EESE 2/1996

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramírez (Leipzig)

Translation in the Context of Sociocultural Norms - Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage in an East German Translation

In some countries the translation of literature can be considered as a problem of decidedly political norms. A translation of an American novel published in the former German Democratic Republic at the beginning of the nineteen sixties is a spectacular point in case. My thesis is that the guidelines issued for the production of literature by the cultural authorities of that time considerably influenced the critical reception of the novel and also had a normative impact on the strategy applied in the translation of Stephen Crane's work.

The work of a translator is exposed to the influence of various situational factors. Apart from the concrete situational conditions in their spatial and temporal limitedness it is especially the general sociocultural context that must be taken into account here. The influence of the sociocultural context, in most cases, cannot be conceived of in terms of laws stipulating and directing the translator's work. There have been few cases in history when translational strategies themselves became involved in ideological controversies and power struggles. That such cases did exist has been shown by Glyn P. Norton who described attempts to give authorized rules for translation in early Renaissance France (Norton 1987). However, for the most part, the impact of sociocultural factors presents itself as a translation of general values dominating a community or shared by its members into (internalized) guidelines for the individual's (in this case the translator's) behavior.

These general values/ ideas that thus become unformulated "instructions" have been defined by Toury as "norms" (Toury 1980). Toury's norm-concept includes those constraints in a society that lie "between objective, relatively absolute rules [...] on the one hand, and fully subjective ideosyncrasies on the other" (51). These constraints are generated by the sociocultural and politico-economic structure of a society and the institutions created to maintain this structure.

Literary systems exist neither completely independently from nor outside of social systems. Consequently, the sociocultural norms prevalent in a society can also turn into constraints on the literary system. Of course, the degree and kind of normative influence on the production and distribution of literature varies greatly. Some fields of literature may be more likely to be influenced than others. With a change of the politico-economic situation and/or a change of institutions the influence of norms may lessen or increase or shift to other fields of literature.

Norms can have the form of taboo themes in the official discourse, or they can manifest themselves in preferences for certain topics. In centrally controlled societies, the influence of the cultural political institutions may go as far as to issue guidelines for certain aesthetic models to be followed or to be rejected, thus directly contributing to the formulation (or reformulation) of literary canons.

The normative influence of cultural political authorities in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) on the production and distributon of literature has been examined in a series of individual studies (see e.g. Friess 1973, Gomez 1978, Jäger 1981). Although some of these studies also make references to the selection and publication strategies concerning literary imports, so far there has been no investigation which has dealt with the imported texts themselves.

The exclusion of translation from the research done in this field appears to be just one more sign of the often deplored marginal position of translation studies within the study of literature. However, there is no plausible reason why the transfer of texts into a comparatively strictly controlled system, as was the case in the GDR, should have completely escaped normative influences. Translators are participants in the literary process, just as writers, publishers, and critics are. It is in the nature of the translator's job that his own perspective on and interpretation of a text is much less exposed to public attention than, say, a critic's. For the translation scholar, however, a translated text, if analyzed with respect to the sociocultural context from where it emerged (and not as a mere transfer of linguistic structures) can be as much a revealing statement as a critic's utterance.

Starting from these premises, I would like to present the results of a case study designed to show possible links between the norms prevalent in the GDR literary system and the strategies applied in the translation of a novel by the American writer Stephen Crane. The Red Badge of Courage was published 1962 in the Berlin Verlag Volk und Welt in a translation done by Eberhard Klein and Klaus Marschke. The volume that had the title "Das Rote Siegel" also included Crane's most important stories.

It is Crane's controversial critical reception that makes him an interesting author for translation analysis. His texts have always eluded classification; critics have called him in turn an impressionist, a decadent, a symbolist and a naturalist. The canon of his works that were considered important has remained relatively stable, but the interpretations of the individual texts have varied greatly.

The first critical judgement on The Red Badge of Courage in the GDR was made in a dissertation on the Civil War in American literature (Meyer 1955). Here Crane's novel is praised as 'a realistic account of the war', and his author for his commitment for the ordinary soldier. Although the critic recognizes a 'stylistic means of realism' (95) in the colloquial dialogues, he also states that the author 'becomes a slave to naturalism' when he gives an exact description of 'irrelevant details' (ibid.). By doing so, is the critic's conclusion, Crane 'blurs the essential part' which is, in his opinion, the historical context of the war:

The significance of Crane's literary work is finally seen in his role as a pioneer of true-to-life depictions of reality. In this sense the critic agrees with van Doren who had confirmed that "modern American literature began with him" (ibid.).

