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

  • Caroline Fischer
Keywords: reception, ethical-political context, translation, cultural transfer


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.


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Author Biography

Caroline Fischer

Caroline Fischer is Professor of Comparative Literature at the Universityof Pau. Amonh her publications, various essays on erotic literature (Education érotique. Pietro Aretinos Ragionamenti im libertinen Roman Frankreichs. Stuttgart, Metzler, 1994; Gärten der Lust. Eine Geschichte erregender Lektüren. Stuttgart, Metzler, 1997), on literary reception and translation (Französische und frankophone Literatur in Deutschland 1945-2010. Rezeption, Übersetzung, Kulturtransfer. Ed. with Beatrice Nickel, Frankfurt/M. et al., Peter Lang, 2012;  La Traduction de la poésie entre imitatio et transfert poétique: langues, espaces, médias. Ed. with Beatrice Nickel, Tübingen, Stauffenburg, 2012) and on poetry (Der poetische Pakt. Rolle und Funktion des poetischen Ich in der Liebeslyrik bei Ovid, Petrarca, Ronsard, Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Heidelberg, Winter, 2007; Pierre de Ronsard: Le Premier Livre des Amours/ Amoren für Cassandre. Le Second Livre des Amours/ Amoren für Marie, trad. Georg Holzer, Ed. Caroline Fischer, Berlin, Elfenbein Verlag, 2006 and 2010).

How to Cite
Fischer, C. (1). Rhetoric and the ethical-political context. Considerations on the German reception of two translations. Between, 4(7). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/1239
Ore Rotundo. Ethics of Public Intervention