Stable poetics in transit. Huxleys "Brave new world" and Herlitschkas "Welt-Wohin"

Term Paper, 2015

20 Pages, Grade: 2.3


Table of Contents


1 The art of literary translation

2 Utopian Fiction – an attempt to define a genre
2.1 The etymological meaning of utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia
2.2 Utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia as literary concepts

3 Herlitschka’s translation from 1932
3.1 Narrative structure
3.2 Characters
3.3 Specifics of Herlitschka’s translation




„Nun ja…“ sagte Sigmund zögernd. Nein, es ließ sich einfach nicht leugnen. „Und warum auch nicht?“ fragte er.

„Dann vorwärts“, befahl der Sergeant […]. (259)

The aim to write about an important literary work in transit is a challenging task considering the fact that the scope of this term paper is approximately 20 pages. Still, it is worth the effort and has an interesting output once the decision is made to compare an original and its translation.

The original in this case is Aldous Huxley’s Brave new world (further reference BNW) and Herbert Egon Herlitschka’s Welt-Wohin. BNW can be considered one of the most important books of the 20th century. Huxley chose to write a piece of fiction which should challenge the way of thinking among generations to come. It is a piece of literary art and so is its translation.

In the first chapter the work of translation as a form of literary art will be explained. Especially the works of Greiner and Gadamer were of great help in outlining the vast but young field of literary translation. The chapter focuses on the development of literary translations as a field of study and on the translator’s role as a mediator between cultures.

The second chapter focuses on the genre of utopianism. In order to analyze Herlitschka’s translation, this aspect of methodological knowledge is crucial. A short abstract of the genre’s development will be given. Also, the etymological definition of utopia will be explored. Furthermore, the words dystopia and anti-utopia will be defined. After these rather technical definitions, utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia will be defined as literary concepts. How are they different? And which concept does BNW identify with? The concepts of alienation and the importance of the reader will thus be touched upon, too.

Helpful throughout the whole chapter was especially the Cambridge Companion to Utopian literature.

After having laid out the theoretical and methodological foundation of this paper, the third chapter commences with the analysis of Herlitschka’s translation. In a first step, the narrative structure will be focused on.

Also, Herlitschka’s poetics will be studied in depth in order to present in detail whether his translation is a piece of own literary art or not. Following this thought it is important to see how he dealt with crucial passages. How did he alter the syntax? How is the English “you” translated to the German “du” or “Sie”?

Speaking of alteration, the characters and their renaming will be covered in a next step. Does Herlitschka change the notions characters imply in BNW? If so how does he utter this linguistically? Why are many names and all places changed?

Specifics that seem typical in Herlitschka’s translation will be slightly touched upon. Not all specifics will be named but the most striking ones will be explained. Interesting is to see how he deals with vocabulary repetition and different semantic notions words have when being transferred to another language.

1 The art of literary translation

Touching upon the subject of translation it is important to classify the sort of translation. This paper analyses the Brave New World translation from Herbert E. Herlitschka (Welt-Wohin). His translation is a so-called literary translation. Its chore is the original from Aldous Huxley. Nevertheless, Herlitschka’s new world differs greatly from Huxley’s new world and in order to understand how the Herlitschka’s poetics and his translation works, it is crucial to begin with a general short introduction to the art of literary translation.

Countless works on translation and how to translate adequately exist in the fields of research and scholars. The works on translating as a means of sociological study or dialog research within pragmalinguistics will not be taken into consideration. Rather, the topic of translation as a means of arts will be depicted. Benjamin for example says that through translation works of art live on (Benjamin:184). Levý as well writes about translation as a means for mass communication (Levý:172). Hence, the translation of literary works broadens the readership’s horizon and guarantees some sort of continuum inside the works of art. Greiner talks about the Göttinger Forschungsgruppen who even describe translation as a sort of “historisches Faktum der Literatur; historical factum of literature” (Greiner:102, italics added).

Greiner has written a very helpful article about national cultures of translation and found out that the translator is always the incision between the culture of the original she translates and the culture of the readers or historical factum she translates the work for. Greiner names it the “hybrid essence of translation” (103). A translation is hybrid in its essence because it is on the one hand bound to the original and on the other hand to the target culture. Horst Turk even elaborates a step further in explaining “Übersetzung als Dokumentation der Berührung zwischen zwei Sprachen, Literaturen und Kulturen” (in Greiner:106). Greiner concludes these notions about translation in the assumption that a translation can never be the reflection of the original (105).