This critical judgement on Crane is very instructive. Here we find an excellent illustration of the evaluation criteria for works of literature in the early period of GDR cultural policy. The first keywords are "realistic" and "realism". Realism as a method of writing became a normative concept in East Germany soon after the war. It did not only influence the national literary production but also was a yardstick for the assessment of all previous and contemporary literature, including works produced outside the country.

The core of the realism concept was the method of socialist realism, which had been adopted from the Soviet Union and was considered by the cultural authorities to be a program for the development of a unified socialist German national culture. The declared belief in the method of socialist realism was part of the statutes of the Writers' Association of the GDR. The method of socialist realism demanded of the writer was to depict reality in its historical development, seen from a socialist perspective. This meant presenting reality as a process progressing towards socialism or communism, a demand that necessarily restricted the range of possible topics.

The hero/ine of the work was to be shown as "typical" for this process, i.e. he or she was an idealized person that the reader was expected to identify with. The notion of the "typical hero/ine) points to the didactic function literature was designed to fulfil. The development of the hero was to trigger a cathartic effect, a transformation of the reader's conscience. To support this purpose, books were often provided with extensive afterwords that, at least in the first two decades of the republic, tended to explain the "gist" of the text to the reader so that he would not miss the point. Mere descriptions of reality, of people's everyday problems and failures, of despair and hopelessness were disapproved of for a long time and were criticized as "defeatist" and of little use for socialist society.

From this perspective the naturalist method of presenting an exact true-to-life image of reality without expressing a claim to change it or showing a way towards improvement was obviously inadequate. This explains the critic's evaluation of Crane's way of describing "irrelevant details".

A further demand on the GDR writer concerned style. As socialist realism was considered the original literary method of socialism, it excluded the use of literary devices that originated in the Western societies. All modernist forms of literature were condemned as "decadent" expressions of the decay of capitalism and therefore incompatible with socialist realism. In 1951 the Central Committee of the party issued a declaration called Der Kampf gegen den Formalismus in Kunst und Literatur für eine fortschrittliche deutsche Kultur. Here all innovative tendencies in 20th century literature that did not continue the realistic tradition of the 19th century were subsumed under the verdict of "formalism". Kurt Hager, secretary of cultural affairs in the Central Committee, pointed out the detrimental influence of formalism, that due to him meant

The aesthetic concept developed by George Lukács, that was very influential in the first two decades of GDR literary development, demanded instead a return to the traditions of the great 19th century realists, thus perpetuating an historically specific form as the only acceptable one.

Correspondingly, the critic does not praise Crane for his innovative style but for his true-to-life presentation of reality, and he also reduces Crane's role to being merely a forerunner of modernism. The emphasis on Crane's committment to the ordinary soldier points to another key-concept of realism as officially proclaimed in the GDR: the hero was to show his closeness to the working classes, to the weak and oppressed of a particular society.

This first critical judgement was supplemented by a more influential one: the first German dissertation on Crane was written in Greifswald in 1959. Its author, Hans Petersen, was at the same time working as a proof reader in the publishing house Volk und Welt (Bastein 1977: 161) and in 1962 edited Crane's works which included this translation. Petersen's postscript to the volume repeats the judgements expressed in the dissertation.

Petersen adheres strictly to the concept of realism as the only valid method of literary production. According to this principle, he approaches Crane in a paradigmatic way, his measuring scale being whether the author takes the side of the suppressed class, whether he recognizes the changeability of reality and whether he calls for solidarity among the exploited (Bastein 1977: 162). The scholar characterizes Crane's development as that of a naturalist in the beginning who then achieved the level of realistic writing, but later declined to naturalism again. The climax of Crane's work is, for Petersen, the 'realistic' stories "The Monster and The Open Boat" (ibid.).

Petersen obviously claims Crane's novel for the canon of realistic literature. He admits that there are still remnants of naturalist writing in it but argues that the realistic elements are strong enough to call the novel a work of realism (1959: 88). Henry Fleming's individual development is described within the historical context of the Civil War. Henry's inner conflict is seen as an eminently social conflict because its essence is, for Petersen, his trial in a community unified by a common aim. The scholar points out that Crane had realized the progressive character of the war as a historical truth although the novel contains no explicit reference to this: "Den objektiv fortschrittlichen Charakter des Bürgerkrieges hat Crane erkannt, auch wenn er in seiner Erzählung dazu keine gueltigen Äusserungen abgegeben hat." (Petersen 1959:117) The realism of The Red Badge of Courage is seen in the fact that the non-hero becomes a hero and that Crane applied a realistic selection principle, describing a " typical" case and depicting his hero in "typical" circumstances:

Again, there is no reference made to Crane's style. The strong impact of the aesthetic and ideological dogma of the time upon both the first critic, Meyer, and the editor of the 1962 edition, Petersen, led me to the question whether it might also have left traces in the translation itself. Was it not possible that the editor's interpretations had predetermined the approach of the translators? This assumption is supported by the fact that the editor and the translators probably knew each other personally and, working for the same publisher, might have talked about the author and the readings of the individual texts, including, of course, The Red Badge of Courage.

