des+Tours - From : DIFFERENCE IN TRANSLATION, ed. by Joseph...

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Unformatted text preview: From : DIFFERENCE IN TRANSLATION, ed. by Joseph F. Graham (Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1985). t ~ .-\ I ‘2»?- {m- w -' ' “1:, I; I 77 Des Tours de Babel jACQUESI)EHHH)A Translated by joseph F. Gru/mm M60 "Babel": first a proper name, granted. But when we say "Babel" today, do we know what we are naming? Do we know whom? If we consider the sur-vival of a text that is a legacy, the narrative or the myth of the tower of Babel, it does not constitute just one figure among others. Telling at least of the inadequatiou of one tongue to another, ofone place in the encyclopedia to another, of language to itself and to meaning, and so forth, it also tells of the need for figuration, for myth, for tropes, for twists and turns, for translation inadequate to compensate for that which multiplicity denies us. In this sense it would he the myth of the origin ol~ myth, the metaphor of metaphor, the narrative ofnarrative, the translation of translation, and so on. It would not he the only structure hollowing itself out like that, but it would do so in its own way (itself almost untranslatahle, like a proper name), and its idiom would have to he saved. The “tower of Babel" does not merely figure the irreducible multiplicity of tongues; it exhibits an incompletion, the impos- sibility of linishing, of totalizing, of saturating, of cou‘ipletiug something on the order ofediiication, architectural construction, system and architectonics. What the multiplicity of idioms actu- 165 166 jacques Derrida ally limits is not only a "true" translation, a transparent and adequate interexpression, it is also a structural order a co- herence of construct. There is then (let us translate) something like an internal limit to formalization, an incompleteness of the constructure. It would be easy and up to a certain point justified to see there the translation of a system in deconstruction. One should never pass over in silence the question of the tongue in which the question of the tongue is raised and into which a discourse on translation is translated. First: in what tongue was the tower of Babel constructed and deconstructed? In a tongue within which the proper name of Babel could also, by confusion, be translated by "confusion." The proper name Babel, as a proper name, should remain un- translatable, but, by a kind ofassociative confusion that a unique tongue rendered possible, one thought it translated in that very tongue, by a common noun signifying what we translate as confu- 51on. Voltaire showed his astonishment in his Dictionnaire philo- sophique, at the Babel article: I‘do not know why it is said in Genesis that Babel signifies confu- sion, for Ba signifies father in the Oriental tongues and Bel sngnifies Cod; Babel signifies the city of God, the holyycity The Ancierits gave this name to all their capitals. But it is incontesta- ble that Babel means confusion, either because the architects were confounded after having raised their work up to eighty—one thousand jewish feet, or because the tongues were then con- founded; and it is obviously from that time on that the Germans m; lolnger understand the Chinese; for it is clear, according to the iiiglaggrolcjlgsrt, that Chinese IS originally the same tongue as The calm irony of Voltaire means that Babel means: it is not only a proper name, the reference of a pure signifier to a single being— and for this reason untranslatable—but a common noun related to the generality of a meaning. This common noun means, and means not only confusion, even though "confusion" has at least two meanings, as Voltaire is aware, the confusion of tongues, but ' Voltaire suggests something else r' confusion in the double sense ofthe w Des Tours dc Babel 167 also the state ofconfusion in which the architects find themselves with the structure interrupted, so that a certain confusion has already begun to affect the two meanings of the word "confusion. " The signification of "confusion" is confused, at least double. But again: Babel means not only ord, but also the name ofthe father, more precisely and more commonly, the name ofCod as :' name of father. The city would hear the name of God the father and of the father of the city that is called confusion. God, the God, would have marked with his patronym a communal space, that city where understanding is no longer possible. And understand- ing is no longer possible when there are only proper names, and understanding is no longer possible when there are no longer proper names. In giving his name, a name ofbis choice. in giving all names, the father would be at the origin of language, and that power would belong by right to God the father. And the name of God the father would be the name of that origin oftongues. But it is also that God who, in the action of his anger (like the God of Btihme or ofllegel, he who leaves himself, determines himsclfin his finitude and thus produces history), annuls the gift of tongues, or at least embroils it, sows confusion among his sons, and poisons the present (Gift—gift). This is also the origin of tongues, of the multiplicity of idioms, of what in other words are usually called mother tongues. For this entire history deploys liliations, genera— tions and genealogies: all Semitic. Before the deconstruction of Babel, the great Semitic family was establishing its empire, which it wanted universal, and its tongue, which it also attempts to oment of this project immediately fthe tchr. I cite two French away from what ()llt' would impose on the universe. The m precedes the deconstruction o translations. The first translator stays want to call "literality," in other words, from the Hebrew figure. of speech for "tongue," where the second, more concerned about literality (metaphoric, or rather metonymic), says “lip,” since in Hebrew “lip” designates what we call, in another inetonymy, "tongue." One will have to say multiplicity of lips and not of ii' iii. 2* | i i 1, ’ i’ .3: 5.1 168 jacques Derrida tongues to name the Babelian contusion. The first translator, then, Louis Segond, author of the Segond Bible, published in 1910, writes this: Those are the sons of Sein, according to their families, their tongues, their countries, their nations. Such are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, their nations. I And it is from them that emerged the nations which spread over _ 5 the earth after the flood. All the earth had a single tongue and the same words. As they had left the origin they found a plain in the country of Schinear, and they dwelt there. They said to one another: Comel Let us make bricks, and bake them in the tire. And brick served them as stone, and tar served as cement. Again they said: Comel Let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose summit touches the h ‘thCllS, and let us make ourselves a name, so that we not he scattered over the face of all the earth. I do not know just how to interpret this allusion to the substitu~ tion or the transmutation of materials, brick becoming stone and tar serving as mortar. That already resembles a translation, a translation of translation. But let us leave it and substitute a second translation for the first. It is that of Chouraqui. It is recent and wants to be more literal, almost verbum pro uerbo, as Cicero said should not be done in one oftliose lirst recommenda’ tiOns to the translator which can be read in his Libellus ([0 Op- tima Genera Oratorum. Here it is: Here are the sons of Shem for their clans, for their tongues, in their lands, for their peoples. Here are the clans of the sons of Noah for their exploits, in their peoples: freiii the latter divide the peoples on earth, after the Hood. And it is all the earth: a single lip, one speech. And it is at their departure from the Orient: they find a canyon, in the land of Shine'ar. They settle there. They say, each to his like: "Come, let us brick some bricks. Des Tours dc Babel 169 Let us fire them in the fire. The brick becomes for them stone, the tar, mortar. They say: I "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower. lts head: in the heavens. Let us make ourselves a name, I n that we not be scattered over the face of all the cart 1. What happens to them? In other words, for what does tlod punish them in giving his name, or rather, Since he gives it to nothing and to no one, in proclaiming his name, the groper name of "confusion" which will be his mark and his seal. Does he punish them for having wanted to build as high as the heav- ens? For having wanted to accede to the highest, up to the Most High? Perhaps for that too, no doubt, but iiicontcstablylorlli‘av— ing wanted thus to make a name for themselves, to givet It iii- selves the name, to construct for and by themselves their own name, to gather themselves there (“that we no longer be scat- tered”), as in the unity ofa place which is at once a tongue and a tower, the one as well as the other, the one as the other. lie punishes them for having thus wanted to assure themselves, by themselves, a unique and universal genealogy. For the text of Genesis proceeds immediately, as if it were all a matter of the same design: raising a tower, constructing a city, making name for oneself in a universal tongue which would also be an idiom, and gathering a filiation: They say: . "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower. lts head: in the heavens. Let us make ourselves a name, ‘ ~ ' N that we not be scattered over the lace of all the ant i. Yiiwn descends to see the city and the tower that the sons of man have built. Ylthl says: I . "Yes! A single people, a Single lip for all: that is what they begin to do! . . . ' . Come! Let us descend! Let us confoundtheir lips, " man will no longer understand the lip oi his neighbor. 170 Jacques Derrida Then he disseminates the Sem, and dissemination is here deconstruction: Yiiwn disperses them from here over the face of all th ’ v 1 They cease to build the city. L can L Over which he proclaims his name: Bavcl, Confusion for there, anu confounds the lip of all the earth ' and from there anu disperses them over the face of all the earth. (Tan we not, then, speak of God's jealousy? Out of resentment against that unique name and lip of men, he imposes his name his name of father; and with this violent imposition he opens the deconstruction of the tower, as of the universal language he scatters the genealogical tiliation. lle breaks the lineage. He at the same time imposes and forbids translation. Ile imposes it and forbids it, constrains, but as if to failure, the children who hence— forth will bear his name, the name that he gives to the city. It is from a proper name of God, come from God, descended from God or from the father (and it is indeed said that YIIWH an unpronounceable name, descends toward the tower) and by him that tongues are scattered, confounded or multiplied according to a descendance that in its very dispersion remains sealed h the only name that will have been the strongest by the only idiom that will have triumphed. Now, this idionf bears withiii itself the mark of confusion, it improperly means the improper to wit: Bavel, confusion. Translation then becomes necessar’ and impossible, like the eifect ofa struggle for the appropriatioii of the name, necessary and forbidden in the interval between tvvo absolutely proper names. And the proper name of God (given by God) is divided enough in the tongue already to srgnify also, confusedly, "confusion." And the war that he ,de— clares has first raged within his name: divided, bilid, ambivalent polysemic: Cod deconstructing. “And he war," one reads in Fimwgans Wake, and