Translation

EVERY NEW EDITION OF A TEXT IS A TRANSLATION OF THAT TEXT

"…all suprahistorical kinship of languages rests in the intention underlying each language as a whole—an intention, however, which no single language can attain by itself but which is realized only by the totality of their intentions supplementing each other: pure language" (Benjamin 78).

Pure language, ideal language, ideal text, pure text. Textual editors, preparers of scholarly editions, make choices that determine the version of a text that gets printed. Editors are translators; editions are translations. Previous generations of editors, and still some today, posited essential texts by picking and choosing from previous versions (as with Lear) to come up with in their judgment is the best realization of the work—even if the work as presented in this essential text was one that has never appeared before!

Would Benjamin have been a best-text editor? As a literary essentialist, Benjamin's otherwise canny and prescient insights into the cultural and material consequence of mass production of art put in relief. Book history as it is presently conceived critiques the notion of best text; instead, book history insists that all versions of a text deserve preservation and critical attention. What exists between books, between editions of the same text, is not a pure version of the text but the traces of historical change, cultural, technological, aesthetic, economic change. "Translation brings about transmissional noise," writes Mats Dahlstrom about the scholarly edition, noise which can be reduced or accounted for but not eliminated (22, 24). This noise should be critically amplified. We need scholarly editions that are not only transparent about their own transmissional noise but are attentive to the history of noises that versions of a text have emitted. The many editions of Ulysses, for example, from the cheapest paperback to the grandest attempts (most famously Hans Walter Gabler's synoptic edition) at maximal editorial scholarship.

I can't think of aura without the idea of best text. The aura, you remember, is embedded in the fabric of tradition. There is no aura in reproduction. I don't think: "The technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence" (221) The problem here is, of course, that Benjamin doesn't address the literary text. And would the same rules apply?

"Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original's mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel. For this very reason translation must in large measure refrain from wanting to communicate something, from rendering the sense, and in this the original is important to it only insofar as it has already relieved the translator and his translation of the effort of assembling and expressing what is to be conveyed" (Benjamin 78).

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