The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

He'll smite you with metaphor fists

I like me some Kafka, but translation always presents difficulties. I am thinking of that first sentence, one of the most famous first sentences in world literature. I knew the Joachim Neugroschel translation: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." Now, the original goes like this: "Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer verwandelt." Ungeziefer is the thing Gregor has turned into, and that doesn't mean "insect" specifically, it means something more general, something verminous. So maybe David Wyllie's translation is better: "One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin." But that just doesn't seem to have the same punch, does it? Who speaks of "a vermin," after all? And nothing in English is going to match the sound of ungeheuren Ungeziefer, and it becomes clear from the next few sentences that Gregor is some kind of bug, so maybe "gigantic insect" is the best one can do. Which irritates me.

How readily can English capture the literary intention of an author writing in a language where the verbs are kept until the end, anyway? The way Kafka was writing it, Gregor is into an ungeheuren Ungeziefer transformed. Word choice is irrelevant to the totally different shape of the sentences. Maybe it even reads better in English, because it ends with the surprising part, which is what Gregor has become. There's no topping ungeheuren Ungeziefer, though. I bet that would be fun to say, if I were able to.
Tags: books, franz kafka, stix
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