Adventures in Translating: Agonizing over Particular Words

I’m nearing the end of the translation and my deadline is fast approaching for Future Christ and I’ve been struck by a certain phrase that is very central for the book. The phrase was the one that first hit me when I read the book two summers ago on a long bus ride from Paris to Nottingham. In French it is l’Homme-en-personne. As Ray Brassier’s project, which he describes as a transcendental nihilism, has been a singular influence on English language reception of Laruelle’s project I at first assumed there was some kind of kenotic element to this phrase. A kind of “Man-as-nobody”, emptying the concept. But this didn’t seem to really fit the tone of the book, which didn’t strike me then as sharing in the nihilistic orientation of Brassier, nor does it now (which isn’t to say that Ray’s work isn’t valuable for understanding Laruelle, it really is). Thus I played around with reading it as “Man-in-anyone”. But I didn’t know if that quite captured it either. I note that others have felt a similar confusion as evidenced by  Noëlle Vahanian’s review of the edited volume Théorie-Rébellion [warning PDF], which includes an essay by Laruelle using this concept, translates it both as  “man-as-anyone” and “man-as-nobody”. I emailed Laruelle about this question and he explained that he sees the term between the individual and the human race, a kind of species-being or proletariat or “function of humanity” that stands between the universal and the particular without mixing them. He ruled out the “nobody” idea and thought perhaps the “anyone” would work, but didn’t seem to think it was the final word on it. I’ve been translating it as “Man-in-person” but I’m still not sure this is the best way to go about it. I think it holds this radical immanence of the universal and the particular, but I’m not sure that this is so obvious to someone reading it. I thought I’d ask the readers of the blog to tell me what they think. Man-in-anyone or Man-in-person – what feels best when you read it?

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21 Responses to “Adventures in Translating: Agonizing over Particular Words”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It sounds like “anyone” nails it, based on what Laruelle told you. If you just translate it as “person,” I think it loses some of its potential meaning (i.e., the “anyone” thing won’t occur to the reader) — sometimes that’s necessary, but in this case I think the “anyone” would still include what you get with “person.” Maybe “Man-in-anybody” would be even better, depending on whether you think it’s a good idea to have the “body” implication.

  2. Thomas J Bridges Says:

    Will this simply have to be a phrase explained in the preface, and possibly even a parenthetical note or footnote after the first occurrence–regardless of the translation? This is probably a “no-duh”…But I’m just saying…

  3. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    Are there any issues with “man” here (i.e. being non-inclusive)? So would it be Human-in-person? Is it a larger concept such as Humanity-in-person (not quite universal, not quite particular). Have you thought of something less literal like “Everyman”?

    It would be nice to see a good sentence with it to get a feel for its use.

    When you do “man-in-person” is it like “Oh there he is, in person” or is it more “essence of man in a person/personhood”?

    I agree that it’ll probably be one of those Translator’s Introduction explanations, but I’m assuming you also want to coin some usage that others will follow, right?

    I know you label this “agonizing” but it’s kind of an interesting case – would be great to see what you go with…

  4. Anthony Paul Smith Says:


    I worried about that too, but since he’s going for something like “species-being” I went with Man, as he does as well, just because humanity doesn’t quite have the resonance. I will mention it in a footnote.


    Do you think “anyone” (which I like cause it has “one” in it) has the particularity of person though?

  5. Bruce Rosenstock Says:

    I’m reading Gillian Rose at the moment and she is also interested in the distinctions among “universal, singular, and particular” that somewhat overlaps with universal and particular as Laruelle seems to use it. She uses “everyone” in contrast to “every one” to distinguish universal and singular. So, perhaps “man-as-everyone”? Or, why not use “mankind” instead of “man”? “Mankind-in/as-anyone” seems to capture the idea of a generic sort of being as instantiated in any given particular (vs. “mankind-in/as-everyone” would be the generic being as an additive sum of all particulars, vs. “mankind-in/as-every-one” is generic being as fully instantiated in each singular). ???

  6. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I agree that mankind is a possibility. I initially tried to do inclusive language in my Agamben translation, but then I decided that since the Europeans don’t really care, I shouldn’t make it look like they do — especially since trying to add inclusive language often made things so clunky.

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Or what about “someone”?

