All works of literature are bound together in a deep, enigmatic way not visible to the eye at first look. Like pieces in a puzzle, even the most dissimilar pieces of writing fit together to construct the whole picture of the world of literature and life. Austerlitz and The Task of the Translator, taken together, demonstrate this idea. Though they are vastly unlike each other in their natures and features, their perspectives and their arguments, their style of written language and the category of writing in which they are found, they can still be drawn together and connected to form something distinctive and beautiful.
If read and analyzed carefully, these two pieces of literary work can be put together to form another piece, one profound and exquisite, almost enigmatic and immense. They seem to be connected in some mysterious and unreachable way. From within them, a certain pull seems to issue, one intangible and indefinable, like the pull felt on viewing some veiled mystery in life, or on feeling or seeing something felt or seen in the past, in a dreamlike world. Both works have, in themselves, a meaning that goes beyond the surface, beyond sight and touch, and reach for the part of human life that lies
Last name, page no. beneath and is unseen to the world. Both have these in common, there are profundity to them absorbs the careful reader into a soul-moving experience, but leave the quick, casual, shallow reader on the outside, wondering and uninformed, even bored or tired. The book Austerlitz is a highly descriptive narrative about Jacques Austerlitz, a German boy who lost his past in the ashes of the history of the Holocaust. Adopted by a Minister and his wife, he lived his life in oblivion to his own history, shrouded by fog and isolation he created for himself.
Later, however, he experienced flashbacks and moments of vertigo, which began his search to discover his parents’ identity and the circumstances that led to his being left an orphan. The story is retold by a narrator who, by chance, encounters Austerlitz. Austerlitz tells him of his search for the past. Later, they plan meetings, and long descriptive and discourses follow as they speak of Architecture, Nocturnal Animals, and the Passages of the Paris library. Austerlitz seems to be simple at the start: it is about a boy who loses his parents in
Germany and is adopted by a couple who raises him and keeps the secrets of his past from him until a later date. On the outset, it is a simple story of someone searching to find what has happened to him and who his true parents were. Then, confusion seems to build. The narrator of the book and Jacques Austerlitz seem to lose themselves in speaking of Architecture, Nocturnal Animals, and the passages about the Paris library. Where could these things lead, and relate to the theme and story of the book, to the lost boy trying to find his lost past?
Last name, page no. But, if you dig deeper, and read carefully, you feel you are standing at the verge of a precipice with a whole sea of meaning beneath your feet. There is something behind the words, something that pulls your soul into it, but something you cannot grasp, or touch with human words. Jacques Austerlitz has lived his early life in silence and mystery. He seems to be going on quietly into the future, with the present a fog around him, and the past darkness. There is something about the strength of ignorance here: it must be a carefree life, but not a happy one.
The minister and his wife later tell him about his past and his true name, but he does not seem to care to dig into his past, and is contented to live his life in that silent oblivion. Then, as he walked into a train station once, realization seemed to strike him like lightning. He suddenly experienced moments of vertigo, and flashbacks and memories came to him. Why a train station? It seems that he had been moving, like a train, steadily and mechanically toward a hazy, unknown future, but failing to realize that his past, too, was hazy and unknown, and he did not know the beginning of his destination.
The clock, then, seemed to turn at this place. The train station depicted travel, and now his journey began, not into an unknown future, but into an unknown past. He seemed to turn around and reach for the things of the time that went before. The speeches with the narrator, which make up a large part of the book, are not confusing and contradictory, as they seem to be. Austerlitz speaks of architecture, in all its vastness and minuteness. Architecture is a vast subject, there are large arcs, large buildings, vast things; but it is also minute, there are corners, crevices, nooks, not seen by Last name, page no.
the normal eye, but existing, anyway. These two elements are part of each other. They never can be parted and thought of separately. What could they have reminded him of? Why architecture? Could the forms of things, which hid a history of lives behind them, remind him of the past, of a warm hand to hold, of memories buried into great walls and hidden crevices, like the fog that enveloped him in oblivion? Philosophers and nocturnal animals have a lot of similarities. After all his arguments, this veiled idea lies beneath all, that philosophers, like night-animals, see when everyone else seem to be asleep.
They seem to have reached a deeper knowledge, which bears them up above the everyday passages of human life, with all its superficial knowledge and unthinking ways and speeches. Philosophers seek to interpret the whole of human life within the cloak of a history not untold, and therefore the history must be told. The passages of the Paris library are veiled in mystery, like the mystery of life, like the many passages in memory. They are all built together to form one building, one life, but the many passages are lost in the dark, winding and winding, and not found until explored.
All are mysterious, all are beautiful, and, though some are hidden in the dark, all must be part of the whole, and all must be found out: all the parts of his life, though some are hidden in the dark, must be explored and found out. The background of this story, of course, is the Holocaust. Though the narrative is silent, and seems to turn its head from looking into the face of that horrible time in history, the context embraces it and it hangs over the whole story like the sky hangs above us all. Every moment is enfolded in this history, a contrast to Austerlitz, who tries Last name, page no. to escape his past.
