Translation, by highlighting the incommensurability of human language, sheds light on essential philosophical insights into the limited, historically and socially embedded nature of meaning while simultaneously offering theoretical and practical tools for overcoming differences and divisions. The author’s experience as a translator, the concept of determinate negation as developed by Theodor W. Adorno, the translation theory of Walter Benjamin, and a poem by Paul Celan support claims that translation is a dialectical process that works both ways: it influences the translator’s language and changes the language from which a work is translated. Translatability offers concepts, techniques, and tools for negotiating difference that are preferable to multiculturalism. Its practices of analytical guesswork, informed critique, careful listening to tone and resonance, and recognition of the ultimately nonfinalizable character of immediate outcomes as it “gestures toward eternity” (Benjamin) can help humans address contemporary crises while preserving the hope of a better world.
The Possibility of Translation
Susan H. Gillespie has published eleven full volumes and many shorter translations from German, including Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music (15 of 27 essays, 2002), Paul Celan, Corona: Poems of Paul Celan (2013), and Paul Celan and Ilana Shmueli, Correspondence (2011, finalist for the National Translation Award). She recently retired as vice president for Special Global Initiatives at Bard College.
Susan H. Gillespie; The Possibility of Translation. boundary 2 1 February 2021; 48 (1): 49–63. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8821425
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