Translation as a New Birth

Comparing the process of translating and getting new translations published to a new birth, or a rebirth, might be seen as melodramatic. Having been present at the births of my four children, it’s the type of melodrama I’m prepared to risk. The effort involved in transporting narratives and theories from German into English will often last longer than nine months per book, and results in creations that talk to people from bookshelves (be these wooden or digital) for years to come. We want to ensure that these are good conversations. Regarding revolutions: the best German-language literature—from the great poems by Ingeborg Bachmann and Else Laske-Schüler that still remain unpublished in English, to the finest essays and theoretical texts by Rosa Luxemburg—does contain revolutionary capacity. Five years experience of translating Luxemburg for the first ever Complete Works (Verso Books, 16 volumes) has taught me that the revolution-word shouldn’t be used flippantly, but should be used. In this I agree with Peter Neumann, author of the recent Jena 1800,who succinctly describes Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde: Confessions of an Awkward Man: “Part One of Lucinde is a literary revolution.”

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