But the cause of his trouble is the war itself, and though no passage looks at it directly, a silent voice seems to cry against it, and, like the passages of the library, all are a part of the whole. He seems to be saying, besides, that Germany must reconcile itself with its history of the Holocaust and should not hide in its oblivion, but embrace the moment, and the ground of its memory. “For instance, if I am walking through the city and look into one of those quiet courtyards where nothing has changed for decades, I feel, almost physically, the current of time slowing down in the gravitational field of oblivion.
It seems to me as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak? ” (Sebald 257-258).
He seems to be saying this: all of individual experience is at once vast and minute; the grief of history cannot be consoled; and the moment and its ground of memory and history is dazzling in its quiet mystery. He is speaking of life, with all its little gifts and mysteries, how all of life is connected to itself, how the ground upon which we stand is full of memory, how today reaches out and touches yesterday, and together, reach over into what will be tomorrow. There is his history, pulling him back, there is architecture, part of yesterday, and part of today; there are the moths forming arches over boys’ heads,
Last name, page no. full of mystery and the gifts of today; there are the passages about the library, full of the past, and yet existing, full of today, if explored and embraced. The Task of the Translator is a very deep piece of writing which shows a number of things about translating from one language to another. The author speaks of translating an original work of literature and some of the misconceptions of people who undertake to do that work. He defines translation in a way unthought-of and deeper than life.
He speaks of the kinship of all the languages of the world, and says that all must strive for the ‘pure language,’ which is untranslatable in itself. Translations must be faithful to the original, but they must add more elements to themselves to lead closer to that ‘pure language. ’ “Although translation, unlike art, cannot claim permanence for its products, its goal is undeniably a final, conclusive, decisive stage of all linguistic creation. ” (Benjamin 3) This, according to him, is the task of the translator: to move closer to this language, which is above all, and divine truth.
The Task of the Translator seems to puzzle more than Austerlitz does. The themes can be seen with careful probing in the latter, but in the former, there seems to be a depth quite beyond, a mystery that cannot be solved, but that must be interpreted by us in whatever ways will benefit us best. Walter Benjamin’s style is more dense and thoughtful-his points are scattered throughout the article, and merged here and there with common misconceptions and the truth. His point is hidden in a dark sea of language, but his points, as they come, rise here and there, like sudden burst of light upon the mind.
Like Austerlitz, the article seems to be a practical piece of writing, one written to guide translators in the task of translating literature. His points, though, seem so deep and Last name, page no. so buried that it becomes confusing at once. IS he guiding translators in the way that they should go? Or is he writing some deep literature about language and divine truth, knowledge and what lies beyond? He buries his thoughts in language so deep and so dense, so full of meaning and so difficult to grasp at.
At this point, when his work has been read and reread, there seems to be a depth beneath, the same depth felt on reading Austerlitz. The soul seems to be pulled higher, yet deeper, into something whose presence was never expected to exist. He speaks of languages and how they are all related to each other in that they are born to express what is common to us: life. “… languages “are not strangers to one another, but are… interrelated in what they want to express… ” (Benjamin 2) There is relatedness about them, and they cannot be separated.
Moreover, they are not like each other at all. Each language has its own element which the others do not; each is special in its own way, touched by the fingers of something deeper than what they seem on the outset. He speaks of a pure language, which is, in itself, untranslatable and, above all, the core of meaning. The original strives to relate itself to this pure language, but not any work of literature or art can aspire to it. Translations come after, after the original has passed, and modifies it, striving, in itself, to reach higher than the original has, for the pure language.
Both works do not contradict each other. The original seems to have nothing to do with the translation, and the translation is not a mere copy of the original. Instead, both of them are like pieces in a puzzle, each aspiring to come together for the aspiration for the pure language, which is beyond, which is untranslatable. “In translation the original rises into a higher and purer linguistic air, as it were. ” (Benjamin 3) Last name, page no. He seems to speak of this pure language as the language of God, the language of true meaning, the language of divine truth.
He seems to say that all languages are united, seeking for the language of God. In this, divine truth is hidden. All are part of a whole, all are related. Nothing can be taken by itself; nothing can be read by itself. It does not matter of the reader, of the one who observes the art, it is the aspiration for the better, the pure, the Good, the Divine. He is full of contradictions. He seems to desire translators to follow some way, not to stick to the original, but to aspire for higher language, but he seems to say, in another and more hidden way, that this is impossible to do.
It is not an article that teaches translators, it is a hidden work of the true language, of his beliefs that divine truth can come with the pure language. There seems to be a deeper relation between the two works than their mystery and depth. They seem to pull themselves into something: ONE. Austerlitz ties all life into one: the horrors of the past, the inconsolable pains of history, the gifts of today, the ground of the moment, and what stood on that ground before the moment existed, the passages leading to nowhere, but all proceeding from one, the secret heart.
And the Task of the Translator ties all language (and all life, because language is only the expression of life) into one: one great language, one truth, one divine good, one pure language into which all things merge. All are part of a whole. All are united. All language, all life, come down to ONE. Appendix Benjamin, Walter. The Task of the Translator. New York: Routledge, 2000. Sebald, W. G. Austerlitz. New York: Random House, Inc. 2001.