we could follow this whole story from the Side of Shem and Shaun. The "he war" does not only in this place, tie together an incalculable number of phonic and seman- tic threads, in the immediate context and throughout this Dcs Tours dc Babel 171 declaration of war (in English) of the and who thus was (war); it performance, at least in angnage at a time, Babelian book; it says the One who says I am the one who am, renders itself untranslatahle in its very thefact that it is enunciated in more than one l at least English and German. If even an infinite translation ex— hausted its semantic stock, it would still translate into one lan- guage and would lose the multiplicity of “be war." Let us leave for another time a less hastily interrupted reading of this "be war," and let us note one of the limits of theories of translation: all too often they treat the passing from one language to another and do not sulliciently consider the possibility for languages to be implicated more than two in a text. How is a text written in several languages at a time to be translatcd? How is the cited of plurality to be "rendered"? And what of translating with several languages at a time, will that be called translating? Babel: today we take it as a proper name. Indeed, but the proper name of what and of whom? At times that of a narrative text recounting a story (mythical, symbolic, allegorical; it mattch little for the moment), a story in which the proper name, which is then no longer the title of the narrative, names a timer or a city but a tower or a city that receives its name from an event during which YllWll "proclaims his name." Now, this proper ames at least three times and three (litter— the whole point, as proper name the 1. This story recounts, among other the irreducible name, which already n ent things, also has, this is function of a common now things, the origin of the confusion of tongues, multiplicity of idioms, the necessary and impossible task oftrans— lation, its necessity as impossibility. Nt little attention to this fact: it is in translation that we most oitcu read this narrative. And in this translation, the proper name since it is not translated in its ap— )\N, in general one pays retains a singular destiny, pearance as proper name. Now, a proper name as such remains forever untranslatable, a fact that may lead one to conclude that it does not strictly belong, for the same reason as the other words, to the language, to the system of the language, hc it translated or translating. And yet "Babel," an event in a single 172 jacques Derrida tongue, the one in which it appears so as to form a "text," also has a common meaning, a conceptual generality. That it be by way of a pun or a confused association matters little: "Babel" could be understood in one language as meaning "confusion." And from then on, just as Babel is at once proper name and common noun, confusion also becomes proper name and com- mon noun, the one as the homonym of the other, the synonym as well, but not the equivalent, because there could be no question of confusing them in their value. It has for the translator no satisfactory solution. Recourse to apposition and capitalization ("Over which he proclaims his name: Bavel, Confusion") is not translating from one tongue into another. It comments, explains, paraphrases, but does not translate. At best it reproduces ap— proximately and by dividing the equivocation into two words there where confusion gathered in potential, in all its potential, in the internal translation, if one can say that, which works the word in the so-called original tongue. For in the very tongue of the original narrative there is a translation, a sort oftransfer, that gives immediately (by some confusion) the semantic equivalent of the proper name which, by itself, as a pure proper name, it would not have. As a matter of fact, this intralinguistic transla— tiou,,opbrates immediately; it is not even an operation in the strict sense. Nevertheless, someone who speaks the language of Genesis could be attentive to the ellect of the proper name in eifacing the conceptual equivalent (like pierre [rock] in Pierre [Peter], and these are two absolutely heterogeneous values or functions); one would then be tempted to say first that a proper name, in the proper sense, does not properly belong to the language; it does not belong there, although and because its call makes the language possible (what would a language be without the possibility ofcalling by a proper name?); consequently it can properly inscribe itselfin a language only by allowing itselfto be translated therein, in other words, interpreter! by its semantic equivalent: from this moment it can no longer be taken as proper name. The noun pierre belongs to the French language, and its translation into a foreign language should in principle transport Des Tours de Babel 173 its meaning. This is not the case with Pierre, whose inclusion in the French language is not assured and is in any case not of the same type. "Peter" in this sense is not a translation of Pierre, any more than Londrcs is a translation of“London," and so forth. And second, anyone whose so—called mother tongue was the tongue of Genesis could indeed understand liabcl as "confu- sion”; that person then eiTects a confused translation oi‘the prop— er name by its common equivalent without having need for an- other word. It is as iithere were two words there, two homonyms one of which has the value of proper name and the other that of common noun: between the two, a translation which one can evaluate quite diversely. Does it belong to the kind that Jakob— son calls intralingual translation or rewording? I do not think so: "rewording" concerns the relations of transformation between common nouns and ordinary phrases. The essay On Translation (1959) distinguishes three forms of translation. Intralingual translation interprets linguistic signs by means of other signs of the same language. This obviously presupposes that one can know in the final analysis how to determine rigorously the unity and identity ofa language, the decidable form ofits limits. There would then be what jakobson neatly calls translation “proper,” intarliugual translation, which interprets linguistic signs by means of some other language this appeals to the same presup- position as intraliugual translation. Finally there would be inter— semiotic translation or transmutation, which interprets linguistic signs by means of systems of nonlinguistic signs. For the two forms of translation which would not be translations "proper," Jakobson proposes a definitional equivalent and another word. The first he translates, so to speak, by another word: intralingual translation or rewarding. The third likewise: intersemiotic trans- lation or transmutation. In these two cases, the translation of "translation" is a definitional interpretation. But in the ease of translation “proper,” translation in the ordinary sense, in- terlinguistic and post-Babelian, Jakobson does not translate; he repeats the same word: uinterlingual translation or translation proper. " Ile supposes that it is not necessary to translate; every- 174 Jacques Derrida one understands what that means because everyone has experi- enced it, everyone is expected to know what is a language the relation of one language to another and especially identity or difference in fact of language. if there is a transparency that Babel would not have impaired, this is surely it, the experience of the multiplicity of tongues and the "proper" sense of the word translation." In relation to this word, when it is a question of translation "proper," the other uses of the word "translation" would be in a position ofintralingual and inadequate translation like metaphors, in short, like twists or turns of translation in the proper sense. There would thus be a translation in the proper sense and a translation in the figurative sense. And in order to translate the one into the other, within the same tongue or from one tongue to another, in the figurative or in the proper sense one would engage upon a course that would quickly reveal how this reassuring tripartition can he problematic. Very quickly: at the very moment when pronouncing "Babel" we sense the im— possibility of deciding whether this name belongs, properly and snnply, to one tongue. And it matters that this undecidability is at work in a struggle for the proper name within a scene of genealogical indebtedness. In seeking to “make a name for themselves," to found at the same time a universal tongue and a unique genealogy, the Semites want to bring the world to reason and this reason can signify simultaneously a colonial violence: (since they would thus universalize their idiom) and a peaceful transparency of the human community. Inversely, when God imposes and opposes his name, he ruptures the rational trans- parency but interrupts also the colonial violence or the linguistic imperalism. He destines them to translation, he subjects them to the law ofa translation both necessary and impossible in a stroke with his translatable-untranslatable name he deliversja universal reason (it will no longer be subject to the rule of a particular nation), but be simultaneously limits its very universality: forbid- den transparency, impossible univocity. Translation becomes law, duty and debt, but the debt one can no longer discharge. Such insolvency is found marked in the very name of Babel: which at once translates without belonging to a language an Des Tours dc Babel 175 and does not translate itself, belongs d indebts itself to itself for an insolvent debt, to itself as if other. Such would be the Babelian performance. This singular example, at once archetypical and allegorical, could serve as an introduction to all the so-called theoretical problems of translation. But no theorization, inasmuch as it is produced in a language, will be able to (lmninatc tlu- Bulwlian performance. This is one of the reasons why I prcfcr lu‘rc, in~ stead of treating it in the theoretical mode, to attempt to trans- late in my own way the translation of another text on translation. The preceding ought to have led me instead to an early text by Walter Benjamin, uOn Language as Such and on the Language of Man" (1916), translated by Maurice de Candillac (Mythc ct Violence, Paris: Deno'el, 1971). Reference to Babel is explicit there and is acccompanied by a discourse on the proper name and on translation. But given the, in my view, overly enigmatic character of that essay, its wealth and its overdeterminations, l have had to postpone that reading and limit myself to "The Task of the Translator” (also translated by Maurice dc Gandillac in the same volume). lts difficulty is no doubt no less, but its unity remains more apparent, better centered around its theme. And this text on translation is also the preface to a translation of the Tableaux purisiens by Baudelaire, and l rcfcr first to tlw. French translation that Maurice dc Gantlillac gives us. And yct, transla- tion—is it only a theme for this text, and especially its primary theme? The title also says, from its first word, the task (Aufgahc), the mission to which one is destined (always by the other), the com— mitment, the duty, the debt, the responsibility. Already at stake the translator has to be responsi- If, and of something that implies perhaps a fault, a fall, an error and perhaps a crime. The essay has as horizon, it will be seen, a "reconciliation." And all that in a discourse multiplying genealogical motifs and allusions—more or less than metaphorical—to the transn'iission of a family seed. is a law, an injunction for which ble. lie must also acquit himse 176 jacques Derrida The translator is indebted, he appears to himself as