Michael Hofmann

Photo © Thomas Andenmatten

I stumbled upon a very interesting article about Michael Hofmann, critic, poet, essayist and German into English literary translator, who has translated over 70 books so far, who says some true and bold things about translation. Here are a few examples:

“I sort of fear saying this, but these things are also about me. Or at least in a technical sense they are about me, because however ideally self-effacing the translator is, the words are always going to be supplied by them anyway, so why not it be me? Why not supply dirty words that interest me?”

One of his guiding principles for translating, he says, is to avoid the obvious word, even if it is the literal equivalent of the original. (…) “Nobody will notice, but you have taken a step back from the original. You have given yourself a little bit of self-esteem, a little bit of originality, a little bit of boldness. Then the whole thing will appear automotive: look, it’s running on English rather than limping after the German.”

Without an active sense of mischief, he says, translators can easily become bitter people. “Nobody sees what you are doing, and the minute you do something, people cry ‘Mistake, mistake!’. If done in that way, it feels almost parasitic upon literature. (…) That’s partly why I have mostly ended up translating dead people. They are more appreciative.”

You can read the entire article here.