Introduction: “every allegedly great age” Modernism and the Practice of Literary Translation

  • Steven G. Yao


In 1923, the philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin published his translation into German of Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens. As an introduction to this volume, he included a probing and deeply felt essay, entided “Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers,” or “The Task of the Translator,” in which he attempts to define the proper approach toward the rendering of a literary work from one language into another. In the course of his discussion, he makes the rather startling and, in the end, metaphysical claim that,

Translation… ultimately serves the purpose of expressing the central reciprocal relationship between languages. It cannot possibly reveal or establish this hidden relationship itself; but it can represent it by realizing it in an embryonic or intensive form. This representation of hidden significance through an embryonic attempt at making it visible is of so singular a nature that it is rarely met with in the sphere of nonlinguistic life.


Literary Production Source Language Modernist Period Literary Culture Confucian Tradition 
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© Steven G. Yao 2002

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