Even a superficial reading gives the impression that the translators obviously had difficulties in interpreting the function of important formal devices of the text. Much of the intensity of the language in The Red Badge of Courage goes back to the fragmented listing of individual impressions. By presenting things from an unconventional perspective and isolating them from their usual context, Crane heightens the reader's attention for details, thus letting him "experience" the events rather than read about them. Crane makes the reader perceive impressions as they actually strike the senses, almost in a childlike way. For this purpose, he noticeably avoided long complex sentences with clear transitions in order not to "place a screen between the reader and the occasion of interest" (Bergon 1975: 48).

It is exactly the fragmented character of the text that seems to have puzzled the translators. The syntactic structure of the target text indicates constant attempts to establish a visible coherence of the narrative. Many of the short, outwardly disconnected sentences have been contracted into longer sentences in the translation. Where cohesion is not explicit in the source-text, the translators introduced transitions that "fill the gaps". A short passage will have to suffice in place of many others to demonstrate the translators' strategy:

Here the individual sentences have been connected by linking devices. The narrator, who in the source-text merely records the impressions and thoughts of the youth from a distant point of view, now comes between the reader and the events and describes these impressions to the reader by connecting them into a coherent discourse. At times the translators even invert sentences to give the flow of events a more "logical" order:

A closer reading of the translation shows that the translators' attempt to conventionalize the language of the text is not restricted to the syntactic structure. To an even greater extent it affects the web of metaphors and images that intensify the impressions rendered by the text and that trigger off a multitude of connotations in the reader. Compared with the original, the informativity of the German text has been considerably reduced. Many metaphors have been ignored, images have been explained or replaced by cliché expressions. The reader is referred back to the flow of events as the subtexts established by connotative coherence systems in the source-text have been destroyed by the translators. Again, a few examples stand for numerous passages in the text:

The passage is full of phrases with religious connotations (hymn of twilight, bowed their beaks, devotional, chanted chorus) that increase the impression that the woods are a shelter from the war, a sanctuary that cannot be reached by it. The translators eliminate these connotations almost completely, thus rendering the passage a functionless description of landscape:

In the following passage the translators substitute innovative images by conventional or even cliche expressions:

In this passage /faded as flowers/ by conveying a very concrete image is much more intense than the conventionalized and vague /verblichen wie Träume/. Moreover, the translators destroy the coherence between /flowers/, /plowshares/ and /clover/ that is based on their being part of the same frame which /Träume/ is not the case with 'Träme'. A similar impoverishment of language can be observed in the next example:

Here the metaphorical /seal/ intensifies the meaning of /death/ by pointing out its definiteness. /Schatten/ conveys a much weaker impression as it cannot actualize the moment of definiteness.

In other passages the translators fail to reproduce Crane's characteristic use of personifications as a means of intensified impression:

The fact that these changes can be found throughout the text supports the assumption that they are not coincidental. The intention of the translators appears to have been to remove from the text all words, phrases, and structures that could in any way distract the reader from the flow of events. The translators seem to have considered many details in the text "superfluous" and therefore removed them or "neutralized" them by the use of conventional language so that they did not attract the reader's attention any more.

This neglect for the details (that are an important characteristic of the text) corresponds remarkably to the two critics' judgements on Crane that, as I have shown, are in tune with the official aesthetic model. Both Meyer and Petersen had criticized Crane's naturalist way of writing, and both had pointed out that it, to a certain degree, interferes with the classification of Crane as a writer of realism.

Of course, it could be argued that the conventionalization of language alone is no sufficient proof for the existence of a link between the aesthetic norms of the target society and the translation. After all, there are many examples where translators disregarded an author's style just for incompetence. Perhaps the change of stylistic features would not be that important an observation, if it were not for the fact that a number of other changes make it appear a part of a more comprehensive strategy. These changes can be best described as an attempt to influence the interpretation of the text by the reader, and they result in a further reduction of the meaning potential of the translation. To guideline interpretation, the translators introduced strong value judgements into the text that always circle around the actions of the protagonist. The source-text that Crane himself had called a "psychological portrait of fear" (cf. Perosa 1967, 87) shows a youth confronted with the face of war. The translation however suggests that the message of the book is that Henry Fleming finally overcomes this fear and joins his comrades in the battle. This impression is left by the way Klein and Marschke use the narrator's voice to "take sides" for or against the protagonist. From the moment of his flight up to his return to the devision they repeatedly let the narrator point to the protagonist's contemptible behavior. After Fleming's change, however, his actions are described in words suggesting a positive judgement. The negative perspective on Fleming's running away can be clearly observed in a comparison of the following source-text passage and its translation:

While the source-text presents an account of the events that does not show the author's attitude towards his hero the translated passage contains strong moral judgement:

Klein and Marschke point out the indignity of Henry Fleming's deed several times in the passage. They emphasize that in deserting from his regiment he is committing a crime by repeating the word /fliehen/ Fliehende/ several times where the original uses other terms. The translators also introduce the pejorative /ausreissen/ where Crane used the more neutral /run/, as well as other pejorative terms indicating the narrator's contempt for the action described such as /Schrecken [...] einbildete/, /blind drauflos/, /verzerrte sein Gesicht/, /huschende Gestalten/ where the original contains no evaluation.

In chapter VII the youth ponders about his situation after his flight. Whereas Crane describes his feelings as "a dull, animal-like rebellion against his fellows, war in the abstract, and fate" (RBC 273) the translators attribute to him "dumpfer, tierischer Haß" (RS 302) thus indicating again his negative reaction before his change. In chapter VIII the youth encounters a multitude of wounded soldiers and his agonized friend Conklin. Here Klein and Marschke stress the heroism of the men, thus producing a strong contrast to the earlier description of Henry Fleming's behavior. They do this by using a magnifying metaphor with heroic connotations (/aus tausend Wunden/) and by starting the sentence with /und/ which is a characteristic of the heroic epic:

Heroism is also suggested in the following passage, where the translators have substituted the literal meaning of the phrase "to clench one's teeth" by a figurative meaning associating bravery. Thereby they present Conklin as a man who heroically bears his pains, an interpretation that is not implied in the original:

Chapter IX contains the passage that corresponds with the title of the novel:

What Henry Fleming desires at this point of his development is less to be really courageous than to possess a visible outward sign of courage in order to hide behind, for he feels that "his shame could be viewed"(RBC 282) by the others. Later he tries to justify his weakness to himself since "without salve, he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of his dishonor through life." (RBC 296) His troubles stop only when he overcomes his fear, independently of the physical "red badge" he receives from a soldier and which is, ironically, a badge not of courage but of cowardice. His true badge of courage is his spiritual change, his loss of fear that ends his inner battles and closes the rift between the way his comrades look upon him and the way he sees himself. The translators, however, have Henry, even at this point, long for a "red seal of bravery":

/Siegel/, apart from signifying the object which is used to visibly close something (a letter, a room, etc.) also associates the conclusion of a process (e.g. "jemandes Schicksal besiegeln"). Employing it in this passage suggests the end of the protagonist's inner battles, his change from cowardliness to courage, long before this change really takes place. The translators' choice of the term /Siegel/ -which is also used in the title of the novel- shows again their efforts to present a character who "changes for the better". In doing so, the translators eliminate the original's ironic correspondence of the passage with the passage in chapter XI where Henry Fleming feels his "sore badge of dishonor". The translation again implies a valuation:

This interpretation corresponds to the reading forwarded by Petersen who had appreciated the novel as Fleming's change showed a "typical case", but who at the same time had deplored the fact that Crane had "retarded" the change too much, thus giving away opportunities 'to make the novel more meaningful' (Petersen 1959: 105). When in chapter XI the youth decides that he will go back to the frontline to be a hero, the translators attribute a moral drive to him that the original does not imply:

The last chapters of the novel depict the scene when Henry Fleming, after his return to the division, fights together with his comrades. The battle is described mainly from the perspective of the youth. Individual impressions are rendered as they strike his senses, giving his subjective and unexperienced view upon the battle.

This personal view, however, is again substituted in the translation by the voice of the narrator who not only describes the battle from an omniscient perspective but who also celebrates the youth's courage in a language full of heroic clichés.

Whereas the passage in the source-text contains several references to the weakness of the division (/scurry/ implies haste, confusion; /a handful/ = few; /splatter/ suggests reduced force) that are contrasted with the strength of the enemy by the metaphor /yellow tongues/, the translators try to associate instead determination (/jagte/), confidence and force (/wilder Haufen/, /sich entgegenwarf/). The original suggests the vulnerability of the men who are facing a deathly encounter. Klein und Marschke's version, however, portrays it as an heroic demonstration of fearlessness.

