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the Professor Explicates Benjamin

February 19, 2010

I turned in a paper at the start of lecture. I… turned in the wrong paper. It’s still a really good one, just on a non-existent prompt. We’ll see how that goes.  I also turned in the texts I’ll be working with for the final paper: Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis and Catullus'(s) Peleus/Thetis thing, if anyone’s curious.  Should be fun.

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transl theory late again fri 2.19

something about Benjamin, scholar at large b/c Jew in Nazi Germany so not allowed to, like, exist, couldnt’ defend dissertation or whatever. “Task O’ Translator” slammed for like eighty years by critics. killed himself before getting to US due to some wackiness at the border. the Italian edition is superior to the German edition apparently. Harvard used Italian to do English as amended. There is a whole cottage industry on Benjamin due to waves of editions/translations (in a few years we’ll get Chinese?)

when he was 16 he wrote an outline of an essay on what was the language spoken in the garden of eden. came back to it at 20. Adam’s task of nomenclature “smells of enlightenment” which makes no sense. Adam went around and things disclosed their names to him. naming is a hearing-act not a speech-act, and this is the “pure speech” the reine Sprache. When they’re chased from Eden things no longer disclose their names to humans, they become mute, and at that point we begin to impose names on things. The names by which we know them are not their actual names; there ought to be within us (same as our longing to return to paradise) a longing for the reine Sprache, the language where things disclose their names to us. This is a myth and he knows but it’s super important. Omg I will tell my children this story.

establish modality in which world establishes relation to us (rather than the reverse) so we are the recipient. this structure used: a genre of german drama that no one reads not even the germans: Trauerspiel mostly written by nonnative speakers (czeks and poles); use them to contrast them with plays of the spanish sigo de oro which Germans love apparently. Calderon y something de Vega; status of language in their plays vs status of language in Trauerspiel. Whenever something is named in Sigo de Oro, it happens. According to Benjamin this is b/c the status of language is guaranteed by God. In Tauerspielen we are no longer in a world where God stands by as guarantor b/c humans are saying that they do it so we are left with the ruin of the language. Tauerspielen is mourning the loss of the plenitude within lang., repeat of losing paradise. Benjamin calls this moment allegory. Notion: currency value used to be value of gold/silver, but now is paper, is valueless except in referrence to value elsewhere. (paper is safer than gold for crossing forest of Nottingham, then really more a series of IOUs.) (the word check comes from sheik; people of faith had to sign for the IOUs in internat’l trade with Arabs apparently) so! lang of Sigo de Oro was gold, Tauerspiel was paper.

Benjamin asked himself: what is it about works of literature that insures their endurance? can’t exhaust them. Anecdote! 25 yrs between coursework and thesis for master’s student. knowledge has half-life (cell biology has halflife of like three years; halflife of philology is like 20,000 years. Oooookay.) WG was at first a chem student and everyone just chortled a little. humanities would rather add a little bit of text while science wants to purge wrong texts, apparently. </anecdote> Why can’t we exhaust things! afterlife of texts (on board: [readability – afterlife – jetztzeit]) what causes a text to suddenly burst out, be read at different moments, have their moments of epiphany. jetzt=time, zteit=now, so “now-ness” and when texts have this it as if they are being read for the first time all over again. what we should be concerned about is their readability. (Benjamin’s style is stuck on (blank)ability, stuck on notion of potentiality and time.) What we produce in a text when we encounter it and realize there is more to be gained than we knew; now it is texts that disclose their contents like things disclosing their names. readability is the mechanism of this disclosure.

