we’re having a good time in Briankle’s class, discussing Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator and On Language As Such. Thinking together, as it were. 🙂
To be sure, we’re not the only ones. Others have been thinking too. I disagree with Sarah Dudek‘s assertion that “Benjamin’s thoughts cannot be understood without having a closer look at his concept of language”. I thought we did a good job of imagining such a separation – or was that just me in my own head? I realize as I’m invoking the royal we (!) that of course you were thinking differently than me, but I’m using the “we” in the sense of the shared discourse – what was said out loud among us during class. 🙂
The rest of Dudek’s thought: ” -‘pure language’ seems a rather vague term. [Benjamin’s] whole project is so remarkable because it has an all-embracing notion of language as its basis: the world is made of language and the final aim is to understand this “textus” of the world, to achieve harmony between the inadequate human languages and the language of God.”
David was right on top of the mysticism, eh? 🙂 Cabbala more precisely than Sufi, although there does seem to be a convergence of mystical spirituality from various religious traditions.
Dudek: “Benjamin posited a universal sphere of concepts, which he called the “intellectual part”, totally self-sufficient and distinguished from the “linguistic part”. The two components of the human being are connected to some extent, but the linguistic part never covers the whole conceptual sphere.”
Looks like Cartesian dualism to me. Or traditional Freudian psychology. Neither of these conceived of the degree of “interplay” (Chang) between any so-called ‘self’ and the communication processes that constitute “it” (fancy term = subjectivity). Elinor Ochs argues that research on the practices of language socialization link “poststructural sociological paradigms that portray social structures as outcomes of social practices … and to psychological paradigms that portray cognitive structures as outcomes of speaking … and of social interaction” (p. 407, citations deleted).
Dudek’s interpretation of Benjamin downplays this interactivity, describing the connection minimalistically, as only “to some extent”.
We’ve also argued the following point sans theology: “Translation is the decisive means to reach the final end: it completes languages, puts together the disintegrated “modes of intention”&emdash;as Benjamin calls the sphere in semiotics termed “signifier”&emdash;and works towards the perfection of the original, which can be considered incomplete, requiring translation: “Thus translation, ironically, transplants the original into a more definitive linguistic realm”, Benjamin states.”
We would argue (wouldn’t we?!), that “transplantation” is too definite, merely transmissional. Instead, we’d emphasize the in-betweenness where understanding occurs as the translation substantiates or fixes meaning in the original. Dudek (it turns out) is anti-Benjamin, but this doesn’t become clear until the end of the essay. She denies any practical value of his thinking because of it’s messianic motivations, yet they seem – to me – to be not so difficult to strip away. In making her case, however, Dudek misrepresents (or misreads) Benjamin.
For instance, I think Dudek is way off, here: “Thus the extraordinary task the translator receives in Benjamin’s theory tends to reverse to an exceedingly binding restriction imposed on the translator lacking any granted creativity.” Did anyone else get the feeling that Benjamin’s endmodel was extraordinarily limiting? I guess we didn’t talk too much about the boundaries of a text, but don’t you think it’s constituted in the same way the boundaries for deconstruction are? Just as deconstruction seeks to identify the ways a text betrays itself, doesn’t an interpretation seek to identify the ways in which a text is true to itself?
None of us commented upon Benjamin’s neglect of the reader, but Dudek is surprised by it: “Benjamin does not consider the reader.” Here is a point of distinction, I think, between written translation and spoken/signed interpretation: a translator simply can’t – realistically – “consider the reader,” because the reader could be anyone and everyone. An interpreter, however, does consider the receiver, the audience, in addition to being concerned with authorship.
In practice, I bet interpreters are not uniform in the balancing of authorship and receivership … hmmmm!
”The end of any consideration for the reader of a translation provides freedom to the translator. The transmission of content is superfluous: if there is not receiver there is no demand for information. It is possible to focus only on aesthetics&emdash;as incomprehensible as the result might prove to be.” First, did anyone get the sense that the information didn’t matter at all? I thought the point was that it’s not really worth going to the effort of translation if there is nothing in addition to “information” – call it aesthetics, intention, desire, culture. Did I get this wrong?
Second, just because one doesn’t consider the reader doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Here’s something we didn’t discuss, I thought I recalled we’d had some discussion about the title last year. Again quoting Dudek: “the German title “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” could also be translated as “The Surrender of the Translator”.”
Yes, this is the immersion in the text. The plunge, as it were, into the other language. To be sure, this is how one knows there are boundaries: one must submit.