Volume 69, Issue 4
  • ISSN 0521-9744
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9668
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The article invokes John Henry’s fatal competition with the rock-driving machine, a legendary exemplar of resistance to automation, as a speculative analogue of Walter Benjamin’s 1923 essay “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” read as a metaphysical attempt to develop a workable alternative to the kind of mechanizable translating he hated. Benjamin’s practical work with Baudelaire and Proust and the others is read tentatively as the forerunners to machine translation eighty-plus years later – working with the meanings of individual words in sentential chunks, striving to organize them along the lines of statistical usage in the target language, and incrementally learning with each translation job to assimilate actual reproductions of sentential meaning more and more accurately to statistical usage. “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” by contrast, read as his anti-MT manifesto, opens up to a somatic phenomenology of felt (super)human life.


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