Auerbach (studied Dante). relationship to meaning as something that comes to fullness in time. “figura.” used to explain articulation of old and new testaments (was jew but wrote from christian perspective); old is anticipatory of new and gain meaning from new. old are not individually meaning but there is that second level, figural meaning of reading through lens of new. when we read a single text we have to be cognizant of the potential figural reading, the fullness of its meaning can be disclosed later; readings are never final or definitive but part of a historical layering.

first proposition: if there is something in a text that I don’t understand that means that either I don’t understand it YET, or it is not ready to disclose it yet. I therefore have a duty to transmit it to the future so that it can later disclose itself, ensure its readability in the future. So, rule one: TRANSLATE WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. What you have to avoid is: reproducing that which has been understood. Reproduction is bane of modern life, should be avoided at all cost. proliferate and stifle life; reality is based on otherness while reproductions are sameness.

he talks about photography; interested in what early photographs that later ones do not. they had to have very long exposure times (silver plate). Like 8 hours jesus christ. daguerotypes. (hence early ones largely taken in cemetary.) sun, lighting changes. detects in these images a texture of the light which he calls the “aura.” they are different from things in reality because things in reality don’t have auras. things that have an aura hint at some measure of eternity/sacredness. property of all art tries to achieve an aura, auratic feeling about things. it’s not about reproduction.

THERE IS NOTHING MORE STUPID THAN REPRODUCING MEANING. ensures a loss of value, it becomes common. counterpart of aura = blurring, “bad” passage of time. instead of seeing more time you see the bad effects of time, you see ruin. Grammar and style are evil apparently. Even if something new is stated it will look old, lifeless, already be dead.

translate literally! not only the words, but keep the word order of the original language, you get gibberish, something that will not make sense. we don’t want meaning, meaning is useless, simply reproduction. turn our back on meaning, spit on meaning! meaninglessness! God WG is so excited about this his head is getting shinier.

cognitive ability, imagination. Back to Kant. (sounds like…) attempting to rehabilitate the imagination. in Aristotle imagination is to serve as a shuttle between things that are eternal and things that are experience. Descartes killed the imagination by focusing on creating a single subject, thinking as grounds of knowing flattens the two so there is no longer room for the shuttle between them. by rendering the imagination redundant it goes rogue. Kant is worried! WG articulates that word in a way that makes me giggle. distinction between experiential or a posteriori, and those things prior to experience, or a priori. instances where the a priori gives us schemata: relations that we see that do not obtain in the world but obtain in the mind. triangular goats in the meadow. constellations! this is joining the a posteriori imagination of the bull with the a priori imagination to get constellation taurus. constellations were something that humans could not determine in terms of who had the priority.

why are constellations important for translations? If I am going to translate literally I am creating possible constellations in the text. The gibberish, meaninglessness, will make me attentive to the fact that these words lined up as they are may be forming constellations of significance and I am pretty sure I’m going to cry with how beautiful this is. the kinship of languages is found in the schemata, the possible constellations. the idea of translating from L1 to L2 is about directing you to the reineSprache. two different words for two different breads makes us think about the meanings of bread, the reine Sprache is about the recipe for the bread, the necessary entailments, the minimal definitive breadiness. Unity and diversity. translating must be responsible to, convey, both diversity and rely on, point to, unity. translatability has to play with those two games. my wrists hurt. WG’s pocket watch is open on the table and I need to remember to get mine fixed.

Kabbalah: school of Jewish scholars reading scripture and looking for patterns that weren’t apparent. In Hebrew letters are numbers so you take words and figure out numerical value then look for similar numerical-valued words, lots of funny wordmath. kabbalists are people who are playing with language. figured as part of a larger thing; this game was legitimate because these words in scripture were the shards of a vessel that had once been whole. Tikkun = that whole vessel. Benjamin borrows this; doesn’t believe it necessarily but uses it as a way to think about the problem at hand. moar schemata. he then flips it and says, this is not in the past but in the messianic horizon future, this is not a recovery that we’re doing but we’re doing it for future possibilities, readability, -ability. eschatonology. what is that.

reversal of the timeline: translation is not the present looking at the past and bringing the text into it. transl is future-oriented, the mechanism by which future civilizations will be made. since we don’t know what they will do it would be arrogant on our part to tell them what this mean. the more meaningless the translation the more material, data, we’re giving them. some chick just came in two minutes before class is over, why would she bother.

it’s perfectly logical for us not to understand this essay because it’s saying that it cannot be understood, only commented upon. a way of organizing that future reception. bennnnnnnnnnjaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin! WG will do this for Derrida eventually.

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