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Walter Benjamin on Translation: a Strategic Hermeneutics of History?

Lucie Mercier a PhD candidate at the CRMEP will be delivering a paper as part of a panel on language at the Philosophy of Walter Benjamin conference taking place at Goldsmiths in December.

As was previously posted, MA student John Merrick will also be presenting a paper, as well as Professor Howard Caygill who will be delivering a keynote speech provisionally entitled “The De-formation of the World”.

Lucie’s paper on translation takes place at 10.45am on Sat 15th. Here is the abstract:

In this paper I take the question of translation as a starting point to expose the interconnections between the concepts of criticism and of history in Benjamin’s philosophy. His 1923 essay, “The Task of the Translator”, because of the apparent specificity of its subject matter, has often proven difficult to situate in the broader context of his oeuvre. Yet the essay is a landmark in Benjamin’s philosophical researches, bringing together his researches on language, his practice of translation and his writings on Romantic art criticism.

I propose to situate translation at the intersection of Benjamin’s work on the transmission of cultural forms and on historical understanding, giving shape to what we may call, a ‘strategic hermeneutics of history’. The kernel of Benjamin’s 1923 essay on translation lies in the temporality of the work of art. A translation constitutes an “afterlife” of an artwork, revealing that the original has reached its age of fame. A few years later, however, Benjamin reverses the perspective, putting the emphasis not on the way translation reveals the original, but on how it illuminates history. In similar fashion to the monadic structure of the idea in the Trauerspiel study, the living relations (Zusammenhängen) of the work are internalized as to produce a new form, of which determinations are not those of the artwork but those of history.

Benjamin’s idea of translation hence constitutes a prism to look into the structure of historical transmission, illuminating his conceptions of tradition and “strategic criticism”. The originality of such a “hermeneutics” will appear more clearly by contrast to Gadamer’s conceptualization of tradition and understanding in Truth and Method (1960).


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This entry was posted on November 27, 2012 by in Philosophy and tagged , , , .
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