translator in a situation ofdebt; and his task is to render, to render that which must have been given. Among the words that correspond to Benjamin’s title (Aufgabe, duty, mission, task, problem, that which is assigned, given to be done, given to render), there are, from the beginning, Wiedergabe, Sinnwiedergabe, restitution, restitution of meaning. How is such a restitution, or even such an acquittance, to be understood? is it only to he restitution of meaning, and what of meaning in this domain? For the moment let us retain this vocabulary of gift and debt, and a debt which could well declare itself insolvent, whence a sort of"transference," love and hate, on the part of whoever is in a position to translate, is summoned to translate, with regard to the text to be translated (I do not say with regard to the signatory or the author ofthe original), to the language and the writing, to the bond and the love which seal the marriage between the author of the "original" and his own language. At the center of the essay, Benjamin says ofthe restitution that it could very well be impossible: insolvent debt within a genealogical scene. One ofthe essential themes ofthe text is the "kinship" of languages in a sense that is no longer tributary of nineteenth-century histor- ical linguistics without being totally foreign to it. Perhaps it is here proposed that we think the very possibility ofa historical linguistics. Benjamin has just quoted Mallarmé, he quotes him in French, after having left in his own sentence a Latin word, which Maurice de Candillac has reproduced at the bottom ofthe page to indicate that by "genius" he was not translating from German but from the Latin (ingenium). But ofcourse he could not do the same with the third language of this essay, the French of Mal- larmé, whose untranslatability Benjamin had measured. Once again: how is a text written in several languages at a time to be translated? Here is the passage on the insolvent (I quote as always the French translation, being content to include here or there the German word that supports my point): Des Tours de Babel 177 Philosophy and translation are not futile, however, as sentimental artists allege. For there exists a philosophical genius, whose most proper characteristic is the nostalgia for that language which man- ifests itself in translation. Les langues imparfaites en cela que plusieurs, manque la supréme: penser étant écrire sans accessoires ni chuchote— ment, mais tacite encore l’immortelle parole, la diversité, snr terre, (les idiomes empéche personne de proférer les mots qui, sinon, se trouveraient, par une frappe unique, clle- méme matériellement la vérité. Ifthe reality that these words of Mallarmé evoke is applicable, in full rigor, to the philosopher, translation, with the seeds [Keimcn] that it carries within itself of such a language, is situated midway between literary creation and theory. Its work has lower relief, but it impresses itselfjust as profoundly on history. If the task of the translator appears in this light, the. paths of its accomplish— ment risk becoming obscure in an all the more impenetrable way. Let us say more: of this task that consists, in the translation, in ripening the seed ofa pure language ["den Samen reiner Sprache zur Beife zu bringen"], it seems impossible ever to acquit oneself ["diese Aufgabe . . . scheint niemals lbsbar'j; it seems that no solution would permit defining it ["in keiner Losung bestimm- l)ar"]. Does not one deprive it of any basis if rendering meaning ceases to be the standard? Benjamin has, first ofall, forgone translating the Mallariné; he has left it shining in his text like the medallion ofa proper name; but this proper name is not totally insignificant; it is merely welded to that whose meaning does not allow transport without damage into another language or into another tongue (and Sprache is not translated without loss by either word). And in the text of Mallarmé, the effect of being proper and thus un- translatable is tied less to any name or to any truth ofadcqnation than to the unique occurrence of a performative force. Then the question is posed: does not the ground of translation finally re— cede as soon as the restitution of meaning (“Wiedcrgabe des Sinnes") ceases to provide the measure? It is the ordinary con- cept of translation that becomes problematic: it implied this pro- 178 Jacques Derrida cess of restitution, the task (Aufgabe) was finally to render (Wiedergeben) what was first given, and what was given was one thought, the meaning. Now, things become obscure when one tries to accord this value of restitution with that of maturation 9n what ground, in what ground, will the maturation take place if the restitution ofthe meaning given is for it no longer the rule? .The allusion to the maturation of a seed could resemble a Vitalist or geneticist metaphor; it would come, then in sup ort of the genealogical and parental code which seems to domifiate this text. In fact it seems necessary here to invert this order and recognize what I have elsewhere proposed to call the "meta— pheric catastrophe": far from knowing first what "life" or "fami- ly mean whenever we use these familiar values to talk about language and translation; it is rather starting from the notion ofa language and its "sur-vival" in translation that we could have access to the notion of what life and family mean. This reversal is operated expressly by Benjamin. His preface (for let us not for- get: this essay is a preface) circulates without cease among the values of seed, life, and especially usur-vival. ” (Uberleben has an essential relation with chrsctzen.) Now, very near the begin- ning, Benjamin seems to propose a simile or a metaphor—it openswith :just as . . ."-—and right away everything moves in and about Ubersetzen, chrtmgen, Uberlcbeu: as the manifestations oflifc are intimately connected with the hvmg, without signifying anything for it, a translation proceeds from the original. Indeed not so much from its life as from its sur- vwal [Uberleben]. For a translation comes after the original and for the important works that never find their predestined trans: lator at the time of their birth, it characterizes the stage of their survival [Fortlcbem this time, sur-vival as continuation of life rather than as life post mortcm]. Now, it is in this simple reality Without any metaphor ["in viillig umnetaplIorischer Sachlich: keit that it is necessary to conceive the ideas of life and so - vival [Fortleben] for works of art. ‘ r .And according to a scheme that appears Iiegelian, in a very Circumscribed passage, Benjamin calls us to think life, starting 4 r Des Tours de Babel 179 from spirit or history and not from “organic corporealityn alone. There is life at the moment when usur-vivaln (spirit, history, works) exceeds biological life and death: "It is rather in recogniz— r everything of which there is history and which is not to this con- ing f0 merely the setting for history that one does justice cept of life. For it is starting from history, not from nature . . . , that the domain of life must finally be circumseribed. So is born [Aufgabe] of comprehending all nat— for the philosopher the task 1, that is ural life starting from this life, of much vaster extensioi the life of history." From the very titl Benjamin situates the problem, precisely be ore oneselfas a task, as the problem of the translator and not that of translation (nor, be it said in passing, and the question is not negligible, that of the translatoress). Benjamin does not say the task or the problem oftranslation. lle names the subject of translation, as an indebted subject, obligated by a duty, already in the position of heir, entered as survivor in a sur—vival. The sur-vival of vival of authors’ names and e—and for the moment I stay with it— in the sense of that which is genealogy, as survivor or agent of works, not authors. Perhaps the sur- of signatures, but not of authors. Such sur-vival gives more of life, more than a surv work does not simply live longer, it lives more and better, be- yond the means of its author. Would the translator then be an indebted receiver, subject to the gift and to the given of an originalPBy no means. For several reasons, including the follow— ing: the bond or obligation of the debt does not pass between a donor and a (lonee but between two texts (two “productions” or two "creations"). This is understood from the opening of the if one wanted to isolate theses, here are a few, as iving. The preface, and brutally as in any sampling: 1. The task of the translator does not announce itselfor follow he theory of translation does not depend for n though it can anation of such a from a reception. T the essential on any theory of reception, eve inversely contribute to the elaboration and expl theory. LS 180 jacques Derrida 2. Translation does not have as essential mission any commu- nication. No more than the original, and Benjamin maintains, secure from all danger ofdispute, the strict duality between the original and the version, the translated and the translating, even though he shifts their relation. And he is interested in the trans- lation of poetic or sacred texts, which would here yield the es- sence oftranslation. The entire essay extends between the poetic and the sacred, returning from the first to the second, the one that indicates the ideal of all translation, the purely transferable: the intralinear version of the sacred text, the model or ideal (Urbild) of any translation at all possible. Now, this is the second thesis: for a poetic text or a sacred text, communication is not the essential. This putting into question does not directly concern the communicative structure of language but rather the hypoth— esis of a communicable content that could be strictly dis- tinguished from the linguistic act ofcommunieation. in 1916, the critique of semiotism and of the "bourgeois conception" of lan‘ guage was already directed against that distribution: means, ob- ject, addressee. “There is no content of language.” What lan- guage first communicates is its "communicability" ("On Langu- age as Such," trans. M. de Candillac, 85). Will it be said that an opening. is' thus made toward the perfonnative dimension of ut- terances? In any case this warns us against precipitation: isolat- ing the contents and theses in "The Task of the Translator" and translating it otherwise than as the signature ofa kind of proper name destined to ensure its sur—vival as a work. 3. lfthere is indeed between the translated text and the trans~ lating text a relation of "original" to version, it could not be representative or reproductive. Translation is neither an image nor a copy. These three precautions now taken (neither reception, nor communication, nor representation), how are constituted the debt and the genealogy of the translator? ()r first, how those of that which is to-be—lranslaled, of the to-be-translated? Let us follow the thread of life or sur—vival wherever it com- municates with the movement of kinship. When Benjamin chal- Des Tours de Babel 181 lenges the viewpoint of reception, it is not to deny it all perti- nence, and he will undoubtedly have done much to prepare for a theory of reception in literature. But he wants first to return to the authority of what he still calls "the original,” not insofar as it produces its receiver or its translators, but insofar as it requires, mandates, demands or commands them in establishing the law. And it is the structure of this demand that here appears most unusual. Through what does it pass? In a literary—~more strictly speaking in this case, "poetic"—text it does not pass through the said, the uttered, the communicated, the content or the theme. And when, in this