Walter Benjamin and "The Task of the Translator". An Interpretation based on his Influence by Phenomenology

Term Paper, 2014

27 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Edmund Husserl's Conception of Intentionality, Logical Investigations

2. The Role ofIntentionality in Translation - Benjamin's The Task of the Translator

3. Conclusion with an Example Translation: Rilke's Blaue Hortensie

5. Bibliography


In The Task of the Translator, Walter Benjamin sets forth what he believes to be the true goal of any work of translation. Instead of conforming to the reader, the translator should conform to the source and target language of the work. The purpose of which is to expose the relationship between the two languages, how they complement one another in their use. But is there more to Benjamin's Task than that?

Walter Benjamin is commonly known as a Neukantianer because of his direct influence by the Marburger school, especially Cohen. But little is known about his influence by the Husserl's school of phenomenology. To make the field of Benjamin research even more difficult, we lack his mature works to solidify our efforts in developing a full theory because ofhis untimely death. Recently, some advancement has been made in securing a basis where from we can draw conclusions about the degree to which phenomenology, and its varying methods, had influenced his philosophy.

In this paper, we will first develop a concise conception of intentionality based on a close reading of Husserl's principle work the Logische Untersuchungen. Then we will interpret Benjamin's essay Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers differently than previously by focusing on his use of the phenomenological term 'intention', and with helpofBenjamin's fragments on the philosophy of language—where he used the term intention in the strictest phenomenological sense—come to a better understanding of what he meant by its use in Task and how it relates to das Gemeinte and die Art des Meinens in his theory of translation. The result will be to stimulate a new discussion about Benjamin's theory that is in line with current phenomenology and offer a new mode of translation with an example using the work of Rainer Maria Rilke.

1. Edmund Husserl’s Conception oflntentionality, Logical Investigations.

In this section, we will analyze Husserl's principle text, Logische Untersuchungen\ in order to develop a concise conception of intentionality. Much emphasis will be placed on the relationship between intentionality and Wesenerschauung[1] [2], but more critical to this essay is the development of a well-defined structure that outlines how Husserl understands intentionality to be constructed. The main questions we will ask are as follows: Does Husserl hold that objects of reflection, of imagination, of conceptual objects, can be objects of intentionality? What does Husserl have to say about propositional attitudes, such as beliefs and assumptions, and their relation to intentionality? It is widely known that Husserl did not make a distinction between sensuous phenomenology and cognitive phenomenology, but how does he understand the role of cognition to operate in phenomenology? How is cognition represented in intentionality? How does it relate to sensory phenomenology? Also of relevance are Husserl's thoughts about the role emotions play in intentionality: are they essential and constitutive to intentionality? We begin in the Prolegomena and work our way through the Investigations till we arrive at the fifth, where the structure of intentionality is throughly explicated.

1.1 Prolegomena zur reinen Logik

In the Prolegomena, we conclude that intentionality operates by abduction and is the intermediate between deductive and inductive systems. Intentionality is found to encompasses the experience derived from sensuous objects, the abstraction of apriori concepts necessary for logic, and the operations performed on the a priori concepts. Thus, Husserl's notion of intentionality is ofboth sensory and cognitive domains of phenomenology.

The first instances of intention appear in the Prolegomema. There Husserl outlines his holistic program for the scientific disciplines and establishes his principle of an anti-psychologistic argument that continues to be upheld even today. Every practical discipline, Husserl maintains, rests on a theoretical discipline because the content of each results from theoretical investigations. (H. I, 53) He defines 'practical' as that which ought to be and not what is. Husserl explains his theory with the following example: when we say that a solider should be brave, we mean to say that a solider who is not attributed the predicate 'is brave', is no solider at all. (H. I, 54) Thus, the normative, or practical, discipline delivers the rules necessary for the membershipof sets. Husserl makes a distinction between sufficient conditions and necessary conditions for the membershipof a set, both of which are determined by the practical discipline. (H. I, 55) He stresses, however, that these conditions do not refer to individual cases; instead, they only apply to the concepts that are so obtained and the resulting laws are to be understood as applying only to, and among, these concepts. (H. I, 55)

Husserl moves to the epistemic sphere when he addresses how we know the validity of normative propositions; i.e. the propositions of practical disciplines. He begins by claiming that every normative proposition requires eine gewisse Art der Werthaltung (a certain kind of evaluation). Here he states that we cannot rely on nominal definitions alone. We must instead have a general evaluation (allgeminen Werthaltung) for which merely a single intention is needed possessing a content of something being valued. (H. I, 56)

This is the first use of intention in the Logische Untersuchungen. We see its use being associated with the process of making a decision as to whether something is to be valued, positively or negatively; which is also to say, whether something is to be permitted membership to a set by way of attributing a predicate; or whether a proposition is to be attributed a truth-value in the case of semantics. That said, all of this only applies to the practical disciplines of'ought to' and 'should be' within deontic modalities. Husserl argues that the decision whether to attribute a truth-value to a deonitc proposition mustn't make use of an abstract definition, but instead we must rely on an intention whose content fulfills the particular case. We understand this to mean that deonitc rules are established on intentional grounds and not by means of a definition, prescription, deduction. The question remains as to whether intentionality can be associated with a logic of abduction.

From this we can establish that Husserl is claiming that all normative propositions are dependent on intentional evidence; not, however, that they are dependent on empirical evidence. The difference and similitude between the intentional and empirical is not yet clear, but will be shortly.

More interesting is whether Husserl is claiming that all deduction is dependent on either induction or abduction.

Deduction determines an instance from a rule. Induction determines a rule from an instance.

Both have as an intermediate 'the case'. Abduction determines a case from the combination of rules and instances. Since the validity of a normative proposition is dependent on an intention suppling the fulfilling content for a given rule, we can say that the validity of rules depends on a case that supplies a particular instance. As such deduction becomes dependent on abduction, but abduction becomes dependent on the induction. Since it is the intention that supplies this instance, we conclude that intentionality works as a medium between induction and deduction and is therefore to be understood as operating on the logic of abduction.

Let us consider an example from logic, which Husserl considered a practical disciple: the identity principle A =A. To determine the validity of this proposition, we must not rely on the definition alone. We also need an intention whose content fulfills the proposition. We do not have an experience of A, nor do we have any experience of equality. Things are themselves, i.e. this pen is this pen, but that is hardly an experience of the fulfillment of the proposition 'A = A'. Likewise, I experience me as myself, but this is also not an experience of the fulfillment of the proposition of 'A = A'.

Just as the experience of taking one apple from a box and another apple from another box and grouping them together on the table is not an experience of the addition of one and one, the experience of the rigidity of objects or of the body, or of the continuity of the stream of consciousness is not an experience of the validity of the principle of identity. This is because these experiences are of apples and of one's self, not of abstract numerals and postulated variables. We can, however, consider that we abstract from each apple the idea of self-sameness in the form of one and likewise abstract from the experience of the continuity of consciousness the idea of identity. Now that we have these abstracted concepts we can determine the rules that govern them.

For two reasons, this approach explains the validity oflogical propositions without succumbing to psychologism. First, the rules oflogic are not derived from the experience of real objects but from a priori concepts. Secondly, the a priori concepts that create the foundation oflogic are not abstracted from mere psychological experience but from the combination of psychological experience and the experience of real objects; i.e. intentionality.

Husserl explains how it is possible that the laws of logic can be 'applied' to empirical or psychological cases, i.e. cases of intention. He claims that we abstract from the stream of empirical data (sensory phenomenology) via intuition (schauend) universal concepts that are fulfilled by singular instances within the stream of empirical data. This empirical data constitutes the validity of the identification of a conceptual intention. (H. I, 109) Returning to the identity principle, we determine its validity by abstracting the case from the experience of particular instances; meaning, if the rule applies to the derived concepts (from particular instances), then the rule is valid.

Concluding the Prolegomena, Husserl refers to intentionality using the phrase ’conceptual intention’. Thereby Husserl shifts toward a richer concept of the notion. Intentionality not only includes sensory phenomenology, explaining how we experience empirical objects but also cognitive phenomenology, seeking to show how we experience the processing of concepts derived from intuition.[3] Thus it seems that Husserl argues that we have empirical intentions and conceptual intentions, while the latter are abstracted from the former through intuition. Therefore we conclude that intentionality, according to Husserl, encompasses the inductive logic of the sensory experience of objects, the abduction of a priori concepts from empirical objects, and the deductive operations performed on the a priori concepts, whether that be testing their validity or applicability.

1.2 First Investigation: Expression and Meaning

In the First Investigation, we analyze Husserl’s use of intention, here meaning-intention, and determine four different parts essential for its use and mediation. We develop the relationship between an intention and meaning, presenting the roles intention plays in monological experience and dialogical communication. We determine the four parts of the relationship between intention and meaning tobe 1. expression, 2. object, 3. context and 4. intuition. Together they constitute a meaning-intention. We conclude that the meaning of an expression is immediate in monological experience but referential and mediated in dialogical communication and, finally, we display a model for both at the conclusion.

Husserl begins the LU by establishing a theoretical basis where-from he can derive the laws of logic and language that is free from the fallacy of the infinite regress. He concludes that this basis is the monological experience of intentionality, which does not suffer this fallacy.


[1] Husserl, Edmund, Logische Untersuchungen,

[2] Though there is no mention of Wesenerschauung in the Logische Untersuchung, the second edition from 1913 includes some changes that makes it present in all but name.

[3] On page 109, we see with the additions from the 1913 'B' edition. Particularly of interest is the word 'schauend. This represent an instance where Husserl had envisioned Wesenerschauung to function in this regard.

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Walter Benjamin and "The Task of the Translator". An Interpretation based on his Influence by Phenomenology
University of Tubingen
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Benjamin, Aufgabe des Übersetzers, Walter Benjamin, Task of the Translator, English, Theory, Critical Theory, Translation
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John Dorsch (Author), 2014, Walter Benjamin and "The Task of the Translator". An Interpretation based on his Influence by Phenomenology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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