Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

By Peter Y. Medding | Go to book overview

Notes
1
See also Carol J. Avins: “Kinship and Concealment in Red Cavalry and Babel's 1920 Diary, ” Slavic Review 53, no. 3 (Fall 1994), 694–710.
2
The phrase is a conflation: the sun is setting and the Sabbath is beginning. Cf. David McDuff's translation, “The Sabbath is coming in, ” in Isaac Babel, Collected Stories (Harmondsworth: 1994), 118.

John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew. New Haven and London: Yale

University Press, 1995. xix + 344 pp.

This unusual and impressive study focuses on the art of translating poetry. It is not primarily a philological or interpretative study of Celan, though it demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Celan scholarship. Rather, it centers on new translations by Felstiner of a number of Celan poems, followed by his detailed commentary on the translations, on the features of the original he was obliged to sacrifice, and on the compensations he has found. These discussions are framed in a biographical narrative, emphasizing Celan's Jewish identity, and copiously illustrated by partial or complete translations of further poems. For readers without knowledge of German, this is an invaluable introduction to the greatest poet to have written in German in the past halfcentury; and readers who know Celan's poetry in the original are sure to have their appreciation enhanced.

Felstiner's translations are mostly excellent. They can certainly stand alongside those of Michael Hamburger, who has done most to present Celan to the anglophone public. Felstiner has often tried harder than Hamburger to keep the original cadences and, sometimes, assonances. As he admits, many word-plays defy translation, like the pun on “Wein” and “Geweintes” in “Die Winzer”. Very occasionally his equivalents jar: “die ihren Ursprung beseelte” (in “Nächtlich geschürzt”) becomes “that sparked their origin, ” with grotesque reminiscences of starting a motor; and “polygoddedness” for “Vielgötterei” (in “Die Schleuse”) seems merely odd. Mostly, however, Felstiner's explanations not only justify his boldness but make one admire how deftly he has solved linguistic problems. Thus in “Psalm” the ambiguity of “Dir / entgegen” (both “toward” and “against”) is conveyed by “In thy spite” which neatly parallels the earlier “In thy sight” for “Dir zuliebe. ” And as a bonus, we find the haunting poem “So bist du denn geworden” translated into the style of Emily Dickinson, a remarkable tour de force (p. 61).

The only serious error of judgement Felstiner makes as a translator, in my view, occurs in “Todesfuge. ” Not only does he retain the name “Deutschland” (“Death is a master from Deutschland”), but he lets the poem's language gradually revert to German, so that the last two and a half lines of his translation are verbally identical with the original. Their implications, however, have been changed drastically. To the reader ignorant of German who reads “Deathfugue” as a poem in English, the German words will seem an alien intrusion from the language of the oppressors, like the scraps of German conversation in British or American war films. They will support the common association of the word “Deutschland” with tyranny, illustrated by Felstiner's

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Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Studies in Contemporary Jewry *
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Symposium - Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century *
  • The Place of Ethnic Identity in the Development of Personal Identity: A Challenge for the Jewish Family 3
  • Notes *
  • Marriage, Americanization and American Jewish Culture, 1900–1920 27
  • Notes *
  • Making Fragmentation Familiar: Barry Levinson's Avalon 49
  • Notes *
  • The Economics of Contemporary American Jewish Family Life 65
  • Notes *
  • Children of Intermarriage: How “jewish”? 81
  • Notes *
  • What Happened to the Extended Jewish Family? Jewish Homes for the Aged in Eastern Europe 128
  • Notes *
  • Cohesion and Rupture: the Jewish Family in East European Ghettos During the Holocaust 143
  • Notes *
  • The “family-Community” Model in Haredi Society 166
  • Notes *
  • We Are All One Bereaved Family: Personal Loss and Collective Mourning in Israeli Society 178
  • Notes *
  • Essays *
  • Evangelists in a Strange Land: American Missionaries in Israel, 1948–1967 195
  • Notes *
  • Balfour's Mission to Palestine: Science, Strategy and Vision in the Inauguration of the Hebrew University 214
  • Notes 228
  • Review Essays *
  • Vichy and the Jews: A Past That is Not Past 235
  • Notes *
  • Mastering the Middle East: Israel in a Regional Context 250
  • Examining the Oslo Process: A First Cut 256
  • Notes *
  • Book Reviews *
  • Antisemitism, Holocaust and Genocide 265
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • History and the Social Sciences 281
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Notes *
  • Language, Literature and the Arts 307
  • Notes 309
  • Notes *
  • Religion, Thought and Education 325
  • Notes *
  • Zionism, Israel and the Middle East 339
  • Notes 349
  • Recently Completed Doctoral Dissertations 351
  • Studies in Comtemporary Jewry XV 360
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