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Foreign Words

Translator-Authors in the Age of Goethe

Susan Bernofsky

Publication Year: 2005

The turn of the nineteenth century was a particularly fertile period in the history of translation theory and practice. With an unprecedented number of works being carefully translated and scrutinized, this era saw a definite shift in the dominant mode of translation. Many translators began attempting, for the first time, to communicate the formal characteristics, linguistic features, and cultural contexts of the original text while minimizing the paraphrasing that distorted most eighteenth-century translations. As soon as these new rules became the norm, authorial translators—defined not by virtue of being authors in their own right but by the liberties they took in their translations—emerged to challenge them, altering translated texts in such a way as to bring them into line with the artistic and thematic concerns displayed in the translators’ own “original” work. In the process, authorial translators implicitly declared translation an art form and explicitly incorporated it into their theoretical programs for the poetic arts. Foreign Words provides a detailed account of translation practice and theory throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, linking the work of actual translators to the theories of translation articulated by Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and, above all, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Employing a variety of critical approaches, author Susan Bernofsky discusses in depth the work of Kleist, Hölderlin, and Goethe, whose virtuoso translations raise issues that serve to delineate a theory of translation that has relevance at the turn of the twenty-first century as well. Combining a broad historical approach with individual readings of the work of several different translators, Foreign Words paints a full picture of translation during the Age of Goethe and provides all scholars of translation theory with an important new perspective.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Kritik: German Literary Theory and Cultural Studies


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xii

This is a book about translation history and practice. It has protagonists: three great early-nineteenth-century German authors who were translators as well. It is also intended as an introduction both to a period in which translation began to play an unprecedented role in literary culture ...

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1. From Homer to Shakespeare: The Rise of Service Translation in the Late Eighteenth Century

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pp. 1-45

The tradition of German authors who were active as translators dates back to well before the dawn of the Age of Goethe, but it was only near the end of the eighteenth century that the labors of authorship and translating came to be sufficiently differentiated for their combination ...

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2. The Translation as a Doppelgänger: Amphitryon by Molière and Kleist

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pp. 47-90

Heinrich von Kleist’s Amphitryon: Ein Lustspiel nach Molière (A Comedy After Molière) is not a translated text on every page, but it differs from eighteenth-century adaptations in that the vast majority of the text—almost all of the first two acts—is a work of extreme service—translation ...

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3. Hölderlin as Translator: The Perils of Interpretation

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pp. 91-137

The fact that the great poet Friedrich Hölderlin was also a translator might have escaped late-twentieth-century notice if not for a few sentences near the end of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay “The Task of the Translator.” Singling out Hölderlin’s translations for praise, Benjamin ...

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4. The Paradox of the Translator: Goethe and Diderot

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pp. 139-192

The previous two chapters were devoted almost exclusively to the close study of particular works of authorial translation; this final chapter has a different aim. Here, Goethe’s translations of works by Denis Diderot will be read as part of an ongoing dialogue on the subject of ...

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Coda: From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 193-195

In his paper “Sending: On Representation,” Jacques Derrida asks whether “translation [is] of the same order as representation,” whether it “consist[s] in representing a sense, the same semantic content, by a different language”.1 This question is not answered explicitly ...


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pp. 197-198


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pp. 199-219


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pp. 221-229


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pp. 231-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814332221

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Kritik: German Literary Theory and Cultural Studies