  8. Nathan Says:

    I know nothing – almost literally nothing – about Laruelle, but just going on what you’ve said, I don’t like the feel of Man-in-anyone. To me, it seems to get the intended relationship backwards: “Man,” the capital aside, at least *sounds* the same as “man” as in a particular dude (although maybe that’s a productive ambiguity) and “anyone” reminds me of one common translation of Das Mann, which is, of course, not particular (although maybe the allusion is intended). So, if the second part is intended to convey particularity, then for my money “in person” is the clear winner. I quite like the sound of “humanity-in-person,” but if this is deemed undesirable, I think mankind would also be good. To my ear, both do a good job of conveying the idea of a function “that stands between the universal and the particular without mixing them.”

  9. Nathan Says:

    Oh, someone is also good. Although, maybe I just need better control of my inner 8 year old, but even if Man-in-someone became a term in wide philosophical circulation, I’d probably still giggle a little every time I heard it.

  10. pensum Says:

    before even reading through the comments, i found myself considering “someone” however i can’t help but wonder if “Man-as-someone” wouldn’t be preferable, the same formula applying if you decide you would rather retain “person” while wishing to avoid the more colloquial meaning of “in person” which was raised by Mikhail. for me it comes down to whether there is a dualism at work –a distinctive split between “Man” and the individual “person” (Man-in-someone)–or rather it is a specific instance or aspect of “Man” whether generalized (Man-as-person) or individual (Man-as-someone).

    Whatever the case, from personal experience i can assure you that feminists and the PC police are going to run riot on the use of “Man” for which you will assuredly be found guilty and hung.

  11. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m leaning towards Man-in-anyone. Though I realized today reading through entry for “personne” in the dictionary again that “en personne” seems to be a phrase for “personified” and “personally”. So, I have to consider “Man-in-person” still.

  12. pensum Says:

    “Man-in-person” also has the advantage or, depending on Laruelle’s view, disadvantage of echoing embodiment or the biblical incarnation of “God-in-flesh.”

  13. Kampen Says:

    I would lean towards “Man-as-person” rather than “Man-in-person”. The former has connotations of “person” as performative and as something created, not given. The latter seems to connote the readily present man, who is more or less a given, or man as such.

  14. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    What about – Man-in-any-person?

  15. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    Does “Man” reference “Christ”? If it does, then inclusiveness/PC don’t matter, so I’d vote for Man-as-person, if there’s like a discussion of “Son of Man” or some other mention of “Man” that makes it clear what the reference is.

    I personally keep thinking of “I am all that is man!” exclamation, but that’s probably not it, is it?

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sort of. Laruelle’s work is rigorously from the experience of being human (as relatively autonomous in the face of the Real) and so “Christ” ultimately is a subject in-Man. I really don’t feel I can go with “as” at all though, since syntax is very important for Laruelle and he employs other French ways for “as” [comme, en tant que] and uses “en” in a variety of places analogous to “en-personne” where it doesn’t make sense to use “as” (like “en-immanence”). I feel like, to be faithful to his syntax, I have to translate en pretty consistently. In some sense it is this word that is more important than either Homme or personne.

  17. Mikhail Emelianov Says:

    I’d say just go with your instinct here (not that you needed my advice or anything) – I’m sure someone will criticize it anyway, can’t please everyone. It might make perfect sense in the context, and if it sounds odd, people will just have to get used to it or learn some freaking French and read it in the original. You’re doing people a service by providing them with a book in their native language, they’ll suck it up and take it (with good reasons, of course).

  18. fv Says:

    coming from German, “personne” can also be translated as “Gestalt.” this may be of interest because Gestalt in German can on the one hand designate a certain form or shape, and on the other hand it is a term to talk about an unidentified individual from whom you can only see or recoginze its “Gestalt” or shape.
    and as it has become a loanword in English–at least in certain disciplines, but probably with a more specific meaning–the English Oxford dictionary has a description for the word “Gestalt” which reminds me of your wording as something between particular and universal: “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.”
    well, this is not a concrete suggestion, but maybe it helps. maybe not.

  19. fv Says:


  20. fv Says:

    So, “Menschenfigur” would be my guess in German.

  21. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Thanks, that is really interesting. I’ll include it in the footnote on the word I think. Can you email your name if you’d like me to mention you?

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