Introduction: Translation - Poetics, Negotiation, Tradaptation; A Special Issue of In geveb on Translation

Olaf Terpitz and Marianne Windsperger


The con­tri­bu­tions of this spe­cial issue show­case the per­for­ma­tive dimen­sion of trans­la­tion: Musi­cians and poets (when read­ing their texts) draw atten­tion to the inter­ac­tions between lan­guages, pho­net­ic expe­ri­ences, rhythm, rhyme, and the pro­duc­tive use of mis­un­der­stand­ings. Crit­i­cal reflec­tions on their own trans­la­tions, and the role per­formed by agents such as edi­tors (e.g. of selec­tion and design), engen­der the ques­tion of what it meant his­tor­i­cal­ly and what it means today to be a writer or read­er in mul­ti­lin­gual settings.

A pdf ver­sion of this arti­cle can be found here.

In February 2017, the University of Vienna hosted the EAJS Laboratory on “Yiddish Language and Culture. A Relay Station of Modernity and Lieu de Mémoire of Postmodernity,” with the support of the Doctoral Program “Austrian Galicia and its Multicultural Heritage”, the Department of German Studies and the Institute for Jewish Studies). 1 1 See; for a report on the workshop see The aim of this international workshop was twofold: First, it sought to connect Yiddish scholars across disciplinary and geographical boundaries, bringing together participants from Europe, the US, Israel and Canada. Second, it invited participants to discuss theories of translation and the history of Yiddish translations alongside practitioners, musicians, translators, authors, and educators—all of them being stakeholders in the field of Yiddish studies and working on and with various forms, strategies, and concepts of translations.

In recent years, research on translation has emerged as a highly relevant field in cultural studies: the translational turn in context with other cultural turns has sharpened our view on translation, its epistemological, methodological, and critical potential. It has further extended the concept of translation beyond the creative and philological, and developed a broader approach—putting translation in relation to aesthetic, cultural, and political dimensions, and putting forth the notion of cultural transfer. Doris Bachmann-Medick has outlined those complexities in the general debate on translation: “With this wider perspective, the concept of translation risks being diluted into a mere metaphor. It is, therefore, important to delineate the concept more precisely, by almost microscopically dissecting it into its components (transfer, mediation, transmission, the linguistic dimension, transformation) /…/ – including concrete translational activities performed by agents.” 2 2 Doris Bachmann-Medick, “Translational turn,” Handbook of Translation Studies: Volume4, ed. Yves Gambier and Luc van Doorslaer (Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2013), 188. This is exactly where Mikhail Krutikov’s contribution “vu lebt di yidishe literatur?” (Where does Yiddish Literature Live?) to the Forverts starts when discussing the problem of translation for Yiddish. After stating “hayntiker tsayt leyent men yidishe literatur kodem-kol in iberzetsungen” (today people read Yiddish literature first of all in translation) Krutikov points out succinctly the conditions and contexts of contemporary translations: e.g. what should be translated, in what way, who takes care of printing, disseminating and even sponsoring? 3 3 Mikhail Krutikov, “Vu lebt di yidishe literatur?” Forverts, 11 September 2016, Whereas he focuses mainly on the agents involved, Anita Norich takes up another lead. The Yiddish verb “fartaytshn” does not only mean “to translate,” but also “to give meaning.” In her book Writing in Tongues Norich offers close readings of translations and their Yiddish originals, extrapolating the time-bound cultural meaning that was embedded in the translated texts by the translator. 4 4 For a discussion of different notions of cultural transfer, see for instance Petra Ernst, Hans-Joachim Hahn, Daniel Hoffmann, Dorothea Salzer (ed.), Trans-lation – Trans-nation – Trans-formation (Innsbruck/Wien/Bozen: Studienverlag, 2012).

Accessibility of the original language material, funding for translation, public interest, and therefore readers are of fundamental importance for the transmission of any literature. Reflections on translation and language, moreover, can not only be found in texts by translators themselves, but also by authors reading translations (of their own texts or by others), and in fictional literature itself. In contemporary novels (in English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and German) acts of reading, writing and translating Yiddish texts are staged. These texts (e.g. Nicole Krauss, Dara Horn) work with images of Yiddish literature that have been broadly shaped by popular culture; some of these texts play with nostalgic images associated with Yiddish language and culture, some invent Yiddish texts mainly as narrative devices, and others try to complicate popular images of the Yiddish language by staging the very act of translation in the novel and by curating Yiddish texts. 5 5 See for instance Antonio Lavieri, “Mises en scène du traduire: quand la fiction pense la traduction,” in Transalpina: Études italiennes 9 (2006): 95.

