Acknowledgement of the Sámi people

OCA acknowledges the Sámi as one people, and as the Indigenous people of the Fennoscandian region. On the land of this region, Sápmi, the Sámi people have lived since time immemorial, respectfully harvesting from nature by fishing, farming, hunting and following reindeer, amongst other activities.

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The Promise and Compromise of Translation

The Promise and Compromise of Translation

29 Feb – 1 Mar '16
Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Nedre gate 7, Oslo
Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO), Fossveien 2, Oslo

The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Art of the Oslo National Academy of the Arts (KHiO) hosted a four day platform of reading groups and lectures titled ‘The Promise and Compromise of Translation’, in Oslo during winter and autumn 2016. The programme was dedicated to the seminal theorist Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) who championed a new language within philosophy, interlocking his writings on language, history and the arts with the partisan perspective of the ‘tradition of the oppressed’. Against the conformism of his contemporaries, his ‘untimely’ political aesthetics and materialist concept of history aimed at a redemptive interruption of modernity’s idea of progress.

The Promise and Compromise of Translation Rebecca Comay 1146
Lecture by Rebecca Comay. Photo: OCA / Magne Risnes
The Promise and Comporomise of Translation Rebecca Comay 1161
Lecture by Rebecca Comay. Photo: OCA / Magne Risnes
The Promise of Compromise and Translation Jeffrey Sacks 1443
Lecture by Jeffrey Sacks. Photo: OCA / Magne Risnes

Despite his belated reception, today Benjamin has arrived in the pantheon of global humanities. His writings belong to the canon of Modern European philosophy, art theory and literary criticism. But can this academic appropriation of Benjamin’s thought do justice to his ‘critical life’ and to the ‘tradition of the oppressed’ that his writings invoke? Given the new spinning role of the humanities in today’s neo-liberal capitalism, a merely academic discourse on Benjamin does violence to his thought.

With painful prescience, Benjamin, the essayist, philosopher and translator, authored the landmark essay ‘Critique of Violence’ (1921), in which he vigorously exposed the violence of the modern state and its jurisdiction, legislation, and executive forces undeniably projecting so relevantly in today’s belligerence of war across the globe with the expounding role played by the statehood formation derived from the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. For the early Benjamin, it was clear that there was ‘something rotten in the law’ – be it the law of monarchy, ‘normal’ democracy or autocratic regimes. From Benjamin’s perspective of a radical critique of violence, justice and the law of the state remain irreconcilable.

Spanning sessions over four days, ‘The Promise and Compromise of Translation’ aimed at discussing translatability and to traverse core Benjaminian themes of language, violence and history by focusing on pure language (from ‘The Task of the Translator’, 1923) and the ‘Tradition of the Oppressed’ (from the 'Theses on the Concept of History', 1940).

‘The Promise and Compromise of Translation’ was a project led by the philosopher Sami Khatib, together with Lara Khaldi and Yazan Khalili, initiated through the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA), in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Art (KHiO). The workshop, which was articulated through two interrelated sessions in Oslo during winter and autumn 2016, was inspired by a larger project dedicated to Benjamin and the politics of translation. The international workshop and conference ‘Benjamin in Palestine: On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought’, took place in December 2015 in Ramallah at the International Academy of Art Palestine and Birzeit University. It was organized and attended by a number of highly reputed Benjamin scholars, critical theorists, activists and artists from the Middle East, Europe and North America. The event in Oslo will focus on questions related to translations of Benjamin’s writings in Sami, Norwegian and Arabic.

Sami Khatib noted that ‘The constellation of Benjamin, Palestine and Oslo is not arbitrarily chosen. For the legibility of Benjamin’s oeuvre is not a given – it is bound to the time and place of both the text and its reader. Revisiting the debates from Ramallah in Oslo also means to acknowledge a (post)historical deadlock that connects Benjamin's belated readers with the untranslatability of struggles in the Middle East and Europe.’

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