Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 7, Number 1

Forward! -- Editorial

Ingo R. Stoehr


Dimension2 has presented literary institutions before; however, this time the institution is not a literary archive but a quite different entity: the Literary Colloquium Berlin (Literarisches Colloquium Berlin), also simply known by its initials as the LCB. The occasion is the fortieth anniversary of the LCB in 2003.

Literary Archives play an important part in the literary life of the German-speaking countries, regardless of whether they highlight the achievement of one author, whether they focus on a particular region and its literature, or whether they represent a whole nation’s creativity. This magazine has featured the Uwe Johnson Archives (in volume 1, number 2), the Literary Archives in Sulzbach-Rosenberg (in volume 2, number 2), the German Literary Archives in Marbach (in volume 3, number 2), the Franz-Michael-Felder Archives in Voralberg region of Austria (in volume 4, number 2), and the Swiss Literary Archives (in volume 5, number 2). There are, of course, many more archives, and I look forward to “visiting” them in future issues.

While archives host many events on contemporary writing, their main contributions are directed toward preserving literary history and making it accessible. Other institutions, such as the LiteraturhĢuser, have emerged as a voice for literature written as recently as now; they are meeting places for authors and the reading public with a wide variety of programs. Among these institutions, the LCB occupies a distinct place, not least because of its founder Walter Höllerer.

As a matter of fact, Walter Höllerer—to whose memory this issue of Dimension2 is dedicated—knew about the roles that institutions play in the literary life of a country; he was not only a writer and teacher, but also an editor of literary and scholarly magazines, as well as the founder of the Literary Archives in Sulzbach-Rosenberg and of the Literary Colloquium Berlin.

When I call Walter Höllerer a teacher, I mean it in both a conversational and a professional sense: people could learn from him about literature by talking with him whether they were taking a class from him or not, and he taught classes at the Free University Berlin and (when on regular sabbatical from Berlin) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was at Illinois that I met Höllerer for the first time when I was taking his seminar on the image of Berlin in German literature. That was in the fall of 1984.

The last time I really visited with him was ten years later on July 11, 1994, when I was in Germany working on the Dimenion2 issue that was to feature the Literary Archives in Sulzbach-Rosenberg. We briefly met once or twice after that, but our meeting in 1994 stands out because we spent the afternoon at his house in Berlin talking about "his" literary archives and much more. It also stands out because I taped our conversation (or, at least, the official part of it), a recording I made with the understanding that I would not publish it but that I could use information from it if needed for the issue I was working on at the time.

Life unfolds in an intriguing way. If I had accepted Höllerer’s offer in Illinois to write my dissertation with him at the FU Berlin, I might have, at one point or another, been directly involved with his literary archives or the LCB. But I decided to return to Texas, where I fell in love with (among other things) a unique literary magazine—Dimension, which was edited by its founder Leslie Willson, who became my dissertation advisor. When he decided to discontinue his magazine, I could not let the magazine die but, with Leslie’s support, continued where Dimension left off. And in this magazine I have featured two of Walter Höllerer’s lasting contributions to the literary landscape in Germany: first, “his” literary archives and, now, on the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, the LCB.

In this issue’s first section, “Texts about Literature and about the LCB,” Hans-Joachim Neubauer presents a brief history of the LCB. The other three texts showcase principal members of the LCB in the various and often simultaneous roles of literary scholar, interviewer, and interviewee. Jürgen Jakob Becker writes about the current literary image of Berlin; Dieter Stolz describes his transformation from scholar to literary undercover agent for Günter Grass; and in his interview with Judith Hermann, Thomas Geiger displays one of the many talents he employs as the editor of Sprache im technischen Zeitalter. This journal, too, was founded by Walter Höllerer; it has become the official publication of the LCB.

This issue’s second section, “Literature Presented by the LCB,” gives just one example of the various programs and endeavors of the LCB to promote literature, including translation from and into the German language. The literary texts printed here were part of a joint presentation of the LCB and the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes in London. The translations were edited for publication here (seeA Note on Translation,” below), basically to ensure that all texts are in American English (as opposed to British English).

