Tag Archives: #literature

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.


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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