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Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” – Part II

Continuing our series on Walter Benjamin, Eric selects certain passages from “The Task of the Translator” and relates them to our work at Archipelago:

Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own.


Here, Benjamin emphasizes the dynamic quality of translation. Whereas the original text remains static over centuries, new translations continue to appear with generations, reviving the text, such as Scott Montcrieff’s original English translation (and subsequent revisions/edits) of Proust and Lydia Davis’s recent English translation.


Just as the manifestations of life are intimately connected with the phenomenon of life without being of importance to it, a translation issues from the original—not so much form its life as from its afterlife. For a translation comes later than the original, and since the important works of world literature never find their chosen translators at the time of their origin, their translation marks their stage of continued life.


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