“When you translate, you are digging into not so much the psyche of the author but the psyche of the author’s use of language.”
Translator and emeritus literature professor Burton Pike joins the show to talk about his lifetime in the arts, the musicality and rhythm of language, the experience of translating early Proust, whether national literature departments are an outdated concept, the peculiarities of various Swiss ethnicities, how his dream project — Musil’s The Man Without Qualities — fell into his lap, and more! Give it a listen!
“The Man Without Qualities is written not from a literary but a scientific point of view. It’s predicated on the fact that everything changes and nothing stays stable. And of course that includes this novel itself.”
We also talk about the joys of hitchhiking across Europe in the ’50s, the reasons he came to New York and the reasons he stays, the disappearance of high German culture — Goethe, Schilling, et al. — from postwar Germany, the problems with Moncrieff’s fruity translation of Proust, his objection to calling Die Verwandlung The Metamorphosis, and more! Go listen!
“When a German is in sight, Swiss Germans revert to their native patois, because they’re horrified that they’ll be taken for German. The French look down on French Swiss and Belgians, of course, because they’re not French. The Swiss French, their faces are glued to the window pane of France. And the Italian Swiss? They’re perfectly happy and at home and have no problem.”
Also, if you want to find out who Burton 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 March, the new episode of our patron-only podcast, Fear of a Square Planet, will go up with a bonus segment about who he’s reading and why.
- Anthea Bell
- Ross Benjamin
- Christopher Kloeble
- Timur Vermes, Gavriel Rosenfeld and Liesl Schillinger
- Harold Bloom
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
Burton Pike is professor emeritus of comparative literature and Germanic languages and literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. He did his undergraduate studies at Haverford College and received his PhD from Harvard University. He has taught at the University of Hamburg, Cornell University, and Queens College and Hunter College of the City University of New York. He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yale University. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and a Fulbright fellowship. He was awarded the Medal of Merit by the City of Klagenfurt, Austria, for his work on Robert Musil. Finalist and special citation, PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for editing and co-translating Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. He is the winner of the 2012 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for Gerhard Meier’s Isle of the Dead.
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 at Professor Pike’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Head by me.
“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.”
The 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.”
We 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.
About our Guest
Ross 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.