Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh: Philosophy is not only the foundation...

Tuesday, 2021-12-21 17:40:33
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A scene from the play "Antigone" by director Tran Luc (Photo: Goethe Institute)
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NDO - In addition to a translator and co-translator of many classic philosophical publications, Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh is also the co-founder of “The Ladder - academic space for the community”, which aims to help make academic knowledge accessible to everyone, especially young people in Vietnam.

The reporter from Weekly Publication of Nhan Dan (People) Newspaper talked with Minh following the release of the book “Antigone's Claim” which was written by American contemporary female philosopher Judith Butler and translated by her.

I feel I am lucky

Q: You are a lecturer at the Department of Literature under the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education. Why did you choose to translate philosophy instead of literature?

A: For me, the literary reader and does not seem to be separate from the enthusiast of philosophical texts. I was fortunate to read, translate, discuss, and think about philosophical issues with my teacher, researcher Bui Van Nam Son, and fellow students for many years. I used to regret not coming to philosophy sooner. I think that young people are very active and creative as well as have more conditions to seek documents and books than my generation. Philosophy not only is the foundation for humanity and social sciences but also helps us think better in many other academic fields. While teaching literature, I have noticed how philosophers Hannah Arendt and Jacques Derrida read Kafka and Judith Butler read Sophocles. They gave me very good suggestions for thinking about literary issues from a philosophical point of view.

Q: Philosophy is inherently a difficult genre to read, especially the books written by an author whose works have never been translated into Vietnamese before, such as with Judith Butler. What helped you to persevere your determination on this "choosy" path?

A: Judith Butler is among the female philosophers that I am interested in. In 2020, translated and released the book “Between Past and Future” by Hannah Arendt who was also introduced for the first time in Vietnam. The authors like Arendt and Butler have contributed to creating great values that I think Vietnamese people should know about. Hannah Arendt is conservative and Butler is radical. However, they shared many common features. One of my motivations is to introduce these outstanding female philosophers and their thoughts to Vietnam. Women can also discuss literature and philosophy in addition to love, family, and home life.

Perhaps there is nothing to discuss about Butler's difficulty. My friend in the US, who is also a professor specialising in gender studies, agreed that Butler’s books are very difficult. I spent two years reading one of her essays with dense terminology and many deep theories that are constantly changing. Therefore, it is understandable for those who have not read her work before to feel like they are hitting their head against a rock. Every word should be thought carefully. However, what is the other side of the toil? I have experienced an intellectual "pleasure" while reading her books and I want to share it with many others. I hope that readers of “Antigone’s Claim” will enjoy the joys of words and their meanings as I did. I tried to make reading easier by adding many footnotes that I can look up and find out.

I also consulted the equivalent translation in Japan and China as well as other people’s opinions through my statuses via Facebook. I always consider myself as a student who is learning hard from the experts in many other fields, my colleagues, and my students. I feel I am very lucky because I have a lot of companions on my path.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Minh

I want to spread the spirit of Antigone

Q: As a co-founder of “The Ladder – academic space for the community”, could you share about the reason of its establishment as well as the activities and effects that this space has made?

A: During the process of studying, teaching, translating, and delivering speeches at a number of academic seminars, I realised that many young people love knowledge and aspire to update new knowledge in addition to those they learned from their universities and schools. However, there have not been many such spaces in Vietnam. Therefore, I decided to form The Ladder for young people to have the opportunity to exchange. We have organised many seminars under different topics and invited the speakers who are prestigious domestic and foreign researchers to deliver new knowledge. We have also held readings of classical texts and initially planned to translate and introduce them. Sometimes we have also screened films and cooperated with several other art spaces.

The Ladder has received the great encouragements from not only young people but also participants in different ages, researchers and those who are interested in academic development. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, many activities of The Ladder were forced to be postponed this year. However, I hope that the activities will be resumed when the epidemic situation is better.

Q: You were invited to consult and support the project “Antigone” at Goethe Institute in Hanoi in 2021, contributing to bringing Vietnamese version of Antigone to the stage. What are your thoughts on this?

A: Butler’s spirit in Antigone is the spirit of opening possibilities that enable people to live a happier life. I want to spread this spirit and create a space for a dialogue about Antigone and the Vietnamese version of Antigone. I talked with Wilfried Eckstein, director of Goethe Institute in Hanoi, and my idea received the great support from him. We then decided to organise a seminar on Antigone while making a plan to call for the artists to bring the Vietnamese version of Antigone to the stage. As you see, we had and will have many more beautiful plays to be screened. It makes me very happy.

Thank you very much!

LY UYEN
Translated by NDO