Jacobs_Monstrosity - Carol Jacobs 4 In the Language of Walter Benjamin The Johns Hopkins University Press BALTIMORE AND LONDON/qaa Y“ flan T

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Unformatted text preview: Carol Jacobs . 4, In the Language of Walter Benjamin The Johns Hopkins University Press BALTIMORE AND LONDON /qaa . Y“ flan T nununno nFM/nlfar aninmin Five The Monstrosity of Translation “The Task of the Translator” 1 9‘ 7 J” Therein . . . lies the master's real secret of art—that he obliterates the subject matter through the form. Darin . . . besteht das eigentliche Kunstgeheimnis des Meisters, dafl er den Stofidurch die Form vertilgt. ——Schiller, cited by Benjamin in “Zwei Gedichte von Friedrich Holderlin” (u.r.125) In 1923, when Walter Benjamin published his translations of Baude~ laire’s “Tableaux parisiens,” he prefaced them with a short essay entitled “The Task of the Translator” (“Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers”).l Was this essay intended to unfold for us the nature of the difficult task that claimed so many years of Benjamin’s life? Does it signify an unprece— dented consideration for the understanding of his readers—for those to whom the reading of lyric poetry would present difficulties? No less than the introductory poem of Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, “To the Reader,” the opening lines of Benjamin’s essay close the gates abruptly on such illusions of brotherly concern. “The poem to the reader closes with the apostrophe: ‘Hypocritical reader,—my likeness,-—my brother!” The situation turns out to be more productive if one reformulates it and says: “[Benjamin] has written an [essay] . . . that, from the beginning, had little expectation of an immediate public success” (from “On some Motifs in Baudelaire” [I.2.607]).2 “Nowhere does consideration for the perceiver with respect to a work of art or an art form prove fruitful for their understanding. . . . For no poem is intended [ gilt] for the reader, no image for the beholder, no symphony for the audience” (rv.1.9). 75 In the Language of Walter Benjamin What Benjamin’s essay performs (and in this it is exemplary among his works) is an act of translation. It is, to begin with, a translation of “translation,” which then rapidly demands an equally violent transla- tion of every term promising the key to its definition. “Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers” dislocates definitions rather than establishing them be- cause, itself an uncanny translation of sorts, its concern is not the reader’s comprehension nor is its essence communication. Is a translation intended for the readers who do not understand the original?. . . . What does a piece of writing “say”? What does it communicate? Very little to him who understands it. The es- sential is not communication, not assertion. . . . If [the transla- tion] were aimed at the reader, the original would have to be also. If the original does not exist for him, how could the transla— tion be understood in this respect? Gilt eine Ubersetzung den Lesern, die das Original nicht ver- stehenii . . . Was ‘sagt’ denn eine Dichtung? Was teilt sie mit? Sehr wenig dem, der sie versteht. Ihr Wesentliches ist nicht Mitteilung, nichtAussage. . . . Wa're [die Ubersetzung] aberfiir den Leser be- stimmt, so mfiflte es auch das Original sein. Besteht das Original nicht um dessentwillen, wie Iiefle sich dann die Ubersetzung aus dieser Beziehung verstehen? (1v.1.9) If, one by one, once familiar words become incomprehensibly foreign, if they relentlessly turn on their past (althergebrachte, herkommliche) meanings, if the essay systematically mots itself in that tradition only to shift the very ground it stands on, this, after all, is the way in which translation functions. For Benjamin, translation does not transform an original foreign language into one we may call our own, but rather, renders radically foreign that language we believe to be ours. Benjamin cites Rudolf Pannwitz: “Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a false grounding: they wish to germanize Hindi, Greek, and English instead of hindicizing, grecizing, and anglicizing German. They have a much more significant respect for their own linguistic usage than for the spirit of the foreign work. . . . the fundamental The Monstrosity of Translation error of the translator is that he holds fast to the incidental state of his own language instead of letting it be violently moved by the foreign.” “unsre abertragungen auch die besten gehn von einem falschen grundsatz aus sie wollen das indische griechische englische ver- deutschen anstatt das deutsche zu verindischen vergriechischen ver- englischen. sie haben eine viel bedeutendere ehrfurcht vor den eigenen sprachgebrauchen als vor dem geiste des fremden werks. . . der gritndsdztliche irrtum des fibertragenden ist dass er den zufa‘lligen stand der eignen sprachefesthalt anstatt sie durch die fremde sprache gewaltig bewegen zu Iassen.” (IV.1.2o) This invasion of the foreign is perhaps merely prescriptive for other translations, for the initial attack on his audience immediately gives way to a more amicable rhetoric of life, kinship, harmony, fidelity, religion, and nature. As in Baudelaire, where the wounds inflicted by “To the Reader” are soon to be soothed by the balm of “Correspondances,” so in Benjamin’s essay, it would seem we find ourselves again on native soil.3 In the metaphorical climate that now sets in, translations seem to promise the organic temporality