“Photography” is listed as the third part, which, however, is dispersed throughout this issue. For years, Renate von Mangoldt has been the photographer for the LCB, and one would have difficulties imagining LCB publications without her work.

A Note on Translation

When I started Dimension2, it had been my declared goal to include discussions on, at least, some of the translations printed in the magazine. I had envisioned a translator addressing some of the questions he or she had to answer to arrive at the translation. Unfortunately, with everything else going on, this goal proved unrealistic. Only few “translation notes” were published, and I am very grateful for those translators who took the time to write them.

I still consider translation notes important. After all, the saying “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” is oddly true for translation. Sometimes there is no clear-cut right or wrong in translation. It is my suspicion that we tend to assume that another person’s “mistranslation” is the result of that person having been thoughtless. Translation notes might inform us otherwise. At least, they may offer the reader a look at what was going through a translator’s mind. And, while there may still be much disagreement, there is more information that may improve the “dialogue” between a translator and the translation critic. In this spirit, I would like to share a few selected observations about translations in this issue.

Some translation choices that might surprise a reader are contained in the stories by Kathrin Röggla. Two obvious examples are translating Palatschinken as “gulash” and calculating 180 Sachen as 90 miles. I would like to assure the reader that both editor and translator know that Palatschinken refers to a type of stuffed pancake and that 180 kilometers per hour are indeed roughly 110 mph. The translator, however, was not so concerned about the literal meaning but, for instance, with the speed of the line, as well as the sound quality of “90” and “city.” Choices such as these highlight the wide range of possible approaches to translation (ranging from “literal” to “free”) and certainly invite discussion.

Translating the interview that Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld conducted with Günter Grass and Dieter Stolz presented another question, that is, whether or not to refer to Krishna Winston’s translation of Grass’s Ein weites Feld as Too Far Afield (New York: Harcourt, 2000). Both Grass and Stolz were, due to the nature of the interview, discussing persons, objects, and events that also show up in the novel. For example, when Grass discusses the menu of the Offenbachstuben, or Offenbach’s in the translation, the reader of the interview will most likely not know what foods hide behind such names as “La belle HélŹne,” “Popolani’s Magic,” and “La vie parisienne”; however, the reader of the novel will find out that these names refer to “roast breast of duck ą l’orange” (page 232), “rabbit stewed in Burgundy” (page 240), and an “assortment of ice cream flavors” (page 247), respectively.

In some instances, the translation of terms in the interview follows the lead of the translation of the novel, mostly to ease a reader’s movement from one to the other. For example, Winston translated the derogatory term “Raffke” with what appears to be a new coinage, “Parvenooski” (pages 343, 388); this captures the core meaning of “Raffke” as “par­venu” but not the colloquial ease with which the German term is used. Yet this seems to be the best solution. Translations of other terms, however, deviate from those in the novel. The highest-profile example is perhaps the translation of Treuhand, or Treuhandgesellschaft, which the novel renders as “handover trust.” The translator of the interview opted for the term “trust company” not only because the term’s definition (“a company formed to act as trustee,” where trustee is someone “to whom another’s property or the management of another’s property is entrusted”) fits that of Treuhand but because Webster’s New World College Dictionary also identifies “trust company” as a coinage “of American origin.”

In general, I follow standard American usage of the Englishlan­guage in this magazine, that is, in translations of German texts that follow some type of standard practice (there is the debate about the Rechtschreibereform, after all), the spelling is according to Webster’s Dictionary; other formal aspects, such as punctuation, are in accordance with The Chicago Manual of Style. Of course, if a text is experimental or takes certain “liberties” with the German language, that quality should also be reflected in the text’s English translation.

As a result, American English will usually replace British English, as has been the case in several of the translations in this issue, because they had first been presented at a joint LCB and GIIN event. However, there is always room for exceptions. For instance, the dialogue in the translation of Rothmann’s texts had just a nice colloquial ring to it with its “Britishness” that I decided (in consultation with the translator) to keep it in the case of direct speech.

So, how do all these translations fare? I invite you, the reader, to be the judge—while you are also, hopefully, enjoying the texts of this issue’s selection.

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