Walter Benjamin & Ezra Pound: Translation Theories of the 20th Century

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 34
Words: 9376
Reading time:
32 min
Study level: PhD


The power of communication is probably one of the most critical wealth among human beings since it has helped in passing traditions from one generation to the next and in the transfer of day to day information across the world. One may wonder how works of literature and scholarship get their international recognition, how various ideas and theories, learning and religion, past and practical knowledge, spread all over the universe, how the many translations between groups and countries with varying cultural orientations have occurred, as well as how people get to know the events happening in distant regions of the globe. The efforts made in building linguistic linkages across the various channels that separate language spheres and cultural areas have been very instrumental (Bastin & Bandia, 2006). This has been made possible through rewriting of messages and writings in another tongue, or through the contributions of individuals who have knowledge in diverse languages and who in turn act as bridges between cultures.

Trade and other important matters of the country were facilitated by interpreters during the olden days. With time, the work of interpreters was transferred to translators following the introduction of printing. Documents containing crucial information could be passed on to subsequent generations and formed the tenets of literature, learning, and religious conviction. Some of these works include the Bible, the Homeric, philosophy, history, and Greek drama, among others in the Western tradition (Gentzler, 2004). The formation of writing and literary culture in the entire European language has been facilitated by the power of translation. The historical analysis of global contact and cultural advancement in most regions of the world can be made by following the translation routes (Marcom, 2004).

Despite the rapid modernization brought about by technological advancement, translation remains crucial in the world. This has resulted in enhanced international relations to the point of uniting the entire world in what is currently known as ‘global village/community’. The emergence of modern science, new media, commerce, entertainment, and the various forms of international relations have necessitated the development of translation (Munday, 2008). The cultural diversity in the world together with increasing interaction among these cultures has called for a unifying language, a global language for that matter. English has proved its potential of becoming the single global language. Important cultural expressions have been found to involve both national and international dimensions and the issue of translation has become common in them. In literary and other diverse domains of knowledge and culture, accuracy in translation has become of much necessity as ever (Sallis, 2002). Translation as an issue in the cultural and literary world has a long and attractive history. Multicultural interaction has necessitated clear translation in order to overcome the issue of language barrier and related problems of inaccurate translation (Gentzler, 2004). The paper provides a definition of translation theory; focuses on the translation theories of the twentieth century; and discusses Walter Benjamin and Ezra Pound as some of the prominent translation theorists of the early 1900s.

What is a Translation Theory?

From theorizing to theories and from theories to paradigm

The modern world is characterized by translation for both commercial and literary purposes. During the last two decades of the twentieth century, the activity of translation has been growing phenomenally leading to the development of a field known as Translation Studies which interfaces with other disciplines. It has had significant impact on everyday life of human beings and hence on communication at large. The Oxford English Dictionary defines translation as an act of or an instance of translating or used to refer to a written or spoken expression of the meaning of a word, phrase, speech, book, etc. in a different language (Hatim & Munday, 2004). This, by implication, refers to translation as a process of, and as a product produced by a translator. On the other hand, the special Dictionary of Translation Studies defines translation as an incredibly broad notion which can be defined in various ways. Typically, translation may encompass not only the process of transferring written texts or spoken words to a different language, but also the interpretation of the same (Gentzler, 2004).

Translation theories have ever since multiplied due to the increasing interdisciplinary nature of studies in translation (Bastin & Bandia, 2006). However, these relationships between disciplines are based on shared interest in a given topic but not as far as conceptual theories are concerned. Each has its own acceptable theory or approach of conceptualizing aspects of translation. From ancient times to the end of nineteenth century, theoretical statements on translation in the West were found in areas dealing with language and culture (Newmark, 1991). These include rhetoric, philosophy, literary theory and criticism, as well as grammar. There is, however, a limited list of theorists of antiquity and may include; Cicero, Jerome, Horace, Augustine, Schleiermacher, Arnold, among others. In the twentieth century, translation has been characterized by numerous theories, fields, and approaches as a result of the rapidly modernizing culture. There are not only differentiated linguistics, literary criticism, cultural theory, and philosophical speculation but also experimental investigations and anthropological fieldwork, as well as training of translators and practice in translation (Marcom, 2004).

Discourses on theories of translation are often concerned with differentiation between literary and nonliterary texts, between prose and poetry, or between articles on different technical fields. For one to understand the nature of translation, then the focus of investigations should be more on the methods and procedures involved in interlingual interaction (Yao, 2002). Moreover, any theory of translation should acknowledge the difference between translation and interpretation occasioned by pressures of time and context.

Some of the professional translators refute the claim that there is a theory of translation. They believe that what they do is just that- translate. However, it is a reality that anyone involved in the process of translation employs some inert or covert theory, although it may not have been documented as a theory of some sort (Munday, 2008). One of the driving principles is that of being faithful to what the author was trying to say. Actually, the reason why one may argue that there are no theories of translation is because there are numerous such theories which have not yet been stated in solid terms; the why, when, and how to translate. Furthermore, interlingual interaction which is as old as the history of human beings has contributed to the multiplicity of perspectives on theories and approaches of translation. There are varieties that have influenced the perspectives; stylistics, intention of the authors, multilingualism, cultural diversity, challenges experienced during interpersonal communication, literary dynamism, variety of content, as well as contextual applicability of the translations to be made (Newmark, 1991).

