MIMESIS Munich Doctoral Program for Literature and the Arts

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Yola Schmitz

Dr. des. Yola Schmitz

Former Doctoral Student

Thesis Title

Paradise Lost and Found in Translation. World-making through Mimesis and Translation

(completed in 2018)


In this PhD project I seek to describe translation as a mode of mimetic production. The concept of mimesis has been variously interpreted and is, just like translation, often considered derivative. In precisely this sense, literary translations have long been regarded as pale imitations of a genuine work of art – a notion still quite popular with readers and some literary critics. The issue is further complicated by the claim (typically made by publishers) that the best translation should not appear as a translated work at all, but blend into the target culture as if it were originally created in this context. Thus, the mimetic process shifts from imitating the source to imitating the target context.

However, translations do not only actively produce new works of art within the target culture by introducing foreign literary works, they also enrich the home culture of these works by raising its popularity and widening its audience. Translations may also inspire and enable new productions in the target context (whether in literature, painting or music, etc.). By provoking often more than one reading, they establish a context of interpretation around the original work. These effects of translation have been met with great suspicion. My project attempts to show that translations are not merely imitations and, therefore, of lesser value than the supposed original, but are productive in their own right. Their mimetic process allows for the incorporation of a foreign principle into the target culture and, at the same time, emancipates a given work from the constraints of its first context. To analyse the productivity and explore the productive functions of such processes will be the main project of my thesis.

In order to trace and gauge the creative force at work in the processes of mimesis and translation I will turn to two texts – Paradise Lost by John Milton and Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian – and, in a first step, discuss them as (or as if they were) translations. In a second step I plan to look at some of their interlingual translations into German and focus on the various mimetic methods translators have employed.