The Task of the Translator: Walter Benjamin and Cultural Translation

번역자의 책무-발터 벤야민과 문화번역

  • Received : 2011.04.30
  • Accepted : 2011.06.03
  • Published : 2011.06.30


On recognizing the significance of Walter Benjamin's "The Task of a Translator" in recent discourses of postcolonial cultural translation, this essay examines the creative postcolonialist appropriations of Benjamin's theory of translation and their political implications. In an effort to dismantle the imperialist political hierarchy between the West and the non-West, modernity and its "primitive" others, which has been the operative premise of the traditional translation studies and anthropology, newly emergent discourses of cultural translation actively adopts Benjamin's notion of translation that does not prioritize the original text's claim on authenticity. Benjamin theorizes each text-translation as well as the original-as an incomplete representation of the pure language. Eschewing formalistic views propounded by deconstructionist critics like Paul de Man, who tend to regard Benjamin's notion of the untranslatable purely in terms of the failure inherent in the language system per se, such postcolonialist critics as Tejaswini Niranjana, Rey Chow, and Homi Bhabha, each in his/her unique way, recuperate the significatory potential of historicity embedded in Benjamin's text. Their further appropriation of the concept of the "untranslatable" depends on a radically political turn that, instead of focusing on the failure of translation, salvages historical as well as cultural potentiality that lies between disparate cultural entities, signifying differences, or disjunctures, that do not easily render themselves to existing systems of representation. It may therefore be concluded that postcolonial discourses on cultural translation of Niranhana, Chow, and Bhabha, inspired by Benjamin, each translate the latter's theory into highly politicized understandings of translation, and this leads to an extensive rethinking of the act of translation itself to include all forms of cultural exchange and communicative activities between cultures. The disjunctures between these discourses and Benjamin's text, in that sense, enable them to form a sort of theoretical constellation, which aspires to an impossible yet necessary utopian ideal of critical thinking.