A critical analysis of the multiple perspectives on translation reveals that there are major components of a good translation theory. Kelly recommends three components that a “complete” theory of translation should have: there should be a specification of function as well as goal or intent; operations should be described and analyzed; and the relationships between goal and operations ought to be critically evaluated (Kelly, 1979). When it comes to operation, some professionals in the field of poetry have criticized word-for-word translation. On the contrary, philosophers and theologians who noted the effects of textual operations advocated word-for-word literalism in order to promote a sense of foreignness (Sallis, 2002). The emergences of the latest approaches based on linguistics which embrace scientific treatment of language have introduced new dimensions of describing and analyzing translation operations. The basic concepts of these approaches are: autonomy, equivalence or function.

Translation Theories of the Twentieth Century

As has already been mentioned earlier, translation is as old as human history. From antiquity to the modern times, translation approaches have witnessed significant changes influenced by prominent personalities at different periods. The history of translation theories can be traced back hundreds of years before Christ through the twentieth century. Earlier theories of translation had a lot of influence on subsequent theories and approaches (Yao, 2002). It is paramount to talk about the prominent names that dominated specific periods in the history of translation. Notably, each period had its peculiar characteristics of translation that may have revolutionized the theories of translation in given cultural backgrounds like in the Western or Arab worlds.

The origin of translation has for a long period of time been associated with the Biblical story about the tower of Babel. It is believed to have started with Noah’s descendants who survived the flood (Venuti, 2000). While in the land of Shinar, they created enmity with God when they decided to construct a tower that would have taken them to Heaven. Offended by their actions, God caused confusion among them such that they could not speak the same language (Pym, 2010). This stratagem was effective and the building process collapsed and the people were then scattered allover the world. Eventually, there was unprecedented increase in the number of languages due to the diversions. Faced with the challenge of interlingual communication, translation emerged. With time, the emergence of theorists in this field has led to disregard in the use of this story to explain the origin of translation.

The translation theories during the early years of the twentieth century were characterized by and influenced by German literary and philosophical customs. These included; Romanticism, hermeneutics, and existential phenomenology. The hermeneutic concept was based on the assumption that language is an interpretation, with thought and meaning, where reality is largely shaped by meaning which also changes with culture and social contexts (Kelly, 1979). Consequently, this resulted in the creation of translation theories which advocated for the interpretation of creative values which provide explanation on the basis of both social functions as well as effects (Pym, 2010). Hence, the final message of translation usually looses its foreignness.

At the start of the 20th century, theorists revised past theories from a scientific perspective with much interest on theoretical speculation coupled with formal modernization. Among the notable theorists of this period include; Walter Benjamin, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, Jose Ortega Y. Gasset (1900s-1930s), Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet, Willard V. O. Quine, Roman Jakobson (1940s-1950s), Eugene Nida, J. C. Catford, Katharina Reiss, James S. Holmes, George Steiner, Gideon Toury (1960s-1970s), Hans J. Vermeer, William Frawley, Philip E. Lewis (1980s), and Annie Brisset, Ernst-August Gutt, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Basil Hatim and Ian Mason (1990s). These theorists have contributed significantly towards the theorization of translation theories of the twentieth century.

Walter’s opinion about translation is that the original text should be interpreted informed by its history of reception. The interpretation not only transmits messages but also revitalizes the values accumulate to the original text as time passes by (Pym, 2010). His understanding of translation was that of being able to create linguistic “harmony”. For Ezra, his translation theory was influenced by German interest characterized by literary experimentalism. He advocated for the retention of, in any translation, a verbal weight which is almost an equal to that of foreign text. Translation theories of this period were developed by some of the most influential writers and thinkers who did more than just translate- they also wrote deep accounts of translation as a distinct discipline.

Walter Benjamin (1923/2000)

Who is he?

Walter Benjamin, a famous German-Jewish essayist and an outstanding critic of culture and literary works, was born in 1892 and lived for 48 years until 1940 when he died. He has been credited for his significant contribution towards literary studies of modern time and most importantly his influential role in shaping cultural studies (Venuti, 2000). Benjamin was able to independently blend Marxist and materialistic approaches with the ideas from the Jewish Messianic and Kabbalistic ideas. The product was influential in the writing of several different books and essays on literature, theatrical work, art and design, and technology, impact on modern cities, on historical accounts, as well as on language (Yao, 2002).

His Theory

Benjamin brought out his first German translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens (a collection of translated poems) in 1923; he captured his theoretical framework in the introductory essay (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). The essay, entitled ‘The Task of the Translator’ (originally in German), has been translated in several other languages, reprinted and distributed across the world. Most amazingly, it has always been handled as a separate essay from the work for which it was meant to introduce. Hence, as evidenced by Benjamin’s work, most theories of translation are usually developed by translators themselves.

In his translation theory, Benjamin argues that in order to understand a given piece of art work or a genre very well, there is no need to take consideration of either the audience or the respondent. According to Benjamin, any work of art does not need to be related or associated to a particular recipient or to a similar public audience (Venuti, 2000). In fact, as he puts it, the slightest notion of an ideal ‘audience’ corrupts any given theory of art. In other words, a theory of art should not presuppose the being and nature of man (Yao, 2002). Similarly, art presupposes the existence of a physical and spiritual human being but does not anticipate a specific response. In general, there should be a complete ‘lack’ of consideration of the audience or respondent in any translation work.

The fundamental question that must be raised during translation is whether the translation is done for readers who do not comprehend the language of the original. The answer to the question is sufficient to explain to existing difference in status between the original and the final translation in any given art. In fact, as Benjamin observes, this could be the only reason why translation is done, repeating ‘the same thing’ in a different language (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). Assuming the reader of a piece of art understands the language used; the literature neither ‘says’ nor ‘communicate’ anything to the person who understands it. By its very nature, literature does not inform or assert anything. If a given translation was desired to communicate, then it would successfully do just that- communicate the nonessential. This is not a desirable characteristic of any good translation. Benjamin goes on to argue that if the original text was not intended for the reader, then the translation ought not to be.

For anyone to understand translation it is necessary to revisit the original because it is the one that determines translatability as well as the law governing the process of translation. Translatability, in essence, has two aspects around it. The first is the question of whether the work will get the appropriate translator among the many readers and the second is that of whether the nature of the work allow translation and whether it is necessary (Venuti, 2000). According to Benjamin, the first question can be answered through contingent decision while the answer to the second depends on the ontological necessity of the work at hand. An individual might, for instance, talk of an unforgettable life or instant in life even if all men no longer had the idea in their mind. If a given form of life was eternally memorable, that connotation would not mean an invention but just an impossible claim. Similarly, the translatability of linguistic creations ought to be well thought-out even if men should demonstrate that they are not able to translate them. Given a stringent conception of translation, would it imply that they are not really translatable to some extent? The matter as to whether the translation of given linguistic creations is called for have to be raised in this case (Venuti, 2000). For this particular thought is legitimate here: given that translation qualifies as a mode, translatability should be a necessary attribute of given set of work.

Furthermore, those works with translatability properties do not in themselves derive any significance from their translations. The translation lives a life that is independent from the original although they are closely linked due to its translatability (Yao, 2002). The theory goes on to demonstrate the relationship between the life of the original and the translation from a philosophical perspective. A literary work that has undergone translation should be able to trace its origin down history to its current life which in essence should be eternal, a phenomenon known as fame (Dennis, 2000). If a translation attains this era, then it can do more than just communication.

While detailing the connection between life and rational purpose, and the original text and its translation, Benjamin’s theory of translation argues that the ultimate purpose of a translation is the expression of the innermost relation between the various languages. It cannot, however, attain this on its own but by intention. The innermost relation that is believed to exist between the original and translation languages is basically that of a particular convergence (Yao, 2002). Benjamin argues that the two or more languages are not foreign to each other but, apart from all historical linkages, are connected in the common message they wish to convey. As matter of fact, some works of art are far much distinguishable compared with animal species’ continuing life. The historical account of some of the great works of art enlightens us about their previous circumstances, their recognition in the age and time of the author, their possibly eternal hereafter in subsequent generations (Venuti, 2000). In situations where the last case is evident, then it is referred to as fame. Translations that reach fame do more than transmit. Conversely, therefore, the allegation of bad translators do not exist, translations of this kind do not so much provide the work as though they owed their continuation to it. The life of the original materials achieves in them to its ever-renewed and most plentiful blossoming.

A special management has been put in place owing to the special and high form of life of the flowering stage. The connection between life and purposefulness, apparently obvious yet almost further than the grasp of the senses, reveals itself only if the eventual purpose toward which all independent functions tend is required not in its own specialty but in a relatively superior one (Venuti, 2000). Everything important in life especially in the concluding investigation has its end in the manifestation of its nature. Translation, therefore, ultimately provides the rationale of expressing the vital mutual relationship between different languages. It cannot possibly disclose or create this hidden connection itself; however, it can symbolize it by recognizing it in its emergent or rigorous form (Venuti, 2000). This illustration of concealed importance through an emergent attempt at making it visible is of so limited a nature that it is rarely met with in the area of non-linguistic life. This, in its analogies and symbols, can borrow from other ways of signifying meaning than intensive, that is, expectant, cherishing, and recognition. It is evident, therefore, that languages are closely interrelated and they serve a common purpose of conveying a specific message.

The proposed translation theory is designed to seek clarification without necessarily going back to the traditional translation theory. If the kinship of the languages is to be validated through translations, then the conveyed message should be as precise as possible in the form as well as sense of the original (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). The theory should give the essence of a given translation.

To understand the true relation between the original and its translation requires a technique and an aim quite similar to the method by which epistemology must establish the impossibility of a picture theory of languages. If it is demonstrated there that knowledge could not be objective, or could not even lay claim to objectivity if knowledge was composed of pictures of reality, then it can be shown that no translation would ever be possible if similarity between the two were the ultimate objective of its being (Dennis, 2000). It is impossible for one to talk of a ‘continuing life’ of a given work if some form of metamorphosis was not involved in the process of translation. This, therefore, implies that the original work must undergo significant change. The words used by authors will also have to undergo some slow ripening such that by the time they are translated, they would have to be given a new dimension by the translator in order to create an actual picture. This is occasioned by the fact that what was once new may later be obsolete and what was once viable may sound archaic. The words used in the translation should carry the same weight as that which they did have when they were originally used. With the passage of time, the tone and meaning of the great literary works of the past undergo a complete transformation as well as the native language of the translator (Yao, 2002). In fact, while the author’s words may survive in his own language, it is with certainty that even the greatest translation will diminish as a result of the ever growing translator’s language. The translation could be lost in its renewed life. This implies that a translation is not an inert equation consisting of two dead languages. Instead, translation is, among all the modes of communication, supposed to be the one most concerned about facilitating the process of ripening in a foreign language and a constant heartbeat of changing life in its own language.