of plant life: they blossom forth from the original as a continuation of that former “life”4—-as a “transplant,” a “ripening,” a germination of the original “seed.” But for all this appar— ently abundant flourishing, at no point does translation relate organi- cally to the text that precedes it. On this point Benjamin is as ironical as he is deceptive. The Entfaltung(“unfolding” [Iv.1.11]) that the life of the original achieves in translation never quite brings its seeds to flower.5 Translation denies the linear law of nature in order to practice the rule of textuality. If the original cannot reach the realm of linguistic fulfillment “root and branch” ( mit Stumpfund Stiel [iv.1.15]), this figure of speech, a metaphor for completion in both German and English, must also be taken in its “fully unmetaphorical reality” (1v.1.11). Nowhere in the essay does translation develop into the future promised by the germ (keimhaft [Iv.1.12]), the kernel (Kern [rv.1.15] ), the seed (Samen [Iv.1.17] ). More precisely, this essential kernel is definable as that in transla— tion which, in its turn is untranslatable. . . . Unlike the poetic word of the original, it is not translatable because the relation— 77 78 In the Language of Walter Benjamin ship of content to language is completely different in the original and the translation. If language and content constitute a certain unity in the original, like fruit and rind, the language of transla— tion envelops its contents in vast folds like an emperor’s robes. For this language signifies a loftier language than its own and therefore remains non—adequate, violent and foreign with re- spect to its own content. Genaaer laflt sich dieser wesenhafte Kern als dasjenige bestimmen, was an ihr selbst nicht wiederum fibersetzbar ist. . . . Es ist nicht fibertragbar wie das Dichterwort des Originals, weil das Verhiiltnis des Gehalts zur Sprache vc'illig verschieden ist in Original and Uber- setzung. Bilden namlich diese im ersten eine gewisse Einheit wie Frucht and Schale, so umgibt die Sprache der Ubersetzung ihren Gehalt wie ein Kbnigsmantel in weiten Falten. Denn sie bedeutet eine hb'here Sprache als sie ist and bleibt dadurch ihrem eigenen Gehalt gegeniiber unangemessen, gewaltig undfremd. (Iv.1.15) The natural metaphors for translation produce the opposite of organic fruition. The Nachreife (literally, “after—ripeness" [Iv.1.12 and 13]) hardly completes the maturing process of the original, but rather, withers the fruit of meaning. The “unfolding” of the original paradoxically results in a proliferation of abundant folds that violently camouflage the con- tent while maintaining it as non—adequate otherness. No further ger- mination is possible: “This brokenness prevents any [further] transla— tion, and at the same time makes it superfluous” (1v.1.15). The Verpflanzung (“transplant” [Iv.1.15]) of the original bespeaks far less the continued life of the plant than a displacement of its ground: This task of ripening the seed of pure language in translation seems never to be solvable, to be definable in no solution. For is not the ground pulled out from under such a language if the res— titution of meaning ceases to be decisive? And indeed nothing else—to turn the phrase negatively—is the significance of all the foregoing. Ia, diese Aufgabe: in der Ubersetzung den Samen reiner Sprache zur Reife zu bringen, scheint niemals lb'sbar, in keiner Liisung be» The Monstrosity of Translation .5 stimmbar. Denn wird einer solchen nicht der Baden entzogen, wenn die Medergabe des Sinnes auflrb‘rt, maflgebend zu sein? Und nichts anderes istja—negativ gewendet—die Meinung alles Vorstehenden. (1v.1.17) With this negative turn of the phrase, Benjamin defines translation as undefinable. The unfixable task of translation is to purify the original of meaning: only poor translations seek to restore it (1v.1.9). This is why translations are themselves untranslatable. “Translations on the other , hand show themselves to be untranslatable—not because of the heavi- ness, but because of the all too fleeting manner in which meaning attaches to them” (“Ubersetzungen dagegen erweisen sich unfibersetz- bar nicht wegen der Schwere, sondern wegen der allzu groBen Fliichtig- keit, mit welcher der Sinn an ihnen haftet” [rv.1.2o] ). The relation between translation and original, then, although “seem~ ingly tangible,” is always on the verge of eluding understanding (Iv.1.11). And eluding of understanding (Erkenntnis) is precisely what translation performs (darstellt). Benjamin insists on the verb darstellen, as opposed to herstellen or Offenbaren (Iv.1.12), for translation neither presents nor reveals a contents.6 lt touches on the meaning of the original only by way of marking its independence, its freedom—literally—to go off on a tangent: the point it chooses remains irrelevant. What meaning remains of significance in the relation be- tween translation and original can be grasped in a simile. Just as a tangent touches the circle fleetineg and only at one point, and just as it is the touching and not the particular point that dictates the law according to which it takes off on its straight trajectory further into infinity, so translation touches the original fleetineg and only at an infinitely small point of meaning in order to . . . follow its own trajectory. Was hiernach fiir das Verhdltnis van Ubersetzung and Original an Bedeutung dem Sinn verbleibt, Iaflt sich in einem Vergleich fassen. We die Tangente den Kreisfliichtig und nur in einem Punkte beril'hrt and wie ihr wohl diese Beriihrung, nicht aber der Punkt, das Gesetz vorschreibt, nach dem sie weiter ins Unendliche ihre gerade Bahn zieht, so bera‘hrt die Ubersetzungflachtig and 79 .a4 “r” r. , ,.a....