Meet Lauren K. Wolfe

2019 BIAAS Grant Award for "Figuring “Austria” Through Translation"

What is your BIAAS-supported project about?

My research project involved elaborating a new set of translation techniques inspired by the peculiar challenges that Austrian writer Werner Kofler confronts a translator with—namely, how to make the local, the ephemeral travel and remain or become legible, in this case to a reader of English. These new techniques, and the theoretical ideas about translation I have derived from them, form the basis of my dissertation. BIAAS support for this project has also contributed to my translation of the second volume in Kofler’s major trilogy, Hotel Mordschein / The Murderlight Hotel.

How did you become interested in this project?

I first began translating Werner Kofler’s prose in 2011, in the context of a certificate program then co-run by the University of Illinois Center for Translation Studies and Dalkey Archive Press. (The affiliation has since dissolved.) Translating Kofler inspired me to deepen my theoretical engagement with the practice of translation, which landed me in a doctoral program where I’ve been doing just that. BIAAS support provided me the time and needed access to archival resources in Austria that really made the project blossom in directions I hadn’t foreseen.

What is the significance of the transatlantic history between the US and Austria in your work? And, if this pertains to your work, how does looking at the transatlantic relationship enrich your research subject?

I have proposed that the transatlantic connection in my work is in effect one that is in-the-making. Translation itself forges new connections between the language, culture, and location of origin and the new destination for a literary work. This connection is also capable of redounding back upon the original venue and revealing previously unremarked aspects of an original work by having made it strange to itself.

How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting your work? Or, how are you advancing your research in light of the challenges of the pandemic?

Fortunately, I returned from my BIAAS-funded research trip to Austria just as the European continent was shutting down in late February 2020. So I have managed to squirrel away with my findings and to have worked on my project in rather happy solitude in the interim. In spite of the pandemic, I would say, the collegial connections I was able to establish during my research trip have flourished, and I have been able to participate remotely in conferences and to pursue publication of various translations initiated in the context of that trip.

What books are a must-read for your topic?

Certainly anything written by Werner Kofler is a must-read; his works are astoundingly interrelated, each one citing passages from the previous, like elaborating musical forms—which makes their translation such a thrilling and challenging endeavor. The authors that have most inspired me methodologically and theoretically are Henri Meschonnic, a French poet and translator, whose work on the translation of rhythm is breathtaking, though it is only available piecemeal in English; and a Brazil-based scholar of literature and philosophy, Kathrin H. Rosefield, whose book Antigone: Sophocles’ Art, Hölderlin’s Insight makes an exhilarating case for the ways that translating opens a distant original work of art up to new interpretive possibilities.

What was a high point of your research experience with this project? Any low points?

The high point of my research experience was without a doubt the opportunity to work alongside and socialize with the folks at the Robert Musil Institute in Klagenfurt, Austria, without whose warm reception and encouragement I’m certain I wouldn’t have reached the insights in my own work that I have. If there have been low points, they would be attributable to the unfortunate delays and occasional cancellations of scheduled reunions, in the form of conferences and book launch events—but these lows are entirely contingent on the pandemic and beyond the agency of anyone.

What is your favorite least-known locale of the Austria/Habsburg lands?

I couldn’t really say that it’s a locale little known to many, but it was unknown to me entirely before this research trip—and that is the Lienzer Dolomiten. I stayed in a small hotel in Lienz over the winter holidays in 2019, in order to explore a locale that appears frequently in Kofler’s works. I wanted to immerse myself in the sounds of this southern Austrian German and in the shadows of the craggy snow-capped peaks. The saunas with a view to the mountains are not to be missed!

If you could meet with any Austrian/Habsburg figure of present or old, who would it be? Why? What would you want to ask them or talk about?

Since I’ve been trying to get inside Werner Kofler’s head for years, as his translator, the answer here is pretty self-evident. I think, rather than converse, I’d like to watch as he combs through and assembles his archives into a work of fiction. I’d like to have some insight into the method at work there.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading a book by Michelle Woods called Kafka Translated; it explores the many Kafkas that emerge in the historical endeavors to bring Kafka into English and the role that translators play in giving shape to our ideas about an author.



Lauren K. Wolfe

Lauren Wolfe – Figuring “Austria” Through Translation

Lauren K. Wolfe received a BIAAS grant in the amount of $12,584 to support her project “Figuring ‘Austria’ Through Translation.” This research project, which will be carried out at various literary archives in Klagenfurt and Vienna, focuses on the experimental and politically charged literary projects of two 20th century Austria writers, Karl Kraus and Werner…