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Posts from the ‘Translation’ Category

Sebald, Kluge & Competing Translations

Kluge Air Raid

Alexander Kluge’s writings clearly exerted a great influence on W.G. Sebald, especially Kluge’s important 1977 book Neue Geschichten: Hefte 1–18: “Unheimlichkeit der Zeit” (which roughly translates as “New Histories: Notebooks 1–18: ‘The Uncanniness of Time’) . Neue Geschicten is written in a flat, non-literary prose that becomes a montage of voices, photographs, drawings, and charts. Last year, Seagull Books released Kluge’s book Air Raid, which includes what I believe to be the first English translation of a section from Neue Geschichten. The bulk of Air Raid, which is translated by Martin Chalmers, consists the the text titled “The Air Raid on Halberstadt on 8 April 1945,” which appears in Neue Geschicten as the second of the eighteen notebooks ,”Der Luftangriff auf Halberstadt am 8. April 1945.”About a third of Air Raid consists of related pieces by Kluge drawn from several of his other books. Air Raid then concludes with Sebald’s “essay” on Kluge called “Between History and Natural History. On the Literary Description of Total Destruction. Remarks on Kluge.” Read more

Vertiginous Links for the New Year

Five Dials #26 is focused on German writing, with a number of new short stories by young German writers, plus three essays on W.G. Sebald: Uwe Schutte’s “Teaching by Example,” Amanda Hopkinson’s “A History of Memory or a Memory of History?,” and Anthea Bell’s “A Translator’s View.”  These essays are three of the five originally commissioned and aired by BBC radio one year ago.  (The two essays not reprinted here are those of Christopher Bigsby and Georges Szirtes.)

Helen Finch has added her thoughts to the discussion about the recent BBC radio dramatization of Austerlitz in a blog post wonderfully called “Sebald was more interesting than the husband: Austerlitz and l’effet du réel.”   Finch makes the case that we should be judging the radio drama on whether or not it contains “the emotional truth” of the original book.

If Michael Butt tried to present the emotional truth of Austerlitz, as he felt it, in his radio drama, who is to say that his classic BBC drama version, complete with slamming doors and tearjerking music, does not represent that important affective aspect of Sebald’s work which might otherwise be lost behind his complex irony and academic erudition? Or is it the case that if we allow ourselves to be bewitched by Sebald’s artistry into thinking that his work is just a reproduction of the real, nothing more and nothing less, we have consigned ourselves to the realm of kitsch that is the death of art?

Over at The White Review is a nice piece by Will Stone called “Oradour-sur-Glane: Reflections on the Culture of Memorial in Europe” that speaks to some of Sebald’s preoccupations in Austerlitz with Holocaust sites, architecture, and memorials.

Entering Oradour and obeying bold signs to the memorial ruins, I was surprised to find myself in a vast car park, a limitless expanse of tarmac, more suited one would think to a sports complex or shopping mall. There on the sleek asphalt of the car park I observed luxury coaches with their tinted glass and climate controlled interiors spill their chattering cargoes, just as they will now in the newly constructed ‘reception area’ at Auschwitz I in Poland. Cars of suntanned visitors parked obediently between the freshly painted lines, disembarked and moved off all in the same direction, as if drawn by some unspecified magnetic source towards the giant modern bunker of a building that sat in a kind of man-made hollow. I realised as I followed them down the smart new concrete steps to the lower level that this was a relatively new visitors centre, inaugurated in 1999 by President Chirac, a largely superfluous building, the new scourge of every memorial site in Europe, whether merely ruins or formal cemetery. For today it is considered not quite enough to have solely the memorial itself before which to contemplate man’s destructive capability, the intricacies of murderous folly and the resulting nerve straining conclusion. Again and again some shadowy authority slips in between the individual and their private purpose and imposes an artificial construction in their path, which they have to wade through, straddle or circumnavigate before they can get back to the path they thought they were on.

Did Teju Cole deliberately write twelve essays in twenty twelve?  I wouldn’t put it past him.  Here are links to each and every one.

I’m sure of nothing, and writing essays is one of the ways I sort through my doubts.

Place in the Country

And finally, among the books we can look forward to in 2013 is Jo Catling’s translation of Sebald’s important book A Place in the Country (originally Logis in einem Landhaus, by WG Sebald.  According to The Guardian, the book is due to be released in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin May 2, but Amazon doesn’t have the US edition coming out from Random House until January 2014.  It looks as if Random House is going to use the same cover as the German edition, which is a beautiful watercolor by the Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, who is the subject of one of the biographic essays in this.  The only place I can currently find an image of a possible Hamish Hamilton cover is over at the New Books in German website, which shows something entirely different for the UK edition.

