Influences and Translation in Culture: Interview with Wolfgang Hermann, Part II

Conducted by Allison Grimaldi-Donahue

This is the second of a two-part interview with Wolfgang Hermann, author of many works including Herr Faustini Takes a Trip. You may find the first part here

Can you talk a bit about writers or other artists that have inspired your work? 

Well there are so many authors that mean a lot to me. As a reader you have a seperate and secret life, the one you share with your author. There are so many of them that I love. Authors of the German early romantic period, or the unique Hölderlin, then Goethe and Kleist and so many others of  that time. After these the great French writers of 19th century like Flaubert and Stendhal and poets like Rimbaud. Later then Marcel Proust who created an entire cosmos within his readers. And so many others up to the great Japanese writers from Basho to Inoue, from Sei Shonagon to Akutagawa. And hundred other names throughout the centuries.

Your influences are really interesting, they reach across time but also across the “eastern/western” divide.  In fact, reading Herr Faustini there is something Buddhist about his interactions with the world— do you think there is something, reaching back into history, that connects all literatures somehow? Can we as writers learn from a variety of traditions and is that culturally acceptable?

Faustini lives in a small world but then life shows him there is a way out by realising that everything is already there, the full gift of life. This is an experience across cultures and borders. It means becoming aware of what it means to be human. I think the source of this meaning is universal and as old as mankind.

I think this previous question also arises because of the current political situation in Europe. A lot of people feel that we need to defend “our culture” and I often find myself asking if we have a particular culture as Europe but then also distinct from other parts of the world, and if so what it represents. If we do have a particular culture, then would it not be found in literature? What do you think of these ideas?

Sufi poet Rumi wrote in 13th century verses and epigrams of universal beauty and wisdom. The most dangerous antagonist to wisdom and freedom was throughout the centuries religious fanaticism. It always divided people one from the others. If you consider the other as nonbeliever it is only a step to annihilate his right to exist. So tells all religious fanaticism. Facing this literature is powerless. The strength of literature was across the borders of time and culture to show what it means being human, being vulnerable and naked in the face of loneliness, of love, of death.

On this note, what texts from other cultures would you like to see Austrians/Europeans reading?  What could we all learn from them?

Texts that give you an insight in what it means to be a human being, starting from the old epics like the Gilgamesh, the verses of Rumi, the Tibetan Book of the Dead as well as Parzival, the verses of Basho, from the Shinkokin-wakashu to Nagai Kafu, from Rimbaud to Anna Karenina.

Since ALTA is translation focused it is quite fitting that much of your favorite work reaches across languages and cultures. Have you ever translated? If yes, what and if not would you like to?

I translated a long interview Andy Warhol did with Truman Capote for Rolling Stone magazine. I discovered it one day in a New York bookshop, maybe it was at fleemarket, this was long ago. I translated it into German, it came out 1993. This conversation is very funny and kind of weird.

That is basically all that I translated except some poems by an Italian friend.

I adore translators, they work so hard and have to have so many skills in order to do a good translation which often demands to re-create, to re-write the poem, the novel in the other language. Translators have to be poets, writers just without the freedom of creating something out of the blue. They do such an important work, the bring different cultures together and give readers the chance to see the universal human basics we all have in common.

How do you see the future of literature in translation changing the literary landscape in your own country but also internationally?

I think literature is a key for a deeper understanding of other cultures and a way to see all the essential things we share with others throughout time and cultural differences.


Allison Grimaldi-Donahue is a writer and translator originally from Connecticut.  Her fiction, essays and translations have appeared in The American Reader, The New Inquiry,addddddOmega Metatron, and tNYpress Eeel.  She was awarded an NEA Translation grant to the Vermont Studio Center for her translation work on Davide Orecchio’s novel Città distrutte. Sei biografie infedeli. In summer 2015 she was a Katherine Bakeless Fellow at the Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference.  Allison is contributing fiction editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, an online literary and arts journal.  She earned her BA from St. Michael’s College, an MA from Middlebury College in Italian, and an MA from the University of Toronto in Comparative literature. Allison is also pursuing her MFA in fiction and translation in the low-residency program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives and works in Bologna, Italy.



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