"Un autre monde très lointain et très inconnu"

Marie-Helene Girard on British Painters in Paris, 1855

Tuesday 29 October, 2013
6pm, $0/Rsvp

Institute of Fine Arts
1 East 78 Street

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In his seminal essay The Task of the Translator (1923), Walter Benjamin proposed that the “truth-value” of a work of art is revealed only through the act of translation. For Benjamin, an ideal translation is dialogic and transformative rather than prescriptive and formulaic. It constitutes the “afterlife” of a work of art, both acknowledging the changes wrought on the original by the passage of time and allowing the original’s mode of signification to impact the culture of the translation itself. Such transformations, Benjamin proclaims, reveal historical processes, just as they preserve that most essential poetic quality of a work least susceptible to literal transcription.

Yet Benjamin also writes that “all translation is only a somewhat provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages.” The translated work—whether visual, textual, or other—signals both presence and absence. In attempting to secure the balance between originality and reproduction, fidelity and invention, something is lost, even as something is gained. Or, as Susan Sontag puts it in Being translated (1997), “translation is about differentness,” whether asserted or denied.

The 2013-2014 Silberberg Lecture Series will address the complex role translation plays within the production and interpretation of art—considering how images and objects have been mined and recontextualized across time, space, culture, and medium, as well as exploring the limits of visual communication and literacy in fostering new ways of thinking about appropriation, influence, and audience.

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