Translation as a Form
A Centennial Commentary on Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator”
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This is a book-length commentary on Walter Benjamin’s 1923 essay "Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers," best known in English under the title "The Task of the Translator." Benjamin’s essay is at once an immensely attractive work for top-flight theorists of translation and comparative literature and a frustratingly cryptic work that cries out for commentary. Almost every one of the claims he makes in it seems wildly counterintuitive, because he articulates none of the background support that would help readers place it in larger literary-historical contexts: Jewish mystical traditions from Philo Judaeus’s Logos-based Neoplatonism to thirteenth-century Lurianic Kabbalah; Romantic and post-Romantic esotericisms from Novalis and the Schlegels to Hölderlin and Goethe; modernist avant-garde foreclosures on "the public" and generally the communicative contexts of literature.
The book is divided into 78 passages, from one to a few sentences in length. Each of the passages becomes its own commentarial unit, consisting of a Benjaminian interlinear box, a paraphrase, a commentary, and a list of other commentators who have engaged the specific passage in question. Because the passages cover the entire text of the essay in sequence, reading straight through the book provides the reader with an augmented experience of reading the essay.
Robinson’s commentary is key reading for scholars and postgraduate students of translation, comparative literature, and critical theory.
Table of Contents
Passages, titles, and sections
Interlinears and paraphrases
Previous English translations
Douglas Robinson is Professor of Translating Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and author or editor of 12 other Routledge books, including the recent Critical Translation Studies, Translationality, Priming Translation, and The Behavioral Economics of Translation, as well as the textbook Becoming a Translator and the anthology Western Translation Theory: From Herodotus to Nietzsche.
"Douglas Robinson meticulously probes Benjamin's essay. He provides interlinear translations of text passages with clarifying paraphrases for each thematic section before embarking on his commentary. While this facilitates readers' access to a text widely regarded as enigmatic, Robinson takes great care not to overwrite the 'cryptic story' and Benjamin's mysticism. A valuable contribution that introduces new perspectives on the essay – and required reading for Benjamin scholars."
Dilek Dizdar, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany