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  • BetrayalsAn Entertainment
  • Peggy Kamuf (bio)

—A provocative title

—It does not necessarily mean an amusement, in the way we speak today of “the entertainment industry” (although . . .). The word was prompted by something read recently about the untranslatability of the French noun entretien. An essay on Blanchot, it remarked that “interview,” “dialog,” and “conversation,” which are common translations, were all different misappropriations of what Blanchot is engaged with in his book L’Entretien infini.1 That prompted me to wonder whether “entertaining” or “entertainment” would not be a good translation in some regard. And yet, as an alternative to those otherwise misleading choices, it is what students of translation would surely call a false friend, a faux-ami, which is to say, a word in the target language that is morphologically or etymologically the same (for example, entretenir and entertain) but has a very different semantic range and use from the original word. [End Page 17]

—So, if I may translate, such faux-ami translation betrays the meaning of the original. Was this what suggested the subject of betrayals for our “entertainment”?

—Not quite, for it was proposed many months ago and has been preoccupying since then. It is also because entretien in the Blanchotian mode invites one into the space of betrayal’s possibility. What is called betrayal requires a space between entre, which sets someone off from some other. There is no betrayal without entretien, without something held out or held open in the space entre, without the entretenu and the entretien. This means that betrayal depends on a difference of voices. Even when one betrays oneself, as we say, there has to be more than one who speaks or means to speak.

—Our entretien then takes place as an always possible betrayal.

—If you will. Shall we continue?

—Why not? So I will ask: Is it certain that the translation of entretien by entertainment is such a betrayal abetted by a false friend? One could also see there a translation or transaction that converts the always possible betrayal of the entretien into a virtual enactment—by way of drama, character, narrative—that can be offered up as entertainment in the common sense. Rather than always uncertain or incalculable possibility, such entertainment stages, recounts, or records betrayal as a certain known, knowable event, which is certain despite or even because it is “only entertainment,” that is, fictional, “unreal.” Great literature and drama, and no less (even more) popular entertainment, appear to present us with acts, events, and knowledge of betrayals. These are happening, however, in the mode of a fictional presence or a fiction of presence: epic, theater, novel, narrative film and television, video and reality television.

—Yes, no doubt, all of Shakespeare’s theater, Flaubert, James, melodrama, soap opera, film noir, television series like “Survivor,” and so forth and so on. Might betrayal be an elemental narrative trait of “entertainment” or even simply of narrative as such?

—Others have certainly thought so; it would not be a novel idea (unless it is an idea of the novel). On that account, narrative requires betrayal as its own possibility. All the same, this is a disconcerting idea because it has to blur the distinction that we insist on making between narratives of the real and the [End Page 18] unreal, between the nonfictional and fictional, true and false. Under the force of this possibly treacherous trait of narrative, what crumbles is the line dividing all these pairs of contrary concepts, and therefore, all sorts of other divisions. Narrative, we believe we know, can be fictional or nonfictional, but if as such, it has to harbor or entertain betrayal as its own possibility, then where the line of division falls between them can never be known with certainty. Tell the truth or betray it: narrative can undecidably do both.

—This is what Derrida argued about testimony. If there were no possibility that a testimony might somehow be false, and thus a betrayal of the truth—a lie, an error, a misapprehension, a perjury, a fiction—then it would be proof rather than what is called testimony. Which is why, as a kind of narrative, testimony can only be believed. In...


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