Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Foreign Words: Translator-Authors in the Age of Goethe

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Foreign Words: Translator-Authors in the Age of Goethe

Article excerpt

Susan Bernofsky, Foreign Words: Translator-Authors in the Age of Goethe. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2005.239 pp.

Bernofsky's study, part of Wayne State's Kritik series, is not a broad-based study of translator-authors in the Goethezeit as the title suggests, but rather an in-depth study of the role translation plays in the works of Kleist, Holderlin and Goethe. As should be apparent from her focus on these three figures, Bernofsky is less interested in translators who happened also to be authors and more on canonical authors who also produced translations during their careers. Although the readings of individual works are insightful, the greatest contribution Bernofsky makes in her book is the dichotomy between service and authorial translations.

Lawrence Venuti's concept of "foreignizing translation" as articulated in his The Translator's Invisibility underlies Bernofsky's distinction between types of translation. Whereas Venuti contrasted foreignizing and domesticating translations on the basis of the degree to which translators employ "cultural references and linguistic structures specific to the work being translated and its original language," Bernofsky postulates service translation as attempting "to emulate the characteristic features of the individual original work" (2, 3)- Both foreignizing and service translations attempt to preserve a high degree of fidelity with the original text. In contrast, authorial translation represents a writer's appropriation and "shaping of the translated text in a particular direction" (x). Bernofsky argues that this type of translation only became possible in light of the rise of service translation during the Age of Goethe.

Bernofsky devotes her first chapter to this rise of service translation, best exemplified by Johann Heinrich Vofi's translations of Homer and August Wilhelm Schlegel's translations of Shakespeare. Although VoB and August Schlegel were authors in their own right, they are, as Bernofsky notes, best known for their translations. The converse, of course, is true with Kleist, Holderlin and Goethe, with the possible exception of Holderlin's Pindar translations. Thus, the emphasis on this generally overlooked aspect of the works of these three authors is worthwhile.

Heinrich von Kleist's Amphitryon bears the subtitle Ein Lustspiel nach Molière. Bernofsky's strongest pages are those in which she details how Kleist transforms Molière's seventeenth-century comedy into "a tool to serve his [Kleist's] own aesthetic, literary, political, and philosophical ends" (48). …

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