Lecture on Literary Translation)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2013 → …


Period1/01/13 → …


  • Philosophy of Language and Politics
  • Plurilinguism


Dive into the research topics of 'All Languages are Jargon - All People are Migrants - Translation as Ethics of Otherness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this