Kafka Translated: How Translators have Shaped our Reading of Kafka


Kafka Translated is the first book to look at the issue of translation and Kafka's work. What effect do the translations have on how we read Kafka? Are our interpretations of Kafka influenced by the translators' interpretations? In what ways has Kafka been 'translated' into Anglo-American culture by popular culture and by academics?

Michelle Woods investigates issues central to the burgeoning field of translation studies: the notion of cultural untranslatability; the centrality ...

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Kafka Translated: How Translators have Shaped our Reading of Kafka

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Kafka Translated is the first book to look at the issue of translation and Kafka's work. What effect do the translations have on how we read Kafka? Are our interpretations of Kafka influenced by the translators' interpretations? In what ways has Kafka been 'translated' into Anglo-American culture by popular culture and by academics?

Michelle Woods investigates issues central to the burgeoning field of translation studies: the notion of cultural untranslatability; the centrality of female translators in literary history; and the under-representation of the influence of the translator as interpreter of literary texts. She specifically focuses on the role of two of Kafka's first translators, Milena Jesenská and Willa Muir, as well as two contemporary translators, Mark Harman and Michael Hofmann, and how their work might allow us to reassess reading Kafka. From here Woods opens up the whole process of translation and re-examines accepted and prevailing interpretations of Kafka's work.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/06/2014
Woods (Translating Milan Kundera) fuses history, semiotics, linguistics, and literature onto the extensive record of Kafka translations. Here, translation is not presented as a dry or romanticizing enterprise of sacred texts, but as lively writing which restores the connection between the humans who translate and the texts they produce. Woods is a wonderful narrator for this admittedly dense scholarship. The scholar's creativity is matched by her contagious love of language. She shows us how a translator's cultural background and gender appear in both the texts they create and the reception of these texts. The book transforms existing notions of errors into exhibits on ways of seeing, on both the part of the translator and the critic. While this study is specific to Kafka, its ramifications are much broader. Woods' familiarity with other canonical writers often read in translation—especially Kundera—shapes her perspective on Kafka's translations, his response to them, and why a translator makes different choices about his work. Anyone interested in the craft and politics of translation, or fascinated by the movement of ideas between languages and mediums, will find "pleasure and humor" here, two traits Woods argues have been neglected in our understanding of Kafka's work. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

"This is a smart, timely, well-informed book that addresses, with a delightful polemical edge, some long-unexamined aspects of translation. Michelle Woods—Irish and Czech—connects so-called 'mistakes' in the translation of Kafka’s novels and stories to intentions arising from the cultural history of the translator, with a real gain of understanding. In accurate, original, spirited prose, on the strength of erudite and witty close readings of Kafka’s works, Woods explores the relation of text, translation, and translator in captivating new ways." - Stanley Corngold, Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature, Princeton University, USA, and highly acclaimed translator of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and Kafka's Selected Stories.

A highly complex and thoughtful ‘story’ that covers both the issues of translating and domesticating Franz Kafka into Czech and English. Insightful in theoretical framing and rich in contextual background material, it offers an original and comprehensive interpretation of Kafka. Delving deep into Kafka’s fiction, which is accessible to any reader, Michelle Woods unveils the stories behind the texts through a dialogical reading that unfolds like a perfect detective story. - Petr A. Bilek, Professor of Modern Czech Literature, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

"This is a book on interpretation, reception, adaptation, understanding, and reading Kafka. It is also a book on multilingualism and gender in Kafka. All this makes it an excellent book on translation. In highly readable prose, Michelle Woods accompanies the reader in an original ‘under the skin’ biographical narration of four important Kafka translators: their stories illustrate remarkably the complex mechanisms of translation: how life, experience, love, are so decisive in a translator’s work and choices. At the same time they show how material and cultural pressures condition translators in their work. This is a ground-breaking volume that demonstrates how our readings—and not only of Kafka—are results of a complex interrelation of ‘rewritings’, be they narrations, critique, film adaptations, or translations."  - Siri Nergaard, Professor of Translation Theory, University of Bologna, Italy, and Editor-in-Chief of Translation.

"Kafka Translated, as an intelligent and sensible study of Kafka´s work through the lens of some of its translations, elegantly dismounts some traditionally accepted views in contemporary Kafka criticism and in the field of translation studies. Showing  the crucial role played by translations and translators in our (even not specialized) understanding of Kafka´s texts, Michelle Woods´ close analysis of Kafka's writing highlights the aporetical questions translation poses as a cultural and historically determined hermeneutical practice. Woods´ book is now an indispensable reading both in the field of contemporary literary criticism and translation studies." - Susana Kampff Lages, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Brazilian translator of Kafka´s Amerika/The man who disappeared

"Though Kafka's language takes center stage in this insightful, well-researched book, Woods (former director, Centre for Translation and Textual Studies, Dublin City Univ., Ireland) Also provides a sustained analysis of the process of literary translation, putting the practice of literary translation into the service of textual criticism and interpretation. She compares the cultural and historical backgrounds of two of kafkas first translators, Milena Jesenka and Willa Muir, and contemporary translators, Mark Harman and Michael Hofmann, Transforming the polemics of competing or differing translations-what she calls the 'gotcha game' of finding errors- into positive dialectical process that yields refreshing insights into aspects of Kafka's writing. Woods is less interested in interpretive transgressions and infidelities to the source of texts than she is in exploring how supposed "mistakes can shed light on textual intricacies and interpretive resistance that confound Kafka's readers. Woods complements her literary analysis with an exemplary foray into the cinematic adaptation of Kafka work by focusing on controversial appropriations by such luminaries as Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, and Steven Soderbergh, who like their literary co-conspirators have shaped the way one reads and visualizes Kafka."- E. WIlliams, Universidad de las Americas, Puebla (Mexico), CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441197719
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
  • Publication date: 11/7/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,520,689
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Michelle Woods is Assistant Professor of English at The State University of New York, New Paltz, USA. Previously she was Director of the Centre for Translation and Textual Studies at Dublin City University, Republic of Ireland. She is the author of Translating Milan Kundera (2006) and Censoring Translation: Censorship, Theatre, and the Politics of Translation (2012).

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Table of Contents


1. Kafka Translated
Milena Jesenská
Willa Muir
Mark Harman
Michael Hofmann

2. Kafka Translating

3. Adapting Kafka

4. Interpreting Kafka



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