Walter Benjamin engages into the role of the translator and describes the work of a translation with a very suitable metaphor of how a tangent touches a circle:

Wie die Tangente den Kreis flüchtig und nur in einem Punkt berührt und wie ihr wohl diese Berührung, nicht aber der Punkt, das Gesetz vorschreibt, nach dem sie weiter ins Unendliche ihre gerade Bahn zieht, so berührt die Übersetzung flüchtig und nur in dem unendlich kleinen Punkt des Sinnes das Original, um nach dem Gesetze der Treue in der Freiheit der Sprachbewegung ihre eigenste Bahn zu verfolgen. (193)

Benjamin further elaborates that the main task of a translator is to bring “[den] reinen Samen der Sprache zur Reife” (190). He argues that the translator must echo the original but never copy it. An unsuccessful translation would hence be one that is a “ungenaue Übermitttlung eines unwesentlichen Inhalts no precise mediation of unimportant content” (183; italics added). Benjamin furthermore points out that the art of translation is also an art of poetry (182) because the translator has to translate or write poetry in a broader sense according to her readership. This means that the translator always faces the task of creating a work of her one. Moreover, her translation is functional for expression the relationship two languages and two cultures have to each other (Benjamin:185). Thus, Herlitschka did not only have to understand English and German perfectly but he also had to abstract Huxley’s notions upon a brave new world into possible German notions of a brave new world.

Gadamer examined in great detail how understanding a text and interpreting a text correlate in a translation. The translation would be thus the “completion of interpretation” (Gadamer:362). The sense of the original must be preserved but presented in a different way. Also, in his philosophical discourse about hermeneutics and language, Gadamer states that understanding equals interpreting:

Seit der Romantik kann man sich die Sache nicht mehr so denken, als ob die auslegenden Begriffe zum Verstehen hinzutreten, indem sie aus einem sprachlichen Vorratsraum, indem sie schon bereitliegen, je nach Bedarf herbeigezogen werden, wenn die Unmittelbarkeit des Verstehens sonst ausbleibt. Vielmehr ist die Sprache das universelle Medium, in dem sich das Verstehen selber vollzieht. Die Vollzugsweise des Verstehens ist die Auslegung. (366)

Therefore, every translator’s work is interpreting: “Alles Verstehen ist Auslegen, und alles Auslegen entfaltet sich im Medium einer Sprache, die den Gegenstand zu Worte kommen lassen will und dennoch zugleich die eigene Sprache des Auslegers ist” (Gadamer:366). Since the translator interprets into her own language, she creates “a continuum of the conscience which is the medium for tradition” (Gadamer:368).

In her article on the translation turn in cultural studies, Susan Bassnett explains how the framework and the expectations towards a translator changed in the last 50 years. She states that translation always takes places in a “continuum”, never in a “void” (Bassnett:434). Another researcher, Lefevere, states that:

It is not inconceivable that a theory elaborated in this way might be of help in the formulation of literary and linguistic theory; just as it is not inconceivable that translations made according to the guidelines tentatively laid down in the theory might influence the development of receiving culture. (435)

She further elaborates on how cultural studies go hand in hand with linguistics. This is crucial to have in mind because the correlation between translation and historical, social or cultural studies may not always be this clear. Bassnett also takes into consideration the distinction between high and low culture and how certain literary works are chosen to be translated and others never will. This aspect of modern literature will not be dealt with greatly in this paper. More importantly, the idea that translation is an aspect of “cultural plurality” (Bassnett:439) shapes the analytic part of this paper. To be exact, Sherry Simon puts it:

The poetics of translation belongs to a realization of an aesthetics of cultural pluralism. The literary object is fragmented, in a manner analogous to the contemporary social body. (439)

Therefore, it can be concluded that translation as a means of art is very important for social- and cultural studies because it contributes to a continuum of thought and art. Thus, this paper discusses the poetics Herlitschka uses in his translation, trying to outline his characteristic style.

2 Utopian Fiction – an attempt to define a genre

2.1 The etymological meaning of utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia

In this chapter a definition of the genre and lexeme utopia will be attempted. Initially, the etymological source of the word utopia will be discussed in order to lead on to a more methodical and theoretical analysis of a literary genre, also called utopia.

