The Affordances of the Translator


  • Douglas Robinson



Affordances, Benjamin, Hölderlin, 4EA Cognitive science, der Zusammenhang des Lebens, die Lebenswelt


This article explores affordance-theoretical readings of Walter Benjamin’s “Task of the Translator,” looking first at Aleksei Procyshyn’s mobilization of Anthony Chemero’s “radical embodied cognitive science” approach to affordances, in which, as Procyshyn summarizes it, “language use is an enactive process of meaning creation, which affords an appropriately situated and capable agent specific potentials for further action.” A closer look shows not only that Procyshyn has not drawn on the full potential of Chemero’s theorization, but that Chemero himself has not developed a 4EA-cogsci affordance theory fully—and that the application of affordance theory to Benjamin ultimately doesn’t work without a complex reframing of both Benjamin and affordance theory. Specifically, toward the end of Benjamin’s essay he moves toward a more personalized understanding of human translators as situated agents—notably Friedrich Hölderlin, but also Martin Luther, Johann Heinrich Voß, A. W. Schlegel, and Stefan George—and another pass through Wilhelm Dilthey’s hermeneutical theory of the Zusammenhang des Lebens (“nexus/intertwining of life”), which Benjamin invokes by name, helps flesh out both an affordance theory of translation and an extended application to Hölderlin’s Sophocles translations. The historical chain from Dilthey through Husserl and Merleau-Ponty to Varela, Thompson, and Rosch’s The Embodied Mind ties hermeneutics, phenomenology, and 4EA cognitive science together under the rubric of the affordances of the translator.


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