Sunday, 26 April 2009

Franzen Translating Again

I've written about Jonathon Franzen's illustrious career as a translator from German before. And it seems he's back in Berlin, giving readings and interviews again. Various papers reported on his appearance at the Temporary Art Hall on the rubble of the Palace of the Republic, including the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Apparently, he charmed the whole audience by making an effort to speak in German - on the subject of "sex, literature and the German language".

The sex was sadly non-existent, with Franzen talking about how he never managed to get into any German knickers as a Fulbright student in Munich and Berlin. The literature was Kafka - hard - Mann - perfect formalism - and the low profile of German authors in the US. And the German language was the medium.

Beforehand, Franzen gave an interview to Gregor Dotzauer of the Tagesspiegel, revealing that he and Daniel Kehlmann have been working on a second translation after polishing up his first one of Wedekind's Spring Awakening together. Translation, he says, is fun (below are my re-translations):

I'm just working on essays by Karl Kraus. My friend Daniel Kehlmann is helping me. There's an almost finished version of "Heine und die Folgen" and a less finished one of "Nestroy und die Nachwelt", which I've had to put aside because I have to hand in a novel by the end of the year. Otherwise I'm a dead man. Every one of Kraus's sentences is like a new crossword puzzle for me. And there are some things that'll never be translated quite right. What is "Geist" in English? There's nothing you can do. And Nestroy plays with all the word's nuances of meaning.

Asked about more contemporary stuff, he answers:

My pile of unread German literature is growing and growing. But I've read half of Daniel Kehlmann's "Ruhm". And I'm surrounded by piles of American books. I could tell you more about Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke or Günter Grass. I read "Peeling the Onion" in English, but I found it was written from a strong inner need, which you can't necessarily say of many of his previous books. I think it was treated very unfairly here (in Germany).

I noted last time that he has a very dated view of German literature, and I find that confirmed here. Each to his own and all that, but I do wonder if he's not missing out on something.

Update: You can watch a short video with audience reactions via the Goethe-Institut's Current Writing blog.

No comments: