Tag Archives: openculture.com

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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A Word We Need in English

Image result for tsundoku

What would we do without borrowed words? Unless you live in France or North Korea, you undoubtedly have hundreds, if not thousands, of loan words you use on a daily basis without even realizing it. Have you  ever seen someone’s doppelgänger in public? Thank you, German. And how calls it a tidal wave anymore? It’s a tsunami, thank you very much, Japanese. Modus operandi, aficionado, prima donna, chutzpah? Thank you Latin, Spanish, Italian and Yiddish

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I love languages. Many thanks to Jase in Space for sending me this link to openculture.com.

Even the most voracious readers are guilty of buying more books (or borrowing books from friends/taking out books from the library) than we end up reading. Often, these same books begin piling up like paper pagodas. In extreme cases (hint, hint, producers of Hoarders), entire rooms are taken over by the written word.

Although this may sound, I don’t know, rustic (?) – perhaps even a little sexy mild to all you book lovers out there – all these centuries on and we still don’t have a word for this behaviour in English.

“Hey, Miffy, I hear you’re a piler-up of literary works!”

Something about that statement rings decidedly hollow.

Alternatively, Japanese does in fact have a word for this. It’s called tsundoku, and here’s the exact definition:

(n.) buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up on shelves or floors or nightstands

So the next time you walk into a person’s office/room/home and see a cornucopia of paper pagodas and want to look both enlightened and pretentious, you can say, “Man alive! You sure do know how to tsundoku your space!”

P.S. In case this same person(s) has difficulty figuring out how to deal with the aforementioned problem, direct them to the photo at the top of this post.

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