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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Blood of Saint Januarius

December 31, 2013 | by


Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

One day I asked my mother how she had found out that her three brothers, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-two years of age, had died in the matter of a year during the Second World War. Adam’s coming home too, but different! my grandmother seems to have said to my then sixteen-year-old mother, who had just returned home from an exam in Home Economics. His body was brought by train from Yugoslavia to Feistritz, where one of the other siblings transported his brother Adam, who was already lying in his coffin, in a horse carriage over the still unpaved road home to Kamering. My mother got word of her second brother’s death as she was climbing a hill, a rake on her shoulder, in the direction of the cemetery, and saw my grandmother standing in prayer in the distance over her brother Adam’s freshly dug grave. The sacristan’s wife, who was also in the cemetery, approached my grandmother and asked her why she was crying. Stefan is gone! my grandmother said. Stefan is gone! my mother heard as she walked, a rake over her shoulder, along the cemetery wall. She was informed of the death of her third brother by the mail carrier at the time, who herself lost her only son, more than ten years back, on Golan Heights. She brought to my mother’s sister, who was resting against the garden fence, a letter that my grandfather had written to his son Hans at the front. Over the envelope was a handwritten message: fallen for greater Germany! According to my mother, my grandfather’s legs shook when he read this note, and his wife, my grandmother, collapsed unconscious at his side. Read More »


Selections from Graveyard of Bitter Oranges: The Dead Children

December 30, 2013 | by


Art credit Anthony Cudahy.

This week, we will be running a series of excerpts from Josef Winkler’s Graveyard of Bitter Oranges. Inspired by the author’s stay in Italy after leaving his native Carinthia, the novel was first published in 1990 by Suhrkamp Verlag and its English translation will be published by Contra Mundum Press in 2015.

In the wine cellar, the ash from the volcano disgorged the wine from the bottles and barrels and filled them back to the brim. In the tombs, it displaced the ashes of the dead, settling down their place. The mouth, eye sockets, and skulls were filled by the rain of ashes from the volcano. A stream of lava, fifty meters wide and two meters deep, descended the slope of Mount Etna at seventy meters per minute. The lava flooded the stone houses as well, where pious images were hung, and flowed over the black crosses on the roadsides commemorating murders that had taken place. At night, the ash fell over the neighboring villages and the next day, the air was dull brown. Monks wore on their breasts the image of an erupting volcano, and stopped before each window, waiting until they’d received alms for the homeless. Boys ran through the shadowy side streets with lanterns on sticks, looking for cigarette butts that smelled of the fires of Purgatory. Street urchins hurled oranges and lemons at a train covered in with a film of hot ashes. Peasants leaned sacred images against the still-undamaged trees to stanch the searing flow of the lava. A tourist led an ass to the summit of Mount Etna to hurl it into the lava’s dreadful deluge. As it fell, the animal let out horrible cries before it burst into flames and blackened like a thicket of broom. The tour guide cooked the tourists fresh hen eggs in the scorching cinders from the volcano. English tourists pressed coins bearing the head of the queen into the hot lava, cleaned off the bits of lava that clung to the molten matter, and took them back home as souvenirs. Read More »


Lost in Translation: Notes on Adapting Ballard

December 9, 2013 | by


The first sentence of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise ranks, in my estimation, among the most striking ever written. It begins with a characteristic bit of misdirection:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the usual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

It’s a singular accomplishment: one word into the novel and the reader is already disoriented, groping for the context of time, left to wonder what precisely constitutes the implied before. This is typical of the sensations incited by reading Ballard’s prose. His writing throbs with vigor and curiosity, springing forth the recesses of his vision, every sentence wound into curlicues of imagination. It’s rich, robustly literary stuff—which is to say intensely literary stuff, difficult to envision translated faithfully to the silver screen. An aesthetic medium, the cinema seems ill-equipped to convey the density of great prose, to illustrate externally the inner life articulated with nuance by words. Film is bound to a certain literalism: the indexical relationship between the image and what it communicates is direct, unavoidable. A film can’t describe—it can only show.

