Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


The Wall and the Arcade

Walter Benjamin’s Metaphysics of Translation and its Affiliates

Shimon Sandbank is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, winner of the Israel Prize for the Translation of Poetry (1996). His Hebrew translations of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Kafka, Brecht, Hopkins, Yeats and Rilke, and his other literary publications, are detailed on the press website. His How a Poem Works: A Guide to Poetry (Hebrew, 2002) was published to critical acclaim.

“True translation is transparent: it does not obscure the original, does not stand in its light, but rather allows pure language, as if strengthened by its own medium, to shine even more fully on the original. This is made possible primarily by conveying the syntax word-for-word; and this demonstrates that the word, not the sentence, is translation's original element. For the sentence is the wall in front of the language of the original, and word-for-word rendering the arcade.” (Walter Benjamin, “The Translator’s Task”)

The book centers on Walter Benjamin’s revolutionary essay ‘The Translator’s Task’ (1923) which subverts some widespread assumptions concerning translation: that it serves for communication, that it transfers meaning, that it must not distort the translator’s own language, and that it is inferior to the original. Benjamin overturns these assumptions by replacing the concept of translation as a merely linguistic operation with a metaphysical — or theological — concept of the same, derived from Jewish Kabbala and French Symbolisme. In ‘The Translator’s Task’, as well as his earlier essay ‘On Language as such and the Language of Man’, he delineates a cosmic linguistic cycle of descent from, and ascent back to, God. The translator’s task is to promote this ascent by deconstructing his own language in order to advance it towards a final ‘Pure Language’. Following an analysis of Benjamin’s approach, some of its affiliates are discussed in texts by Franz Rosenzweig, Paul Celan (as explicated by Peter Szondi) and Jacques Derrida. Rosenzweig, a translator like Benjamin, is shown to be concerned with more concrete 1aspects of translation, whereas Derrida's autobiographical ‘Monolingualism of the Other’, though not focussing on translation, is shown to be an innovative contribution to the metaphysics of translation. Finally, an attempt is made to deal with the question of whether and how this abstract approach can be of help for the concrete practice of Poetry translation. The great poet Hölderlin’s German translations of Sophocles testify to the clear, though elusive, practical contribution of this approach and to the importance of Benjamin’s legacy.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-995-1
Paperback Price: £19.95 / $29.95
Release Date: May 2019
Page Extent / Format: 112 pp. 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No





Chapter one
The Metaphysics of Translation: (1) No Reader

Chapter two
The Metaphysics of Translation: (2) Inessential Meaning             

Chapter three
The Metaphysics of Translation: (3) Completion,              
not Equivalence

Chapter four
The Metaphysics of Translation: (4) Breaking Through  
the Barriers of Language

Chapter five
The Metaphysics of Translation: (5) Poetry is That which              
Gains in Translation

Chapter six
The Colloidal Suspension             

Chapter seven
Benjamin and Paul Celan's Way to Pure Language          

Chapter eight
Pure Language 

Chapter nine
Aura and Translation    

Chapter ten
Rosenzweig and Translation: Back Into Life        

Chapter eleven
Derrida and the King's Untouchable Body           

Chapter twelve
The Practical Dimension              



Review Quotes to Follow

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.