The Trace of the Untranslatable: Emmanuel Levinas and the Ethics of Translation

PhaenEx 7 (1):1-29 (2012)
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Looking at Holocaust testimonies, which in her view always involve some form of translation, the author seeks to develop an ethics of translation in the context of Levinas’ hyperbolic ethics of responsibility. Calling on Benjamin and Derrida to make explicit the precipitous task of the translator, she argues that the translator faces an ethical call or assignation that resembles the fundamental structure of Levinasian subjectivity. The author relates the paradoxes of translation in Holocaust testimony to Levinas’ silence on the problem of translation—puzzling if one considers Levinas’ focus on the ethical essence of language, his multilingualism, and the fact that he wrote his texts in a second language. She proposes that the trace of the philosopher’s displacement from his linguistic community can be discerned in his exilic conception of ethical subjectivity and in the testimonial impetus that animates his work. Thus, although Levinas’ Saying is posited as a translinguistic horizon that transcends the boundaries of a particular national language, it carries the remainder of the disavowed loss of the mother tongue



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