Is Thomas Bernhard untranslatable?



wood s lot pointed to an excerpt from the first translation of Thomas Bernhard’s novella “Gehen” (“Walking” as that translation is called). I started reading the translation and, frankly, I was put off. It just doesn’t work. “Gehen” works so well because it uses the way you can use German, something that is not easily possible in English. In German, you can chop up sentences to an amazing extent, then juggle the pieces around and if there ever has been a master of this kind of stuff it was Thomas Bernhard. In German, this chopping up is being preserved as the language forces you to use commas a lot - otherwise there’d be no way to understand the whole thing - something you just don’t do in English. On top of that Berhanrd used to place his own commas to create completely different rhythms - so the novella “Gehen”, that very intimately relates “to go” with “to think”, has its own rhythm most of which comes from the (German) structure of the sentences.