Friday, 6 May 2011

Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize to Jean M. Snook

The news isn't up in English yet, but if you speak German you can read all about Jean M. Snook and her award-winning translation of Gert Jonke's The Distant Sound.

The Helen and Kurt Wolff prize is the most prestigious award for German-English translation, and comes with a stay in Berlin. I do like the way they praise Gert Jonke (1946-2009) as a great contemporary writer - alongside Thomas Bernhard and Arno Schmidt, who have been dead since 1989 and 1979 respectively.

I'm very pleased that it's gone to a woman this time, only the sixth in sixteen years. And not just any woman! I really respect Jean Snook's work as very conscientious and empathetic - as the judges say, she makes translation look easy. The prize will be awarded in Chicago on 13 June - I'm sure the deserving winner will have fun with the $10,000 cheque.


Daniel said...

RE The jury's description of Bernhard as an author of "the present":

I guess I've always thought of Gegenwart as a bit more plastic than the English "present." I don't see it as necessarily unreasonable to describe a writer like Bernhard as such.

I think I get the impulse behind your comment, though, because you wish they would pay more attention to the writers who have written excellent works since the death of Bernhard as well.

Bernhard is a giant, though, and I think it will be a while before he's eclipsed in the minds of the Kenner and critics of Austrian literature (and that goes double for those who have emigrated).

It IS ironic, though, to mention Bernhard in a statement about a translation prize, given his philosophy on translation (i.e., impossible), and given his view of the translations of his own work. Well, I don't know what he said exactly, but he probably called them 'scheußlich' — one of his most beloved adjectives.

(Word verification: 'berate'—not my intention!)

kjd said...

Hi Daniel,

I agree that they're both still hugely influential for actual contemporary writers. And they're certainly among the biggest names known to the English-speaking world.

So it was no doubt meant as an honour to Jonke to compare him to Bernhard and Schmidt. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue/pen, I don't know, but I still don't think you can call people contemporary writers if they've been dead for over twenty years.

Really, I'm just nitpicking.

David said...

Bernhard on translation (in an interview just before his death):

"Doesn't interest me at all, because a translation is a different book. It has nothing to do with the original at all. It's a book by the person who translated it. I write in the German language. You get sent a copy of these books and either you like them or you don't. If they have awful covers then they're just annoying. And you flip through and that's it. It has nothing in common with your own work, apart from the weirdly different title. Right? Because translation is impossible. A piece of music is played the same the world over, using the written notes, but a book would always have to be played in German, in my case. With my orchestra!"

With respect to contemporary Austrian writers: are Handke and Jelinek chopped liver?

Daniel said...

@David: Thanks for that quote—I knew it was something like that, but I didn't have my copy of those interviews ready to hand. He's a tough nut, that Thomas is. Don't get him started when it comes to Heidegger.

I don't think Handke is chopped liver in terms of his literary genius, but there is that whole Serbia thing...? So, I think he tends to get shunned for political reasons. I think that's perhaps why he's not mentioned as readily in the pantheon of Austrian writers of the past 40 years.

@Katy: I knew you were nitpicking. ;¬)
But I think these earlier figures really do dominate. I think it would be a bit like showing up on the scene in France shortly after the death of Flaubert.
(Yes, yes I did just compare Bernhard to Flaubert.)

Anonymous said...

Anybody knows whether there is a german translation of the book El corazon helado by the Spanish author Almudena grandes?
thank you,