Tag Archives: Kafka

Translation & Book Cover Designs

Ennnnn! (Sorry, I’m trying to figure out the onomatopoeia for a buzzer sound when you’re wrong.) The above book cover design would have infuriated Franz Kafka.

Josh Jones has written an interesting piece titled “Franz Kafka Says the Insect in The Metamorphosis Should Never Be Drawn; Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Anyway” for openculture.com that is quite eye-opening. Well, eye-opening in the way that word-nerd enthusiasts and translators get excited about. As Mr. Jones claims:

“If you’ve read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in English, it’s likely that your translation referred to the transformed Gregor Samsa as a ‘cockroach,’ ‘beetle,’ or, more generally, a ‘gigantic insect’…But the German words used in the first sentence of the story to describe Gregor’s new incarnation are much more mysterious, and perhaps strangely laden with metaphysical significance.”

As such, the following book cover design is a more open interpretation of Kafka’s intentions with Gregor’s metamorphosis.

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But there’s more to it than that. Mr. Jones goes on to quote translator Susan Bernofsky and her article from The New Yorker, “On Translating Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’“:

“[B]oth the adjective ungeheuer (meaning “monstrous” or “huge”) and the noun Ungeziefer are negations—virtual nonentities—prefixed by un.” Ungeziefer, a term from Middle High German, describes something like ‘an unclean animal unfit for sacrifice,’ belonging to ‘the class of nasty creepy-crawly things.'”

Thus, Bernofsky argues:

“Kafka wanted us to see Gregor’s new body and condition with the same hazy focus with which Gregor himself discovers them.”

And that’s why the original German publication of Die Verwandlung is closest to Kafka’s vision of the perfect book cover design.

Image result for der verwandlung

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If I Could Turn Back Time…

Image result for time travel

No, it would not be to recreate a Cher song. Or maybe it would. I’m not sure at this point because I have the stupid thing playing on a loop in my head right now.

Writing for futurism.com, Chelsea Gohd published a piece called “We Can’t Alter The Flow of Time But, According to Physics, We Can Bend It” a few days ago, and I lapped up every word.

We’ve all considered the notion of time travel at one point in our lives. Don’t deny it. Ever since that excellent! film (not movie) Back to the Future II, when Biff steals a sports almanac and goes back in time to make himself crazy rich, we’ve all entertained notions of joining the Biffs of the world.

As far as I understand – and with much of what I learned at M.I.T. relegated to the depths of the Mariana Trench – Einstein conceived of travelling forward in time (assuming we could reach the speed of light), but never back in time. He did leave open one possibility that even he could only speculate about: wormholes.

Although I’m generally apathetic when it comes to sci-fi literature and movies, I’ve been thinking a lot about the space-time continuum lately because of a Korean novel I’m helping to translate, author Kim Hee-sun’s The Multiverses of Infinity (무한의 책).

It goes without saying that I’m ecstatic to be part of a project I truly believe in and helping breathe life into it for English readers one day. (Think Kafka meets Murakami Haruki in a dark Prague alley, somehow the two speak the same language, and after a quick meet-and-greet of sorts, they decide to stroll off together to a Harajuku jazz club, where they will discuss beautifully shaped ears and huge insects.) And since the plot of Multiverses involves a character going back in time, it’s got me thinking.

Without giving away too much of the plot, the central driving force for this character to go back in time is to help someone, not hurt them, and not to benefit in any selfish way like our friend Biff. If we as human beings ever do come up with a way to travel through time, I can’t help but wonder what our motivation would be.

Anyway, Ms. Gohd’s article on space-time is nothing short of fascinating and illuminating. And to quote Gohd quoting Stephen Hawking at the end, “Even if it turns out that time travel is impossible, it is important that we understand why it is impossible.”

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The Good Ol’ Social Media/Toxicity Conundrum

 Image result for another place you've never been

Author of Another Place You’ve Never Been (the prequel to I Know This Much is True?), debut novelist Rebecca Kauffman posted a thought-provoking piece on publishersweekly.com called “Is Social Media Toxic to Writing?” Ms. Kauffman explores an issue that I wrangled with for years, ever since publishing my first book way back in the Stone Ages of 2003 (hard to believe, but in that year there were no such things as Facebook [2004], Twitter [2006], Tumblr [2007], or Instagram [2010]): Do I succumb to the pressure and become a social media who**? For many years, I resisted. Social media platforms were dumb, fake (goddamn phonies, to quote Holden C.), pointless, and a waste of the space-time continuum.

Then, in 2013, I published my first novel and reality hit me like a stinky fish from Tsukiji Market across the face –>  No social media presence = No chance of building a core audience = No chance of landing an agent = No chance of signing with a respectable publisher = No chance of turning my dream into a full-time career. So what did I do?

Well, I think the answer is obvious by now. Perhaps Nick Carraway would be disappointed in my decision to sell out, but then again maybe Jay Gatsby would have seen it like Carraway described in Fitzgerald’s classic novel:

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Although Ms. Kauffman looks at literary superhero Murakami Haruki as a case in point as to whether one should  spend hours on social media daily, exposing intimate parts of yourself and your inner-workings to the public (the Japanese literary superhero is notorious for giving very few interviews or public readings, let alone using social media on a regular basis), I think it’s dangerous to seek guidance in this area from a writer such as Murakami; for anyone who started a career in writing after 2004, the rules of engagement are forever changed.

I believe it was Jonathan Franzen, celebrated author of The Corrections and Freedom, who said it best when he expressed his sorrow for young writers trying to make a go of it in today’s publishing world because they are so pressured to spend time Tweeting and Facebooking, for example, that it takes time away from their craft. Franzen is especially irked by Twitter, telling all those who gathered for a talk of his at Tulane University in 2012:

“Twitter is unspeakably irritating. Twitter stands for everything I oppose. It’s hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters … It’s like if Kafka had decided to make a video semaphoring The Metamorphosis. Or it’s like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’… It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium. People I care about are readers … particularly serious readers and writers, these are my people. And we do not like to yak about ourselves.”

Ultimately, I think Ms. Kauffman would agree with Franzen when she ends her Publishers Weekly piece by stating:

“For me, the best way to work, the only way to work, really, is to create a space for myself in which the reader’s perception of me (as a person) does not exist. It’s only after I have squashed down all awareness of myself that I’m able to access another world and explore it freely and truthfully.”

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