Rhetoric and the ethical-political context. Considerations on the German reception of two translations

Caroline Fischer


Rhetoric is generally regarded as a quasi absolute authority, though its strength (i.e. its effect) depends on its reception by the public which will be confronting the individual works. This essay analyzes the reactions aroused by the German translations of two French novels, the first of which, Michel Houellebecq’s Les particules élémentaires caused a scandal at the time of its publication, while the second, Jonathan Littell’s Les Bienveillantes, was the object of a lively polemical debate in Germany even before the translation appeared. If a troubled response to Littell’s work was predictable, since it narrates the fictional memoirs of an SS officer, the polemic was more intense than expected. More surprising still, however, was the resonance attained by Elementarteilchen. In Germany, the frame of the novel – regarded as "inutile" in France, and evoking a society where cloning has replaced sexuality and reproduction – found itself at the centre of a vexed debate, during which Houellebecq was even acclaimed as a "Kulturphilosoph". As this essay contends, the German reception of these two novels is exemplary of the extent to which the same rhetoric may be implemented differently according to the variations in the ethical-political context.


reception, ethical-political context, translation, cultural transfer

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/1239

NBN: http://nbn.depositolegale.it/urn%3Anbn%3Ait%3Aunica-17061

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