Professor Robert Norton, chair of the Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures at the University of Notre Dame, recently received the Ungar German Translation Award for his English edition of Ernst Bertram’s Nietzsche: Attempt at a Mythology, which originally appeared in German in 1918.
Sponsored by the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents 11,000 members from more than 90 countries, the Ungar award recognizes distinguished translations of German literature into English.
Norton, who is also a concurrent professor in the Department of Philosophy, says he was both pleased and surprised by the honor: “The previous recipients tended to be works of literature, while the book that I did was a book of philosophy.”
Bertram is considered one of the foremost interpreters of Nietzsche, Norton adds, and his book “was extraordinarily important in the perception and understanding of Nietzsche at a critical time in German and European history.”
Translating a text of such lasting importance was exhilarating, Norton says, but it also presented formidable challenges—in part because Mythology is exceptionally well written.
“[Bertram] was a poet, so one of the things that he did was coin a lot of words … and he did so with great abandon. On any given page, you can locate a word that is absolutely unique.”
In his translation, Norton took special care to respect Bertram’s linguistic craftsmanship by preserving the subtlety involved in the invention of such words.
“You don’t want to give just a literal translation because it wouldn’t make any sense,” he says. “One of the goals that I have in translation is that it should read like English and not like a translation.”
As a scholar, Norton says he enjoys both translation and research. He is currently writing two books. The first chronicles debates in Germany during World War I, focusing on the late 19th- and early 20th-century philosopher and theologian Ernst Troeltsch. The second examines Life Philosophy, an early 20th-century movement in German philosophy.
Eventually, he also plans to translate one of Troeltsch’s works called The Spectator Letters, which chronicles the early years of the Weimar Republic.