Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (xi, 439 pages) : some color text.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Helen R Elam

Committee Members

Ilka Kressner, Paul Stasi


Darstellung, Translation, Walter Benjamin, Performative (Philosophy)

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature


This dissertation consists of retranslations of three essays by Walter Benjamin: “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” “The Task of the Translator” and “La traduction—le pour et le contre.” Each section and interlinear retranslation-commentary builds on the previous, moving from 1) Benjamin’s “transcendental yet speculative” philosophical foundation for experience, to 2) the importance of a performative Darstellung [performative presentation] which places criticism/philosophy/translation between science and poetry, 3) the conception of translation for Benjamin in 1923 within the frame of said philosophy and Darstellung, juxtaposed with his conception of translation in 1936, after his materialist aesthetic turn. The necessity of new translations is relative. The performativity of Walter Benjamin essays is often lost in the Selected Works English translations, which lack the benefit of decades worth of relevant research. This has led to reductive understandings of Benjamin in English studies and surrounding fields. For a theorist like Benjamin the essay’s performativity has a rhetorical function affecting meaning. Thus, this dissertation foregrounds the performativity through a methodology of retranslation—a heteroglossic process of translating the original texts in dialogue with previous translations to produce anew translation. In doing so, this dissertation attempts to intervene in two fields: 1. This dissertation, in tracing Benjamin’s earlier romantic theories through his materialist aesthetic, brings forward the continual importance of rhetorical performativity in Benjamin, thus, intervening across departments concerned with Benjamin and, more generally, performativity in texts. 2. Retranslation, influenced by arguably mis-readings of Benjamin’s early essay on translation (1923), is plagued by notions that each translation is progressively better. This dissertation reconceptualizes retranslation theory through Benjamin’s materialist and technological concerns, thus intervening in Translation Studies. Lastly, I have approached the retranslation-commentary form as a poetic-critical montage of fragments, which strive to be viewed in an inverted manner. Usually, one sees first the overall image and then the details; I argue this is problematic. For (as I touch on in the Althusser section) a canonical ”swerve” takes place in academia around critical theory translations. That is to say, the “image” that should be, in Benjamin, an insufficient mosaic where unstable details and cracks are seen becomes, in academia, an Image that smooths over the fissures and creates an opaqueness that covers the details, while claiming mythic transparency. This arguably compels a kind of anti-reading, of seeing the canonized image instead of details and fissures of the text itself, and thus simultaneously creates uncritical distraction, mindless consumption. Thus, I have attempted to invert such a manner of reading, hoping to see the details before the image, by making the fragment and difference omnipresent, while marking the potentiality for other possible affinities, and striving (hopefully) less far away from a community of strange friendships. In enacting this process in this form, I have attempted stand in affinity with Walter Benjamin’s “Darstellung” and “glückliche Form der Übersetzung” [happy form of translation].


Requested ProQuest takedown; end date on 06-30-24

Available for download on Sunday, June 30, 2024