— ‘J‘V‘fi .01," wan c-M u r- 80 In the Language of Walter Benjamin nur in dem unendlich kleinen Punkte des Sinnes das Original, um . . . ihre eigenste Balm zu verfolgen. (Iv.1.19—-2o) Certainly, it is its own trajectory that “The Task of the Translator” follows when touching on such terms as “fidelity,” “literality,” and “kin- ship.” These it translates from a familiar German to another that hardly seems germane. But that, after all, is the point. Nowhere is this unfamil- iarity more intensely sensed than when the essay turns to the familial relations between languages. The “kinship” Benjamin sets out to de- scribe gathers much of its strangeness from the discrepancy between his mode of defining and his ultimate intention of definition. If we are made at all familiar with the notion of kinship, it is by learning what kinship is not. Kinship between languages is not similarity (1v.1.12—13), nor can it guarantee the preservation, in translation, of the original’s form and sense. Benjamin touches fleetineg here on a point of episte- mological concern. In order to grasp the genuine relation between original and translation, we must set up a deliberation whose design is com- pletely analogous to the train of thought in which a critique of cognition demonstrates the impossibility of a mimetic theory. If there it is shown that no objectivity in knowledge could exist— not even a claim to it—if it consisted in duplication of the real, then it can be proven here that no translation would be possible if it strove with its total being for similarity with the original. Um das echte Verhiiltnis zwischen Original and Ubersetzung zu er— fassen, ist eine Erwdgung anzustellen, deren Absicht durchaus den Gedankengiingen analog ist, in denen die Erkenntniskritik die Un- mb‘glichkeit einer Abbildtheorie zu erweisen hat. Wird dart gezeigt, dafi es in der Erkenntnis keine Objektivita‘t und sogar nicht einmal den Anspruch daraufgeben kfinnte, wenn sie in Abbildern des Mrklichen bestiinde, so ist hier erweisbar, dafl keine Ubersetzung mb'glich ware, wenn sie Ahnlichkeit mit dem Original ihrem letzten Wesen nach anstreben wu‘rde. (Iv.1.12) This explains why kinship may only be defined negatively. The kinship between languages generates their difl'erence: on what basis could trans~ The Monstrosity of Translation lation claim to duplicate the original if no language, however original, in turn guarantees the objective reality of that which it names? For all this insistence on kinship as differentiation, kinship sets forth a certain sameness as well. The elusive nature of this sameness presents particular difficulties to the English translator. In the long passage that speaks of this sameness, Harry Zohn remains far less “true” to the original, far less “literal” than the text demands.7 This is because he maintains a significant respect for his own linguistic usage, and tradi— tionally, that is to his credit. Understandably then, his translation results in phrases such as “the same thing,” “the same object,” where the Ger— man speaks neither of objects nor things. In an admittedly germanized English, the passage would read as follows: 'All suprahistorical kinship of languages rests in the fact that in every one of them as a whole . . . one and the same is meant [ ge- meint], which, however, is not reachable by any one of them, but only by the totality of their mutually supplementing intentions— pure language. While, namely, all individual elements of foreign languages~the words, sentences, contexts—exclude one another, these languages supplement one another in their intentions. To grasp this law, one of the fundamental laws of the philosophy of language, is to differentiate what is meant [das Gemeinte] from the manner of meaning [die Art des Meinens] in the intention. In “Brot” and “pain” what is meant is indeed the same; the manner of meaning it, on the other hand, is not. . . . While in this way the manner of meaning in these two words is in conflict, it supple— ments itself in both languages from which they are derived. The manner of meaning in them supplements itself into what is meant. In the individual, unsupplemented languages, what is meant is never found in relative independence, as in individual words or sentences; rather, it is grasped in a constant state of change until it is able to step forward from the harmony of all those manners of meaning as pure language. Alle ilberhistorische Verwandtschafl‘ der Sprachen [beruht] darin, dafl in ihrerjeder als ganzer. . . eines and zwar dasselbe gemeint ist, das dennoch keiner einzelnen von ihnen, sondern nur derAllheit ihrer einander ergdnzenden Intentionen erreichbar ist; die reine 81 In the Language of Walter Benjamin Sprache. Wiihrend na’mlich alle einzelnen Elemente, die Wb'rter, Sa’tze, Zusammenhange von fremden Sprachen sich ausschlieflen, erga‘nzen diese Sprachen sick in ihren Intentionen selbst. Dieses Geserz, eines der grundlegenden der Sprachphilosophie, genau zu jassen, ist in der Intention vom Gemeinten die Art des Meinens zu unterscheiden. In “Brat” and “pain” ist das Gemeinte zwar das— selbe, die Art, e5 zu meinen, dagegen nicht. . . . Wiihrend dergestalt die Art des Meinens in diesen beiden Wb'rtern einander widerstrebt, erga'nzf sie sick in den beiden Sprachen, denen sie entstammen. Und zwar