Cite as: Barbara Cassin, Nostalgia. Ulysses, Æneas, Arendt, lecture, ICI Berlin, 22 February 2016, video recording, mp4, 58:32 <>
22 Feb 2016

Nostalgia. Ulysses, Æneas, Arendt

By Barbara Cassin

Cassin discusses, under the sign of ‘nostalgia’, the connections between homeland, exile, and mother tongue. The Odyssee, recounting the adventures of Odysseus and his endlessly delayed return to Ithaca, is the very poem of nostalgia. Odysseus’s final arrival in his “home” is symbolized by his bed: carved with his own hands from a tree around which he had built his house, a secret shared only with his wife. Rootedness and uprootedness conjoined: that is nostalgia.

As for Aeneas, when he flees Troy in flames, he carries his homeland on his back, his father Anchises and his gods of the earth. He wanders from place to place until Juno agrees to let him found the city that will become Rome, on one condition only: that he forget Greek and speaks uno ore, ‘one tongue’ with the Latin people. The founding epic is, on this occasion, the very founding of a language.

To possess one’s language as a homeland, or even as one’s only homeland: that is how, in dark times, Hannah Arendt, “naturalized” in her American exile, chooses to define herself: not in relation to a country or a people but only in relation to a language, the German language. What is proper? What is foreign? When are we ever at home?

Barbara Cassin is director of research at the CNRS and President of the Administrative Board of the Collège International de Philosophie. Trained as a philosopher and philologist specializing in Ancient Greece, her research focuses on the relationship between philosophy and what is posited as not being philosophy: sophistry, rhetoric, literature. Her publications include Jacques le Sophiste: Lacan, logos et psychanalyse (Epel, 2012); Plus d’une langue: Petites conférences (Bayard, 2012); La Nostalgie: Quand donc est-on chez soi? Ulysse, Enée, Arendt (Autrement, 2013); Sophistical Practice: Toward a Consistent Relativism (Fordham, 2014). Her editorial work includes the seminal Vocabulaire européen des philosophies. Dictionnaire des intraduisibles (Seuil-Robert, 2004; Engl. transl. Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, Princeton UP, 2014). A translator herself (notably of Hannah Arendt and Peter Szondi), she is also the editor of several book series, notably, with Alain Badiou, L’Ordre philosophique (Seuil), and Ouvertures (Fayard). In 2012, the Académie Française honored her work with the Grand prix de philosophie. She is Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.


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Format: mp4
Length: 00:58:32
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