One Brief Defense of Literary Translation

After a really interesting discussion in the comments section of the post, An Evening of Translation, I remembered a short note I recently read about the translation of Kafka’s The Judgement (Das Urteil: Ein Geschichte). It can be found in various places on the internet but here is a brief mention of it: The sentence can be translated as: “At that moment an unending stream of traffic crossed over the bridge.”What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of ‘Verkehr’ is Kafka’s confession to Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of “a violent ejaculation”. Franz Kafka Writing

The last word of the story in its original German is Verkehr. In true Kafka form, he has a chosen a word with multiple meanings leading to its ambiguity. Below is an excerpt from Kafka: a short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005):

So my verdict is: Yes! We need literary translators!


  1. The link that you have provided is really an interesting read~ How I wish I can understand German in order to appreciate this fully.

    I know what you mean~! Yes! We definitely need literary translators as we need translators to go through the process of deciding which is the best way to put something across to the target language readers without losing the style of the author~

    1. Thank you so much for your input. Kafka is great example of someone who needs a human translator. Even without the knowledge of the German language, there are various interesting essays or translators notes about his language and the translators’ choices.

      Also, this book was featured on NPR. Perhaps, when I have a moment of free time, I’ll get a copy and do a write up about: It talks a lot about the human translator vs. automatic translators.

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