Season 4: Episode 4

A conversation with Tom Kellner about the impact of translating culture in literature


Today I am in conversation with Tom Kellner, a post-doctoral researcher at the Martin Luther Universität in Halle, Germany. Her research examines German translations of contemporary Israeli literature from 1989-2019. One of her interests is the notion of translatability.

We met in the fall heading to an exhibition at Kuba Kultur Bahnhof and started talking about translation. I became interested in Tom’s research and how culture crosses borders through the books that we read.

In today’s conversation we explore the world of literature from the market for books translated from Hebrew, the themes that interest German readers, and how trends influence the way books are embraced in one country versus another.

Tom’s research found that plot is an important vehicle for crossing borders. And yet, she references the philosopher Emmanuel Levinus who looks at empathy as recognizing the complete otherness of others. From this perspective we can never truly understand someone outside of ourselves and yet we are still ethically bound to find a space to care for the Other. Empathy, is accepting that people are different. We care for others even if we do not relate to them.

Sometimes characters are not only in pain but can cause pain to others. And I think this challenge is one of the greatest things about literature because it not only allows you to be in someone else’s shoes, it also allows you to be in a completely strange relationship with a complete stranger.

– Tom Kellner

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Tom Kellner

Tom Kellner is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department for Comparative Literature at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg. Her research project, titled “Translating Israeliness: German Translations of Contemporary Israeli Prose from 1989 to 2019”, examines German translations of contemporary Israeli prose written in the last three decades, and their public and critical reception, through the theoretical framework of world literature, post-colonial theory and the notion of translatability.

Tom’s PhD research, titled “Poetics and Ideology in Yoel Hoffmann’s Works”, focused on the interrelations between world, language and subject in the author’s oeuvre. Her discussion engaged with Buddhist concept of the net and the Zen-Buddhist concept of dependent origination, as well as Spinoza’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphysical monism, thus suggesting a new and diachronic reading of Hoffmann’s works.

Tom moved to Berlin in 2015, and spend her free time playing the cello and baking bread.

Link to Tom Kellner’s page at Martin-Luther-Universität-Halle-Wittenberg


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