Happy 2013!

“Published in English with additional material…”

Riddle: When is a translation of a book not a translation of that book?

The earliest hint is buried in tiny print on the copyright page: “Published in English with additional material by Hamish Hamilton 2011.”  Despite the similarity in their titles, the recently released English volume Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 by W.G. Sebald is dramatically different from it’s German counterpart of 2008 Über das Land und das Wasser, which was edited by Sebald’s longtime editor Sven Meyer.  Across the Land, edited and translated by Iain Galbraith, contains considerably more poems, but, puzzlingly, they are incorporated within a different structure.  Across the Land has five sections: Poemtrees, School Latin, Across the Land and the Water, The Year before Last, and the oddly-named Appendix, which contains two poems that Sebald originally wrote in English.  The German version has three sections: Schullatein, Über das Land und das Wasser, and Das vorvergangene Jahr, each of which is different from its English counterpart.

Gone Missing.

The English edition contains every poem from the German edition – except two: Analytische Sommerfrische and Physikalisches Wunder.

Shuffled Around.

 Across the Land opens with a section called Poemtrees, which contains seventeen of Sebald’s earliest poems.  In the German edition, there is no section by this name; instead, the first fifteen of these poems are in the section called Schullatein – along with four other poems that appear in the School Latin section of the American edition.  (Yes, this is confusing.)  The second section in Across the Land is called School Latin, containing twenty poems – fifteen of which do not appear in the German edition at all.  Four of the poems in School Latin were originally in the Schullatein section of the German edition and one was originally included in the Über das Land und das Wasser section.  (Confused even more?  Sorry, we’re not done.)   The third section in Across the Land is called, appropriately, Across the Land and the Water, which contains twenty-nine poems, ten of which do not appear in the German edition.  The fourth section is called The Year Before Last, which closely corresponds to the German section Das vorvergrangene Jahr, except that it contains six poems that did not appear in the German edition.  How this fourth section got its title is never made clear.  The fifth section is the Appendix, which contains two poems originally written by Sebald in English and, therefore, were not translated by Iain Galbraith.  (Got everything straight now?)

So, What’s Going on Here?

Iain Galbraith writes in his Translator’s Introduction to Across the Land that in the 1908s “Sebald had prepared and paginated, apparently for publication, two collections of shorter poems – ‘Schullatein’ (‘School Latin’) and ‘Über das Land und das Wasser’ (‘Across the Land and the Water’), consisting altogether of some ninety poems – neither of which would find its way into print.”  Sebald’s manuscript for “Schullatein” contained a number of poems that also appeared in an even earlier gathering (which Galbraith calls a “loose bundle of poems”) that he labeled “Poemtrees.”  To further complicate matters, some of the poems in “Schullatein” were included – sometimes in a revised manner – in the later manuscript for Über das Land und das Wasser.  (Endlessly cannibalizing his own poems, Sebald also took some of these early, short poems in their entirety and inserted them into his long poem After Nature.)

If I am reading Galbraith’s introduction correctly, his reshuffling of the poems is based upon the manuscripts in Sebald’s archive at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.  Furthermore, Galbraith seems to have made at least some of his translations from Sebald’s manuscripts (where multiple version of the same poems can be found), rather than from the German edition of Über das Land und das Wasser.  This means that one cannot reliably compare Galbraith’s English translations with the published German version because Galbraith and Sven Meyer were, on occasion, using different source manuscripts for their respective editions.  It is very conceivable that every time that a poem was shuffled from one section in the German edition to a different section in the English edition, Galbraith and Meyer were using different manuscript versions of the same poem.

Riddle: When is a translation of a book not a translation of a book?
Answer: When the translator works from a different set of manuscripts.

[Please make sure to click on the Comments line below and read Iain Galbraith’s extended comment to this post, in which he addresses all of my questions and assumptions. Notably, he explains that he and Meyer did use the same source manuscript, so that a direct comparison made be made between his translations and the German originals in Über das Land.]

Sebald’s Translator Troubles?

W.G. Sebald’s annotations to Michael Hulse’s draft translation of the ‘Conrad chapter’ (Part V) of Die Ringe des Saturn.
(From Saturn’s Moons)

The other night I continued to make my non-sequential way through Saturn’s Moons: W.G. Sebald – A Handbook by reading short accounts written by two of Sebald’s English-language translators: “Englishing Max” by Michael Hulse and “Translating W.G. Sebald – With and Without the Author” by Anthea Bell.  A fair amount has already been written about turning Sebald’s German into English, a process that always involved the considerable participation of Sebald, who, of course, was extremely articulate in English.  The two essays in Saturn’s Moons add to the well-established image of Sebald and translator collaborating almost as equals.  As the illustration above shows, Sebald was perfectly capable of rephrasing – or even completely rewriting – the work of his own translator, which might well have been unnerving for those who took on the task of “Englishing” his German.

