Different fragments, different vases: a Neoplatonic commentary on Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’

Heythrop Journal 43 (2):185-198 (2002)
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Abstract

This article re‐examines a familiar essay of Benjamin’s, ‘The Task of the Translator’, from a Neoplatonic point of view. Beginning with a brief survey of various other Neoplatonic moments in Benjamin’s work (where a greater totality or wholeness is referred to), ‘The Task of the Translator’ is considered as a collection of metaphors on the act of translation – the translation as the ghost of the original, or its blossom, or its mantle. Drawing on varied examples from a diverse canon of Neoplatonists – Plotinus, Pseudo‐Dionysius, Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, Ibn ‘Arabi – the article shows not just how each of Benjamin’s metaphors has an unexpectedly esoteric genealogy, but also how they conflict with one another to produce a surprisingly apophatic conclusion on the difficulty of translation.

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Ian Almond
Georgetown University

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