Friday, 23 April 2010

At Last, Something German Writers Excel at on the International Stage: Masturbation

A couple of days ago, Chris Cox in the Guardian books blog flagged up Charlotte Roche's celebrated German novel Wetlands as the archetypal modern-day wank-shocker. And don't ask me why, but for some reason the past three literary texts I've translated over the last few weeks have all touched on the subject of self-abuse, prompting much discussion among my friends. That's discussion on how to translate certain terms, mind - not discussion of why Katy gets all the jerk-off material to deal with.

It would seem that while the French and Russians do the slushy stuff (see yesterday's post below), the Germans are busily seeing to themselves. My friend Selim Özdogan has written a number of stories on the subject - one of which you can read at Brooklyn Rail's InTranslation. Or think of Thomas Brussig's Heroes Like Us (check out the bizarre "keywords" behind that Amazon link). Why not take a look at a translated excerpt from Rainer Merkel's Lichtjahre entfernt for some seriously bored pornography consumption that caused me the odd headache translating it. And I even recall a detective novel I particularly disliked and have forgotten the name of, in which the private dick's only remarkable characteristic was choking the chicken under the shower.

According to Rory MacLean in his entertaining Meet the Germans blog, Germans are officially ranked the worst lovers in the world - an unnamed survey claiming they only think of their own pleasure in bed. And they are indeed having major problems sustaining the population.

Yet as I've established in the course of my professional practice, those German writers may all be at it, but they don't have all that many words for it. In fact, in two of my three recent instances, the writers used the same word: wichsen. I translated it differently every time - incidentally discovering that English has a plethora of synonyms for male masturbation but far fewer for the female fun.

That's enough of the smut though. As of next week, love german books will be a strictly monkey-slapping free zone. Probably.


Paula said...

Interestingly enough, I just had time to read a German translation of Mark Twain's essay/address on masturbation (published in die Zeit a couple of weeks ago). Never knew he had written on this subject. Also didn't notice the word "wichsen" in the translation, though Twain cleverly (?) avoids naming names, so the pronoun "it" becomes highly suggestive.

I've often wondered if it would be possible to translate the title of the film of a few years ago, "Der Wixxer". Not sure what an American English speaking audience would do with that one.

kjd said...

Personally, I'm not sure what any audience would do with such an awful film.

Here's a link to Theo Stemmler's Twain translation - thanks for pointing it out!