If the kinship of the languages is revealed in translation, this is due to something other than the vague similarity between reproduction and original (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). Resemblance, obviously, need not involve kinship. The concept of kinship is consistent, in this context, with its narrower use; for identity of origin does not provide a sufficient definition in either case, although, of course, the concept of origin will remain necessary for the definition of the narrower sense. How are the two languages related, apart from their historical connection? Certainly, as little by the resemblance of two literary works as by the resemblance of words. Rather, all kinship of languages that goes beyond historical derivation is based on this: that in each of them individually one thing, in fact the same thing, is meant-something, however, that cannot be attained by any one language alone, but only by the totality of their mutually supplementary intentions: pure, universal language (Bastin & Bandia, 2006). While, in fact, all the individual elements-words, sentences, contexts-in foreign languages exclude each other, in their intentions the languages supplement each other. The desire to comprehend this principle exactly, one of the fundamental principles of the philosophy of language, is implicit in the intention to distinguish between what is meant and the manner of meaning.

In ‘Brot’ and ‘pain,’ the same object is designated but not signified. Due to the manner of meaning, the two words always signify something different for the German and the Frenchman, they are not interchangeable and in fact tend ultimately to be mutually exclusive; but due to what is meant, taken absolutely, they signify one and the same thing. Although the manner of meaning is thus quite at variance in the two words, in the languages to which these words belong their manners of meaning supplement each other. In these languages, in fact, the manner of meaning is integrated into what is meant (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). This implies that, in the individual languages lacking this additional relation, what is meant is never found in relative independence, as in individual words and sentences; but it is subject to constant changes until, out of the synchronization of all these manners of meaning, that which is meant emerges as a pure universal language. The meaning will be intact in the separate languages for the time being. But if these continue to grow in this way till the messianic end of their history, then it is translation which takes fire in the eternal continuing life of the works and in their ceaseless renewal, again and again testing the holy growth of language, how far distant the hidden may be from revelation, how conscious the awareness of this distance may be.

If fidelity and freedom in translation have in the past been regarded as conflicting tendencies, then seemingly this deeper interpretation of one of these concepts, far from reconciling the two, denies the other any legitimacy at all (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). To what does freedom refer if not to the rendering of sense, which is no longer to be the ruling principle? Only if the sense of a linguistic creation can be taken as identical with the sense it communicates, it retains over and above all communication, so close, yet so utterly remote; hidden under it, or rendered the more distinct; broken by it, or rendered the more powerful, something final, decisive. It has been established that virtually all languages and what they create will always have something that cannot be communicated vividly, that which goes beyond what can be communicated, and this could either symbolize or be symbolized by it, and this depends on the context. Symbolizing only, in the ultimate creations of the languages; symbolized, in the evolutions of the languages themselves. And what seeks to come forward, indeed to come to birth, in the evolution of the languages is the germ of universal language. But if this germ, though hidden and fragmentary, is nonetheless present in actual life as that which is symbolized, it exists in works of art only in the form of its symbolic representation. If that final essence, which is universal language itself, is in individual languages confined to the linguistic and its transformations, then in works of art it suffers from the burden of an alien sense (Yao, 2002). To free it, to transform the symbolizing into the symbolized, to restore universal language, fully formed, to linguistic growth and movement, this is the prodigious, the unique power of translation. Within this universal language, which no longer signifies anything and no longer expresses anything, but which as inexpressive and creative Word is what is signified in every language, all communication, all sense and all design finally converge at a level where their extinction is ordained.

And there, precisely, freedom of language is confirmed in a new and higher right. Not freedom to transmit communicable sense, since the task of fidelity is just to emancipate translation from this necessity (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). Rather, freedom validates itself in its own language for the sake of universal language. The task of the translator is this: in his own language to redeem universal language from exile in the alien, to free it by translation from the work that enthralls it. For its sake he breaks down the rotting barriers of his own language: Luther, Voss, Holderlin, George extended the boundaries of German. What importance the sense retains afterwards, for the relation of original and translation, can be caught in a simile. A translation, just as a tangent lightly touches the circle, is related to the original by law but is not bound to the original as if it were not affected by the changes in the language.

His Paradigm

Walter Benjamin wrote several essays which become his favorite because they gave him an opportunity to merge scholarly analysis with free-flowing reflections, allowing him to exercise metaphoric speculation. Through the speculation, political and poetic basics sometimes meet in a fashion that was unexpected. For Benjamin, translation does not need to consider the audience for which the original text was intended (Dennis, 2000). It is the reader’s responsibility to make sense out of the final product. He believes that translation is the meeting point of varied languages. There is a third dimension which to Benjamin demonstrates the power of human faculty; that of understanding the basic elements of any given language (Yao, 2002). Benjamin argues that this demonstrates the presence a ‘pure’ language capable of unifying any two distinct languages. He says that this ‘pure’ language is inherent in any language and can only be brought to surface or captured by the process of translation. The theory is undoubtedly indebted to German Romantic scholars as well as translators who include; Schleiermacher, Goethe, Humboldt, and Holderlin. The line of theoretical thinking has, however, been given a modern twist by Benjamin which is commonly referred to as the ‘linguistic turn’. His understanding of history as possessing ‘messianic’ moments has influenced the conception of the theory.

