Monday, 2 December 2013

Franzenesque Footnotes

I wrote a review of Jonathan Franzen's The Kraus Project for The Quarterly Conversation, and they talked me out of my original plan to include footnotes of my own. That was entirely wise of them.

But just in case you feel like printing out the published review and then printing out this post, then cutting them both up with a pair of scissors and guessing where the footnotes would have been, here are the footnotes.

[1] My favourite translation metaphor was provided by the Japanese translator Michael Emmerich at a panel discussion. Asked about the most fitting metaphor for our work, he kept a straight face while telling the audience he favoured the image of a cow, eating grass, patiently and diligently processing the cud through her four stomachs, and in the end producing milk—and manure.
[2] I shall return to this subject later. I thought it important, however, to open this piece with a pithy statement that makes Jonathon Franzen look bad, as this seems to be the standard practice in writing about The Kraus Project.
Hofmann writes: “Franzen doesn’t get everything right: ‘schwerpunktlos’ is not the same as ‘aimlessly,’ ‘sich kosten lassen’ is used in the sense of ‘cost,’ not ‘taste,’ ‘wälze’ is not ‘waltz,’ ‘unschwere’ in context is ‘light’ (unheavy rather than ‘undifficult’), ‘die Hand an die Wange gedrückt’ has Heine pressing his hand to his own cheek, not to Nature’s (he’s a poet, remember), ‘Tor’ means ‘gate’ as well as ‘fool,’ otherwise you don’t get Heine’s joke, ‘der angegriffenen Partie’ is really not ‘the body parts of the persons under attack,’ a ‘Stichwort’ is not a ‘punch line’ but a ‘cue,’ ‘an den Mann zu bringen’ is not ‘finding a mate for,’ ‘gewendetes Pathos’ is not ‘applied emotion’ (which would be ‘angewendetes Pathos’), ‘Phrasen’ are not ‘phrases’ but ‘clichés.’
These things happen in translations; they don’t matter that much.”
[4] Although not through him.
[5] Another Vaudevillian metaphor. 
[7] Of course, all translation is impossible. Kraus’s chewy prose is particularly impossible to put into English, but the premise that any individual could slip into writers’ brains and re-render all the private nuances in their work, identically except in a different language, is ridiculous. Not only because languages rarely overlap conveniently enough to provide exact word matches in terms of meaning, sound and emotional baggage, but also because every reading is coloured by the reader’s own thoughts and experiences. Every reading is an
interpretation, which is why books benefit from re-translations. That’s not to say we shouldn’t translate, or we shouldn’t read translations because they are in some way “impure”. One of the joys of translating is, with Che Guevara, realistically demanding the impossible of oneself.
[8] Paul Reitter tells us the poem is about “the conquistadores’ guileful victory over the Aztecs and the revenge plans of the Aztec god who wants to torment Europe”.
[9] Radio 4’s Front Row, 7 August 2013:
[10] I assume Kehlmann was either writing or thinking in German, using the term Machtergreifung. Many historians and commentators prefer not to suggest that Hitler “seized” power single-handedly, against the will of the majority of Germans. 
[11] You know Dad doesn’t mean it the way it sounds. He’s an old man, that’s just the way he grew up. He meant it nicely.
[12] There are a few cut corners, and several instances—as Hofmann points out—where even the three contributors admit that the prose is “sub-par”, particularly in the second essay. There are also many rather endearing footnotes essentially saying, nope, we don’t know what this is supposed to mean either.

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