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Conference: 100 Years of Benjamin’s Task of the Translator

ConferenceAfterlives of an Essay:100 Years of Benjamin’sTask of the Translator

Call for Registration

29-30 September 2023, University of Warwick

Organised by Dr Arianna Autieri (Goldsmiths, University of London), Dr Ian Ellison (University of Kent and Goethe-Universität Frankfurt) and Dr Caroline Summers (University of Warwick)

Registration: £60 (standard) / £30 (postgraduate), via this form. Registration deadline: 14th September 2023.

A limited number of bursaries are available to postgraduate / early career researchers attending the conference. If you would like to apply for one of these, please submit your application using this form by 5pm on 31st August 2023.

Keynote speakers:

  • Dr Julia Ng (Goldsmiths, University of London)
  • Professor Douglas Robinson (Chinese University of Hong Kong)
  • Professor Duncan Large (BCLT, University of East Anglia)
  • Dr Chantal Wright (Zurich University of Applied Sciences)

2023 marks the publication centenary of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay on translation, Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers [The Task of the Translator]. First appearing as a foreword to his translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens, the essay outlines Benjamin’s concept of the Fortleben [afterlife] of the literary text through translation. It has a central place in the canon of translation theory: it has been translated into many languages, is regularly included in Translation Studies readers and is core reading on taught courses in Translation Studies. Benjamin’s ideas about the relationship between a text and its translation, and about the inherent ‘translatability’ of some texts, have been influential across Translation Studies and Comparative Literature, where the term ‘afterlife’ is both widely used and much debated in relation to texts and their authors. Discussion of the essay continues, with recent responses to Benjamin including Chantal Wright’s translation of Antoine Berman’s The Age of Translation (2018), and Douglas Robinson’s Translation as a Form (2023), a book-length commentary that deconstructs Benjamin’s essay in detail.

Since Die Aufgabe was first published, however, there have been seismic changes in the theories and frameworks through which we understand translation. Translation Studies has been established as an academic discipline and has expanded far beyond a focus on literary or even verbal texts; advances in translation technology have questioned the philosophical and ethical stakes of the act of translation; and scholars of both translation and comparative literature have challenged the very principle of ‘translatability’ (Apter 2013). There has also been criticism of the translation of Benjamin’s essay itself, calling into question the extent to which it should form a foundation for theoretical approaches in Translation Studies. In the centenary year of the essay’s publication, the scholarly discourses on Benjamin and translation are well positioned to look critically at this key text and re-evaluate its significance.

Responding both to the central position of Benjamin’s essay in the theoretical canon and to recent theoretical directions that encourage us to see it in a new light, this conference engages critically with The Task of the Translator in the context of contemporary theories of translation, philosophy and literature. Rather than enshrining the essay on the basis of its longevity, the conference brings together scholars from Translation Studies, Comparative Literature, Benjamin Studies and beyond, to create an interdisciplinary space for a reassessment of Benjamin’s ideas and their legacy (or afterlife).

Please direct any queries to

Full programme:

Full programme and abstracts also available to download here.

Friday 29th September 2023

Due to the strike action called by the University and College Union (UCU), we will be unable to run the conference as planned. We have moved all sessions to Saturday 30th September. However, we will make arrangements for a social gathering on Friday 29th September. These will be entirely optional and will be independent of the conference programme. More details will follow in due course.

Saturday 30th September 2023 [Oculus 0.01] (Registration and coffee open from 8.00)




Panel 1: Theoretical readings of Benjamin

Kathryn Batchelor

Benjamin Living On through Derrida: Translatability, Untranslatability, the Afterlife and the Secret

Sofia Cumming

‘Mastering difference’: Benjamin, Blanchot and the Limits of Translatability

Brian O’Keeffe

Theodor Adorno, reader of Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator”




Keynote 1: Of Translational Justice

Dr Julia Ng, Reader in Critical Theory and Co-Director, Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought at Goldsmiths, University of London




Panel 2: Contemporary perspectives

Kasia Szymanska

‘Not by a single one but only by the totality’: Walter Benjamin and the question of multiple translation

Francesca Borgarello

Displacing translation: from Benjamin to the postcolonial turning point

John Walker

Translation as Dialogue: Benjamin and Interfaith Dialogue 100 years on




Panel 3: ‘The Task’ as a literary lens

Edmund Chapman

“Neither first nor last nor only”: ‘Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers’, Ulysses and potentiality

Ian Ellison

Salvaging Afterlives: Fortleben, Rettung and the Centenary of Franz Kafka

Sare Rabia Öztürk

The Afterlife of a Fictional List: Trajectories of Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love in the Arab Cultural Production


Break, coffee available


Keynote 2: Reading “The Task of the Translator” Today

Duncan Large, Professor of European Literature and Translation and Executive Director of the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia




Panel 4: Reading ‘The Task’ through Benjamin and his translators

Louis Klee and Nicolas Lema

Violence and Translatability: ‘The Task of the Translator’ with ‘Towards the Critique of Violence’

Valentina Tibaldo

Walter Benjamin and the Task of the Critic

Mohammad Javanmard

Translation as Allegory


18.30 onwards

Refreshments sponsored by Goldsmiths, University of London


In Conversation:

Dr Chantal Wright, Co-Head of the Institute for Translation and Interpreting, Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)

Douglas Robinson, Professor of Translating and Interpreting, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen

Chair: Dr Arianna Autieri (Goldsmiths, University of London)


Concluding words

Travel and accommodation


  • The University of Warwick campus is on the outskirts of the city of Coventry, and the nearest major railway station is Coventry. The closest airport is Birmingham International Airport, or there are regular rail services to London for easy access to/from the London airports. You can find detailed information on travel to the University campus here.
  • The conference is taking place in the Oculus Building, Room OC0.01. You can use this interactive campus map to orientate yourself before arrival.
  • Rail strikes have been announced for Saturday 30th September: please check your travel arrangements.


  • Since we are a campus university, the most convenient accommodation option is the on-campus conference centre, here. This can get booked up very quickly, so you are advised to book your accommodation as quickly as possible if you are hoping to stay on campus.
  • Alternative accommodation options near to campus are listed here.

Sponsored by

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Warwick Humanities Research Centre logo Goldsmiths, University of London logo

Key dates

Deadline for proposals: 30 June

Bursary application deadline: 31 August

Registration deadline: 14 September

Conference dates: 29-30 September