context, Benjamin still says “communication” or "enunciation" (Milteilung, Aussage), it is not about the act but about the content that he visibly speaks: "But what does a liter- ary work [Dichtung ] ‘say’? What does it communicate? Very little to those who understand it. What it has that is essential is not communication, not enunciation." The demand seems thus to pass, indeed to be formulated, through the form. “Translation is a form," and the law of this form has its first place in the original. This law first establishes itself, let us repeat, as a demand in the strong sense, a require- ment that delegates, mandates, prescribes, assigns. And as for this law as demand, two questions can arise; they are different in essence. First question: in the sum total of its readers, can the work always find the translator who is, as it were, capable? Sec- ond question and, says Benjamin, "more properly" (as if this question made the preceding more appropriate, whereas, we shall see, it does something quite difTerent): "by its essence does it [the work] bear translation and ifso~in line with the significa- tion of this form—, does it require translation?” The answers to these two questions could not be of the same nature or the same mode. Problematic in the first case, not necessary (the translator capable of the work may appear or not appear, but even if he does not appear, that changes nothing in the demand or in the structure of the injunction that comes from the work), the answer is properly apodictic in the second case: necessary, a priori, demonstrable, absolute because it comes 182 jacques Derrida from the internal law of the original. The original requires trans« lation even if no translator is there, fit to respond to this injunc- tion, which is at the same time demand and desire in the very structure of the original. This structure is the relation of life to sur-vival. This requirement of the other as translator, Benjamin compares it to some unforgettable instant of life: it is lived as unforgettable, it is unforgettable even if in fact forgetting finally wins out. It will have been unforgettable—there is its essential significance, its apodictic essence; forgetting happens to this un- forgettableness only by accident. The requirement of the un- forgettable—which is here constitutive—is not in the least im- paired by the finitude of memory. Likewise the requirement of translation in no way suffers from not being satisfied, at least it does not suffer in so far as it is the very structure ofthe work. In this sense the surviving dimension is an a priori—and death would not change it at all. No more than it would change the requirement (Forderung) that runs through the original work and to which only "a thought of God" can respond or correspond (entsprechen). Translation, the desire for translation, is not thinkable without this correspondence with a thought of God. In the text of 1916, which already accorded the task of the trans- lator, his Aufgabe, with the response made to the gift of tongues and the gift of names ("Gabe der Sprache," "Gebung des Na- mens”), Benjamin named God at this point, that ofa correspon~ dence authorizing, making possible or guaranteeing the corre- spondence between the languages engaged in translation. In this narrow context, there was also the matter of the relations be- tween language of things and language of men, between the silent and the speaking, the anonymous and the nameable, but the axiom held, no doubt, for all translation: "the objectivity of this translation is guaranteed in God" (trans. M. de Candillac, , 91). The debt, in the beginning, is fashioned in the hollow of this "thought of God.” Strange debt, which does not bind anyone to anyone. If the structure of the work is “sur-vival," the debt does not engage in relation to a hypothetical subject—author of the original text—— Des Tours de Babel 183 dead or mortal, the dead man, or “dummy,” of the text—~but to something else that represents the formal law in the immanence of the original text. Then the debt does not involve restitution of a copy or a good image, a faithful representation of the original: the latter, the survivor, is itself in the process of transformation. The original gives itself in modifying itself; this gift is not an object given; it lives and lives on in mutation: "For in its sur— vival, which would not merit the name if it were not mutation and renewal of something living, the original is modified. Even for words that are solidified there is still a postmaturation.” I’ostmaturation (Nae/ireife) ofa living organism or a seed: this is not simply a metaphor, either, for the reasons already indi- cated. In its very essence, the history of this language is deter— mined as "growth," "holy growth of languages." 4. If the debt of the translator commits him neither with re— gard to the author (dead insofar as his text has a structure of sur- vival even ifhe is living) nor with regard to a model which must be reproduced or represented, to what or to whom is he commit- ted? How is this to be named, this what or who? What is the proper name ifnot that of the author finite, dead or mortal ofthe text? And who is the translator who is thus committed, who perhaps finds himself committed by the other before having com- mitted himself? Since the translator finds himself, as to the sur- vival of the text, in the same situation as its finite and mortal producer (its "author"), it is not he, not he himself as a finite and mortal being, who is committed. 'l’hen who? It is he, ofcoursc, but in the name ofwhom or what? The question of proper names is essential here. Where the act of the living mortal seems to count less than the sur-vival of the text in the translation—— translated and translating—it is quite necessary that the sig- nature of the proper noun be distinguished and not be so easily effaced from the contract or from the debt. Let us not forget that Babel names a struggle for the sur—vival of the name, the tongue or the lips. From its height Babel at every instant supervises and sur— prises my reading: I translate, I translate the translation by 184 jacques Derrida Maurice de Candillac ofa text by Benjamin who, prefacng a translation, takes it as a pretext to say to what and in what way every translator is committed—and notes in passing, an essential part of his demonstration, that there could be no translation of translation. This will have to be remembered. Recalling this strange situation, I do not wish only or essen- tially to reduce my role to that ofa passer or passerby. Nothing is more serious than a translation. I rather wished to mark the fact that every translator is in a position to speak about translation, in a place which is more than any not second or secondary. For if the structure of the original is marked by the requirement to be translated, it is that in laying down the law the original begins by indebting itself as well with regard to the translator. The original is the first debtor, the first petitioner; it begins by lacking and by pleading for translation. This demand is not only on the side of the constructors of the tower who want to make a name for themselves and to found a universal tongue translating itself by itself; it also constrains the deconstructor ofthe tower: in giving his name, Cod also appealed to translation, not only between the tongues that had suddenly become multiple and confused, but first of his nanw, of the name he had proclaimed, given, and which should be translated as confusion to be understood, hence to let it be understood that it is dillicult to translate and so to understand. At the moment when he imposes and opposes his law to that of the tribe, he is also a petitioner for translation. He is also indebted. He has not finished pleading for the translation this name even though he forbids it. For Babel is untranslata- ble. Cod weeps over his name. “is text is the most sacred, the most poetic, the most originary, since he creates a name and gives it to himself, but he is left no less destitute in his force and even in his wealth; he pleads for a translator. As in La folia du jour by Maurice Blanchot, the law does not command without demanding to be read, deciphered, translated. lt demands trans- I ference (Ubertragung and Ubersetzung and Uberleben). The double bind is in the law. Even in God, and it is necessary to follow rigorously the consequence: in his name. Des Tours dc. Babel 185 Insolvent on both sides, the double indebtedness passes be- tween names. lt surpasses a priori the bearers ofthe names, ifby that is understood the mortal bodies which disappear behind the sur-vival of the name. Now, a proper noun does and does not belong, we said, to the language, not even, let us make it precise now, to the corpus of the text to be translated, of the to~be— translated. The debt does not involve living subjects but names at the edge of the language or, more rigorously, the trait which con- tracts the relation of the aforementioned living subject to his name, insofar as the latter keeps to the edge of the language. And this trait would be that of the to-be—translated from one language to the other, from this edge to the other of the proper name. This language contract among several languages is abso— lutely singular. First of all, it is not what is generally called a language contract: that which guarantees the institution of one language, the unity of its system, and the social contract which binds a community in this regard. ()n the other hand it is gener- ally supposed that in order to be valid or to institute anything at all, a contract must take place in a single language or appeal (for example, in the case of diplomatic or commercial treaties) to a transferability already given and without remainder: there the multiplicity of tongues must be absolutely dominated. Here, on the contrary, a contract between two foreign languages as such engages to render possible a translation which subsequently will authorize every sort of contract in the originary sense. The sig- nature of this singular contract needs no written document or record: it nevertheless takes place as trace or as trait, and this place takes place even ifits space comes under no empirical or mathematical objectivity. The topos of this contract is exceptional, unique, and prac- tically impossible to think under the ordinary category of con— tract: in a classical code it would have been called transcenden- tal, since in truth it renders possible every contract in general, starting with what is called the language contract within the limits ofa single idiom. Another name, perhaps, for the origin of u. 