The objections to such a method are: the doubt as to whether one has the right to take a serious poem and turn it into a mere exercise in quaintness; the ‘misrepresentation’ not of the poem’s antiquity, but of the proportionate feel of that antiquity, by which I mean that Guido’s thirteenth-century language is to twentieth-century Italian sense much less archaic than any fourteenth-, Fifteenth-, or early sixteenth-century English is for us. And as [the fervor of the original] simply does not occur in English poetry in those centuries there is no ready-made verbal pigment for its objectification. In the long run the translator is in all probability impotent to do all of the work for the linguistically lazy reader. He can show where the treasure lies, he can guide the reader in choice of what tongue is to be studied. This refers to ‘interpretative translation’. The other category which involves the creation of a new poem may be regarded as just the same way an original piece would be classified, and if it cannot fall in this category then it should be treated using the same standards but that can be evaluated in special context

Frequently held Arguments

Literary studies are currently faced with major problems. One of these substantial issues originates from what many believe that the position of literary theory has in the recent past undergone a fundamental transformation. There is the impression that no one can exactly specify the nature of the change. It is generally a vague idea to claim that the long-lasting game of replacing an old paradigm with a recent one that exceeds it has just come to an unforeseen end (Venuti, 2000). It has emerged that peculiar, even strangely apocalyptical questions have become so prevalent in the realm of literary theory: who is ready to end the debate about the literary theory, or are people going to engage even further after the first debate, a theory after the end of theory? One may wonder whether the nature of theory has possibly been transformed.

There is a more recent challenge about the treatment of literary studies and originates from a number of questions. One of them is what it means to deliver justice to the poetic constituent commonly associated with literature. And even more specifically, what does it imply to execute this justice within the framework of acceptable scholarly discipline or a theory? If all our attention was to be mainly focused on the poetic element of the literature under consideration, then one would be surprised of what the place of the poetic dimension is in scholarship arena. It may also be interesting, perhaps, to be found within public discourse about literature. It is evident, according to popular belief, that there has never been a satisfying answer to this particular question has subjected literary studies to a scathing accusation, that literary studies are a secondary involvement when put into comparison with primary one represented by the phenomena themselves (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). However, there are those who wonder why someone would seek the opinion of the critics to understand what Goethe said yet the answers can be obtained in Goethe’s original texts, texts that are even more beautiful, elegant, moving, and in fact simply much better compared to those of the scholars. Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator” (1923/1996) has been identified by many critics as providing some reliable strategies that allow the taking of both issues.

A critical analysis of Benjamin’s essay reveals that he claims to discuss translation; however, it is not translation in the generally popular meaning of the word. It is evidently difficult for anyone to imagine what a professional translator or even that of literary texts would benefit by taking Benjamin’s idea of what the meaning and goal of translation is (Yao, 2002). Most translators would be amazed if they were to be informed that the idea that guides and determines their actions was some kind of a ‘pure language’ that could no longer be taken to mean or demonstrate something of great importance. Under such a belief, it would be astonishing to imagine what Benjamin’s translations of Baudelaire would have looked like. Ultimately, they would be incomprehensible if he had held to his own theory while making the translations. A theory that so abruptly releases translations from the requirement of any ‘reproduction of the sense’ would need to be refuted.

It would be interesting to know what Benjamin’s essay discusses if it does not discuss translation. In my opinion, Benjamin is interested in discussing the faculty of understanding, and more specifically: the need for an understanding of another, of another individual, of another text, and/or of cultural experience as translations (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). I have also realized that most translations are themselves in need of interpretation as the original texts which they are discussing. Translation, according to Benjamin, is ‘a form’ and some have argued that it is the faculty of understanding that is contained with this form. On the contrary, literary studies do not adequately meet the function of deciphering and demystifying texts.

Another question that has been raised is what it means for the understanding to exist in the form of a given translation. It is my belief that the two both constitute a theory; and more precisely they together form a theory of translation. Others, as a result of numerous emerging questions, have asked what the main task of Benjamin’s essay is all about. It may be appropriate, as many have argued, to refer to it as a general theory of understanding the form of given translation theories.

When Benjamin writes, “Not only does the intention of a translation address or differ from that of a literary work, namely a language as a whole, taking an individual work in an alien language as a point of departure” (1996/1923):259), replacing the concept of translation with that of theory of translation is acceptable (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). This is because it allows people to follow the objective behind Benjamin’s doctrine of translation in an easier way. However, I believe the intention is not focused on communication but rather on supplementing language.

