Translation as Simulacrum
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Translation as Simulacrum book
For his German translation of Charles Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens, published in 1923, Walter Benjamin wrote an introductory essay entitled ‘The Task of the Translator’, which stands out as a quintessentially modernist attempt to formulate a theory of translation, perhaps as the modernist theory of translation. What strikes immediately in Benjamin’s essay of course is his outright dismissal of the traditional theory of translation, which, as he puts it, is to convey ‘the form and meaning of the original as accurately as possible.’ The traditional view of translation as an imitation or copy of an original text in a second language proves inadequate not only in practice, however: it also rests on a falsely static view of language. Neither the assumption that a language is unchanging and completely defined, nor that an individual work is complete, whole and identical to itself, holds up under scrutiny. The traditional theory also misses what for Benjamin is the true purpose of translation.