Beispiel / By-Play in Hegel’s Writings

Di Jakub Mácha

In: Hegel and/in/on Translation XLIX , No. 1-2 ( 2020 )

Sezione Saggi / Articles


In the sense-certainty chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit, we find one of Hegel’s famous puns, which utilizes homophonic affinities and differences between the verb beiherspielen and the noun Beispiel. I argue that the effect of this pun is that the word Beispiel acquires, beyond its usual meaning of ‘example’ or ‘instance’, the meaning of a play of something inessential, a play in passing. After reviewing all available translations into English, I suggest that, in order to preserve this wordplay, one can translate Beispiel as ‘by-play’. Furthermore, I analyse other occurrences of the word beiherspielen in the Phenomenology and elsewhere in Hegel’s texts. Next, I focus on the crucial importance of this pun for Derrida’s interpretation and critique of Hegel’s dialectic. Only for a certain loose translation of beiherspielen does Derrida’s reasoning appear plausible. I conclude with a discussion of the ideal of terminological uniformity in translating Hegel’s texts. In preserving the wordplay by translating Beispiel as ‘by-play’, one is forced to sacrifice the uniformity of translation.