German literature scholar shares insights about his work
By Morgan Strum ’19
Peter Höyng, professor of German studies at Emory University, delivered Lafayette’s annual Max Kade Distinguished Lecture in April.
The Max Kade Center for German Studies was established at Lafayette in 2003 and recently celebrated the opening of Max Kade Haus for German Studies. Höyng’s lecture centered around his English translation of Austrian author Hugo Bettauer’s 1922 novel The Blue Stain, published in 2017. The beginning of Höyng’s lecture explored his ideas about the act of translating itself, and he later discussed themes of race found in the novel.
The act of translation: Höyng first explained to the audience that translation is not only an act of carrying words from one language to another, it also is an intercultural exchange. Höyng talked about how use of Google Translate and other modern technologies for translation have “rendered obsolete” this intercultural exchange and have sacrificed interpretation.
“Translation without interpretation is comparable to writing a check without signing it … The computer exhibits language precisely like an unsigned check exhibits monetary value … After all, it treats language as a system of interchangeable words and does not provide room or space for interpretation.”
Translating with context: Höyng also talked about the racial themes presented in Bettauer’s novel. He discussed how this context had to be considered in the translation process. For example, he said that translators added the word “racial” to the book’s subtitle.
“Adding the word ‘racial’ to the subtitle, or, for that matter, to any written text, is rare … And yet, it seemed the most interpretive act that would clarify what the entire novel is all about, racial matters.”
Reflecting on translation: To conclude his lecture, Höyng reflected on how the process of translating the novel gave him a better sense of awareness in regard to racial matters today.
“This novel can therefore function as a warning post. After all, I, as a white male born European, might escape my own racial blind spots when it comes to racial matters today. Furthermore, and more importantly, Bettauer’s tale sharpens my awareness that I have to be careful in speaking on behalf of the oppressed when I find myself in a privileged position.”