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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 43 | volume VIII | July-August, 2005



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 43July-August, 2005
Essays

On Translation

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p. 1
Michael Zeller

    Just one word on literary criticism. That will do, in fact, it might even be too many.
    In more than twenty years of being a professional literary writer, I have seen my books receive several hundred reviews. Some were good, some were bad, some didn’t know what they were.
    But when I die and I stand before the Lord and He does not know whether He should delegate me to paradise or to hell and He poses to me the one decisive question: What did you learn from all the reviews of your books, my dear, I shall answer:
    My Lord, forgive me, I did not learn anything of them. Nothing at all. Neither about the particular book they dealt with nor about my writing in general nor about literature itself.
    Whether the Lord sends me to hell or to heaven thereafter: this is the pure truth, my truth, at least.
    So much for literary criticism. One word only, and probably already too many.
    *
    Literary translation is the very opposite of criticism. It is useful and creative and refreshing. It opens your mind to rich experiences. It is a thrilling adventure for anyone who cares about language. In the past, when my work was translated, I was not too concerned. I trusted, perhaps too much, in the ability of a professional translator. I took it for granted.
    But now, in these great days of Iowa City, I have realised how much can be learned from the act of translation when you are involved in the process – how much I learned about my writing, my language, about language itself.
    The following may be taken as my respect and my thanks to Cindy Opitz, Tegan Raleigh and Jan Weissmiller who have translated some bits of my work here.
    In our discussion I was reaffirmed in my opinion:
    Every word is a museum. A treasure of mankind’s beauties and rubbish, of its wisdom and the ashes of centuries. We, the poets, are the museum’s curator – the highest honour of our profession.
    Let me give you just one recent example.
    Tegan Raleigh of the CCL Translation Workshop translated an early short story of mine, ‘The Second Face In Manhattan’. In the story, two people happen to meet on a Manhattan street: a young professor from Germany and an elderly woman of the town, in her late sixties. In twenty minutes, she tells her private story to the stranger from abroad, especially about her frustrating






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