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  • Translating the World: Toward a New History of German Literature Around 1800 by Birgit Tautz
  • Leonard Von Morzé
Birgit Tautz, Translating the World: Toward a New History of German Literature Around 1800 (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018). Pp. 266. $89.95 cloth.

It has long been recognized that the wider world was, for eighteenth-century Germans more than for any other major linguistic community in Europe, mediated by texts translated from other languages. Acknowledged (and often decried) by contemporaries, the pervasiveness of translation in the German-language book market was demonstrated by twentieth-century scholarship on the history of the book, particularly Bernhard Fabian's authoritative studies of the importance of English fiction for German readers. Despite the advances made by subsequent scholarship, however, the notion that translation is a mere subplot in the larger story of the ultimate emergence of a distinctive German national culture remains implicit in the work of many scholars.

The accomplishment of Birgit Tautz's Translating the World is to treat translation in German literature circa 1800 more expansively than previous scholars have done. Readers of Tautz's book will miss the clarity and empirical rigor of Fabian's analysis, but they may welcome her broader view of translation, in which the concept is in effect spatialized to encompass a geographic as well as a linguistic sense of the term. While not the first scholar to use the term "glocalization," Tautz applies it to translation, as a way of describing the way global concerns were transposed to the scale of the city and represented for urban readers and audiences.

Given the book's theme of translation, its emphasis on urban spaces where commercial necessity melted away differences in favor of a lingua franca makes sense. Throughout the book, Tautz returns to Hamburg and its sometimes now-obscure literary figures, using Weimar's better-known writers as foils. While the global commerce that flowed through Hamburg made it the major port of Central Europe, its literary importance has been less well established, in obvious contrast to Weimar.

The first chapter investigates the way Hamburg writers circa 1770 translated global issues, particularly concerning the European empires in the Americas and racial slavery, onto the stage. The book's implicit debts to network theory become evident here, as the material practices of circulation and exchange guide Tautz's analysis, rather than a class-based history grounded in social relations, though she does allude to the role of the mercantile elite in the Hamburg theater. An all-too-brief look at the ideals of the Hamburg Trade Academy (where the Americanist Christoph Daniel Ebeling was co-director) elucidates the importance of translation as a mode of information collection (in stark contrast to the later development of translation theory and philology in the German university) and demonstrates the predominance of commercial and sentimental values in the northern part of Germany. When Tautz turns to textual analysis of specific plays, some clarity is lost. For example, her insistent representation of Ernst Lorenz Michael Rathlef's The Blackamoor Woman of Hamburg (1775) as "a quintessential Hamburg play" (48, 195) is undercut when we learn, at the end of a lengthy exegesis, that the play was never actually performed in the city. And readers will struggle to untangle the differences between two translations (by Johann Christoph Bode and by August von Kotzebue), separated by thirty-three years, of Richard Cumberland's The West [End Page 371] Indian (1771); a distinction between the former's glocalization and the latter's bid for universality is claimed but not demonstrated, with the interpretation relying too heavily on the received interpretation of Kotzebue as kitsch.

The second chapter, the most clearly written in the book, offers an engaging social history of the Hamburg National Theater and interprets Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's famous series of essays on this short-lived experiment. Tautz takes critics to task for finding in Lessing's Hamburg Dramaturgy (1767–69) "a manual on how to achieve a German national theater" (84). Instead of reading Lessing as arguing for a Kulturnation, Tautz reads the essays as formulating an aesthetic theory in which translation has a central role. Insightful pages...


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pp. 371-373
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