'I-ur," _; a.” h ,quemum ‘W'I'mi‘m'cvegfv —1'Il"'lcr. Wuammmmumu um" - “a... 186 Jacques Derrida tongues. Not the origin of language but of languages—before language, languages. The translation contract, in this transcendental sense, would be the contract itself, the absolute contract, the contract form of the contract, that which allows a contract to be what it is. Will one say that the kinship among languages presupposes this contract or that the kinship provides a first occasion for the contract? One recognizes here a classic circle. It has always be— gun to turn whenever one asks oneself about the origin of lan— guages or society. Benjamin, who often talks about the kinship among languages, never does so as a comparatist or as a historian of languages. He is interested less in families of languages than in a more essential and more enigmatic connection, an affinity which is not sure to precede the trait or the contract of the to—be- translated. Perhaps even this kinship, this ailinity (Verwand— schaft), is like an alliance, by the contract of translation, to the extent that the sur-vivals which it associates are not natural lives, blood ties, or empirical symbioses. This development, like that of a life original and elevated, is determined by a finality original and elevated. Life and finality—— theircorrelation apparently evident, yet almost beyond the grasp of knowledge, only reveals itself when the goal, in view of which all singular iinalities oflife act, is not sought in the proper domain of that life but rather at a level more elevated. All finalized vital phenomena, like their very finality, are, after all, finalized not toward life but toward the expression of its essence, toward the representation [Darstelluug] of its signification. Thus translation has finally as goal to express the most intimate relation among languages. A translation would not seek to say this or that, to transport this or that content, to communicate such a charge of meaning, but to re-mark the atlinity among the languages, to exhibit its own possibility. And that, which holds for the literary text or the sacred text, perhaps defines the very essence of the literary and the sacred, at their common root. 1 said "re-mark" the atlinity among the languages to name the strangeness of an “expression” w... '. 4‘ Des Tours de Babel 187 (“to express the most intimate relation among the languages"), which is neither a simple "presentation" nor simply anything else. In a mode that is solely anticipatory, annunciatory, almost prophetic, translation renders present an aflinity that is never present in this presentation. ()ne thinks of the way in which Kant at times defines the relation to the sublime: a presentation inadequate to that which is nevertheless presented. llere Ben- jamin’s discourse proceeds in twists and turns: It is impossible that it [the translation] be able to reveal this hidden relation itself, that it be able to restitute [herstellen] it; but translation can represent [darstelleu] that relation in actualiz— ing it in its seed or in its intensity. And this representation of a signified ["Darstellung eines Bedeuteten"] by the endeavor, by the seed of its restitution, is an entirely original mode of repre- sentation, which has hardly any equivalent in the domain of non— linguistic life. For the latter has, in analogies and signs, types of reference [Hindeutung] other than the intensive, that is to say anticipatory, anuuncialory luargrt’ifmulc, uudeulemh’] actualiza— tion. But the relation we are thinking of, this very intimate rela» tion among the languages, is that of an original convergence. It consists in this: the languages are not foreign to one another, but, a priori and abstracted from all historical relations, are related to one another in what they mean. The entire enigma of that kinship is concentrated here. What is meant by “what they mean"? And what about this presentation in which nothing is presented in the ordinary mode of presence? At stake here are the name, the symbol, the truth, the letter. ()ne ofthe basic foundations of the essay, as well as ofthe 1916 text, is a theory of the name. Language. is determined starting from the word and the privilege of naming. This is, in passing, a very strong if not very conclusive assertion: "the originary ele- ment of the. translator" is the word and not the sentence, the syntactic articulation. As food for thought, Benjamin oilch a curious "image": the sentence (Satz) would be "the wall in front of the language of the original," whereas the word, the word for word, literality (Wijrtlichkeit), would be its "arcade." Whereas ‘ Wmmmnm 1121M ' .a gamma: :u 1 Des Tours de Babel 18g In “mu- 188 jacques Derrida the wall braces while concealing (it is infront ofthe original), the Translation is a poetic transposition (Umdichtung). We will have 33.3.1.1? " 'r I'wlm 23.13;, .' - :24 an} 4"-'.*.-m&';i“1 arcade supports while letting light pass and the original show (we are not far from the Parisian passages). This privilege of the word obviously supports that ofthe name and with it what is proper to the proper name, the stakes and the very possibility of the trans— lation contract. It opens onto the economic problem of transla- tion, whether it be a matter of economy as the law of the proper or of economy as a quantitative relation (is it translating to trans- pose a proper name into several words, into a phrase or into a description, and so forth?) There is some to-be-translated. From both sides it assigns and makes contracts. It commits not so much authors as proper names at the edge ofthe language, it essentially commits neither to communicate nor to represent, nor to keep an already signed commitment, but rather to draw up the contract and to give birth to the pact, in other words to the symbolou, in a sense that Benjamin does not designate by this term but suggests, no doubt with the metaphor of the amphora, let us say, since from the start we have suspected the ordinary sense of metaphor with the ammetaphor. 1f the translator neither restitutes nor copies an original, it is because the original lives on and transforms itself. The transla— tion will truly be a moment in the growth of the original, which will complete itself in enlarging itself. Now, it has indeed to be, and it is in this that the "seminal" logic must have imposed itself on Benjamin, that growth not give rise to just any form in just any direction. Growth must accomplish, lill, complete (Ergiin- zung is here the most frequent term). And ifthe original calls for a complement, it is because at the origin it was not there without fault, full, complete, total, identical to itself. From the origin of the original to be translated there is fall and exile. The translator must redeem (erlbsen), absolve, resolve, in trying to absolve himself of his own debt, which is at bottom the same and bottomless. "To redeem in his own tongue that pure language exiled in the foreign tongue, to liberate by transposing this pure language captive in the work, such is the task of the translator." to examine the essence of the "pure language” that it liberates. But let us note for the moment that this liberation itselfpresup— poses a freedom of the translator, which is itself none other than relation to that “pure language"; and the liberation that it oper- ates, eventually in transgressing the limits of the translating lan- guage, in transforming it in turn, must extend, enlarge, and make language grow. As this growth comes also to complete, as it is symbolon, it does not reproduce: it adjoins in adding. Hence this double siinile (Vergleich), all these turns and metaphoric supplements: (1) “just as the tangent touches the circle only in a fleeting manner and at a single point, and just as it is this contact, not the point, that assigns to the tangent the law according to which it pursues to infinity its course in a straight line, so the translation touches the original in a fleeting manner and only at an inlinitely small point of meaning, to follow henceforth its proper course, according to the law of fidelity in the liberty of language movement." Each time that he talks about the contact (Beriihrung) between the bodies of the two texts in the process of translation, Benjamin calls it "fleeting" (fliichtig). ()n at least three occasions, this "fleeting" character is emphasized, and al- ways in order to situate the contact with meaning, the infinitely small point of meaning which the languages barely brush ("The harmony between the languages is so profound here [in the translations of Sophocles by Holderlinj that the meaning is only touched by the wind of language in the manner of an Eolian lyre"). What can an inlinitely small point of meaning be? What is the measure to evaluate it? The metaphor itself is at once the question and the answer. And here is the other metaphor, the metamphora, which no longer concerns extension in a straight and infinite line but enlargement by adjoining along the broken lines of a fragment. (2) "For, just as the fragments of the amphora, if one is to be able to reconstitute the whole, must be contiguous in the smallest details, but not identical to each other, so instead of rendering itself similar to the meaning ofthe original, the translation should rather, in a movement oflove and rmmmnh M. . il" 190 jacques Derrida in full detail, pass into its own language the mode of intention of the original: thus, just as the debris become recognizable as fragments of the same amphora, original and translations become recognizable as fragments of a larger language." Let us accompany this movement of love, the gesture of this loving one (liebeml) that is at work in the translation. It does not reproduce, does not restitute, does not represent; as to the es- sential, it does not render the meaning of the original except at that point of contact or caress, the infinitely small of meaning. It extends the body of languages, it puts languages into symbolic expansion, and symbolic here means that, however little restitu- tion there be to accomplish, the larger, the new vaster aggre- gate, has still to reconstitute something. It is perhaps not a whole, but it is an aggregate in which openness should not con- tradict unity. Like the urn which lends its poetic topos to so many meditations on word and thing, from llolderlin to Rilke and Heidegger, the amphora is one with itself though opening itself to the outside—and this openness opens the unity, renders it possible, and forbids it totality. lts openness allows receiving and giving. If the growth of language must also reconstitute without representing, if that is the symbol, can translation lay claimto the truth? Truth—will that still be the name of that which still lays down the law for a translation? Here we touch—at a point no doubt infinitely small—the limit of translation. The pure untranslatable and the pure trans— ferable here pass one into the other—and it is the truth, “itself materially." The word "truth" appears more than once in "The Task of the Translator." We must not rush to lay hold ofit. It is not a matter of truth for a translation in so far as it might conform or be faithful to its model, the original. Nor any more a matter, either for the original or even for the translation, of some adequation of the language to meaning or to reality, nor indeed of the representa— tion to something. Then what is it that goes under the name of truth? And will it be that new? Let us start again from the “symbolic.” Let us remember the metaphor, or the ammetaphor: a translation espouses the origi- .~.;-.x;m,f_.m~.. 5.. 