The contributions of this special issue showcase the performative dimension of translation: Musicians and poets (when reading their texts) draw attention to the interactions between languages, phonetic experiences, rhythm, rhyme, and the productive use of misunderstandings. Critical reflections on their own translations, and the role performed by agents such as editors (e.g. of selection and design), engender the question of what it meant historically and what it means today to be a writer or reader in multilingual settings.

Content of the Special Issue:

  1. Introduction by Olaf Terpitz and Marianne Windsperger
  2. Sarah Ponichtera. Louis Zukofsky: Building a Poetics of Translation
  3. Augusta Costiuc Radosav. “LITERARISHE REVERANSN”: Yiddish Translation as Negotiation
  4. Benjy Fox-Rosen. What Do They Understand When They Don’t: Reflections on Performing in Yiddish for Non-Yiddish Speaking Audiences
  5. Interview with Daniel Kahn (conducted by Marianne Windsperger, Berlin 2017): On Tradaptation and Polyglot Performances
  6. Susanne Marten-Finnis. Translation, Cosmopolitanism and the Resilience of Yiddish: Wischnitzer’s Milgroym as a Pathway Towards the Global Museum.

In her article, Sarah Ponichtera argues that Louis Zukofsky shaped his poetics of translation by integrating translated passages from Yiddish into his American poetry, thus creating a highly complex poetic language that had the power to destabilize notions of the foreign and the familiar. Augusta Radosav Costiuc (Babeş-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca) introduces us to her approach of translating Yiddish poetry (mainly poems by Itzik Manger) into Romanian. She discusses her choices as a translator concerning the preservation of rhythm, melody, and the aesthetic effects of the original, basing her analysis on theoretical reflections of Umberto Eco. Furthermore, she shows how interconnected her concrete reading experiences and her work as a translator are. Benjy Fox-Rosen (Vienna) presents in his contribution the concept of embodied translation, i.e. how to perform Yiddish songs for a non-Yiddish speaking audience. He outlines the relation between translation and performance and shows how the symbolic meaning of Yiddish can be subverted by the use of non-verbal material and the productive use of misunderstandings. Similar issues are addressed in an interview with the singer-songwriter Daniel Kahn (Berlin): He reflects on his work as a translator, as a composer, performer, and writer and on the interconnectedness of all of these tasks. By exploring the process of tradaptation (translation/adaptation), the limitations and inspirations that emerge between languages, and his own acts of subversion and transgression, he shows how translation can be staged and used as a means of troubling easy identifications during polyglot performances. Susanne Marten-Finnis (University of Portsmouth), finally, portrays the illustrated Yiddish magazine of arts and letters Milgroym, and the impact of Rachel Wischnitzer as editor on the connection of cosmopolitanism, translation, and the mediation of art. She argues that, with Milgroym, Wischnitzer provided a platform where she negotiated the tensions between global and national horizons of meaning.

Poetics, negotiation, and tradaptation, in conclusion, are highlighted in this issue as concepts of translation that open up a text’s performative dimension and potential (via and with actors, media, “word material”, enactment). They showcase and scrutinize at the same time, in nuce, the meaning of individual translational concepts beyond the mere philological and philosophical, and emphasize the moment of “experience”--the moment when originals, translations, translators, and other actors meet in public and in private, while negotiating between different forms of expectations.

Terpitz, Olaf, and Marianne Windsperger. “Introduction: Translation - Poetics, Negotiation, Tradaptation; A Special Issue of In geveb on Translation.” In geveb, December 2019:
Terpitz, Olaf, and Marianne Windsperger. “Introduction: Translation - Poetics, Negotiation, Tradaptation; A Special Issue of In geveb on Translation.” In geveb (December 2019): Accessed Apr 22, 2021.


Olaf Terpitz

Olaf Terpitz teaches Jewish literatures at the Center for Jewish Studies, University of Graz (Austria), where he serves as deputy director and co-editor of the center’s book series.

Marianne Windsperger

Marianne Windsperger is a research assistant at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies (VWI).