In the following passage again a heroic cliché is introduced, and the style echoes the heroic epic. Apart from this, the translators fail to reproduce the inverted word order of /a goddess, radiant/, here used as a means to break up the cliché expression:

Bombastic language in the translation often supplants simple statements in the original, as in the following two passages:

My last illustration for the introduction of heroic clichés into the translation reads as follows:

/Trompetengeschmetter/ is as much a cliché expression of the military as /sich tapfer schlagen/. /sengende Flammen des Krieges/ is a war cliché, here used as a substitute of the original's very concrete and intense image.

The repeated substitution of personal impressions by heroic clichés helps to refocus the reader's attention from the youth's inner world to the events of the war themselves. The HEROISM-frame dominating the narrator's perspective marginalizes the individual (and more subtle) perception of the events by the youth. The translators' neglect for the youth's thoughts and feelings, once he has regained his courage, points to the interpretation suggested here: the youth's impressions are not important, but his development which is understood as a symbolic one - as a "typical case", as it were.

Summarizing the examples quoted here that are representative of many others, the result is a considerable shift of meanings. The translators tried to establish a coherent plot structure by marginalizing secondary coherence systems and by increasing cohesion. The target text thereby appears more "acceptable" but much less informative. The selection strategy for meanings to be excluded and to be emphasized, respectively, shows clear parallels to the readings of the text offered by scholarly criticism which in turn correspond to the official aesthetic dogma of realism. It can therefore be assumed that the translators of "Das Rote Siegel" were subject to normative influence, as had been the critics before them, either by way of internalized norms or, what is more likely, by following the interpretation of the editor of the novel.

This case study neither can nor will suggest that the translational interpretations corresponded to the official aesthetic and ideological discourse, which is a general phenomenon of the sixties or even of most GDR translations. How far this kind of normative influence has affected the translation of literature in the GDR remains to be investigated. Definitely there are also many excellent translations done by GDR translators who (due to state-planned publishing and the lack of competition) often were able to take much more time and work more carefully than their western colleagues. However, cultural political norms of a society should be considered a factor to take into account in the analysis of literary translation, especially when a source-text deviates considerably from the models accepted in the target system.

Bibliographical notes

Bastein, F.H. (1977). Die Rezeption Stephen Cranes in Deutschland. Frankfurt: Lang.
Bergon, F. (1975). Stephen Crane's Artistry. New York and London: Columbia University Press.
Friess, U. (1973). "Literatur als res publica. Kulturpolitik und Literaturbetrieb in der DDR". In: D. Harth (Hrsg.): Propädeutik der Literaturwissenschaft, München: Fink.
Gomez, J. (1978). Entwicklung und Perspektiven der Literaturwissenschaft in der DDR. Liège: Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l'Université de Liège.
Jäger, M. (1981).""Sozialistischer Realismus" als kulturpolitisches Losungswort". In: K.-D. Müller: Bürgerlicher Realismus, Königstein: Athenaeum.
Meyer, M. (1955). Der amerikanische Bürgerkrieg (1861-1865) im Spiegel der amerikanischen Literatur. Dissertation A. Berlin: Humboldt-Universität.
Norton, G.P. (1987). "The Politics of Translation in Early Renaissance France: Confrontations of Policy and Theory during the Reign of Francis I". In: B. Schultze (Hrsg.): Die Literarische Übersetzung. Fallstudien zu Ihrer Kulturgeschichte, Berlin: Schmidt.
Perosa, S. (1967). "Naturalism and Impressionism in Stephen Crane's Fiction". In: M. Bassan (ed.): Stephen Crane. A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs (N.J.): Prentice-Hall.
Petersen, H. (1959). Der künstlerische Werdegang Stephen Cranes. Dissertation A. Greifswald
Petersen, H. (1962). "Nachwort". In: Stephen Crane: Das Rote Siegel. Berlin: Volk und Welt.
Raddatz, F. (1969). Marxismus und Literatur. Eine Dokumentation in 3 Bänden, Vol. 3, Hamburg: Rowohlt.
RBC = Stallman, R.W., ed. (1954). Stephen Crane. An Omnibus. London, Melbourne, Toronto: Heinemann.
RS = Stephen Crane (1962): Das Rote Siegel. Berlin: Volk und Welt.
Toury, G. 1980. In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.

Gabriele Pisarz-Ramírez
Institut für Amerikanistik
Augustusplatz 9
04109 Leipzig