But Hulse provides a rare glimpse into the break-up of their professional (and personal) relationship that seems to expose a rarely seen side of Sebald.  Having already translated Die Ausgewanderten into The Emigrants in 1996 and Die Ringe des Saturn into The Rings of Saturn in 1998, Hulse “agreed against my better judgment to translate Schwindel. Gefühle,” which, in 1999, became Vertigo.  Hulse says he had already heard reports of Sebald complaining in public that he had had to “correct” Hulse’s translations.  Hulse, who was juggling multiple literary projects at once, also sensed that Sebald thought he slowed the translation process down too much.  Eventually, Hulse says, he informed Sebald’s publisher (Harvill) that he would not translate Sebald’s next book.  In January 2000, Sebald wrote Hulse to say that “Perhaps you would agree that, from your point of view also, our partnership has now reached its limits.”  After that they never communicated again.

This admission by Hulse immediately reminded me of Michael Hamburger’s oddly confessional “Translator’s Note” at the beginning of Unrecounted, the book of poems that he posthumously translated from Sebald’s German in 2005.

Although Max Sebald had given me copies of all his books published since our first acquaintance, he never so much as mentioned the writings of these miniatures to me and gave me no copy of For Years Now [the 2001 book in which some of the same poems had been previously published in English, apparently translated by Sebald himself].

Hamburger described the final period of Sebald’s life “as a time of crisis…full of enigmas, conflicts and contradictions he chose not to clarify.”  As a longstanding friend, Hamburger expressed some pique that Sebald was “readily accessible for interviews that probed matters he would not divulge to his closest friends.”

In an intriguing aside, Hamburger mentioned that his wife had received an autographed copy of the English edition of Austerlitz that, surprisingly, “contained emendations in his hand.”  Was Sebald unhappy with aspects of Anthea Bell’s translation, as well?  Bell, who has both written and spoken in interviews about her experiences with Sebald, has never hinted at any issues.

Poem, Unfolding

Unfolded, Anne Carson’s book length poem Nox is nearly 1000 inches long – or wide, to be exact.

An accordion-fold book housed in a clamshell box, Nox is a single collage-like poem composed of dictionary entries, snapshots, scraps of paper, postage stamps, written memories, and other texts  in which we see Carson as she copes with the death of her brother, as she tries to comprehend “the smell of nothing,” “the muteness,” and the meaning of memories scattered across a lifetime.  Just as the physical book unfolds and then collapses back into itself, the unifying structure of Nox is the unfolding and collapsing of a short poem by the Roman poet Catullus.  Nox opens with the poem – known as Poem 101 – in Latin.  As you turn each page or further unfold the book (whichever way you choose to read Nox), you are confronted with the individual dictionary entries for every Latin word in Catullus’ poem.   As the dictionary entries mount up and you realize that Carson is working toward an English translation of the poem, these entries induce a kind of literary vertigo.  Each Latin word has multiple definitions that can be wildly different from each other, if not seemingly contradictory.  The net effect is to make the reader reel from the endless English permutations possible from sixty-three Latin words.

Poem 101 is an elegy to Catullus’ brother.  Several rudimentary translations can be easily found online, but none have the powerful ambiguity and hurt of the version Carson achieves.

In parallel with the unfolding of the Catullus poem, Carson examines the meager scraps that constitute her memories and communications with her brother, who lived his life largely abroad and estranged from his family.  Unlike Poem 101, however, the enigma of her brother’s life seems to expand in many directions without ever coming to any resolution.

While there are scores of novels that use embedded photographs, this is only the second book of poems I have run across in which photographs are used interchangeably with textual material.

With a retail price of $29.95, Nox is a remarkable piece of publishing.  They have produced an eerie facsimile of Carson’s rather crude home-made album.  New Directions has also issued a special signed version of Nox in in edition of 100 copies.

Sebald Podcast …en français

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Table-ronde W. G. Sebald /Traduire…. a recent radio program about W.G. Sebald is currently available as a podcast on the Radio France website.   The program, which aired March 14, 2009,  is a discussion between two French translators, Christophe Claro and Bernard Hoepffner.   Claro has translated a number of contemporary American writers, including William H. Gass, William T. Vollman, and Thomas Pynchon.  Hoepffner has translated fiction by Robert Coover, Mark Twain, Gilbert Sorrentino, and many others.

