Daniel Bowles is an assistant professor of German Studies at Boston College, where he researches and teaches twentieth-century and contemporary German literature, culture, and history. His publications include translations of novels by Thomas Meinecke and Christian Kracht and short texts by Alexander Kluge, Rainald Goetz, and Xaver Bayer. For his translation of Christian Kracht’s Imperium, he received the 2016 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.
Three questions to Daniel Bowles
When I was a little, I desperately wanted to be an inventor; the notion of working as a translator, much less as a professor, was entirely beyond my comprehension. Even as my academic career began to take shape in adulthood, becoming a translator was never a conscious aim, but it has always been something I have loved to do: tinkering with language. I suppose what’s amusing is that translation very closely resembles invention, at least of a linguistic variety, and in that sense my childhood wish has come true in a very unexpected way.
Favorites are fickle things, and my literary loves come and go, but one general rule does apply; I am an inveterate and unapologetic fan of Thomas Bernhard. His novels were the first I read in German to make me hunger for more. I return to them again and again and marvel and laugh and experience the joy of reading them all over as if for the first time. Beyond Bernhard, I’d say Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina, Uwe Johnson’s Mutmassungen über Jakob, or just about anything written by Christoph Ransmayr could rank up near the top of my list on any given day.
Oh, I’d love to translate Christoph Ransmayr’s new novel Cox, oder Der Lauf der Zeit, or Reinhard Jirgl’s Nichts von euch auf Erden, perhaps try my hand at poetry (Bachmann, Celan, Trakl), maybe take a stab at Berlin Alexanderplatz, or, if I had infinite time and patience, work on Jean Paul’s Flegeljahre. There are many more. Translation is such an intimate engagement with a text—the books I’ve already translated have been some of my favorites—and there are too many texts I like to narrow down the field without resorting to more artificial practical constraints like time, attention, mood, and the ever elusive market/publisher interest.