Emily Frisella: You focus on names in this piece, but you leave your narrator unnamed. Does the use of names, or absence of names, allow for quicker or more distilled character development?
Rupprecht Mayer: Between the narrator, the I, and the other figures in this text, there is no direct interaction. He doesn’t need a name. For the most part, naturally, personal names and names of places can lend a story some quick credence – which can be tremendously helpful in flash fiction. Usually I do give the figures in my pieces names, whatever first pops in my head. Later I often discover that I unconsciously christened a character with a particular meaning: here, within the word Falter in Mrs. Falter, for instance, wells up a double association – aFalter is someone who largely faltet (folds things), but another meaning of the word is moth. A moth can be a thing of terror! Also the names of places are not always harmless. Murnau and Wolfratshausen are idyllic small towns south of Munich. I tossed them in without much thought. But, looking back, Murnau has its association with the director of the silent filmNosferatu, and Wolfratshausen is stuffed with wolves and rats. As a translator I’ve noticed that the names of many serene-sounding German locales are freighted with unspeakable horror: for instance, Buchenwald (Beech Forest). As a youth I spent much of my time among beech trees, and to this day I love to wander beneath a beech canopy back-lit by the sun – especially after a freshening rain. But there is no escaping the Buchenwald death-camp association.
EF: Beyond the different connotations of names, how much do you find that your stories change in the new linguistic and cultural context of English?
RM: I would think that each time an author reengages with a text, this or that passage is altered. Translation is an art of profound reengagement. The translator must parse the text more deeply than the reader, the editor, and yes, more deeply than even the author.
But as far as making changes to accommodate the shift of cultural context: well, German and American worldviews are not so terribly foreign to one another. And when a piece of writing retains a certain European flavor, perhaps that’s exactly what wins an American reader’s interest.
As a translator of literature, one normally translates in the direction of one’s mother tongue; for most people working within this metier, anything else would be considered quite adventurous. In my professional literary work as a Chinese-German translator, I would never entertain working in the direction of German to Chinese.
EF: The German playwright Maria Milisavljevic, who translated her own play Brandung/Abyss into English, described at our European Voices Festival this year how much she changed the play to suit the different expectations of theater-goers in North America. When translating your own writing, do you find yourself making changes for cultural rather than linguistic reasons?
RM: This new phenomenon called “dual writing,” whether it be the result of forced exile or voluntary migration, can naturally be a positive thing for those authors who need or wish to immerse themselves in their linguistic surroundings. Such requires a vital act of will. In the past, very few German emigrants to the United States were successful in this respect; or consider Vladimir Nabokov, who lived in Berlin from 1922 to 1936 – he learned enough German to buy Russian newspapers at the kiosk.
I lived more than twenty years abroad, but not in English-speaking surroundings. My idea to translate my texts into English using my high school understanding of the language, and then to ask friends to proof the results (here I must thank, for example, Ian Orti), was born from want. Happily, more recently I have been able to engage the native English speakers Kenneth Kronenberg and Eldon Reishus to translate my short pieces from German.
New Poetry and Prose at AGNI Online
new fiction by Rupprecht Mayer
In my office, there is no bright daylight anymore. There has not been night either, not for a long time. The hands of the clock have stopped at quarter past seven, though I don’t know whether in the morning or the evening. I’ve pushed the tables together in the middle of the room, it does not look very tidy. There is a heap of journals, books, and files, with a little hollow in the center where I sleep.