5.: - . . ., Des Tours (le Babel igi nal when the two adjoined fragments, as different as they can be, complete each other so as to form a larger tongue in the course of a survival that changes them both. For the native tongue of the translator, as we have noted, is altered as well. Such at least is my interpretation—my translation, my “task of the translator." It is what I have called the translation contract: hymen or mar- riage contract with the promise to produce a child whose seed will give rise to history and growth. A marriage contract in the form ofa seminar. Benjamin says as much, in the translation the original becomes larger; it grows rather than reproduces itself—— and I will add: like a child, its own, no doubt, but with the power to speak on its own which makes ofa child something other than a product subjected to the law of reproduction. This promise signals a kingdom which is at once "promised and forbidden where the languages will be reconciled and fulfilled." This is the most Babelian note in an analysis of sacred writing as the model and the limit of all writing, in any case of all Dichtnng in its being-to—be-translated. The sacred and the being-to-bc—trans« lated do not lend themselves to thought one without the other. They produce each other at the edge of the same limit. This kingdom is never reached, touched, trodden by transla- tion. There is something untouchable, and in this sense the reconciliation is only promised. But a promise is not nothing, it is not simply marked by what it lacks to be fulfilled. As a prom- ise, translation is already an event, and the decisive signature of a contract. Whether or not it be honored does not prevent the commitment from taking place and from bequcathing its record. A translation that manages, that manages to promise reconcilia- tion, to talk about it, to desire it or make it desirable such a translation is a rare and notable event. ilere two questions before going closer to the truth. Of what does the untouchable consist, if there is such a thing? And why does such a metaphor or annnetaphor of Benjamin make me think of the hymen, more visibly of the wedding gown? 1. The always intact, the intangible, the untouchable (un~ bcriilu'bar) is what fascinates and orients the work of the trans— lator. He wants to touch the untouchable, that which remains of 29’) 192 jacques Derrida the text when one has extracted from it the communicable mean- ing (point ofcontact which is, remember, infinitely small), when one has transmitted that which can be transmitted, indeed taught: what I do here, after and thanks to Maurice de Gandillac, knowing that an untouchable remnant of the Benjaminian text will also remain intact at the end of the operation. Intact and virgin in spite of the labor of translation, however efiicient or pertinent that may be. Pertinency has no bearing here. If one can risk a proposition in appearance so absurd, the text will be even more virgin after the passage of the translator, and the hymen, sign of virginity, more jealous of itself after the other hymen, the contract signed and the marriage consummated. Symbolic completeness will not have taken place to its very end and yet the promise of marriage will have come about—and this is the task ofthe translator, in what makes it very pointed as well as irreplaceable. But again? Ofwhat does the untouchable consist? Let us study again the metaphors or the ammetaphors, the Ubertragungen which are translations and metaphors of translation, translations (Ubersetzungen) of translation or metaphors of metaphor. Let as study all of these Benjaminian passages. The first figure which comesin'here is that ofthe core and the shell, the fruit and the skin (Kern, Frucht/Sc/iale). It describes in the final analysis the [distinction that Benjamin would never want to renounce or even bother to question. One recognizes a core (the original as such) by the fact that it can bear further translating and restranslating. A translation, as such, cannot. Only a core, because it resists the translation it attracts, can offer itself to further translating opera- tions without letting itself be exhausted. For the relation of the content to the language, one would also say of the substance to the form, of the signified to the signifier—it hardly matters here (in this context Benjamin opposes tenor, Celmlt, and tongue or language, Sprache)——differs from the original text to the transla— tion. In the first, the unity is just as dense, tight, adherent as between the fruit and its skin, its shell or its peel. Not that they are inseparable—one should be able to distinguish them by Des Tours de Babel 193 rights—~but they belong to an organic whole, and it is not insig- nificant that the metaphor here be vegetal and natural, naturalis— tic: This kingdom it [the original in translation] never fully attains, but it is there that is found what makes translating more than communicating. More precisely one can define this essential core as that which, in the translation, is not translatable again. For, as much as one may extract of the communicable in order to trans— late it, there always remains this untouchable towards which is oriented the work ofthe true translator. It is not transmissible, as is the creative word of the original ["iibertragbar wie das Dichter— wort des Originalsn], for the relation of this tenor to the language is entirely different in the original and in the translation. In the original, tenor and language form a determinate unity, like that of the fruit and the skin. Let us dissect a bit more the rhetoric of this sequence. It is not certain that the essential "core" and the "fruit" designate the same thing. The essential core, that which in the translation is not translatable again, is not the tenor, but this adherence be tween the tenor and the language, between the fruit and the skin. This may seem strange or incoherent (how can a core be ' situated between the fruit and the skin?). It is necessary no doubt to think that the core is first the hard and central unity that holds the fruit to the skin, the fruit to itselfas well; and above all that, at the heart of the fruit, the core is "untouchable," beyond reach and invisible. The core would be the first metaphor of what makes for the unity of the two terms in the second meta— phor. But there is a third, and this time one without a natural provenance. It concerns the relation of the tenor to the language in the translation and no longer in the original. This relation is different, and I do not think I give in to artifice by insisting on this difference in saying that it is precisely that of artifice to nature. What in fact is it that Benjamin notes, as ifin passing, for rhetorical or pedagogical convenience? That "the language ofthe translation envelops its tenor like a royal cape with large folds. For it is the signifier of a language superior to itself and so WWqu-awmmm 4 @‘P‘fiwrywxfirvzyn ,2 4; . _ ,,,, _ mafia: (,1 ,g 194 Jacques Derrida remains, in relation to its own tenor, inadequate, forced, for eign.” That is quite beautiful, a beautiful translation: white er- mine, crowning, scepter, and majestic hearing. The king has indeed a body (and it is not here the original text but that which constitutes the tenor of the translated text), but this body is only promised, announced and dissimulated by the translation. The clothes fit but do not cling strictly enough to the royal person. This is not a weakness; the best translation resembles this royal cape. It remains separate from the body to which it is nev— ertheless conjoined, wedding it, not wedded to it. One can of course embroider on this cape, on the necessity of this Ubertra- gung, of this metaphoric translation of translation. For example, one can oppose this metaphor to that of the shell and the core just as one would oppose technology to nature. An article of Clothing is not natural; it is a fabric and even~another metaphor of metaphor—a text, and this text of artifice appears precisely on the side of the symbolic contract. Now, if the original text is demand for translation, then the fruit, unless it be the core, insists upon becoming the king or the emperor who will wear new clothes: under its large folds, in weitcn Falten, one will imagine him naked. No doubt the cape and the folds protect the king Against the cold or natural aggressions; but first, above all, it is, like his scepter, the eminent visibility of the law. It is the index of power and of the power to lay down the law. But one infers that what counts is what comes to pass under the cape, to wit, the body of the king, do not immediately say the phallus, around which a translation busies its tongue, makes pleats, molds forms, sews hems, quilts, and embroiders. But always amply floating at some distance from the tenor. 2. More or less strictly, the cape weds the body of the king, but as for what comes to pass under the cape, it is diiiicult to separate the king from the royal couple. This is the one, this couple of spouses (the body of the king and his gown: the tenor and the tongue, the king and the queen) that lays down the law and guarantees every contract from this first contract. That is why I thought ofa wedding gown. Benjamin, we know, does not Des Tours de Babel 195 push matters in the direction that I give to my translation, read- ing him always already in translation. More or less faithfully l have taken some liberty with the tenor of the original, as much as with its tongue, and again with the original that is also for me, now, the translation by Maurice de Gandillac. l have added another cape, floating even more, but is that not the final desti— nation of all translation? At least if a translation is destined to arrive. Despite the distinction between the two metaphors, the shell and the cape (the royal cape, for he said "royal" where others could have thought a cape suiiiced), despite the opposition of nature and art, there is in both cases a unity of tenor and tongue, natural unity in the one case, symbolic unity in the other. Simply in the translation the unity signals a (metapliorically) more "nat— ural" unity; it promises a tongue or language more originary and almost sublime, sublime to the distended extent that the prom— ise itself—to wit, the translation—there remains inadequate (unangemessen), violent and forced (gewaltig), and foreign (frcmrl). This "fracture" renders useless, even "forbids," every Ubertragung, every "transmission," exactly as the French trans- lation says: the word also plays, like a transmission, with trans- ferential or metaphorical displacement. And the word Ubenragung imposes itself again a few lines down: if the transla- tion "transplants" the original onto another terrain of language "ironically" more definitive, it is to the extent that it could no longer be displaced by any other "transfer" (Ubertragung) but only "raised" (er/when) anew on the spot “in other parts." There is no translation of translation; that is the axiom without which there would not be "The Task of the Translator." lfone were to violate it, and one must not, one would touch the untouchable of the untouchable, to wit, that which guarantees to the original that it remains indeed the original. This is not unrelated to truth. Truth is apparently beyond every Ubertragung and every possible Ubersetzung It is not the representational correspondence between the original and the translation, nor even the primary adequation between the origi- SW 196 jacques Derrida nal and some object or signification exterior to it. Truth would be rather the pure language in which the meaning and the letter no longer dissociate. If such a place, the taking place of such an event, remained undiscoverable, one could no longer, even by right, distinguish between an original and a translation. ln main- taining this distinction at all cost, as the original given of every translation contract (in the quasi-transcendental sense we dis- cussed above), Benjamin repeats the foundation of the law. In so doing he exhibits the possibility of copyright for works and au- thor, the very possibility by which actual law claims to be sup- ported. This law collapses at the slightest challenge to a strict boundary between the original and the version, indeed to the identity or to the integrity of the original. What Benjamin says about this relation between original and translation is also found translated in a language rather wooden but faithfully reproduced as to its meaning at the opening of all legal treatises concerning the actual law of translations. And then whether it be a matter of the general principles of the difference original/translation (the latter being "derived" from the former) or a matter ofthe transla- tions of translation. The translation of translation is said to be "derived: from the original and not from the first translation. Here are some excerpts from the French law; but there does not [seem to be from this point of view any opposition between it and the rest of Western