‘The Task of Walter Benjamin’s Translators: Reflections on the Different Language Versions of THE ARCADES PROJECT’


On-line on my site at:


is my new article on:

‘The Task of Walter Benjamin’s Translators: Reflections on the Different Language Versions of “Das Passagen-Werk” (“The Arcades Project”)’




It is somewhat paradoxical that Walter Benjamin, who is by now all but universally recognised as one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, is also a name cited with reverence in the academic field of Translation Studies – even though he produced only a sliver of reflections on the subject. There are, indeed, only two frequently cited texts in which Benjamin considers the subject: the early, esoteric essay ‘On Language as Such and on the Language of Man’ (‘Über die Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen’, 1916), and the very well-known piece ‘The Task of the Translator’ (‘Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers’, 1923). From these two slim texts comes Benjamin’s surprising fame as a theorist of translation, concerning which we may note two interesting points: first, that the later essay is actually linked to the practice of translation, since it was originally published as Benjamin’s preface to his own translation into German of Charles Baudelaire’s poem-sequence “Tableaux Parisiens”); and second, that since by no means all those who write on Walter Benjamin know his native language, German, his writings on translation are more often than not quoted in translation (English, Spanish, Italian or whatever). All this may usefully alert the readers of his work to the importance of translation, as an indispensable means of communication of ideas, and, at the same time, to the need for theoretical reflection on what is in no sense an unproblematic or value-free activity. In this brief study, we shall first examine the key elements of Benjamin’s concept of translation, and then look in detail at certain aspects of the different language versions of his posthumous masterpiece, the study of nineteenth-century Paris centring on the arcades that is “Das Passagen-Werk”.


Note added 20-III-2009:

This article has been cited in an article by Marjorie Perloff:

‘Unoriginal Genius: Walter Benjamin’s Arcades as Paradigm for the New Poetics’, ETUDES ANGLAISES, 2008/2, No 61, pp. 229-252 (citation: p. 245n).

Note added 30-IX-2009:

The article is also cited in:

Revista ISEL, Número de 2009, Instituto Superior de Estudios Lomas de Zamora (Buenos Aires): Álvaro Cuadra, ‘Ópticas de la Modernidad de Julio Verne a Walter Benjamin’ (pp. 66-97; my text is cited on p. 74). For more information (in Spanish), see this blog, entry for 29-IX-2009.


Note added 29 December 2009:

This article has been published in BABEL: ASPECTOS DE FILOLOXÍA INGLESA E ALEMÁ (University of Vigo, Spain), No 18, 2009, pp. 93-104.




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