Thursday, 14 February 2008

Translators Reveal All

Last night was the second event this year in the Übersetzer Packen Aus series. I haven't got the hang of links yet, so you'll have to go to the one on the left-hand side to find the website. Anyway, the point is, they're readings where not the authors but the translators read their work, and talk about it.

Last night the stars were Frank Günther and Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel. They both translate for the stage and that was the theme of the evening.

Frank Günther also happens to be the first ever Guest Professor for the Poetics of Translation at the FU Berlin. I've seen him in action before at his inaugural lecture, which was incredible fun. Part of the point of the post is to raise translators' profiles in the public eye, and he's certainly the right man for that job. He came across as thoroughly convinced of his own talents, and rather dismissive of everybody else's (apart from August Schlegel - or was it Dorothea?). Because what I've forgotten to mention is that he's translating all 39 of Shakespeare's plays into German. He should be finished by 2010. And he is a player, a born performer who can entertain an audience for two hours non-stop, seemingly off the cuff. So the ideal candidate, one might think, to battle against translator invisibility.

But last night he seemed strangely subdued. Maybe it was a male thing - he was up against the incredibly tall, stylish and self-possessed Schmidt-Henkel, after all. And Schmidt-Henkel was very eloquent - using amazing words like Verzopftheit - the state of having cute plaits - for the twee Pippi Longstocking quality of many translations from the Scandinavian languages. It was interesting to hear what the two of them had to say about loyalty to the original rather than the performance, and being the advocate of the author rather than the director. But I'm always slightly irritated by translators who say "Oh no, translators aren't allowed to do this that and the other..." Why not? If a director wants to stage a version of Woyzeck with everyone wearing Nazi uniforms (yes, I've seen one) then they can. And if a translator wants to adapt Shakespeare or Ibsen into ghetto slang or Yorkshire dialect, why can't they do that?

Günther came into his own at the end of the show, though, reading from his translation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He compared the different rhyme styles of the fairies, the lovers and the players, and put on about 20 different silly voices, with the body language to match. It was truly impressive - both the translation and the performance - and I'm very glad I was there.

Of course, I was doing the bar so I didn't have much choice. But I would definitely have gone anyway. I have to say, the Polish translators from the last event drank more though...


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Margarete said...

Verzopftheit: relates to the time of Enlightenment and means old fashioned, backward, sometimes with a connotation of fussiness, to my humble opinion.

(To associate Pipi Longstocking is cute, indeed, and seems to reveal the writer's youth.)