law (nevertheless, a study ofcomparative law should also concern the translation of legal texts). As we shall see, these propositions appeal to the polarity expression/ex— pressed, signifier/signified, form/substance. Benjamin also be— gan by saying: translation is a form, and the symbolizer/sym- bolized split organizes his whole essay. Now, in what way is this system of oppositions indispensable to this law? Because only it allows, starting from the distinction between original and trans- lation, acknowledgment of some originality in the translation. This originality is determined, and this is one ofthe many classic philosophemes at the foundation of this law, as originality of expression. Expression is opposed to content, of course, and the translation, which is not supposed to touch the content, must be Des Tours de Babel 197 original only in its language as expression; but expression is also opposed to what French jurists call the composition of the origi- nal. In general one places composition on the side of form, but here the form of expression in which one can acknowledge some originality to the translator, and for this reason the rights of authortranslator, is only the form of linguistic expression, the choice ofwords in the language, and so forth, but nothing else of the form. I quote Claude Colombet, Propriéié littéraire cl art- istique (Paris: Dalloz, 1976), from which I excerpt only a few lines, in accordance with the law of March 11, 1957, recalled at the opening of the book and “authorizing . . . only analyses and short quotations for the purpose of example or illustration," be- cause "every representation or reproduction, integral or partial, made without the consent of the author or ofhis beneficiaries or executors, is illegal," constituting "therefore an infraction punishable under articles 425 and following of the Penal Code. " 54.~Translations are works which are original only by ex— pression; [very paradoxical restriction: the cornerstone of copyright, it is indeed that only the form can become property, and not the ideas, the themes, the contents, which are common and universal property. (Compare all of chapter 1 in this book, Labsence (18 protection des idées par la (Iroit d’auteur.) If a first consequence is good, since it is this form that defines the origi~ nality of the translation, another consequence could be ruinous, for it would lead to abandoning that which distinguishes the origi— nal from the translation if, excluding expression, it amounts to a distinction ofsubstance. Unless the value ofcomposition, howew er lax it may he, were still to indicate the fact that between the original and the translation the relation is neither of expression nor ofcontent but of something else beyond these oppositions. In following the difliculty of the jurists—sometimes comic in its casuistic subtlety—so as to draw the consequences from axioms of the type "Copyright does not protect ideas; but these can he, sometimes indirectly, protected by means other than the law of March 11, 1957" (ibid., 21), one measures better the historicity and conceptual fragility of this set of axioms] article 4 of the law cites them among the protected works; in fact it has always been admitted that a translator demonstrates originality in the choice of _.,a-:..r -'-"i"-'1*'-4‘bflr- w‘: u y ,_ 5? it E 'l 1; fi . i, V ti 5; i! i i i. j l .3 a 198 Jacques Derrida expressions to render best in one language the meaning of the text in another language. As M. Savatier says, "The genius of each language gives the translated work its own physiognomy‘ and the translator is not a simple workman. He himself partici: pates in a derived creation for which he bears his own responsibil— ity ; it is that in fact translation is not the result of an automatic process; by the choices he makes among several words, several expressions, the translator fashions a work of the mind; but, of course, he could never modify the composition of the work trans- lated, for he is bound to respect that work. In his language, Desbois says the same thing, with some addi- tional details: Derived works which are original in expression. 29. The work under consideration, to be relatively original [emphasized by Desbois], need not bear the imprint of a personality at once in composition and expression, like adaptations. It is enough that the author, while following step by step the development of a preexistent work, have performed a personal act in the ex- pression: article 4 attests to this, since, in a nonexhaustive enu- meration of derived works, it puts translations in the place of honor. "Traduttore, traditore," the Italians are wont to say in a of wit, which, like every coin, has two sides: if there are bad translators, who multiply misreadings, others are cited for the perfection of their task. The risk ofa mistake or an imperfection has as counterpart the perspective of an authentic version, which implies a perfect knowledge of the two languages, an abundance ofjudicious choices, and thus a creative effort. Consulting a die- tionary sufliccs only for mediocre candidates to the baccalaureate: the conscientious and competent translator "gives ofhimself" and creates just like the painter who makes a copy of a model—The verification of this conclusion is furnished by the comparison of several translations ofone and the same text: each may differ from the others without any one containing a misreading; the varietv in modes of expression for a single thought demonstrates, with the possibility of choice, that the task of the translator gives room for manifestations ofpersonality. [Le (lroit rl'auteur en France (Paris Dalloz, 1978)] V One will note in passing that the task ofthe translator, confined to the duel of languages (never more than two languages), gives Des Tours de Babel 199 rise only to a "creative effort" (effort and tendency rather than achievement, artisan labor rather than artistic performance), and when the translator "creates," it is like a painter who copies his model (a ludicrous comparison for many reasons; is there any use in explaining?). The recurrence of the word “task” is remarkable enough in any case, for all the significations that it weaves into a network, and there is always the same evaluative interpretation: duty, debt, tax, levy, toll, inheritance and estate tax, nobiliary obligation, but labor midway to creation, infinite task, essential incomplctiou, as if the presumed creator of the original were not—he too—indebted, taxed, obligated by another text, and a priori translating. Between the transcendental law (as Benjamin repeats it) and the actual law as it is formulated so laboriously and at times so crudely in treatises on copyright for author or for works, the analogy can be followed quite far, for example in that which iotion of derivation and the translations of transla— concerns the l he original and not from tions: these are always derived from t previous translations. Here is a note by Desbois: ion personal work when ding transla— work that is The translator will not even cease to fash he goes to draw advice and inspiration from a prece tion. We will not refuse the status of author for a derived, in relation to anterior translations, to someone who would have been content to choose, among several versions al- ready published, the one that seemed to him the most adequate to the other, taking a passage from he would create a new work, by the very fact ofthe combination, which renders his work different from antecedent productions. He has exercised creativity, since his translation reflects a new form and results from comparisons, from choices. The translator would still deserve a hearing in our opinion, even if his reflection had led him to the same result as a predecessor, whose work, by supposition, he would not have known: his unintentional replica, far from amounting to pla— giarism, would hear the mark ofhis personality, would present a "subjective novelty,n which would call for protection. The two versions, accomplished separately and each without knowledge of the other, gave rise, separately and individually, to manifesta— to the original: going from one this one, another from that one, Warn—rs III m- .11.!) mr was ....-:.1-;.;~,:. zoo jacques Derrida tions of personality. The second will be a work derived vis-ri-uis the work that has been translated, not visa-vis the first. [ibid., 41; my emphasis in the last sentence] Of this right to the truth, what is the relation? Translation promises a kingdom to the reconciliation of lan~ guages. This promise, a properly symbolic event adjoining, cou- pling, marrying two languages like two parts of a greater whole, appeals to a language of the truth ("Sprache der Wahrheit"). Not to a language that is true, adequate to some exterior content, but to a true tongue, to a language whose truth would he referred only to itself. It would be a matter ol‘truth as authenticity, truth of act or event which would belong to the original rather than to the translation, even if the original is already in a position of demand or debt. And if there were such authenticity and such force ofevent in what is ordinarily called a translation, it is that it would produce itselfin some fashion like an original work. There would thus be an original and inaugural way ofindebting oneself; that would he the place and date of what is called an original, a work. . To translate well the intentional meaning of what Benjamin means to say when he speaks of the “language of the truth,” perhaps it is necessary to understand what he regularly says about the “intentional meaning" or the "intentional aim” ("In- tention der Meinung," "Art des lVlcinens"). As Maurice de Can- dillac reminds us, these are categories borrowed from the Scho-. lastics by Brentano and llusserl. They play a role that is impor- tant if not always very clear in "The Task of the Translator." What is it that seems intended by the concept of intention (Meinen)? Let us return to the point where in the translation there seems to be announced a kinship among languages, be- yond all resemblance between an original and its reproduction and independently of any historical liliation. Moreover, kinship does not necessarily imply resemblence. With that said, in dis- missing the historical or natural origin, Benjamin does not ex- clude, in a wholly dilferent sense, consideration of the origin in Des Tours de Babel 20‘; general, any more than a Rousseau or a Husserl did in analogous contexts and with analogous movements. Benjamin specifies quite literally: for the most rigorous access to this kinship or to this affinity of languages, "the concept of origin [Abstammungs- begriffl remains indispensable." Where, then, is this original affinity to be sought? We see it announced in the plying, re— plying, co-deploying ofintentions. Through each language some‘ thing is intended which is the same and yet which none of the languages can attain separately. They can claim, and promise themselves to attain it, only by coemploying or codeploying thcir intentional modes, “the whole of their complementary inter tional modes." This codcployment toward the whole is a re- plying because what it intends to attain is "the pure language" ("die reine Sprache"), or the pure tongue. What is intended, then, by this co‘operation of languages and intentional modes is not transcendent to the language; it is not a reality which they would besiege from all sides, like a tower that they would try to surround. No, what they are aiming at intentionally, individually and jointly, in translation is the language itself as a Bahelian event, a language that is not the universal language in the Leib~ nizian sense, a language which is not the natural language that each remains on its