(I’m told that this interview will be moved to a Radio France archive site after a while.  So if the link stops working, please leave me a comment and I’ll find and post the proper archival link.)  Listening to the program requires RealNetworks RealPlayer.

There’s also a nice interview with Claro primarily about translation at The Quarterly Conversation.

Collecting W.G. Sebald’s Unrecounted

In 2003, Sebald’s German publishing house Hanser posthumously released a volume reminiscent of his 2001 book of short poems For Years Now. The new book of poems, Unerzählt: 33 Texte und 33 Radierungen was also a collaboration between Sebald – again writing as a poet – and a visual artist. But here, instead of being paired with the colorful geometric abstractions of Tess Jaray, the poems are paired with photo-realist images by his long-time friend Jan Peter Tripp. Tripp’s images each depict the narrow midsection of a face – a pair of eyes and nothing more. The subjects of his images, the owners of these visionary eyes, are all identified in the book and range from authors (William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett) to artists (Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, Tripp) to friends of the two collaborators, and even Sebald himself, his daughter Anna, and his dog Moritz.

The British reviewer Tim Adams provided a small glimpse into the collaboration between Sebald and Tripp. “Michael Krüger, the German publisher of Sebald, remembers the pair of them coming into his office to propose the idea for their book, two schoolfriends, excitedly explaining a project. ‘Max [Sebald] talked a lot about looking, about the little pieces he would write about looking. Some of the pieces would be old, some new, but they would all be about the way we viewed the world.’ While Sebald was talking, Tripp stood up and started taking photographs of Krüger. ‘We will, of course, have to include your eyes in the book, too,’ he explained. Tripp’s subsequent etching of the publisher’s eyes carries with it a typical fragment of Sebald’s verse, what he called a ‘micropoem’: ‘They say / that Napoleon / was colourblind / & blood for him / as green as / grass’.” (Tim Adams, “The Eyes Have It,” The Observer September 19, 2004)

The Hanser volume is an elegant tall quarto bound in gray cloth with a reproduction of Tripp’s portrait of Sebald pasted onto the front cover. A clear plastic dust jacket is imprinted with authors’ names, book title, and publisher. But once the volume is opened, all of the pages, including the title page, are printed horizontally to give more room to Tripp’s extended horizontal images. In addition to Sebald’s poems and Tripp’s images, the volume contains a poem by Sebald’s frequent German editor Hans Magnus Enzensberger “Ein Abschied von Max Sebald” (A Farewell to Max Sebald) and an essay by Andrea Köhler. Appropriately, the endpapers are black.

In addition to the first trade edition, Hanser released two limited edition versions of Unerzählt: an edition of 333 copies each containing a loose etching by Tripp called “Max” that is titled, signed and numbered in pencil, and an even more limited edition of thirty-three copies each containing all thirty-three of Tripp’s original prints.

Sebald Unerzahlt
In 2004, Hamish Hamilton brought out the British edition, now called Unrecounted: 33 Texts and 33 Etchings by W.G. Sebald and Jan Peter Tripp (although the inside front flap of the dust jacket refers to Tripps works as “lithographs”). Several items are new to the English-language edition: a “Translator’s Note” by Michael Hamburger; a second poem by Hans Magnus Enzensburger called “Tripp’s Cabinet of Prodigies”; and an essay by Sebald “As Day and Night, Chalk and Cheese: On the Pictures of Jan Peter Tripp,” which deals with trompe l’oeil, memory, and other Sebaldian subjects, originally published in Logis in einem Landhaus. Hamish Hamilton continued the practice of using horizontally-printed pages within a vertical book format, but reduced the book’s size considerably from Hanser’s 11 1/2 by 7 inches to a handier size of 8 3/4 by 5 1/2 inches, ending up with a book that is less generous to Tripp’s images and – well – more ordinary. It is bound in textbook blue boards with gold-stamped spine and has a dustjacket that reproduces Tripp’s portrait of Sebald.

Sebald Unrecounted British

Perhaps the most striking aspect for the reader of Unrecounted is Michael Hamburger’s “Translator’s Note”, an almost confessional, slightly stunned piece that is full of insights and mysterious revelations about the poems and about Sebald. After Sebald’s death, Hamburger discovered that he didn’t know his friend as well as he had thought. Among other things, Hamburger reveals that Sebald had completely kept him – his current translator – unaware of either of his two book collaborations involving these “micropoems.” And when, posthumously, he began to translate Unerzählt Hamburger discovered that some of the poems for Unrecounted were what he calls “overlapping” but “different” texts that Sebald had used previously in For Years Now. Hamburger speculates that Sebald himself must have made the translations for the earlier book and he discusses his decision to retranslate them anew whenever he encountered a previously published piece.

