Episode 156 – Ross Benjamin

Virtual Memories Show #156:
Ross Benjamin

“As a translator, your initial feeling is, ‘I want to inhabit this text.’ There’s a primary identification, a mirror effect, where you see your own creative possibilities reflected there, and want to realize them through this text.”

Seriously-Funny-Prof-Pic-v2-1-300x300The 7th annual Festival Neue Literatur is Feb. 25-28, 2016 in New York, and this podcast is a Media Partner, so let’s talk to the event’s curator! Translator and Guggenheim fellow Ross Benjamin joins the show to talk about putting together “Seriously Funny,” this year’s FNL theme, and coordinating the 6 German language authors and 2 Americans who will be the featured guests. We talk about humor, German stereotypes, and the difference between reading a language and being able to speak it. Along the way, we get into the styles that different translators have, the challenges and joys of translating Kafka’s diaries, the pros and cons of translating living authors and dead ones, and the angst of trying to give meaning to a single word. Give it a listen, and get over to Festival Neue Literatur from February 25-28, 2016 in New York!

“In the early diaries, you can feel Kafka groping for a voice and a style.”

25005923555_11f333aa59_zWe also get into Ross’ history as a translator, what he’s learned about his mother tongue in the process, what other language he’d love to learn, the deep responsibility that comes from bringing a text into English, and more! Go listen.

“Most authors don’t mind answering ceaseless questions about their own work. It’s not just ego or vanity, I think it’s fascinating for them because authors don’t necessarily think consciously about all these aspects of their work.”

Also, if you want to find out who Ross is reading nowadays and get a list of the books we talked about in this episode, join our Patreon and become a monthly contributor to The Virtual Memories Show! At the end of February, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who Ross is reading and why.

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

rossbenjaminRoss Benjamin is a translator of German-language literature and a writer living in Nyack, NY. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion, Kevin Vennemann’s Close to Jedenew, Joseph Roth’s Job, and Clemens J. Setz’s Indigo. He is currently at work on a translation of Franz Kafka’s complete Diaries, to be published by Liveright/Norton. He is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow. He was awarded the 2010 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for his rendering of Michael Maar’s Speak, Nabokov, a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship to translate Clemens J. Setz’s The Frequencies, and a commendation from the judges of the 2012 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Thomas Pletzinger’s Funeral for a Dog. His literary criticism has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, The Nation, and other publications. He was a 2003–2004 Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and is a graduate of Vassar College.

Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded in a conference room in Nyack, NY on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Benjamin by me.

Unrequired Reading: The Februariad

Here’s your monthly dose of Unrequired Reading, dear readers who are too lazy or otherwise uninclined to follow my twitter feed at twitter.com/groth18

My dogs would get so confused on these awesome staircases.

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Nothing about how Craigslist enables Arab protestors and revolutionaries to get laid? #noitdoesnt

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Great pix from Sept. shuttle trip in honor of my production manager, who bailed on our current ish to watch the launch.

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Simon Schama on Helen Mirren. Well, not ON Helen Mirren, but you know. #IneverdidseethatMazurskyversionoftheTempest

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Sadly, I’m sure there’s a novel/screenplay about a romance between a mope and a fluffer.

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So it’s better to shoot at civilian protestors with 7.62s, not .50s?

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“Exotic Superfluid Found in Ultra-Dense Stellar Corpse”: the title of the new Orb record? #littlefluffytweets

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Glad to find out street heroin and my G&Ts both have quinine: always important to stave off malaria. #themoreyouknow

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I’d be afraid of the NJ version of this #50moststylishnewyorkers list.

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Gator and the Berra. #NYY #louisianalightning

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Don’t bet against the Tic-Tac-Toe Chicken. #starbucksduanereadeorcupcakes

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Profile of Al Goldstein: the (not-)new pornographer.

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Greatest. Memo. Ever. #weneedtosolvepakistanbeforelunch

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@simondoonan: not exactly a fan of Fashion Week (but hilarious). http://slate.me/gLK6Jz #nyfw

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tl;dr?

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There really should be a Yinka Dare award, too. #nbaantiawards

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Great Michael Caine interview. Get Carter was #badass

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“Alcoholic hospice”? I used to joke about drinking with careerist determination, but wow.

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Ahoy-ahoy! #thatisall

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If only Bill Murray had missed out on The Man Who Knew Too Little, too… http://bit.ly/fCEPi9 #billmurray #castingdirectorofbabel

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To Mr. & Mrs. Ball, a son: Curve. #intheloop #greatestmovieever

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That’s it! No Ferrari for me! #okayidriveasubaru

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KenJen on #Watson: very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.

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Michael Lewis (satirically) on who’s to blame for the financial crisis: #blamecanada?

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It’d be funnier if the greys just took off like rockets: #judginggreyhounds

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Did NYC consult @dandrezner for the zombie invasion section? #apocalypselaw #escapefromnewyork

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West Egg. 8-Bit. Great Gatsby video game. #gatsbyfornes

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Great piece by Adam Kirsch on literary criticism. Go read it! #notbookreviews

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Sartoria Rossi: or is it Satori Rossi? #beitalian #iwishicoulddressthiswell

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@nealstephenson on the development of the Rocket #ficktnichtmitderRaketemensch! #youdroppedthebombonme

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Valentine’s Day special! Here are the best NYC restaurants in which to stage a breakup! #noromance

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Fun story of SEO abuse on Google. #jcpenney #seohack

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Not on the menu @ Veselka: Ron Rosenbaum on cannibalism in the Ukraine c.1932-3 #noendtoevil #ieatcannibals

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Schizo NYC from @jeremoss: Two-Face, Composite Superman, or Ultra The Multi-Alien? #splitcity #uglierbytheday

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“Yoga in bed” is a euphemism, right? #clydefrazier #whatrhymeswithtantric

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Ouroussoff fluffery on new Gehry bldg. Was this actually written by a computer using random samples of O’s prose?

