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Sources and Translations

Author: joe

Monday, 08 November, 2010 - 22:31

- on the withdrawal of the text.

The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect [intention] upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. This is a feature of translation which basically differentiates it from the poet's work, because the effort of the latter is never directed at the language as such, at its totality, but solely and immediately at specific linguistic contextual aspects. Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at the single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one. Not only does the aim of translation differ from that of a literary work-it intends language as a whole, taking an individual work in an alien language as a point of departure - but it is a different effort altogether. The intention of the poet is spontaneous, primary, graphic; that of the translator is derivative, ultimate, ideational. For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work. This language is one in which the independent sentences, works of literature, critical judgments, will never communicate - for they remain dependent on translation; but in it the languages themselves, supplemented and reconciled in their mode of signification, harmonize. If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is - the true language. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translations.
 
The Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin

Re-reading this passage again recently for a lecture plan, I saw for the first time new significances in Benjamin's articulation of the work at stake in translation. The texts themselves - sources and translations - are split not only in their causal relationships as either originals and derivatives, but also in their modes. The original is the outcome of spontaneity, "primary, graphic", while the derived text is "utlimate, ideational". The existence of the original can be found, is specific, and tied to contexts, while the translation aims at "totality".

This essay is often read as an exploration of the angst of searching for the "intention' of the author - the author, who must later die at the hands of Barthes, even as Foucault stands by with Frankenstein's resuscitator. But I can't help but read these lines now with a different compiler at work in my brain. This "ultimate, ideational" text must appeal to a text we cannot access - written as it is in "pure language", the "language of truth". It is perhaps a writerly text, the reading that is written at every encounter with a reader. But perhaps it is also a withdrawn text, ready-to-hand, invisible.

Levy Bryant recently wrote an interesting discussion on what an object-oriented literary criticism would look like. Following his ontological plan of understanding objects as fundamentally split, he suggests that any given text is split between its local manifestation and its withdrawn and inaccessible dimensions.

Insofar as the virtual proper being of a text is necessarily withdrawn, this dimension of texts could only ever be sensed in traces indicating or suggesting another dimension at work in the manifest dimension of a text. Based on the "logic" of these traces, the literary critic might seek to form a "diagram" (always partial and incomplete) of the virtual text that haunts a manifest text.
 
Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Literary Criticism by Levy Bryant

Yet the withdrawn text that we cannot access is invisible only because it is ready-to-hand, zuhanden, in action, tooling and thinging, everywhere; meanwhile the manifest text we encounter is empty, present, vorhanden. The "true language" is everywhere, in action, at work. Our fixings of it, in sources and, vicariously, in translations, are brittle instances, frozen, delicate, unable to bear the demands we place on them.

Categories: text, translation, language, truth, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, presence-at-hand, readiness-to-hand, source, original, writerly, author,
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