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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

Confirmed keynote speakers

2023 marks the publication centenary of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay on translation, Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers [The Task of the Translator]. 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).

Since The Task of the Translator 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’. There has also been criticism of Benjamin’s essay and its translations, calling into question its status as a foundational text for translation theories.

Responding both to the central position of Benjamin’s essay in the theoretical canon and to criticisms and new theoretical directions that encourage us to see it in a new light, this conference aims to engage 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, we aim to create an interdisciplinary space for a reassessment of Benjamin’s ideas and their legacy (or afterlife).

Call for Papers

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted to by 30th June 2023, and should be accompanied by a short biographical statement. Suggested areas of focus may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Translatability and untranslatability;
  • The resonance of Die Aufgabe beyond literary translation;
  • Non-European responses to Benjamin’s essay;
  • Translation of and commentary on Benjamin;
  • Reflection on Benjamin’s own translation work;
  • Reading Benjamin’s essay in the context of modernism;
  • Benjamin’s own transnational networks of intellectual exchange;
  • Reviewing the status of Benjamin’s essay in the history of translation theory;
  • The impact of translation technologies on our reading of Benjamin.

Interdisciplinary approaches and experimental paper formats are encouraged.

It is envisioned that the conference will take place in person, but if circumstances prevent a face-to-face event, we will revert to an online format.

Sponsored by

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Key dates

Deadline for proposals: 30 June

Conference dates: 29-30 September