für den Nachwuchsworkshop 2022
How can a translation of Jelinek’s Ernst ist das Leben (Bunbury) be performed for an English speaking
Elfriede Jelinek’s work is notoriously difficult to translate. Her writing is complex and full of culturally
specific puns and references.1 The texts seem to perform their culture rather than be a cultural
performance that stands in the tradition of classical theatre texts.2 Thus, her writing can become extremely othered in a different cultural context and difficult to decode for a non-German speaking audience. However, Heidi Schlipphacke notes that “given the right historical frame, [Jelinek’s] works are neither entirely untranslatable nor unteachable”3. More so, she argues that they can have a meaningful impact in translation precisely due to their cultural particularity. Per Schlipphacke, this is especially relevant for an English-speaking audience because in a globalized context the English language often universalises cultural experience rather than highlighting and embracing cultural otherness.4
In our project we would like to embrace the cultural particularity of Jelinek’s work and explore how it can
become translatable, teachable and tangible for an English speaking audience. To do so, we’re working
with Jelinek’s Ernst ist das Leben (Bunbury) which is an adapted translation of Oscar Wilde’s The
Importance of Being Earnest. Due to the historical familiarity an English speaking audience has with
Wilde’s text we are hypothesising that a retranslation of Jelinek’s text from German to English could be
used as part of what Schlipphacke calls a “historical frame”. We are currently working on this
retranslation and would like to explore performing it during the workshop. We hope to receive input and
feedback from other participants and mentors to help us evaluate how Jelinek’s work can be performed in
English while staying true to her writing and performance culture. If Jelinek’s version of The Importance
of Being Earnest has one Amazon reviewer raving that “Die Komödie wurde so von [Jelinek]
überarbeitet, dass sie über eine Übersetzung hinausgeht und endlich mal auch auf Deutsch lustig ist”5 then we would like to ask: Können wir eine Jelinek Übersetzung auch auf Englisch lustig machen?
1 O’Reilly, Kate: (2013). Plays and Translation. Gitta Honegger and Elfriede Jelinek. https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/plays-and-translation-gitta-honegger-and-elfrie
2 vgl. Schechner, Richard: Between Theatre and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
3 Schlipphacke, Heide: Translating Jelinek: Globalizing the Austrian Province. In: Modern Austrian Literature 38 (1/2)/2005, S. 73-81, S. 79.
5 Amazon Kunde: und heiter die Kunst. <https://www.amazon.de/Ernst-ist-das-Leben-Bunbury-ebook/dp/B00KL220NM, (29.07.2022)