Fabjan Hafner

15. 7. 2013

07_Fabjan HafnerFabjan Hafner
Foto © Vincenc Gotthardt

Fabjan Hafner, residing in South Carinthia (Feistritz in Rosental / Bistrica v Rožu), is an author who writes texts in both Carinthian languages, is a literary translator from Slovenian and since 1998 he works at the Robert Musil Institute for Literary Research at the University of Klagenfurt. Already while studying Slavic Studies and German Philology he worked on the research project Taking an Inventory of the Slovenian Popular Language in Kaernten and on the Thesaurus of the Slovenian Popular Language in Kaernten at the Institute for Slavic Studies at the Karl Franzens University of Graz. There he also worked as an assistant lecturer at the Institute for Theoretical and Applied Translation Studies from 1990 to 2007. From 1992 to 1997 he was a German language lector at the University of Ljubljana. In 2008 his book titled Peter Handke: In Transit into the Ninth Country (Zsolnay Publishers, Vienna) was published. For his translations he received numerous awards, including the Petrarca Translation Price 1990, the Austrian National Price for Literary Translation in 2006 and the Price of the City of Muenster for European Poetry in 2007.

You live in Feistritz in Rosental / Bistrica v Rožu in South Carinthia, whose bilingual name indicates the presence of a linguistic minority in Carinthia, namely the Carinthian Slovenes.

The bilingualism in Feistritz/ Bistrica is sort of a given. While the father of the Carinthian Slovenes, Andrey Einspieler (1813 – 1888), comes from the neighbouring city and parochial seat Suetschach / Sveče, the leading Windish theoretician, Viktor Miltshinsky (1887 – 1974), comes from Freistritz. In 1919 he was founding member of the National Democratic Party and in 1949 he was umpire of the Viennese organization of the „Association of Independents“ of the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) predecessor organization.  In other words: my best friend from primary school lived at the same address as Petzi bear from the bedtime TV stories, i.e. at Bärental No. 7. These Haiderian benefice I see every morning from my breakfast table…

By now however 80% of pre-schoolers and 50% of the primary school kids take advantage of the bilingualism. The linguistic results are however more than moderate.

You are author in both Carinthian languages and have translated numerous texts of Slovenian authors into German, i.a. Dane Zajc, Maruša Krese and Florjan Lipuš. The relationship between German- and Slovenian-language Carinthians has not always been very harmonious; one only has to think of the conflict concerning the town-name signposts. In this context what does it mean for you to translate Slovenian literature into German? Does translation in this sense also take on the role of cultural mediation, if not even diplomacy?

Translation is of course a form of cultural mediation. However, the mediation of culture is, as experience unfortunately teaches, not highly regarded and thus not a very helpful resource on the slippery slope of diplomacy. Somewhat fatalistically I would like to not for the first time quote Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: „Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.“

Amongst others you have translated a great number of Slovenian poetry into German.  What were the greatest challenges in this feat? Have your own experiences writing poetry helped you in this?

Every translator of poetry is a poet himself, at least a would-be poet. Generally no one else would take on the challenge of translating verse. This would thus not be unique. For each author one should find or invent an individual sound, otherwise all will sound alike, that is like the translator: this shall be avoided. When composing my own verses what surely helped me was the routine of writing verse I had established while translating.

Why should one actually read Slovenian literature? Still many people confuse Slovenia with Slovakia or are not entirely sure where this country is located even though it is located right in the middle of Europe and the European Union. What is unique about Slovenian literature?

If literature conveys knowledge about the country and its people, the history and the mentality, then this is a very nice added benefit. Generally however, literary sources do not tend to be very reliable or true to reality.

There are good, witty and nice works of Slovenian literature, and these are the books one should read. For instance The Newcomers by Lojze Kovačič, the prose by Drago Jančar, the poetry by Dane Zajc, Tomaž Šalamun and Uroš Zupan, the Trieste-Slovene Boris Pahor and the Carinthians Florjan Lipuš and Gustav Januš, for whom Peter Handke spoke out early on and with a lasting effect.

What is unique about translating from a „small“ language (e.g., regarding the text selection, literary scene, publishers, funding, audience)?

Since one can neither get rich nor famous, the possibilities are boundless. Thus, pure pleasure dictates. Those who do not want to serve but rather make money better not get into literary translation.

Could you please elaborate on what you mean with serving as a translator?

Translation serves the text. Whoever translates does not serve the creator of the text, but mediates between the text and the audience. Translation ‚serves’ this purpose – everything else is in general nothing more than vanities and should be excluded from the pages between the book covers.

by Franziska Mazi

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