erganzt sick in ilmen die Art des Meinens zum Ge- meinten. Bei den einzelnen, den unerganzten Sprachen na‘mlich ist ihr Gemeintes niemals in relativer Selbstiz‘ndigkeit anzutreflen, wie bei den einzelnen Wb'flern Oder Sittzen, sondern vielmehr in stetem Wandel begrifiren, bis e5 aus der Harmonie all jener Arten des Meinens als die reine Sprache herauszutreten vermag. (Iv.1.13—14) What is meant by “Brot” and “pain” is “the same,” but this is not to say that they mean the same thing. The same that is meant is “pure language.” Benjamin states this quite literally at the beginning and end of the passage, but a hunger for substance could well allow us to forget it. What is meant by “pure language”? Certainly not the materialization of truth in the form of a supreme language. Benjamin sets this tempta- tion aside with a passage from the “Crise de vers” (Iv.1.17). He displaces his own text with the foreignness of Mallarmé’s, in which the latter insists on the insurmountable disparity between languages. The “pure language” of the lengthy Citation above does not signify the apotheosis of an ultimate language (even at the end of history) but signifies rather that which is purely language—nothing but language. “What is meant” is never something to be found independently of language nor even independently in language, in a single word or phrase, but arises instead from the mutual differentiation of the various manners of meaning. There is not quite so much difference as one might suspect, then, be— tween “kinship” as sameness and “kinship” defined as differentiation, for each generates the other, in language, indefinitely. In a sense, one could argue, the kinship of language as here defined says nothing after all. If so, the translation of Benjamin has been ren— dered with the great fidelity the essay requires. For the translator’s task The Monstrosity ofTrans/atior/ 83 of “fidelity” (Treue) calls for an emancipation from all sense of com— munication (iv.1.19), a regaining of pure language. The “one and the same” which is meant in pure language means nothing. To win back pure language formed in the flux of language is the violent and single power of translation. In this pure language, which no longer means anything and no longer expresses anything—which, as expressionless and productive word, is that which is meant in all languages—all communication, all mean— ing, and all intention ultimately meet with a stratum in which they are destined to extinction. Die reine Sprache gestaltet der Sprachbewegung znrih‘kzngewin— nen, ist das gewaltige und einzige Vermb'gen der Ubersetzung. In dieser reinen Sprache, die nichts mehr meint and nichts mehr aus— drfickt, sondern als ausdruckloses Lind schfipferisclles Wort das in allen Sprachen Genieinte ist, triflct endlieh nlle Mitteilung, aller Sinn and alle Intention anfeine Schicht, in der sie zu erlb'schcn bestimmt sind. (IV.1.19) This productive word that renders meaning extinct is that of liter— ality (Wortlichkeit). In the text of translation, the word replaces sen— tence and proposition as the fundamental element (iv.1.18). Instead of conventional, natural reproduction, what results is a teratogenesis in which the limbs of the progeny are dismembered, all syntax dismantled. Literality thoroughly overthrows all reproduction of meaning with regard to the syntax and threatens directly to lead to in» comprehensibility. In the eyes of the nineteenth century, Hold~~ erlin’s translations of Sophocles were monstrous examples of such literality. . . . The demand for literality is no offspring of an interest in maintaining meaning. Gar die Wb'rlichkeit hinsichtlich der Syntax wirfl jede SIN/16’5" wiedergabe vollends fiber den Haufen and div/1t gemdenwegs ins Unverstiz‘ndliche zu filhren. Dem nennzel’inten Ialirliundert standen Hb'lderlins Sophokles- Ubersetzungen als monstn‘isc uw li’l . .n-u-n...s-. .. m." guns-9M great... . _; : fist-xv ‘ '7“ 84 In the Language of Walter Benjamin Beispiele solcher Wb‘rtlichkeit vor Augen. . . . Die Forderung der Wrtlichkeit [ist] unableitbar aus dem Interesse der Erhaltung des Sinnes. (1V.1.17—18) The demand is Benjamin’s, for it is this monstrosity that he praises above all as the most perfect of all translations. Holderlin’s translations are touched upon at three other points in the essay and always spoken of as exemplary.B This exaction of literality, the passage continues, must not be under~ stood as an interest in meaning, but “ans triftigeren Zusammenhangen” (Iv.1.18). Must it be understood, then, “in a more meaningful context,” as Zohn’s first translation insists?” Or is the contextuality of original and translation such that this phrase too must be taken literally? The linking together of the two would then be triftig in its etymological sense—from treflen—as striking, fragmentary. This is certainly the point, if not the tone of the simile, that follows: lust as fragments of a vessel, in order to be articulated to— gether, must follow one another in the smallest detail but need not resemble one another, so, instead of making itself similar to the meaning of the original, the translation must rather, lovingly and in detail, in its own language, form itself according to the manner of meaning [Art des Meinens] of the original, to make both recognizable as the broken part of a greater language, just as fragments are the broken part of a vessel. Wie namlich Scherben eines Gefiifles, um sich zusammenfiigen zu lassen, in den kleinsten Einzelheiten einander zu folgen, doch nicht so zu