In this case, by implication, is to confess that all forms of translation are to some extent a temporary way of comprehending the nature or foreignness of the various languages used. It is beyond mankind’s ability to attain an immediate and ultimate rather than a short-term and impermanent solution of this foreignness of languages; at any speed, it escapes any direct effort. It has emerged that the expansion of religion, in some particular way, however, causes ripening of the concealed seed into a higher improved level of the language (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). Despite the fact that translation, unlike is the case in art, cannot allege intransience for its products, its goal is unquestionably an ultimate, irrefutable, critical stage of all creation in the realm of linguistics. When it comes to any form of translation, the original text advances to a higher and more refined linguistic level, as it were. It cannot, however, remain there everlastingly, certainly, and it surely does not achieve it in its totality. Nevertheless, in an exceptionally remarkable manner, at least it indicates the way to this expanse: the supposed destination, thus far unreachable territory of understanding and accomplishment of languages (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). The relocation can never be achieved in its totality; instead, what attains this territory is that constituent in a given translation which goes past the transmission of theme of a given subject. This central part of an original text can be defined better as the component that does not allow for any kind of translation. Even when the entire content has been taken out and transferred, the major concern of a translator who is so genuine will always be mysterious. Dissimilar to the content of the original text, the transmitted work is not easy to translate (Venuti, 2000). This is due to the connection between content and the language used is rather different in the original text and the product. It is notable that while content as well as language constitute certain coherence in the original material, just as in the case of fruit and its skin, the translating language covers its content like a regal dressing gown with more than enough folds. For it denotes a more dignified language than its own. Thus, it remains unsuitable to its own content, overshadowing and foreign. This significantly prevents translation as well as making translation, in the first place, unessential.

Considering the substitution and Benjamin’s text, one is in a position to think of the work of art as constituting an “original” language, i.e. the language which subjected to translation (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). One is also allowed to think of the work of art’s theory as being made of a “secondary” language, i.e. the language into which the original text is to be translated. Theory and object are arranged like they were two foreign languages that can, however, be alternately translated. When one goes on to read in the same paragraph that translation lies “midway between poetry and theory,” then this claim can, in my opinion, be interpreted as follows: a general theory of understanding translation theory lies between poetry and doctrine, between a realm of fictions and a system of convictions.

Literary critics have talked about a general theory of understanding in the form of a theory of translation. An incisive discussion of what exactly the form looks like in Benjamin’s essay. It is importance to first address the question the extent to which Benjamin’s theory of translation can shade light the current uprising against the secondary modern world of literary studies (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). The uprising is taking place under a more than simply economic sign. Another question is that the extent to which it can illuminate on the peculiar miseries concerning theory that have befallen the modern world.

Future of the Theory

Translation theorists are still faced with a great challenge of convincing the members of the public as well as the academy of the need to embrace translation and, particularly, literary translation (Venuti, 2000). For people who have not understood translation, they have the notion that one should use a dictionary or a certain translation machine. The academy is not any better in this respect since many of them do not acknowledge translation studies as a scholarly or intellectual activity. Deans and departmental chairs of language and English departments are often not interested in promoting members of staff who have published numerous books in the field of literary translations. Research findings reveal that faculty members who are practicing translators do not wish to make it known publicly that they are involved in translation work (Newmark, 1991).

Following the numerous issues emerging from Benjamin’s work, there is much need to improve his work so as to improve their relevance in the twenty first century. There is need: to enhance earlier translations to attain the pulse of the modern language; to build on earlier translation; to include recent scholarly findings, just as was the case with Bible translation; and to introduce new perspectives of interpretive translation taking into consideration both cultural and aesthetic dynamics (Venuti, 2000). Due to the impact that Benjamin’s theory of translation has had on literary studies over the past century, future translators would find it necessary to borrow his paradigms with an aim of improving on the challenges faced by Benjamin. People’s opinions about the theory proposed by Benjamin have been documented and hence provide good reference material. With this in mind, it is evident that retranslations will occur in the future with varying success. What could be tragic is the fact that many critics argue against existing translations like Benjamins without having read the work. This makes it difficult for any meaningful strengths and or weaknesses that could be used in improving future translations. Benjamin’s theory of translation can only be improved if a dedicated group of translators resolve to review the translations.

Ezra Pound (1929/2000)

Who is he?

Ezra Loomis Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho and died in 1972 in Venice, Italy (Wilmer, 1994). He grew up in Wyncote, Philadelphia. When he was 12 years old, Pound enrolled in a military school by the name Cheltenham. While there, he was introduced into learning the Greek and Latin languages. He later joined the University of Pennsylvania where he studied languages. Mr. Pound befriended the young Williams Carlos Williams (1883-1963). Carlos was later to gain fame as a poet in avant-garde circles in New York. When Pound was about 18 years old, he pursued Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages at Hamilton College for three years. His teaching career in Indiana ended unceremoniously following his action of hosting a renowned actress.

In 1908 he decided to explore Europe, having resorted to journalism. He visited Spain, Italy, and London, where, as the literary executor of scholar. Pound developed interest in poetry of Japanese and Chinese origin (Wilmer, 1994). In 1914, Pound married is long time friend Dorothy Shakespear and by 1917 he was the editor of the Little Review. He then moved to Italy in 1924 where he continued to engage in fascist politics, and in fact did not return to the United States. It was in 1945 that Benjamin was arrested and taken back to America for allegedly spreading fascist misinformation over the radio to the United States during the Second World War. He was later charged with treason (Wilmer, 1994). In 1946, Mr. Pound was found with no guilt but was immediately recommended to attend a mental check up. As a result, he ended up being sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D. C. While Mr. Pound was still under confinement, his outstanding poetic achievements were eventually acknowledged by the board of adjudicators of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award. The team constituted of some of the most dominant writers of the time. He was awarded the prize for the Pisan Cantos in 1948. Writers appealed for the release of Pound but it was not until 1958 when their petitions were heard. Soon after, Pound travelled back to Italy and resettled in Venice until his death in 1972.

