Oberlin Blogs

Second Semester Seniordom

March 25, 2015

Emily Wilkerson ’15

It's spring break and once again, we're halfway through the semester and I've hardly written about my classes. Let's remedy that, shall we?

Creative Writing/Comparative Literature 351 - Advanced Workshop in the Craft of Translation
This is the follow-up class for the Translation Workshop, which I took spring semester of my sophomore year. Back then I translated poetry by Hilde Domin and I've chosen to continue translating her work this semester. While some of the poems I'm working on are relatively new to me, I'm also revisiting some poems I translated in my first class. At first I didn't expect that my new translations would be markedly different from my old ones, but a lot has happened since May 2013. Perhaps most importantly, I've gotten a lot better at German, so I can understand and interpret German texts with more thoroughness and sophistication than I could two years ago. In those two years I've also tried my hand at translating from English to German, translated a large section of a German novella, and learned a lot more about Domin herself. All of these things have, I think, made me a better translator, but you can decide for yourself. Below are the first two stanzas of my two translations of "Nur eine Rose als Stütze," the first from Spring 2013, the second from Spring 2015:

Only a rose for support

I furnish a room in the air
under the acrobats and birds:
my bed on a trapeze of feelings
like a nest in the wind
at the farthest edge of a branch.

I buy myself a blanket of the finest sheep's wool
that stretches over the solid earth
like shimmering clouds
in the moonlight.


Only a rose for rest

I furnish my room in the air
among the acrobats and birds:
my bed on the trapeze of feeling
like a nest in the wind
on the outermost tip of a branch.

I buy myself a blanket of the softest wool
from gently-parted sheep,
drawn over the solid earth
like clouds shimmering
in the moonlight.

German 433 - Legacies of East German Literature and Film
433 is the German department's senior seminar and it's the first of two classes I'm taking this semester to finish my German major. The subject of the seminar changes every year and to be honest, I wasn't thrilled when I first saw what it was for this year. Before taking this class, I didn't have any particular interest in East Germany or film. Now I'm really enjoying learning more about both. In fact, while I have really liked some of the texts we've read thus far, the films, mostly made by the East German studio DEFA, have actually been the highlights of the course.

My favorite was probably the first film we watched, Die Mörder sind unter uns (1946) or Murderers Among Us. The film focuses on Susanne, a concentration camp survivor, and Hans, a former military surgeon who moved into Susanne's apartment after she was taken away. Hans wants to kill his former commanding officer because he murdered a hundred Polish civilians during the war, but in the end, Susanne stays his hand and convinces him to trust in the justice system. The whole story plays out against a backdrop that's as stunning as it is bleak - the rubble of Berlin circa 1945.

A man and woman are dwarfed by the city rubble surrounding them.

The ending is remarkably optimistic, almost to the point that it strains credulity, but optimism was the state-owned DEFA's bread and butter. But even with the amount of control the Socialist Unity Party had over the studio, DEFA films weren't just pieces of communist propaganda. Well, some of them definitely were, but many others strove to depict the everyday struggles of living under socialism more realistically. Some of these films were banned, but others made it past the censors and turned into sensations. Generalizations about DEFA and East Germany about, but in this class I've learned that it's much more interesting to try to understand the complicated and often contradictory truth.

German 315 - Max Kade German Writer in Residence
This half-credit class is the last course required for my German major. As with so many German-things, Ida has written about the WIR program before, but if you don't feel like clicking through her posts, I can give you a rundown. As the name implies, the Writer in Residence program allows the German department to bring a writer working in German to Oberlin every year to teach a class on their own work. This year's writer is the poet Anja Utler. In class, she's had us read, draw, translate, and grapple with dense theoretical texts, not an easy thing at our 7-9 PM class time, but ultimately a worthwhile one.

There are no big assignments for this class, just something called a Faltblatt, a brochure put together by a few students with the aim of briefly describing the writer and advertising the reading they will put on at the end of their residence. This year I was chosen to work on the Faltblatt with my friends Caroline and Mariko, which means that we've had the opportunity to interview her twice - mostly in German but with a bit of English thrown in when we needed it. In theory we should be doing the bulk of the writing and organizing for the Faltblatt during break, but I'm at home in Niskayuna, Mariko and Caroline are in Oberlin, and I just realized that's where I left all of my notes. Oops. Luckily the internet exists.

Another important aspect of being in my hometown for break is that I am constantly asked what I'll be doing next year. Granted, I'm not asked this question any less frequently at Oberlin (it is the second semester of my senior year after all), but here the people asking the question have known me at least since I was in high school. I was sort of dreading hearing this question over and over and having to tell people who have known me for so long that I don't have plans yet - until last week that is. That's because last week I found out I was selected for a Fulbright ETA in Germany!1 I don't know exactly where I'll be teaching or how old the kids will be, but I'll be sure to let you all know when those details come in.

A lot of people have asked me if I've developed a case of senioritis since hearing about the Fulbright. It's hard to say, because since I found out I've either been sick in bed or on spring break, but my guess is that it will have the opposite effect. The main thing that has gotten in the way of my getting my work done this year is my level of anxiety, which has been particularly high this year due to my uncertainty about the future. Now that the future looks a little less scary, my guess is I'll be able to focus on getting my work done in a way I haven't been able to in a while. We'll see whether or not it works out that way. Here's hoping.


1Then I promptly got so sick that I barely left my bed for 36 hours, but that's beside the point.

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