After a brief but informed look at the history of translation in Germany over two centuries, the first half of which was encumbered by unremarkable, slip-shod examples and an impoverished theory largely based on the principle of Nachdicten, retelling or paraphrase, Prof. Bernofsky focuses on a period of dramatic change in both theory and practice, the Age of Goethe. These changes have had repercussions that extended beyond the German-speaking world and have reached translators and critics of our time. In her preface she succinctly outlines the plot and dramatis personae of her penetrating study:
This book . . . has protagonists: three great early-nineteenth-century German authors who were translators as well [Kleist, Hölderlin, and Goethe]. It is also intended as an introduction both to a period in which translation began to play an unprecedented role in literary culture and to the theoretical perspectives from which this period can now be most productively viewed. The turn of the nineteenth century was a golden age of translation as an art form with respect both to the quality of the translations being produced and to the seriousness with which they were received. Indeed, the turn of the nineteenth century saw the emergence not only of modern translation in the form in which we know it today but of modern translation theory as well.(ix)
The key players on the theoretical side of the stage are Schleiermacher, the Schlegel brothers, J. H. Voss, Humboldt, and, of course, Goethe himself. The author is alert to how their theoretical concerns interpenetrated the inspired translations of the era and resonate in critical issues still very much alive today.
Prof. Bernofsky brings unusual talents to this study of an important aspect of the Goethezeit: She is a disciplined comparatist and an acute student of translation in theory and practice. In addition, she is herself a gifted translator, notably of the challenging work of Robert Walser. In her close readings of the translations studied she demonstrates both a linguistic and an aesthetic sensibility. Bernofsky writes with the precision of a scholar but also with the vitality and insight of an artist. [End Page 1282]
The author of Atomic Light is a professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He has written extensively and provocatively about visual and linguistic art on both sides of the Pacific. His first book, Electric Animal (also from U Minnesota P, 2000), demonstrated his skill in combining an alert theoretical intelligence with a dexterity in doing careful cross-cultural analyses and incisive readings of specific modern artifacts. As one reviewer of the first book suggested, it was "an extraordinarily promising preface to, perhaps the, theory of cinema."
Atomic Light continues the development of this wide-ranging program, exploring here the shadow optics of what, to normal sight, is the "avisual" and its effects on the visual world. This project involves the reader in the fascinating history of visual technologies and the dynamics of "unseen" forces: x-rays and scannings, cinematic representations, dreams, "invisible men," and other cultural phenomena. The book reveals these "hidden interiors" of cultural life through nuanced readings of a large gallery of explorers—in the writings Borges and Derrida, Tanizaki Jun'ichirô and Freud, H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison, as well as in the early cinema and the post-war Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi. And all of these various explorations are comprehended under the historic shadow cast by the deadly "atomic light" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Moving with great agility from the speculative to the specular, from invention...