We refer to this as medium specificity—those qualities which distinguish the art of literature from the art of cinema, as well as from theater, painting, poetry, and so on. When a literary work is adapted as a film, the specificity of the art must be translated: it may be about the same thing, but, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, how it’s about what it’s about needs to be reconceived. Now, a variety of screenwriters and directors have sought to realize a film version of High-Rise since its publication in 1975, including Paul Mayersberg, Nicolas Roeg, and, much more recently, Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, whose take came perhaps the closest to fruition. Only now has it finally seemed underway: British director Ben Wheatley, the radical auteur responsible for Kill List and Sightseers, has been confirmed as the project’s new lead and is set to begin shooting in early 2014. We will learn soon enough how he has dealt with the issues of translation. Read More »


William Weaver, 1923–2013

November 15, 2013 | by


“Some of the first books I read or that my father read to me were translations, although I didn’t know they were translations because in those days the translator often wouldn’t even have his name on the book. I remember a French book, Sans famille, called in English Nobody’s Boy, which my father read to me when I was four or five. It was about a little orphan boy who runs away from the orphanage and goes off with an Italian organ-grinder who has a pet monkey and a lot of stray dogs, all of them with names. Since I came from a large family with all these older brothers and sisters, the dream of my life was to be an orphan, so I thought, Oh, this lucky kid. He’s an orphan, and he gets to wander the roads with all these animals and this nice Italian. I thought it a great happy book, but you were supposed to be dissolved in tears from beginning to end. My father understood perfectly.” —William Weaver, the Art of Translation No. 3



Franzen on Kraus: Footnote 18

September 4, 2013 | by

Oskar Kokoschka's 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Oil on canvas, 65 x 100 cm, Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

Oskar Kokoschka’s 1925 portrait of Karl Kraus. Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna.

This week, to celebrate the launch of our Fall issue, we will preview a few of our favorite footnotes from “Against Heine,” Jonathan Franzen’s translation of the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Click here to get your subscription now!

People are very talented in the jungle, and talent begins in the East around the time you reach Bucharest.18

(p. 196)

18 This sentence is very funny in German. I can’t translate it any better, and so I have to resort, dismally, to trying to explain the humor. Kraus is again going after easiness—here, the ease with which foreign travel lends spice to writing. The joke is, approximately, that the jungle is fascinating to us non-jungle-dwellers, and that we mistake this fascination for talent on the writer’s part. Thus: people are very talented in the jungle. Kraus ridicules this phenomenon by way of contrasting himself with Heine, whose best-known prose was his travel writing and his dispatches from Paris. Although Kraus vacationed abroad and spent parts of the First World War in Switzerland, his life’s work was focused exclusively on Vienna, and it obviously galled him to hear foreign-traveling writers praised for their “talent.” Here I think his venom is directed more at admirers of jungle writing than at its producers. The former are perpetrating bad literary values, the latter merely making the most of such talent as they have. There is, after all, a long tradition of writers venturing overseas for material. The funniest fictional example may be the young man Otto, who, in William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, goes to Central America in quest of the character he natively lacks, but the inverse relationship between travel and character is found in real life, too. I’m thinking of Hemingway, whose style was as strong as his range of theme was narrow (would he actually have had anything to say if he’d been forced to stay home?), and of Faulkner, a writer of real character whose best work began after he gave up his soldier dreams and his New Orleans flaneurship and returned to Mississippi. You can’t really fault Hemingway for being aware of his own limitations, but you can (and Kraus would) fault the culture for making him the face of twentieth-century American literature.

Hemingway’s star seems to have faded a little, so a takedown of him now wouldn’t be as incendiary as Kraus’s takedown of Heine, but he’s an interestingly parallel case, not only in the general outlines (both he and Heine were expats in Paris, obsessed with their literary reputations, and famously nasty to writers they perceived as rivals) but in their literary methods. Kraus’s critique of Heine’s writing—that it was fundamentally hack journalism, dressed up in an innovative and easily copied style—could apply to a lot of Hemingway’s work as well.



Meet Me on the Bridge

June 25, 2013 | by


One afternoon I decided to read Groucho Marx in French, because, well, why not? I had temporarily switched Boston for New York on the larkiest of larks, had accidentally been charged $9,000 for a pulled pork sandwich (where my saying “It’s that much because it comes with a little waiter who grows when you pour water on him, right?” fell unbelievably flat), and—with nothing in the immediate particular to do on that May afternoon—felt the moment was right for a book.

Groucho and Me was translated into French in 1981 as Mémoire capitales, and it begins so: “L’ennui avec une autobiographie, c’est que l’on ne peut pas s’ecarter de la verite. Quand on ecrit sur un autre, on peut se permettre des retouches, voire carrement de la broderie anglaise.” (The trouble with an autobiography is that we cannot depart from the truth. When one writes of another, one is permitted alterations, even downright English embroidery.)

Groucho wrote it like this: “The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland.” Read More »