Hidden refusal. Name and Sprachmagie in Benjamin’s theory of language

  • Mauro Ponzi


Both in the essay The Task of the Translator (1921) and in On Languageas Such and on the Language of man (1916) Benjamin draws on many sources, often in contradiction with each other and proceeds with a double step. He draws the concept of Ursprache (Original Language/Pure Language) explicitly on both the Romantic and Jewish tradition. Epistemologically, this operation is similar to that of the German Romantics, but substantially it is very different because the original language of Benjamin can be identified with the Adam language and therefore with the divine language. This reference to the Bible results in a change from a mythical context to a religious context, where the philosophy of the language changes its implications completely. The Adam language is based on naming things and animals: a translation from the language of things into that of man. The activity of translation is a Umkehrung, a “u-turn”, a change in direction from the original sin. The hunt from Eden caused the loss of the Adam language and the birth of languages confusion (the tower of Babel); however translation revitalizes the “splinters” of the Ursprache that have been caught up in the various languages. The "magic of language" would be the "immediacy" of the "correspondence" between name and named the one hand and between "nominating" and name on the other. However the pure language is inaccessible to each communicative language that contains only its splinters. One of the sources of Benjamin’s thinking is Jakob Böhme and namely his book Mysterium Magnum, in which he speaks of “pure language” and “Adamic language” in terms quoted by Benjamin almost literally. Even if Benjamin uses sometimes in his writing mythical and “figurative” language, he never aims to claim a mythical or magic interpretation of world. He draws on Scholem’s kabbalistic mystic and uses a mythical language to claim a theological truth.


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How to Cite
Ponzi, M. (1) “Hidden refusal. Name and Sprachmagie in Benjamin’s theory of language”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 8(2). Available at: http://rifl.unical.it/index.php/rifl/article/view/234 (Accessed: 19August2022).