For example, the first version below is the poem “Blue” from For Years Now (presumably Sebald’s own translation), followed by Hamburger’s translation from Unrecounted:

Blue

grass
seen
through
a wafer
thin layer
of frozen
water

Blue

grass
seen
through a thin
layer
of frozen
water

A few months later in 2004, New Directions released an American edition: Unrecounted: 33 Poems by W.G. Sebald, 33 Lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp, further confusing the question of whether Tripp’s artwork was created through etching or lithography. (The use of “radierungen” in the original German title clearly indicates that they are etchings, and since Hanser had published a limited edition containing Tripp’s original prints one would assume they knew what kind of printing technique he used.) New Directions included everything from the British edition, but also generously threw in the original German texts for Sebald’s 33 poems. They also returned some of the spatiousness to the book, which is 10 1/4 by 6 1/2 inches in size. It is bound in gray cloth and displays a nice hint of red threads at the top and bottom of the book block. The spine is silver-stamped and New Directions returns to the use of memorial black endpapers. But not all of New Directions production choices seem to be improvements on the Hamish Hamilton version. Both the German and British editions had used slightly yellow matte-surfaced papers and had printed Tripp’s images in a warm brown or sepia ink. New Directions use of glossy paper and a cold black ink sucks the warmth out of Tripp’s images and works against the deliberately antiquarian feel of these images.

Collecting W.G. Sebald’s After Nature

Sebald After Nature British Edition

After Nature, published by Hamish Hamilton

Nach der Natur: Ein Elementargedicht was one of Sebald’s earliest books. It was published in a small, almost luxurious volume by Greno (Nordlingen, Germany) in 1988. Nach der Natur was finally published posthumously in English in 2002 by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books), after the critical success of his four major works of prose fiction in the English and American publishing worlds. Obviously aware of how much importance Sebald placed on participating in the translation of his own works into English, the English-language editions include a Publisher’s Note stating that “W.G. Sebald approved a final version of the text before his untimely death.” (Update May 12, 2007.Another Sebald collector has told me that Greno also released a limited special edition of Nach der Natur known as a Vorzugsausgabe.It is bound in leather and has a cloth slipcase, but is neither signed nor numbered.He informs me that Franz Greno told him it was in an edition of 200. )

In English, the volume was called simply After Nature, without the subtitle Ein Elementargedicht, which literally translates as “an elementary poem”. The English language volumes also lack the four double-page photographs by German photographer Thomas Becker, which form a prelude and coda to the volume’s text matter. The American edition by Random House (below) curiously omits the admittedly brief Contents page (there are only three poems), but feels the need to tack on three pages at the end for About the Author, About the Translator, and About the Type.

Sebald After Nature American Edition

Random House issued After Nature in an Advance Uncorrected Proofs version, and it has at least one interesting variant from the final version as published by both Hamish Hamilton and Random House. The text of the middle poem “And if I Remained by the Outermost Sea” begins on page 43 in both English-language versions. In the Advance Uncorrected Proofs version the first six lines read as follows (the italics are mine):

Georg Wilhem Steller
born at Windsheim, in Franconia,
while pursuing his studies
at the University of Halle
repeatedly came across news
docketed (inserted) in journals

In the British edition, lines 5 and 6 read this way:

repeatedly came across
news items in journals

And in the Random House edition, those same lines read:

repeatedly came across news
items in journals

The small typographical admission of uncertainty that appears in the Random House Proofs version opens a window into the translating process. In the original German, the two lines quoted above in English are found on a single line which reads:

auf die in die Intelligenzblatter eingeruchte Nachricht,

Clearly, Sebald (or translator Michael Hamburger) was struggling with Sebald’s reference to the obscure 18th century newspaper the Intelligenzblatter and toyed with the possibility of suggesting that news items read by Steller were “docketed” or “inserted” into a generic “journal”. In the end, simplicity and clarity won out and it was decided to refer to “news items”, dropping any reference at all to the existence of a newspaper, specific or otherwise.

Sebald Nach Natur

The original German publication by Greno is a stunningly beautiful slim volume bound in deep green cloth, with finely printed photographic endpapers of Becker’s photographs. The British first edition, although in unfortunate dull brown boards, feels better designed and more generous that the Random House first edition. It employs the typeface Monotype Perpetua and a larger font size, which provides elegant, bold Roman numerals for the frequent section headings of the three poems. The British version’s thicker, whiter paper gives the poems more gravitas, leaving the American version feeling thin and overly delicate.