Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 1, Number 1

Forward! -- Editorial

Ingo R. Stoehr

The first time I ever got involved with any aspect of translation was almost twenty years ago; in May 1974, I wrote a paper on translation problems by comparing the original English version of George Orwell's Animal Farm with its translation into German, Farm der Tiere, done by N. O. Scarpi. In the (somewhat personal) preface to this paper I acknowledged that I had wanted to become a writer ever since I had begun to write (though never finished) a story about a with, sorcerers, and all sorts of adventures, when I was ten years old. I also wrote in the preface that I considered it to be a legitimate worry of a writer to wonder about translation problems: "Or more precisely: If I want to make a certain statement in a text, I use formal devices such as word choice, syntax, and punctuation—will all of this be adequately rendered in a translation?"

Thirty nine pages later I had learned to appreciate the work of translators, had understood that translation always involved interpretation, and had realized that even the best translator makes mistakes from time to time. With this background I showed up at the University of Texas at Austin as an exchange student from Germany, took a course on "Theory and Practice of Translation" with A. Leslie Willson, and became involved with his Dimension, the marvelous and unique journal dedicated to introducing an English-speaking audience to German literature. Today I am still not a writer, but I am following my commitment to German literature and translation more than ever. I was there when Günter Grass would not let Leslie Willson get away with stopping publication of Dimension. In May 1989 Günter Grass was on a reading tour sponsored by the Goethe Institut and also read in Houston with a subsequent question-answer session, which was moderated by Leslie Willson. One night, when a small group of us went to a Mexican restaurant, Grass, who knew of Leslie Willson's plans to discontinue Dimension, reached over to give Leslie Willson a hug to express his appreciation for Willson (and his achievements for German literature, I might add). This gesture came as a complete surprise to the whole group, and Grass said that we should do something to change Willson's mind about his journal. Shortly after that our conversations about Dimension's future began. Leslie Willson did not change his mind, but he gladly agreed to serve on the editorial board of a new journal that will continue the tradition he started in 1968 with Dimension. To honor Leslie Willson's achievement, the name "dimension" will remain reserved for his journal; the new journal is "the second dimension," hence called DIMENSION2. This difference in names will also (hopefully) avoid some confusion for a short period of time during which the journals will overlap until the last volume of Dimension is published. DIMENSION2 will appear three times a year and each issue will have a special focus. Each January issue will focus on the new book publications in German-speaking countries during the previous Fall; each May issue will showcase a literary archive or institution; each September issue will be dedicated to a specific topic. None of these foci is exclusive; in fact, I would like to have topical concerns as a fixture for all issues, and then some. Topical concerns include the current political/cultural situation in German as well as that kind of literature that is struggling to get yet a fully appropriate name; for the time being, I refer to it as "minority literature" in German.The first volume will introduce new German books of Fall 1993 in January 1994, present the Uwe Johnson-Archiv in May 1994, and bring texts relating to the new Germany in September 1994. If possible, I will also present visual art: In the present volume it is work by Walter York Koenigstein. The present issue is unusual because of its length; on average each issue should have between 160 and 192 pages. Yet there always seems to be justification to do a little more: German literature is alive and well, and the selections from new books of Fall 1993 taken for this issue should be ample proof of this claim. I have primarily chosen excerpts from novels for this issue, but poetry is also represented, and so is drama. In this selection, I hope to have found the right "balance"; quite fittingly, this is the title of Botho Strauß' play with which I conclude the issue. Each text should "speak" for itself, and DIMENSION2 will remain a journal devoted to literary work, not the interpretation of this work. Nevertheless, there will be regular features that supply some background information. This, of course, will vary with the particular focus of each issue: In general, I intend to print one interview and two essays per issue. In the present issue there is an interview with the publisher Siegfried Unseld; furthermore, there is one brief View from Americ, where Leslie Willson shares his assessment of German literature and the American literary market, and one longer View from Germany, in which Joachim Walter and Gesine von Prittwitz give a status report concerning one specific aspect of (formerly East) German literature, i.e., the influence wielded by the State Security. For later issues I am considering a section with Translation Notes , which could be particularly helpful to teachers of German in translation or of translation itself. There are, I am sure, many instances where a reader would like to have some information about a particular translation choice. This time, such a section did not prove feasible. As far as the criteria for choosing a text over others are concerned, I follow the guidelines established by Leslie Willson: The author must be published in a German-speaking country, and the editor must like the text. The essays are typically by invitation. Both literary text and essays should, of course, represent German-language literature at its best. Ideally, they will offer something immediately interesting to a reader in America, or another English-speaking country. Some texts will describe "foreign" places such as Chinatown in New York City or are partially written in English (!) in the original itself. Then there are texts with universal topics of love, death, myth, and adventure. And last but not least, some texts will bring "things German" closer to their reader—in an interesting and thought-provoking manner. This is what all the texts in this first issue of DIMENSION2 are about. The actual selection of texts can only represent a small fraction of German-language literature, but it communicates some of the excitement and vitality of that literature and, I hope, it makes its reader more interested in German-speaking countries and their literature(s).

All of this would not be possible without the support of INTERNATIONES (whose substantial subscription makes this journal financially feasible), of publishers (who allow their authors' texts to be reprinted here without any fees), of the authors themselves (who submit texts for which I cannot pay either), and—last but not least—of the translators (whose tremendous efforts also go unpaid). Without all of this support Dimension would not have be around since 1968 and DIMENSION2 would not be able to carry on. To all of them, I owe my sincerest thanks.

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