The Responsibility of the Reader: A Review of The Reciprocal Translation Project

The Reciprocal Translation Project
Edited by James Sherry and Sun Dong.
(ROOF Books, 2017, $22.95, 201 pages.)

In his famous essay, Walter Benjamin discusses and details “The Task of the Translator.” Focusing on the relationship between translator, text, and language, he examines the intrinsic properties of a text – translatability among them – whose transmission and potential for transmission are essential to the translator’s task. Curiously, though, Benjamin begins with a negation. “In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful,” he writes. “Even the concept of an ‘ideal’ receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art […]. No poem is intended for the reader.” In other words, no audience should, or can, serve as the final arbiter of a creative work’s effectiveness, or of the creative principles that shape it (Benjamin 253).