His Theory

Ezra Pound’s theories and practices of translation elicit the German interest when it comes to literary experimentalism. His occasional and unfavorable comments on German poetry, however, include appreciation of Rudolf Borchardt’s innovative version of Dante which emerged in 1908. Borchardt’s employment of archaic German dialects resembles Pound’s translation of Guido Cavalcanti’s work, a thirteenth-century Italian poet. In 1929, Pound wrote an essay in which he sees archaism as a discursive strategy that registers the literary as well as historical differences of Cavalcanti’s Italian. In virtually all of his translations, Pound rarely translated older poetry without incorporating some form of archaizing.

It is this particular experiment that answers to Pound’s search for a stylistic equivalence, that of “a verbal weight about equal to that of the original.” Pound was aware that the translation discourse he selected for Cavalcanti, “pre-Elizabethan” English poetry, does not match the medieval Tuscan in any chronological degree. Pound establishes a partial relationship between his translation and the original. His translations are skewed towards what is of interest to him.

In Pound’s perspective, the autonomy of translation assumes two distinct forms. First, a given translated work might be “interpretive” in nature, a critical “accompaniment,” usually printed adjacent to the foreign poem and containing linguistic peculiarities that guide the reader across the page to foreign textual features, like a lexical choice or a prosodic effect. Secondly, a translation might be “original writing,” where literary “standards” in the translating culture guide the writing of foreign poem so decisively as to seem a totally “new poem” in that language (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). However, the relationship between the two texts does not vanish; it is just obscured by an illusion of originality, although in target-language terms. Pound declared that, “A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations; or follows.”

In the early twentieth century, translation theory and practice were marked by two competing tendencies. First, there was the formalist interest in technique, usually expressed as innovative translation strategies that match new interpretations of foreign texts. On the other hand, there was a strong functionalism, a recurrent yoking of translation projects to cultural and political agendas. As a pot, Pound helped in making the latter half of the twentieth century a period of great translation.

As to the use of canzoni in English, whether for composition or in translation: it is not that there aren’t rhymes in English; or enough rhymes or even enough two-syllable rhymes, but that the English two-syllable rhymes are of the wrong timbre and weight (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). They have extra consonants at the end, as in flowing and going; or they go squashy; or they ruffle up as in snowy and goeth. They are not rime agute; they do not offer readily the qualities and contrasts that Dante has discussed so ably in De Eloquio.

Even so, it is not that one ‘cannot’ use them but that they demand at times, sacrifice of values that had not come into being and were therefore not missed in Limoges, A.D. 1200. Against which we have our concealed rhymes and our semi-submerged alliteration. En passant, the alliteration in Guido’s canzone is almost as marked as the rhyming though it enters as free component.

It is not that one language cannot be made to do what another has done, but that it is not always expeditious to approach the same goal by the same alley (Qian, 2003). I do not think rhyme-aesthetic, any rhyme-aesthetic; can ever do as much damage to English verse as that done by latinization, in Milton’s time and before. The rhyme pattern is, after all, a matter of chiseling, and a question of the Lima amorosa, whereas latinization is a matter or compost, and in the very substance of the speech. By latinization I mean here the attempt to use an uninfected language as if it were an infected one, i.e. as if each word had a little label or postscript telling the reader at once what part it takes in the sentence, and specifying its several relations. Not only does such usage, with remnants of Latin order, ruin the word order in English, but it shows a fundamental miscomprehension of the organism of the language, and fundamental stupidity of this kind is bound to spread its effects through the whole fiber of a man’s writing.

Moreover, Mr. Pound wrote an article entitled “Date Line,” in Make it New (1935) where he pointed out that there are five types of criticism (Weissbort & Eysteinsson, 2006). First, there is discussion category which with luck results in the formulation of general guidelines. Second is criticism by translation where literal translations are avoided and the attempt, in a give translation, to recreate the vigor of the original text. The third is criticism by exercise in the style of a given period of time. Four, the use of music for criticism, and finally, exercising criticism in new composition.

Pound is remembered as the translator and theorist who put paid to that tradition. His letters and essays usually urged translation into fully modern English and advocated free verse as an English equivalent to quantitative or syllabic verse as in ‘Cavalcanti’. His enormously influential translations from Chinese in Cathay, such as ‘South Folk in Cold Country,’ taught translators how to use a neutral modern, semi-formal diction to convey a simultaneous sense of antiquity and timelessness. His correspondence with W. H. D. Rouse, a prose translator of the Odyssey, again and again urges Rouse to find the modern phrase, the living idiom. It is pound’s strategies of translation and the through explanation provided along reinforced with concrete examples from one of his best work Cathay” that made him a vivid and very innovative translator during the twentieth century. Mr. Pound was particularly interested in detail as well as his techniques of foreignizing.

His paradigm

There a number of principles, ideas, and relations that underlies Pound’s theory. Pound’s paradigm standards are modernist in nature; they incorporate philosophical and poetic values like positivism and linguistics precision. Therefore, he translates to recover foreign poetries that might advance these values in English (Newmark, 1991). In his experimental versions of Cavalcanti, Pound challenges previous English attempts, Victorian translations which according to him are “obfuscated” by pre-Raphaelite medievalism. Pound wanted to rejuvenate the English language.

