chapter  6
16 Pages

World literature and translation

Goethe himself was a prodigious translator, and he considered translation a necessary instrument for the spread of world literature. In fact, he thought that the German language and German literature had a great task ahead of them in serving as mediators, through translation, for world literature. Most commentators on world literature after Goethe have likewise recognized the importance of translation. For the early twentieth-century German writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin, translation was even the most important means for a work of literature to survive its own period and gain a meaningful afterlife. In the final quarter of the twentieth century a number of scholars, building on the polysystem theory of Itamar Even-Zohar, have elaborated an approach to translation that makes the latter, instead of a handmaiden to “real” literature, the engine of change in literature. Towards the end of the century there have even been calls that translation studies would replace comparative literature as the central discipline in the transnational study of literature.