Adrian Nathan West at The Quarterly Conversation:
In the tempest-plagued teapot of English translation, Michael Hofmann’s dust-ups are notorious: he compared Stefan Zweig’s suicide note to an Oscar acceptance speech, eviscerated James Reidel’s translations of Thomas Bernhard’s poems, brushed off George Konrad’s A Feast in the Garden as “dire… export-quality horseshit.” Critics seem generally pleased with his translations, but then, critics like Toril Moi, Tim Parks, or Hofmann himself—that is to say, those willing and able to scrutinize the changes a text in translation undergoes, and the details of what is gained and lost alone the way—are rare, and the newspaper reviewer’s “cleverly translated,” “serviceably translated,” and suchlike don’t count for too much. Readers I know are not of one mind about his work: some are unqualified fans, particularly of Angina Days, his selected poetry of Günter Eich. What seems to grate on the less enthusiastic are his translations’ motley surfaces, the “occasional rhinestones or bits of jet,” as he has it in one interview, which mark them, not as the pellucid transmigration of the author’s inspiration from source language into target, but as a patent contrivance in the latter.
Hofmann’s translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz, long rumored to be in the works, has the feel of a literary event.