Ezra Pound employed specific methods of translation in dealing with the Confucian Odes. These approaches reflected Pound’s aesthetics, epistemology, and cultural theory. Pound did numerous discussions about translation as well as focusing on his own practice in translation. For Pound, translation is a form of criticism, its purpose for readers to point out and make accessible works of importance; its purpose for writers to help them, in their struggle to match the voice of another, to find their own. He believed that literary translation does not just involve reproduction of the original text; instead, it is an interpretation and criticism of the original text. The ultimate mission of any translator is to recreate literary tradition as well as to bring about significant transformations in the contemporary literary scene. In order to achieve this mission, a translator is expected to introduce some new modes of expression in his/her work (Venuti, 2000).

Frequently held Arguments

The critic, as usual, is a bore and a nuisance, and can justify his existence in one or more minor and subordinate ways: he may dig out and focus attention upon matter of interest that would otherwise have passed without notice; he may, in the rare occasions when he has any really general knowledge or “perception of relations”, locate his finds with regard to other literary inventions; he may, thirdly, or as you might say, conversely and as part and supplement of his activity, construct cloacae to carry off the waste matter, which stagnates about the real work, and which is continuously being heaped up and caused to stagnate by academic bodies, obese publishing houses, and combinations of both, such as the Oxford Press (Venuti, 2000). We note their particular infamy in a recent reissue of Palgrave. Since the unfinished brochure belonging to Dante’s on the common tongue, Italy may have had no general literary criticism, the brochure is somewhat “special” and of interest mainly to practitioners of the art of writing. Lorenzo Valla somewhat altered the course of history by his close inspection of Latin usage. His prefaces have here and there a burst of magnificence, and the spirit of the Elegantiae should benefit any writer’s lungs. As he wrote about an ancient idiom, Italian and English writers alike have, when they have heard his name at all, supposed that he had no “message” and, in the case of the Britons, they returned, we may suppose, to Pater’s remarks on Pico. This is based on what the weary peruser of some few other parts of Pico’s output, might pettishly denounce as Pico’s one remarkable paragraph. The study known as “comparative literature” was discovered in Germany but has rarely if ever aspired to the study of “comparative values in letters”.

Mr. Pound has emerged as one of the most dominant figures of the twentieth century as far as literary studies and translation is concerned. He has gained a lot of popularity due to not only his work but also the controversy that his work has raised (Dennis, 2000). It is evident that those who claim to know have not read his work. Of the many people who may claim to know Mr. Pound, few have actually read his work with care and can argue from an informed point of view. Not all those who have given their opinions of Pound have critically read through his work. On the same note, of those who have read Pound’s poems, most have dismissed him being just a scholar, or a translator, or perhaps say that his early work was beautiful except for the later work which is nothing more than the itch for advertisement. Others have gone on to say that he has a deep desire to annoy people through his work or even that his desire to be original makes him look childish. Another category of readers albeit rare, include those who have had a chance to perceive Mr. Pound for some time, who have keenly monitored his career, and who have acknowledged the consistency (Gentzler, 2004). Despite many of the people having made up their minds, there are excellent readers of poetry and do not subscribe to the propositions held by the majority.

Other readers have dismissed Mr. Pound the first time they read his work due to their own confusing ambiguousness. They are usually irritated by his constant reference to the history of the Chinese, ‘too much’ use of languages and ideograms of foreign context. He is also criticized for his incoherent rant against lending money at very high rates, as well as his harsh and sometimes incomprehensible language. Mr. Pound himself agrees that his earlier translations of Guido’s work were dubious but he goes on to discourage too much concentration on the faults but consider the improvements made in the subsequent versions of the same. Problems emerge when a struggle for equivalence is made during translation. There is need to appreciate the inventions made by various linguistic authors and to understand what and why they are. It remains, however, as a fact that Pound’s work has contributed significantly towards the development of literary studies particularly in the twentieth century.

Future of his theory

As mentioned above, Mr. Pound’s theory of translation was very influential in the twentieth century. What has changed over the past forty years is the context of the world (Venuti, 2000). With the highly globalized modern world, the use of the word ‘nation’ has changed from the earlier ideal of German Romanticism in the nineteenth century. There is an ever increasing quantity of work to be translated and interpreted, while on the other hand the scope of Traditional Studies has significantly increased.


Translation has been in existence for a very long period of time now. Translation theories and perspectives have also existed from antiquity to the modern generation. The paper has critically explored the translation theories of the twentieth century. Two dominant figures in this field of literary studies have been widely discussed. The first is Walter Benjamin who lived between 1892 and 1940. The second is Ezra Pound who was born in 1885 and died in 1972. Benjamin, as discussed above, brought out his first German translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens (a collection of translated poems) in 1923, he captured his theoretical framework in the introductory essay (Venuti, 2000). Ezra Pound’s theories and practices of translation, on the other hand, elicit the German interest when it comes to literary experimentalism. Each translator’s theory has been discussed at length. It has emerged from the exploration that there is no particular theory of translation but it is the arguments presented by translators themselves that forms the basis of what may be categorized as a theory or perspective of translation. Both theories have been subjected to criticism on their reliability in the ever changing society. Many readers of these theories have voiced their opinions concerning these supposed theories of translation, which in turn, have helped in understanding the complex nature of translation. However, there are many questions than answers raised by those who argue from a less informed point of view since they are not familiar with the content and intent of these theories of translation. It can be concluded, therefore, that further research must be conducted with an aim of re-introducing translation as a field and with relevance in the 21st century which has been characterized by rapid information communication and technological advancements.


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