Limitations of Translation in Death in Venice

Again, Helen Smalls The Long Life illuminates an aspect that was inaccessible during my two readings of Death in Venice. Mann, like Goethe, requires German for a full appreciation.

In David Luke’s English translation, ‘ageing’ (alternd) is consistently rendered as an adjective: ‘the ageing Aschenbach’, ‘the ageing artist’, ‘the ageing lover’. The German original has ‘der alternde Künstler’, but in the other instances it is an adjectival noun. Not ‘the ageing Aschenbach’ or ‘the ageing lover’; just ‘dem Alternden’, ‘der Alternde’, ‘the Ageing’ (English can only render it adjectival lay as ‘the ageing one’). The effect is bleakly reifying, depersonalising, while at the same time suggesting another ‘ironic citation’ of Aschenbach’s manner-humiliated but looking to shore up his dignity. English, requiring a name or identity, loses the German language’s compaction of concept and individual, neutrality and involvement, and runs the risk of hardening irony into parody.

1 thought on “Limitations of Translation in Death in Venice

  1. Pingback: Rojak: Live act. | Who Killed Lemmy Caution?

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