It was Thomas More who, in 1516, first shaped the at that time neologism utopia. In the Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, Fátima Vieira delivers a very solid introduction concerning its origin. Utopia was, in 1516, a “lexical neologism” (Vieira:3). This means, it was a word invited so to speak, for a new concept that needed specification. Thomas More was fond of travel literature and the transcripts of “the Portuguese sailor Raphael Hythloday” (Vieira:4) inspired him to name the unknown island Hythloday describes, utopia. The roots for his neologism were found in the Greek language:

…More resorted two Greek words – ouk (that means not and was reduced to u) and topos (place), to which he added the suffix ia, indicating a place. Etymologically, utopia is thus a place which is a non-place, simultaneously constituted by a movement of affirmation and denial. (Vieira:4)

So basically, utopia as a lexical neologism was invented in order to describe a place, which does not exist. A place where “no one goes because it is a non-place” (Vieira:5). In her thesis, Julie de Molade adds to the general etymology of the word that the prefix u may also be understood as (phonetically) eu which means good. Therefore she says utopia “denotes […] a ‘non-existent good place’” (de Molade:11). This non-existent good place is also connoted to be better than the existing place a traveler comes from. The German philosopher Ernst Bloch describes this principal of utopia as equal to hope. Consequently, the semantic meaning of utopia is a non-existent good place which gives hope to those traveling to it.

In contrasts, a dystopia has no such positive connotation. More likely, it is a place gone wrong. The prefix dys means bad or painful from a medical point of view Based on the concept of utopia, the derivation neologism dystopia means an existing place gone wrong.

An anti-utopia would thus be the opposite of a utopia. The prefix anti is of Latin origin and means against or opposite of. In opposition to dys, a nti does not convey a negative connotation; it simply means the opposite to another lexicon. Therefore, an anti-utopia would be a non-existing bad place and not an existing place gone wrong.

2.2 Utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia as literary concepts

The research field engaging in utopian literature is a rather young one. Utopianism can be considered an academic field since the 1960s. Within this academic field, the definitions of utopia, dystopia and anti-utopia are blurry. Utopianism is obviously the generic term for all of these literary concepts. Some critics are of the opinion that there is no such term as utopianism – it is all science fiction. Science fiction as a genre will not be discussed in this paper, though.

A piece of literature can be considered utopian through its narrative structure and the conceptual content which either depicts an unknown place or an existing place which is altered of some sort. Initially, this narrative structure depicts “the journey (…) of a man or woman to an unknown place” (Vieira:7). These places unknown or gone different, show a life and society incoherent to the reader’s reality. The extend of incoherence can only be asserted by the reader:

(…) the judgment of utopian or dystopian quality [is] up to the reader or critic who undoubtedly works for a particular standpoint (with particular affiliations and principles) in order to decide whether a given fictive society is better or worse than the author’s or the reader/ critic’s. (Moylan in de Molade:18)

Still, despite the reader’s notion, all pieces of utopianism tend to “convey a subversive message” and tend to have a didactic and moralistic character (Vieira:8). The didactic and moralistic notions hidden in utopian literature are most obvious in dystopian or anti-utopian pieces. A subversive meaning within the content can be established through concepts such as alienation. Especially if the author depicts strange or incoherent personal relations:

The shift is away from the person as a member of a cohesive group and in the direction of the person as an isolated individual. Modern societies are becoming atomized societies. Individuals are islands and societies are archipelagoes. (Barakat in de Molade:18)

This alienation within personal relations is striking in Brave New World (further reference is BNW). Already in the first couple of pages, the World State ethos Community, Identity, Stability (15) is introduced. Erzgräber mentions that this triad resembles the French Revolution (Erzgräber:136). He further explains how Community describes an artificial compound of individuals who are in bondage to the World State. Their Identity is not to be confused with their personality or individual character traits but their function towards the World State – catalogued from Alpha to Epsilon. Whether they are born into an Alpha or Beta or Epsilon kind of fate, determines their whole life. Derivation from this fate leads to eternal punishment and isolation. This totalitarian organization of a state was invented in order to guarantee lifelong Stability without war. The humans of the brave new world are raised in manipulation and in a present without a past. Through hypnopaedia, the members of the World State are hypnotized into their particular fate and its function and duty. Also two other credos are instilled into the population: firstly, they have to follow the Controllers and secondly, they may not question their ethos and life’s purpose.


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Stable poetics in transit. Huxleys "Brave new world" and Herlitschkas "Welt-Wohin"
University of Kassel
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This text examines how Herlitschka translated Brave New World. It has special focus on his specialties.
stable, huxley’s, brave, herlitschka’s, welt-wohin
Quote paper
Sophie Wappke (Author), 2015, Stable poetics in transit. Huxleys "Brave new world" and Herlitschkas "Welt-Wohin", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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