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Important lesson – never marry a chemist: #whenxiaoyemetthallium

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I’d wear Jesse Eisenberg’s costuming from Social Network before I’d be caught dead in Sorkin’s sack suit #badfashion

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Richie Rich: explosion on the runway. http://bit.ly/gyAz2R #nyfw

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My old man swears he once reached a polar research base with his HAM setup: #wb2zvs

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Not quite as implausible as Jews In Space, but it’s close: Jews In Syria! (neat story, trust me) http://bit.ly/gkOntd

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Neat @nicknotned (Nick Denton) Atlantic Wire interview about his news consumption habits.

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Covering J.G. Ballard #jgballard

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Real question is: Can a novel be “philosophical” without being dreadfully dull? #doubtit

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Metropolitan or Gossip Girl? or … #whitstillman #gossipgirl (I’m a Metropolitan man)

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Queenstown, where I heard the voice of God (also, where I bungee-jumped) http://nyti.ms/dSZiHx

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Greatest. Band name. Ever. #drteethandtheelectricmayhem

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Clive James on roman policier: #okaytheyrecrimenovels

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The honey badger doesn’t give a shit: #randall

Honey badger remains b-a-d-a-s-s (I can’t even survive drinking half a 40 of King Cobra). #honeybadger

Go fish

Michael Lewis’s cogent writing and commentary on the subprime collapse and the attendant economic meltdown are in huge demand. I’m reading Liar’s Poker, his book about working at Salomon Brothers in the mid-’80s, at present. I’m just at the point where the market for mortgage bonds is blowing through the roof. Written in 1989, it’s scarily prescient.

This weekend, I also read Mr. Lewis’ new Vanity Fair article/travelogue on the financial collapse in Iceland. I enjoyed that plenty, even though it was vague on the chain of events in 2003 that led to Iceland’s push into the world financial market. Still, it combines a history of the financial explosion (after that moment) with some entertaining observations about Iceland and its insular natives:

A nation so tiny and homogeneous that everyone in it knows pretty much everyone else is so fundamentally different from what one thinks of when one hears the word “nation” that it almost requires a new classification. Really, it’s less a nation than one big extended family. For instance, most Icelanders are by default members of the Lutheran Church. If they want to stop being Lutherans they must write to the government and quit; on the other hand, if they fill out a form, they can start their own cult and receive a subsidy. Another example: the Reykjavík phone book lists everyone by his first name, as there are only about nine surnames in Iceland, and they are derived by prefixing the father’s name to “son” or “dottir.” It’s hard to see how this clarifies matters, as there seem to be only about nine first names in Iceland, too. But if you wish to reveal how little you know about Iceland, you need merely refer to someone named Siggor Sigfusson as “Mr. Sigfusson,” or Kristin Petursdottir as “Ms. Petursdottir.” At any rate, everyone in a conversation is just meant to know whomever you’re talking about, so you never hear anyone ask, “Which Siggor do you mean?”

Go give it a read. And bully for Mr. Lewis! It’s nice to know that someone besides John Paulson is making a killing right now.

What It Is: 3/2/09

What I’m reading: Montaigne & Clive James. Oh, and I started Liar’s Poker, on my new Kindle!

What I’m listening to: My new Mad Mix CD, and a couple of Kate Bush records.

What I’m watching: The Darjeeling Limited, Synecdoche, New York, and Adaptation.

What I’m drinking: Blue Point Blueberry Ale, and Plymouth & Q Tonic.

What Rufus is up to: Finally playing with the other dogs on his Saturday dog-park visit! It helped that one of his grey-pals was there and sociable.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special, but we’re hoping to get into a nice restaurant next Saturday to celebrate my wife’s birthday.

What I’m happy about: I survived a weekend at home without Amy, my first since late 2005.

What I’m sad about: The death of my wife’s grandmother (the prompt for Amy to be away this weekend). She was always alright to me, even if she was a little confused about who I was sometimes.

What I’m pondering: Synecdoche, New York. I have a feeling that movie’s going to be in my head for a long time.

What It Is: 2/16/09

What I’m reading: Montaigne & Clive James. And this lengthy article by Michael Lewis about Shane Battier and the intangibles on NBA statistics.

What I’m listening to: Some podcasts of the B.S. Report.

What I’m watching: To Die For, Lisa Lampanelli’s HBO special, and the first episode of Dollhouse.

What I’m drinking: Dona Paula Malbec 2007

What Rufus is up to: Celebrating his 4th birthday on Saturday! Happy birthday, Ru! We took him to a dog park to celebrate, but he seemed less interested in the other dogs and more interested in people. Probably because dogs don’t carry dog-treats in their pockets. He also got his hike in on Sunday, so he’s pretty zonky now. Don’t disturb him.

Where I’m going: Nowhere special.

What I’m happy about: Long-ass weekend to go nowhere special!

What I’m sad about: That I was so befuddled/frustrated by Montaigne’s Of vanity.

What I’m pondering: When we’ll see a movie in which Michael Cera and Jack McBrayer play totally villainous scumbags.

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