In his 1923 essay "The Task of the Translator," Walter Benjamin takes a strong stance against the idea of communicability in poetry: "But what then is there in a poem—and even bad translators concede this to be essential—besides a message? Isn't it generally acknowledged to be the incomprehensible, the secret, the 'poetic'?" The theory of translation that flows from this statement is one in which concepts such as transparency and originality are cast aside in favor of the notion of the secret that, he claims, lies at the heart of poetic language. Here, the idea of Babel as a site of confusion, as a fall from grace, is called into question. How do we approach Babel today, and what new forms, what new media allow us to reconsider Benjamin's assertions? This article considers the way in which conceptual art has approached the question of untranslatability through the motif of noise. Evaluating the role sound plays in thinking through the problem of untranslatability, I suggest that it is through "transmedial exposure"—the exposure of one medium to another—that we can begin to think about the ethics and politics of untranslatability, of Babel. The article takes as a case study Brazilian conceptual artist Cildo Meireles's 2001 large-scale sculptural installation Babel, a tower of radios each tuned to a different station that, taken together, produce an overwhelming experience of cacophony.


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pp. 160-178
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