own either; it is the being-language of the language, tongue or language as such, that unity without any self-identity, which makes for the fact that there are languages and that they are languages. These languages relate to one another in translation according to an unheard-of mode. They complete each other, says Ben— jamin; but no other completeness in the world can represent this one, or that symbolic complementarity. This singularity (not rep- resentable by anything in the world) comes no doubt from the intentional mode or from what Benjamin tries to translate in a scholastico—pheiiomenological language. Within the same inten~ tional aim it is necessary to distinguish rigorously between the thing intended, the intended (Cemeinten), and the mode of intention ("die Art des Meinens"). As soon as he sights the origi- nal contract of languages and the hope for the "pure tongue," the W's-munimr-mm 202 jacques Derrida task of the translator excludes the intended or leaves it between brackets. The mode of intention alone assigns the task of translation. Every "thing," in its presumed self-identity (for example, bread itself) is intended by way ofdilierent modes in each language and in each text of each language. It is among these modes that the translation should seek, produce or reproduce, a complemen- tarity or a "harmony." And since to complete or complement does not amount to the summation of any worldly totality, the value of harmony suits this adjustment, and what can here be called the accord of tongues. This accord lets the pure language, and the being-language of the language, resonate, announcing it rather than presenting it. As long as this accord does not take place, the pure language remains hidden, concealed (oer— borgen), immured in the nocturnal intimacy ofthe "core." Only a translation can make it emerge. Emerge and above all develop, make grow. Always according to the same motif(in appearance organieist or vitalist), one could then say that each language is as if atrophied in its isolation, meager, arrested in its growth, sickly. Owing to translation, in other words to this linguistic supplementarity by which one lan- guage gives to another what it lacks, and gives it harmoniously, this crossing of languages assures the growth of languages, even that "holy growth oflanguage" "unto the messianic end olhisto— ry." All of that is announced in the translation process, through "the eternal sur-vival of languages" ("am ewigen Fortleben der Sprachen") or "the infinite rebirth [Aulleben] of languages." This perpetual reviviscence, this constant regeneration (Fort, and Auf—leben) by translation is less a revelation, revelation it- self, than an annunciation, an alliance and a promise. This religious code is essential here. The sacred text marks the limit, the pure even if inaccessible model, of pure trans- ferability, the ideal starting from which one could think, evalu- ate, measure the essential, that is to say poetic, translation. Translation, as holy growth of languages, announces the mes- sianic end, surely, but the sign of that end and of that growth is Des Tours dc. Babel 203 "present" (gegenwartig) only in the “knowledge of that dis— tance," in the Entfernung, the remoteness that relates us to it. One can know this remoteness, have knowledge or a presenti— ment of it, but we cannot overcome it. Yet it puts us in contact with that “language of the truth" which is the “true language" ("so ist diese Sprache der Wahrheit—die wahre Sprache"). This contact takes place in the mode of"presentiinent," in the uinten- sive" mode that renders present what is absent, that allows re— moteness to approach as remoteness, fortxla. Let us say that the translation is the experience, that which is translated or experi- enced as well: experience is translation. The twbe-translated of the sacred text, its pure transferability, that is what would give at the limit the ideal measure for all translation. The sacred text assigns the task to the translator, and. it is sacred inasmuch as it announces itself as transferable, simply transferable, to-be—translated, which does not always mean im— mediately translatable, in the common sense that was dismissed from the start. Perhaps it is necessary to distinguish here be tween the transferable and the translatable. Transferability pure and simple is that of the sacred text in which meaning and liter- ality are no longer dEScernible as they form the body ofa unique, irreplaceable, and untranslerable event, “materially the truth." Never are the call for translation, the debt, the task, the. assigna- tion, more imperious. Never is there anything more transfera- ble, yet by reason of this indistinction of meaning and litcrality (Wiirtlichkeit), the pure transferable can announce “so”, give itself, present itself, let itself be translated as untranslatablc. From this limit, at once interior and exterior, the translator comes to receive all the signs oi~ remoteness (Entfernung) which guide him on his infinite course, at the edge of the abyss, of madness and of silence: the last works of Iliilderlin as transla- tions of Sophocles, the collapse of meaning "from abyss to abyss," and this danger is not that of accident, it is trans- ferability, it is the law of translation, the to-be—transluted as law, and madness waits on both the order given, the order received sides. And as the task is impossible at the approaches to the 204 jacques Derrida sacred text which assigns it to you, the infinite guilt absolves you immediately. That is what is named from here on Babel: the law imposed by the name of God who in one stroke commands and forbids you to translate by showing and hiding from you the limit. But it is not only the Babelien situation, not only a scene or a structure. It is also the status and the event of the Bahelian text, of the text of Genesis (a unique text in this regard) as sacred text. It comes under the law that it recounts and translates in an exemplary way. It lays down the law it speaks about, and from abyss to abyss it deconstructs the tower, and every turn, twists and turns of every sort, in a rhythm. What comes to pass in a sacred text is the occurrence of a pas de sens. And this event is also the one starting from which it is possible to think the poetic or literary text which tries to redeem the lost sacred and there translates itself as in its model. Pas de sens—that does not signify poverty of meaning but no meaning that would be itself, meaning, beyond any “literality.” And right there is the sacred. The sacred surrenders itself to translation, which devotes itself to the sacred. The sacred would be nothing withotIt translation, and translation would not take place without the sacred; the one and the other are inseparable. In the sacred text "the meaning has ceased to be the divide for the flow of language and for the flow of revelation." It is the absolute text because in its event it communicates nothing, it says nothing that would make sense beyond the event itself. That event melds completely with the act of language, for example with prophecy. It is literally the literality of its tongue, "pure language." And since no meaning bears detaching, transferring, transporting, or translating into another tongue as such (as meaning), it com‘ mands right away the translation that it seems to refuse. It is transferable and untranslatable. There is only letter, and it is the truth of pure language, the truth as pure language. This law would not be an exterior constraint; it grants a liberty to literality. In the same event, the letter ceases to oppress Des Tours de Babel 205 insofar as it is no longer the exterior body or the corset of mean- ing. The letter also translates itself of itself, and it is in this self- relation of the sacred body that the task of the translator finds itself engaged. This situation, though being one of pure limit, does not exclude—quite the contrary—gradations, virtuality, interval and in-between, the infinite labor to rejoin that which is nevertheless past, already given, even here, between the lines, already signed. How would you translate a signature? And how would you refrain, whether it be Yahweh, Babel, Benjamin when he signs right next to his last word? But literally, and between the lines, it is also the signature of Maurice de Candillac that to end I quote in posing my question: can one quote a signature? “For, to some degree, all the great writings, but to the highest point sacred Scripture, contain between the lines their virtual translation. The interlinear version of the sacred text is the model or ideal of all translation. " Translator’s Note Translation is an art ofcoinpromise, ifonly because the problems of translation have no one solution and none that is fully satisfac- tory. The best translation is merely better than the worst to some extent, more or less. Compromise also precludes consistency. It would have been possible, and it once seemed plausible, to maintain regular equivalents at least for those terms that figure prominently in the argument. But the result was not worth the sacrifice. There was consolation for so much effort to so little effect in that whatever we did, we were bound to exhibit the true principles of translation announced in our text. And so this trans— lation is exemplary to that extent. To the extent that we were guided in translation, the principles were also those found in the text. Accordingly, a silhouette of the original appears for effect in many words and phrases of the translation. 206 Jacques Derrida Publication of the French text is also significant in telling of our situation. Among the many differences in this translation, a few appear already in the original. The quotations from Walter Benjamin are translated from the French, not the German. The biblical passages are also trans- lated from their French versions, since Derrida works from translations in both cases. llere are some of the problems for which I found solutions least satisfactory: "Des Tours de Babel." The title can he read in various ways. Des means “some"; but it also means "of the," "from the,” or “about the." Tours could be towers, twists, tricks, turns, or tropes, as in a "turn" of phrase. Taken together, ([68 and tours have the same sound as (Iétour, the word for detour. To mark that economy in language the title has not been changed. langue/langagc. It is diilicult to mark this difference in En- glish where "language" covers both. Whenever possible, “tongue” has been used for langue, and "language" only in those cases that are clearly specific rather than generic. Langage is then translated as "language" in the singular and without modi- fier, though not always. The German Sprachc introduces further r complications. suruic. The word means "survival" as well as "afterlife"; its use in the text also brings out the subliminal sense of more life and more than life. The hyphenation of "sur-vival" is an admitted cheat. performance. The French has not the primarily dramatic connotation of the English but rather the sense of prowess and success; its use here also relates to the "periormative" of speech acts. pas-de-sens. With this expression Derrida combines the pas of negation with the pas of step in a most curious figure. My English suggested a skip. Des Tours do Babel 207 De ca droit (i la vérité quel est le rapport? This sentence could be translated by any and all of the following: What is the relation between this law and the truth? What is the gain from this law to the truth? \Vhat is the relation between this right to the truth and all the rest? ...
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des+Tours - From : DIFFERENCE IN TRANSLATION, ed. by Joseph...

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