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July 15, 2020
“They are its lifeblood”

Christoph Hassenzahl
Photo: Christoph Hassenzahl

Christoph Hassenzahl works in the licensing department of the Suhrkamp Verlag, where he is, among other things, in charge of East Asian countries. We asked him four questions about the Social Translating Project, especially in regard to the discourse on Judith Schalansky’s “An Inventory of Certain Losses”.

What was your first impression when you initially heard about the Social Translating Project during an event hosted by the Goethe Institute at the Seoul International Book Fair in 2018?
It was immediately obvious to me that this was an innovative, exciting and sustainable project. It promotes the international exchange of literature and focuses on the authors and their “intermediaries”, the translators who convey their work into the languages of other countries. It is therefore very much in line with the purpose and the goal of our work in the rights and licensing department. I immediately wished that one of our authors at Suhrkamp could be part of the project at some stage. The parallel translation of a book into so many Asian languages by renowned translators followed by its publication by excellent publishing partners in each country is something we don’t see very often, especially in the literary world.
Do you believe communication between translators and authors on a digital platform like the one used for the Social Translating Project can lead to a deeper understanding of a work and therefore impact the quality of a translation?
I am convinced that this type of communication greatly enhances understanding and that it seamlessly complements the concentrated intellectual work translators do as they delve deeply into the text over many months. This gives translators the opportunity to exchange ideas and communicate with the author and other translators in a multilateral manner, and do so in a joint space that facilitates thoughtful debate. It allows for an extended discussion of issues that are relevant to the reader response as well as the practical work process. Translators can gain new impulses for their own critical reading, while reciprocal questioning expands their awareness of text nuance and potential issues as well as the transfer into other languages, each with their own unique literary and specific cultural connotations.
The translators’ networks that are formed in months of intense communication remain connected even after the project is completed. How beneficial are these kinds of networks for transfer and distribution of German literature?
They are its lifeblood. Literature always requires impassioned intermediaries and advocates in order to be noticed in other languages. However, these networks of translators are neither self-reflective nor hermetically sealed. They overlap with and influence into other networks, such as publishers, institutions that promote literature, literary criticism, academic research, (literary) policy, the book trade and many other areas of public life. Literary translators are often the first to read new works by their authors. The constantly curious, purposeful dialog among translators, with authors, licensing departments, editorial offices, scouts and sub-agencies is a preeminent driver of international literature and knowledge transfer. One of the most gratifying aspects of the collaboration on Judith Schalansky’s ”An Inventory of Certain Losses” was that the Goethe Institut agreed to extend the collaboration to the Europäisches Übersetzerkollegium Straelen in the form of a multi-day workshop about the book that also included translators who did not work in Asian languages.
The website on the social translating project is among the most frequently visited online presences of the Goethe Institutes in East Asia. Does this also benefit the books that are at the center of the discussion?
This question relates more to the licensed publishers in the target markets of the translations. For “An Inventory of Certain Losses”, these are China Citic Press in China, Locus in Taiwan, Kawade in Japan, Gamme Magie Editions in Thailand, Yayasan Pustaka Obor in Indonesia and Monsudar in Mongolia.  In their placement and sales efforts, they are able to align themselves with the networks generated by the project and use the publicity gained in order to gain new customers and referrals. In addition, referencing the project is also of interest to publishers in other countries and supports our efforts to broker the licenses to Korea, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and for Indian languages, for instance.

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