Kafka's diaries: Can one dream without words?
The onlookers go rigid when the train goes past."Not exactly "Dear diary: Today it rained, so we went in to town," is it? But then, most diarists are not Franz Kafka.
That's the opening line of the diaries Kafka kept between 1910 and 1923, and I thought its dreamlike clarity would make a fine opening for a crime story. Then I wondered: What accounts for that particular image? What were the building blocks of Kafka's dreams?
I'm sure psychologists and other disreputable creatures have expended much ink on the subject, but the key may be simpler. Here's the sentence in the original German, nouns capitalized, according to that language's idiosyncratic spelling rules:
"Die Zuschauer erstarren, wenn der Zug vorbeifährt."Perhaps the alliteration of Zuschauer and Zug struck a chord. How does a translator express this? In this case, the image is odd enough to work in translation even if it loses something; this is Kafka, after all. But some sonic correspondences must make translators sigh and relegate the explanation to a footnote.
(Read Detectives Beyond Borders' interviews with translators for some thoughts on translation problems.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2013