gleichen haben, so mufi, anstatt dem Sinn des Originals sich a'hnlich zu machen, die Ubersetzung liebend vielmehr and his ins Einzelne hinein dessen Art des Meinens in der eigenen Sprache sich anbilden, am so beide wie Scherben als Bruchstfick eines Gefdfles, als Bruchstiick einer grfifleren Sprache erkennbar za machen. (Iv.1.18) In the literal translation above, the passage leaves things incomplete.lo With the joining together of translation and original, language remains a broken part (Bruchstilck). Such is the mode of Benjamin’s articulation The Monstrosity of Translation despite its apparent reference to organic growth, kinship, sameness, and fidelity. (And it is both the mode of articulation of baroque allegory, with its insistence on the ruin [“Allegory and Trauerspiel,” in Origin of German Tragic Drama], and also the vision of the “angel of history” [“On the Concept of History,” part IX].)” Perhaps this helps account for the involuted formulation—transla- tion must awaken from its own language the original’s echo. This is not to say that translation, in coming after, echoes the original. Translation relates to the original as to pure language—in a way that the original, so laden with its apparent content, is rarely deemed to function. In this lies a characteristic of translation totally different from that of poetic works, since the intention of the latter is never to- wards language as such, its totality, but rather solely and directly towards definitive linguistic coherences of content. Translation, however, does not view itself as poetry does—~as in the inner for- est of language—but rather as outside it, opposite it; and, with- out entering, it calls into the original, into that single place where, in each case, the echo is able to give in its own language the resonance of a work in a foreign tongue. Hierin liegt ein vom Dichtwerk durchaus unterscheidender Zug der Ubersetzung, weil dessen Intention niemals auf die Sprache als solche, ihre Totalitiit, geht, sondern allein unmittelbar aufbe— stimmte sprachliche Gehaltszusammenhange. Die Ubersetzung aber sieht sich nicht wie die Dichtung gleichsam im innern Berg- wald der Sprache selbst, sondern ausserhalb desselben, ihm gegen- fiber and ohne ihn zu betreten raft sie das Original hinein, an demjenigen einzigen Orte hinein, wo jeweils das Echo in der eigenen den Mderhall eines Werkes derfremden Sprache zu geben vermag. (IV.1.16) To locate the source of these reverberations is not an easy matter. Though, logically, the original should originate the call, Benjamin’s formulation leaves this task to translation. There is an unmistakable echo here of a German saying that both amplifies and clarifies the predicament: “Wie man in den Wald hinein- ruft, so schallt’s heraus” (“As one calls into the forest, so it will re— 1 um. u t «. .u U 1..“ M|9e\( ‘tiv‘l or .n n .maora 86 V In the Language of Walter Benjamin sound”). The proverb speaks of an unproblematic reverberation not necessarily at play in Benjamin’s version of it. Still, translation’s call into the forest of language is not a repetition of the original but the awaken— ing of an echo of itself. This signifies its disregard for coherence of content, for the sound that returns is its own tongue become foreign. Just as the vase of translation built unlike fragment on unlike fragment, only to achieve a final fragmentation, so the echo of translation elicits only fragments of language, distorted into a disquieting foreignness. But who pieces the vase together? Who sounds the echo? Which is to say, who writes the text of translation? Or are these questions that necessarily lose their meaning in the context of the essay? By now it is evident that when Benjamin speaks of “translation,” he does not mean translation, for it has never ceased to acquire other, foreign meanings. One is tempted to read “translation” as a metaphor for criticism, to offer the answer that the critic writes translations. How else do we explain the following: Translation therefore transplants the original into a more— insofar as ironically—conclusive language realm, since it cannot be displaced from it through further translation. . . . The word “ironically” does not recall thoughts of the romantics in vain. They above others possessed insight into the life of works of which translation is the highest testimony. To be sure, they did not recognize translation as such, but turned their entire atten- tion to criticism. Ubersetzung verpflanzt also das Original in einen wenigstens inso— fern—ironisch—endgilltigeren Sprachbereich, als es aus diesem durch keinerlei Ubertragung mehr zu versetzen ist. . . . Nicht um— sonst mag hier das Wort ‘ironisch’ an Gedankengdnge der Roman- tiker erinnern. Diese haben vor andern Einsicht in das Leben der Werke besessen, van welchem die Ubersetzung eine hb’chste Bezeugung ist. Freilich haben 5ie diese als scilche kaum erkannt, vielmehr ihre ganze Aufmerksamkeit der, Kritik zugewendet. (Iv.1.15) Translation may indeed be a metaphor for criticism,12 but the critical text is inexorably bound to a certain irony. That irony dislocates the The Monstrosity of Translation syntax of Benjamin’s phrase above as well as the tentative solution to the question “who writes,” in which our own critical distance was not ironical enough. “Translatability”——which we might also call the critical text within— is a potential of the work itself: “Translatability belongs to certain works essentially—which is not to that their translation is essential to them, but rather