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Projects and programs

The unsecret agent: the translator in literature and history 

 2023 marks the one hundredth anniversary of Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator.” In this landmark essay, Benjamin opened the door for a modern reinterpretation of translation not as parasitic, or replicative, but as innovative in its own right. For Benjamin a translation could be as much a work of art as that of the ‘original’ work preceding it, for indeed, in the “afterlife” of Benjaminian translation, “the original undergoes a change” wrought upon it by the very act of its translation (73). One might compare Benjamin’s argument to T. S. Eliot’s in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). Just as for Eliot a whole canon is regenerated through its supplementation by new, “original” works of literature over time, for Benjamin literary monuments from the past are recoded, and renewed, in translation. After Benjamin the translator would acquire a new and increased potential for linguistic and literary agency; the act of translation would possess a power, in potentia, to deterritorialize the field of literature, and help us comprehend the value of literature in new ways. 

In an upcoming seminar, members and invited guests of TIC will consider the significance of Benjamin’s essay for our contemporary times. The confounding of copies and originals, or translations and monuments, is part of the Benjaminian inheritance. So too is the contemporary fascination with the figure of the translator in memoirs, critical studies, and popular fiction.  

Previous projects and programs

Kompetanse for mangfold


Research partners

  • Kristiansand International School
  • Fiedler Foundation
  • Poznan University
  • Marie Skłodowska Curie University, Lublin Poland

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