Monday, November 16, 2009

"An exhibit of national forgetfulness"

Cora Lee Kluge’s 2007 publication, Other Witnesses: An Anthology of Literature of the German Americans, 1850-1914, continues to attract attention for its attempt to include German-language works by immigrant writers as part of American literature. A new review by Andrew Yox (Northeast Texas Community College) has just appeared on H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences Online, and is worth reading.

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, enough of the American population read German to allow for a rich harvest of writing in that language; as revealed in Other Witnesses, authors produced works ranging from poems to plays, and from fiction to travel literature. But the audience of German readers did dwindle, and German-language publishing houses eventually ceased their operations, with the result that such German-American writings have been relegated to libraries and archives, while essentially fading from our national consciousness.

Of course, the greatest obstacle to appreciating these works today is indeed the fact that they are written in German. We’ve all heard the phrase, “lost in translation,” and no doubt some of the impact and beauty would be lost if the words of these “other witnesses” were shifted into English. But someday, perhaps, the task will be undertaken, and America can once again reclaim a part of its literary heritage.