Friday, 21 August 2009

Love Blumenbach

The German-speaking literary world's gone Blumenbach crazy! The translator of Infinite Jest is everywhere you look right now, as part of a kind of marketing-by-translator campaign for the book, retailing at a whopping €40.

You can read his thoughts on translating David Foster Wallace's language in the FAZ: "The translator is a blacksmith of Pegasus and has his work cut out before the muse steed can gallop across Mount Parnassus." And in Die Welt. And now you can admire photos of the man on the trade mag Börsenblatt's website.

This is an unusual way to sell a book, very possibly prompted by the fact that the author died before the six-year translation was quite finished. It's more usual, in Germany as elsewhere, for publishers to tacitly suggest books haven't even been translated at all, hiding the translators' names in the small print. And reviewers tend not to question that, perhaps out of mere thoughtlessness or because they don't feel qualified to comment on the quality of the translation. There's been some progress on this front in the past few years, with the media talking more notice of translators as we become more confident as a profession, standing up for our rights and recognition.

But hell, why not let the translator do the hard-sell? Who knows a book better than we do, after all? So now we have Ulrich Blumenbach, the double award-winning poster-boy of the translation world. He is at least easier on the eyes than Germany's other famous translator, Harry Rowohlt.

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