that a certain significance dwelling within the originals ex- presses itself in their translatability” (“Ubersetzbarkeit eignet gewissen Werken wesentlich—das heiflt nicht, ihre Ubersetzung ist wesentlich fiir sie selbst, sondern will besagen, daB eine bestimmte Bedeutung, die den Originalen innewohnt, sich in ihrer Ubersetzbarkeit afifiere” [1v.1.1o] ). This, then, is the text-ness of the text or a criticism without critic. From the very beginning, the essay dismisses the necessity of a trans- lator for translation. Certain relational concepts maintain their good, perhaps best, sense . . . when they are not a priori exclusively referred to man. In this way one might speak of an unforgettable life or moment even if all men had forgotten it. That is to say, if its essence de— mands not to be forgotten, then that predicate would not corre- spond to something false, but rather, to a demand that does not correspond to man and would at the same time include a refer- ence to a realm to which it does correspond—to a remembrance of God. Gewisse Relationsbegrifie [behalten] ihren guten, ja vielleicht be- sten Sinn . . ., wenn sie nicht von vorne herein ausschliefllich auf den Menschen bezogen werden. So diirfte von einem unvergefl— lichen Leben oder Augenblick'gesprochen warden, auch wenn alle Menschen sie vergessen hatten. Wenn niimlich deren Wesen esfor- derte, nicht vergessen zu werden, so wiirde jenes Priidikat nichts Falsches, sondern nur eine Forderung, der Menschen nicht ent— sprechen, und zugleich auch wohl den Verweis aufeinen Bereich enthalten, in dem ihr entsprochen wa're: aufein Gedenken Gottes. (Iv.1.1o) The translatability of the text excludes the realm of man and, with him, the translator, the figure to which Benjamin’s essay is devoted. The 87 CHER-,1 ‘ i1"? 88 In the Language of Walter Benjamin Aufgabe of the translator is less his task than his surrender: he is aufge- geben, “given up,” “abandoned.” This is the essay’s initial irony. Yet no sooner is the figure of man abandoned than another appears to offer itself. At the beginning and the end Benjamin turns to the realm of the theological, which seems to redeem this monstrous loss (if also, in a sense, to cause it). This is the way, in the essay’s closing paragraph, he writes of Holderlin’s translations—the most perfect of their kind. The overwhelming danger they create may only be contained by the Holy Writ: Because of this there lives in [Holderlin’s translations] above all the monstrous and originary danger of all translation—that the gates of a language so expanded and controlled may fall shut and enclose the translator in silence. The Sophocles translations were Holderlin’s last work. In them meaning plunges from abyss to abyss until it threatens to lose itself in the bottomless depths of language. But there is a halt. However, no text guarantees it but the holy text. Eben darum wohnt in ihnen var andern die ungeheure and iirsprungliche Gefahr aller Ubersetzung: dafl die Tore einer so er~ weiterten and durchwalteten Sprache zufallen and den Ubersetzer ins Schweigen schlieflen. Die Sophokles~ Ubersetzungen waren Holderlins letztes Werk. In ihnen stiirzt der Sinn van Abgrund zu Abgrand, bis er droht in bodenlasen Sprachtiefen sieh zu verlieren. Aber es gibt ein Halten. Es gewahrt es jedoch kein Text aufler dem heiligen. (iv.1.21) What is it exactly that the Holy Scriptures vouchsafe? Is it really a halt to the precipitous loss of meaning, or must we translate Halten rather as a holding and retaining of that loss. For in the Holy Scriptures meaning no longer separates language and revelation. The holy text is totally literal, in Benjamin’s sense of the word, which is to say, because no meaning stands behind its language, because language and revelation coincide absolutely, it is as absolutely meaningless as an original may be. However, no text guarantees it but the holy text, in which mean- ing has ceased to be a watershed for the flow of language and the The Monstrosity of Translation flow of revelation. Where a text belongs to a truth or doctrine immediately, without the mediation of meaning, in its literalness of true language—that text is absolutely translatable. . . . Such boundless trust with respect to it is demanded from the transla- tion that just as in this [holy text] language and revelation are united without tension, so in the translation, literality and free‘ dom must join in the form of the interlinear version. For to some degree, all great writings—but above all, the Holy Scriptures—contain their virtual translation between the lines. Es gewahrt esjedoch kein Text aufler dem heiligen, in dem der Sinn aufgehb'rt hat, die Wasserscheideffir die strb'mende Sprache and die strb'mende Oflenbarang zu sein. W0 der Text unmittelbar, ohne vermizrelnden Sinn, in seiner Mirtlichkeit der wahren Sprache, der Wahrheit Oder der Lehre angehb‘rt, ist er iibersetzbar schlechthin. . . . Ihm gegeniiber ist so grenzenlases Vertrauen von der Ubersetzunggefordert, dafl spannungslos wie in jene'm Sprache and Offenbarung so in dieser Wb'rtlichkeit and Freiheit in Gestalt der Interlinearversion sich vereinigen milssen. Denn in irgen- deinem Grade enthalten alle groflen Schriften, im ho'chsten aber die heiligen, zwischen den Zeilen ihre virtuelle Ubersetzung. (Iv.1.21) And what of Benjamin’s “between the lines,” for from the beginning, we recognized this essay as a translation of sorts. Between the lines of German, he has slipped in a phrase from the original of the Holy Writ. It apparently speaks of the beginning of linear time and coincidently, therefore, posits both the origins of language and the condition of tem- porality which makes a conventional concept of translation possible. Ev dpxfi fiv o Myog (Iv.1.18). These are the opening words of the Gospel According to John, and the text to which Benjamin’s clearly refers when it speaks of the Holy Scriptures. “Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers” serves as a translation for the following lines which are given below in an interlinear literal translation from Luther’s version of the text. 1. Im Anfang war das Wort, und das Wort war bei Gott 1. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God und Gott war das Wort. and God was the word. 90 In the Language of Walter Benjamin 2. Dasselbige war im Anfgang bei Gott. 2. The same [the word] was in the beginning with God. 3. Alle Dinge sind durch dasselbige gemacht und ohne 3. All things are through the same made and without dasselbige ist nichts gemacht, was gemacht ist. the same is nothing made which made is. This is the final irony. 126 Notes to Pages 73-77 18. Kasim’s wife, too, as greedy as her spouse and sharing his confusion between the treasure and grain, accuses Ali Baba of measuring his gold as “a grain~seller measures grain!” (286). Das Gleiche can also be translated as “the same.” Five: The Monstrosity of Translation Translated as “The Task of the Translator,” in Walter Benjamin, II- luminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), 69—82. Harry Zohn’s lucid translations have made a decidedly meaningful contribution to the understanding of Benjamin by an English-speaking audience. The criticism that appears here and there in my text should be recognized more as a play between possible versions than as a claim to establish a more “correct” translation. The translations, such as they are, are my own. Benjamin’s essay could well be read as an ironical commentary on the traditional reading of “Correspondances” in “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” (1.2.638—48), where Benjamin reinterprets the “correspon- dances” as a temporal displacement bound to the “essentially distant,” the “inapproachability” of the cult image. For a general discussion of the concept of symbolic language which the Baudelaire piece poses, see Paul de Man, “The Rhetoric of Tem- porality,” in Blindness and Insight (Minneapolis: University of Min- nesota Press, 1971), as well as Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1.1:336-37, 342). The connection between original and translation “may be called a natu- ral one,” Benjamin writes, “more precisely a connection of life [ein Zusammenhang des Lebens]” (1v.1.1o). To make his meaning clear, he re- peats the syllable Leben sixteen times in the course of the paragraph, and midway through clears it of its traditional meaning. The “life” to which translations are bound is itself woven into textual history: “The sphere of life must ultimately be fixed in history, not in nature. . . . Thus, the task arises for the philosopher to understand all natural life through the more encompassing life of history” (1v.1.11). Harry Zohn translates “Entfaltung” as “flowering”——and understand— ably so, for this extension of the metaphorical web is a natural one. It is not, however, Benjamin’s. 10. 11. Notes to Pages 79—85 127 “Translation is then ultimately expedient for the expression of the in- nermost relation of languages to one another. It cannnot possibly reveal [aflenbaren] this hidden relationship itself, cannot possibly establish it [herstellen], but can perform it [darstellen] by a germinating or inten- sive realization” (IV.1.12). This chapter, “The Monstrosity of Translation,” was first published in 1975, and my comments on Zohn’s translation were (and remain) based on the version he published in the 1969 Schocken ed. of Benjamin, II- Iuminations, ed. Arendt. Zohn’s translation as it appears in the 1996 Harvard University edition has, it is worth remarking, been reworked. “Here as in every other essential regard, Holderlin’s translations, espe- cially those of the two Sophoclean tragedies, present themselves as a confirmation. The harmony of the languages is so deep in them, that the meaning [Sinn] is touched by the language only as an Aeolian harp is touched by the wind. Holderlin’s translations are originary images [Ur— bilder] of their form: they relate themselves even to the most perfect translations of their texts as the originary—image to the example” ( IV.].20-21). (“Hierfiir wie in jeder andern wesentlichen Hinsicht stellen sich Holderlins Ubertragungen, besonders die der beiden Sophok- leischen Tragodien, bestatigend dar. In ihnen ist die Harmonie der Sprachen so tief, daB der Sinn nut noch wie cine Aolsharfe vom Winde von der Sprache berfihrt wird. Holderlins Ubersetzungen sind Urbilder ihrer Form; sie verhalten sich auch zu den vollkommensten Ubertragungen ihrer Texte als das Urbild zum Vorbild.”) Benjamin, “Task of the Translator,” trans. Zohn, 78. Zohn's translation is perhaps more logical, certainly more optimistic, but does not quite form itself in detail according to the strange mode of Benjamin’s meaning: “In the same way a translation, instead of resem- bling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorpo— rate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel” (ibid.). Gershom Scholem, in writing about “On the Concept of History,” re~ lates the figure of the angel of history to the Tikkun of the Lurianic Kab— balah. “Yet at the same time, Benjamin has in mind the kabbalistic concept of the Tikkun, the messianic restoration and mending which patches together and restores the original Being of things, shattered and 128 Notes to Pages 86—92 12. corrupted in the ‘Breaking of Vessels,’ and also [the original Being of] history” (“Walter Benjamin und sein Engel,” in Zur Aktualitdt Walter Benjamin: [Frankfurt Suhrkamp, 1972], 132—33). If Scholem recognizes the failure of the angel of history to carry out this task, he nevertheless sees evidence of this redemption elsewhere in Benjamin (ibid., 133—34). Scholem might have turned to “The Task of the Translator,” where the image of the broken vessel plays a more direct role. Harry Zohn’s (mis)translation of this passage (quoted in note 10, above) along with Benjamin's carefully articulated messianic rhetoric seem to speak here of the successful realization of the Tikkun. Yet, whereas Zohn suggests that a totality of fragments are brought together, Benjamin insists that the final outcome of translation is still “a broken part." In the Lurianic doctrine, then, translation would never progress beyond the stage of the Shevirath Hu-Kelim. (For a description of this “Breaking of Vessels” as Benjamin knew it, see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysti- cism [New York: Schocken, 1973].) In the closing passage of “The Task of the Translator,” the messianic valorization of the Holy Scriptures iron- ically serves to usher in the fundamental fragmentation that interlinear translation performs. Benjamin speaks at length of the concept of Kritik in the early Roman— tics in Der Begriffder Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (1.1.11—122). Six: Emergency, Break But also of “Doctrine” and even of “of.” The question of the occult enters Benjamin’s work from a number of different directions and in different forms. On the one hand, it seems al— lied with surrealism (11.1.307; s, 189). Elsewhere, it has a more somber role to play. See, for example, “Erleuchtung durch Dunkelmfinner” (111.356). Benjamin uses it in this sense in “Towards the Image of Proust,” writing that Proust’s “most precise, most evident cognitions sit on their objects like insects on leaves, blossoms, and branches, betraying nothing of their existence until a spring, a beat of wings, a jump [or ‘sentence’ (Satz)] show the startled observer that an incalculable individual life had imperceptibly crept into an alien world. . . . The true reader of Proust is constantly jarred by such shocks" (11.1.317—18; IP, 208). «semi. vulngwfi“, We «1:15; 10. 1 t wa'iwgfihiw’u‘lfi «w smitm,mcw&hmmwm n’~ on an». .A ll. 12. Notes to Pages 93—100 129 Benjamin’s father was a merchant (v11.2.531), and Benjamin tried to be— come a teacher. In a similar remark, Benjamin writes: “The classless society is not the fi- nal aim of the progress of history, but rather its so often unsuccessful, fi— nally accomplished interruption [Unterbrechung]” (1.3.1231). How can one fail to hear the phrase that was still something of a joke in Benjamin’s time: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny? What is here “meditation” [Besinnung] becomes “insight” in “On the Mimetic Faculty.” What the reader expects is that the tiny segment of consciously per- ceived similarities are to the innumerable unconsciously perceived sim— ilarities like the small tip of the iceberg to the enormous underwater block. One need only think of “Towards the Image of Proust” or “Myslowitz, Braunschweig, Marseille.” If Benjamin offers us the constellation in an elaborate simile and does so in the course Of an unrepeatable, ungraspable moment, this is hardly the case for the Gestirnstand (translated as “star cluster” to distinguish it from Konstellation): “The star cluster displays [darstellt] a characteristic unity and (it is) first in their operation in the star cluster that the charac- ters of the individual planets are recognized” (11.1.206; ns, 66). Fixed ob— ject of imitation, set in a temporality of sequence, the star cluster, or Gestimstand, promises a unity and the possibility of knowledge [Erk— enntnis] quite different from the constellation. The latter is formed by the addition, the coming along of, the apparent perceiver, the astrologer, who therefore can never perceive or cognize [erkermen] the constella- tion as a fixed unity outside himself. The connection between reading, writing, and the constellation is, in fact, the culmination point of the essay. There, reading and writing are imbedded in the rapid temporality, the flash we have seen to take place in the constellation. For the point of the critical gestures of comparison—say, of the iceberg and also of the constellation—is precisely that they do not work, dis- rupting, rather, the order and reason we have always assigned to lan— guage in relation to that which it names and the relation of the perceiver to the perceived. Thus, in the simile of the iceberg it is the tension among the terms that drives the comparison displacing any conception of ordered likeness of the particular pairs. The simile of the constella— ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/25/2012 for the course COMPLIT 322 taught by Professor Shammas during the Winter '11 term at University of Michigan.

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Jacobs_Monstrosity - Carol Jacobs 4 In the Language of Walter Benjamin The Johns Hopkins University Press BALTIMORE AND LONDON/qaa Y“ flan T

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