Conversation digital salon: Translating Cultural Identity

A pair of empty green, comfortable chairs sit next to each other. Derivative CC BY-SA 4.0 ilovefurniture

3:00pm EDT


Language lies at the heart of cultural exchange, and translators occupy an essential, tense terrain in enabling transmission across cultural-linguistic borders. The literary translator must reproduce the original text with the greatest linguistic accuracy, while being sensitive to the ways in which the text’s meaning is deeply tied to its Welteinstellung, or attitude towards the world, which cannot be neutral but is always seeped in preexisting and even unconscious suppositions about race, class, and otherness. As novels take, as their very stuff, profound contradictions within society, and offer ways of forming empathetic connections with characters who undergo transformative changes through their struggle with society, so must translators find ways of representing not only linguistic but cultural tensions within another language, and to foreign readers.

Experienced translators Alta L. Price and Tess Lewis join Duncan Lien, winner of the 2020 Gutekunst Prize of the Friends of Goethe New York, for a discussion about the role of translation in articulating questions of cultural exchange and identity. Duncan Lien will read from his winning translation of an excerpt from the novel Ich bin Özlem, by author Dilek Güngör, which tells of a young second-generation Turkish immigrant’s experience in Germany’s majority society.

digital salon is a new online event series by the Goethe-Institut New York. Taking its impetus from the present moment, digital salon offers a space for thinkers from diverse and vibrant cultural, artistic, and intellectual disciplines to come together for spontaneous and engaging discussions. Its topics are culled from the social, political, and cultural life of contemporary Germany.

This event will be held live over Zoom - please register to attend. It will also be streamed live on our Facebook page.

Tess Lewis is a writer and translator from French and German. Her translations include works by Peter Handke, Walter Benjamin, Klaus Merz, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Christine Angot, Pascal Bruckner and Jean-Luc Benoziglio. She has been awarded grants from PEN USA, PEN UK, and the NEA, a Max Geilinger Translation Grant for her translation of Philippe Jaccottet, the ACFNY Translation Prize and the 2017 PEN Translation Prize for her translation of the novel Angel of Oblivion by the Austrian writer Maja Haderlap, and most recently a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. She is Co-chair of the PEN Translation Committee and Advisory Editor for The Hudson Review. Her essays and reviews have appeared in a number of journals and newspapers including Bookforum, Partisan Review, The Hudson Review, World Literature Today, The Wall Street Journal and The American Scholar.

Alta L. Price runs a publishing consultancy specialized in literature and nonfiction texts on art, architecture, design, and culture. A recipient of the Gutekunst Prize, she translates from Italian and German into English, and is currently shortlisted for The Peirene Stevns Translation Prize. Her latest book translations include Corrado Augias’s The Secrets of Italy (Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2014), Jürgen Holstein’s The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic (Taschen, 2015), Martin Mosebach’s The 21 (Plough, 2019), and Dana Grigorcea’s An Instinctive Feeling of Innocence (Seagull, 2019). Her work has appeared on BBC Radio 4, 3 Quarks Daily, Maharam Stories, Trafika Europe, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. She is a member of ALTA, PEN, the Third Coast Translators Collective, and Cedilla & Co.

Duncan Lien is a third year Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature who specializes in transnational German literature with a focus on German-Turkish literary relations. His dissertation project examines the intersection of Cold War-era labor and political migration in the genesis of Turkish-German literature. The project considers authors' engagement with transnational debates over realism and the plurilingual strategies employed by writers, asking how these issues inflect the various conceptions of political and artistic collectivity found in the Turkish-German archive. Additionally, Duncan has published on Turkish-Albanian literary encounters and his article “Rehearsing Better Worlds: Poetry as A Way of Happening in the Works of Tomlinson and MacDiarmid” appeared in Philosophy and Literature. Other teaching and research interests include translation, visual narratives and the relationship of history and literature.