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Translating Ourselves: Mendelssohn's 'Living Script'

Translating Ourselves: Mendelssohn's 'Living Script'
170 St. George Street room 1040
Time: Mar 23rd, 10:00 am End: Mar 23rd, 5:00 pm
Interest Categories: Sociology (FAS), Religion, Study of (FAS), Political Science, Philosophy (UTSC), Philosophy (UTM), Philosophy (FAS), Linguistics (FAS), Jewish Studies, German (FAS), Critical Theory, Book History/Print Culture
Workshop exploring Moses Mendelssohn's idea of scripture as 'living script'

The Jackman Humanities Institute Program for the Arts on Translation and the Multiplicity of Languages is pleased to present:

Translating Ourselves: Mendelssohn's 'Living Script'

A Workshop

Translation is the practice of negotiating difference and alterity. But what do we do exactly when we translate? As Eva Hoffmann puts it in her novel Lost in Translation, we also translate ourselves, and this experience of our own difference is what constitutes our identity. The basic moments that define translation as paradoxical if not impossible – substitution and equivalence as the constitutive transactions that ‘carry over’ only by way of conversion, change, and transformation – produce a logic that makes translation an act that resists closure.

Moses Mendelssohn introduced the striking notion of Scripture as ‘living script’ arguing that the practice of commandments represents an alternative framework for understanding law, text, and translation. Mendelssohn’s approach highlights the performative act as central to interpretation. This has productive consequences for the theorizing translation.

For Mendelssohn, the notion of the ‘living script’ makes it possible to comprehend translation in terms of action rather than just a hermeneutic exercise or transfer of information. With this move, Mendelssohn offers a way to account for the problem how the inexhaustible potential of meaning in Scripture can figure in an infinite series of ever-new production of meaning, i.e. reiterations of the same through difference to which Scripture gives rise. While classic models of hermeneutics fail to account for this phenomenon, Mendelssohn offers an approach which points beyond hermeneutics to practice as the site where meaning is produced and sustained. In this process, translation occupies a central place. Mendelssohn’s theory of the ‘living script’ suggests that translation is a practice of lived life that accounts for the paradoxical but also enabling features of translation as a transaction whose transformative dynamics makes it an emancipatory process of self-making.

Mendelssohn’s model of the ‘living script’ suggests that the practice of philosophy as well as the humanities in general can be considered as acts of translations whereby ever new configurations of practice become legible as creative renegotiations of difference and identity. As a result, Mendelssohn allows us to comprehend translation as a form of negotiation that recognizes the impossibility to bridge the gap between difference and identity no longer as a handicap or problem but as the very catalyst for producing meaning and meaningful experience.

The workshop will explore the philosophical but also esthetic, social, and political implications that point beyond a merely theological-political agenda of the concept of Mendelssohn’s ‘living script.’ Exploring the philosophical context in and against which Mendelssohn launches the concept ranges from Spinoza to German Idealism. Of particular interest is the question in which way Mendelssohn’s notion of the ‘living script’ prefigures not only a critical moment in Hegel but also anticipates critical motives in the later line of Critical Theory.


10:15-10:30    Welcome

10:30-11:15    Susan Shapiro, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
                       Mendelssohn's Living Script and Contemporary Jewish Thought

11:15-12:00    Robert Gibbs, University of Toronto
                       The Living Script as Law

        Lunch break

2:00-2:45    Willi Goetschel, University of Toronto
                   Meaning and Translation: Mendelssohn’s Living Script

2:45-3:30    Grit Schorch, Tel Aviv University
                   Translation and Revelation: Walter Benjamin and Moses Mendelssohn in Comparative Perspective

3:30-3:45    Coffee Break

3:45-4:30    Asaf Angermann, University of Toronto
                   Truths versus Laws: The “Strenuous Effort of the Concept” in Mendelssohn, Hegel, and Adorno

4:30-5:00    Discussion and Concluding Remarks

Download program [pdf]

Download flyer [pdf]

For further information about this event, please contact the Jackman Humanities Institute at (416) 946-0313, or the organizer, Professor W. Goetschel.

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