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Ruperto Carola 3/2007: No Such Thing as a Perfect Translation

15 December 2007

The Heidelberg research magazine offers exciting new perspectives on translation studies, palaeoclimatology, literary studies, brain research, physics and political science

Voltaire put it in a nutshell. Translations, he said, are like women. They are either faithful or beautiful but never both at once. Translation studies takes a considerably more detailed view of the infinite complexities involved in transporting a text from one language and culture to another. In the title story of the latest issue (3/2007) of Heidelberg University’s research magazine "Ruperto Carola”, Jekatherina Lebedewa gives readers an outline of this interdisciplinary subject, which draws not only on linguistics, literary studies and comparative philology but also on computer science, psychology and neurology. Translating word for word is both impossible and inadequate. The aim is to salvage the "spirit” of the original and its style in the translation. The other subjects addressed in the new issue range from palaeoclimatology, brain research and physics to literary studies and political science.

Rector Prof. Eitel’s editorial on the Initiative for Excellence: "We are facing a task that is both formidable in itself and also demands a great deal of community spirit”

"The University is facing a task that is both formidable in itself and also demands a great deal of community spirit.”  Rector Bernhard Eitel’s editorial in the new issue takes its bearings from the successes scored by the University of Heidelberg in the Initiative for Excellence organised by the German government and the federal states. "Successful implementation can only be achieved by concerted efforts. The aim is not merely to promote individual projects but to awaken, exploit and profit from the potential of a comprehensive university like ours.”

Eitel recalls that in the first round of the Initiative the Graduate School "Fundamental Physics” and the Cluster of Excellence "Cellular Networks” were successful with their proposals. In the second round these were joined by the Graduate Schools "Mathematical and Computational Methods for the Sciences” and the "Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School of Molecular and Cellular Biology”. In addition, a Cluster of Excellence for which funding was approved is "Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows”, one of the few humanities projects to be given the green light in the overall framework of the Initiative.

"The award of funding for an institutional strategy centring on the idea of the comprehensive university gives Heidelberg additional incentives to extend its range of subjects even further and cement its status both as a traditional universitas and as a strong international partner,” the Rector affirms. "Accordingly, we are out not only to encourage interdisciplinary dialogue between related subjects but also to further academic communication and cooperation that transcends traditional subject boundaries and cultures.”

Collateral measures are to be devised to ensure that the projects funded by the Initiative are firmly anchored in the University. The Graduate Schools and Clusters of Excellence will not merely be grafted onto the existing structures but fully integrated into them.

"The resources provided for the institutional strategy will also be used for this purpose, for example to finance the ‘Marsilius Centre of Advanced Study’ that will be encouraging internal University link-ups by addressing transdisciplinary topics like ageing or human dignity.” (Eitel)

The Rector closes with words of encouragement for all those scientists and scholars whose project proposals were not recommended for funding in the final round of the Initiative, as well as the expression of his gratitude for the work they put into them. "The funding for the successful projects will reach out into the future and there will be further spin-offs from these projects in the form of new research undertakings and collaborations. For the University of Heidelberg this is a great opportunity, and we should make the fullest possible use of it.”

Leafing through the book of climate history

Is the Earth warming up faster than we thought? Or is it going to get progressively colder rather than warmer? These are the questions addressed by Nicole Vollweiler and Augusto Mangini in the next article. The climate issues of the future cannot be prophesied without taking a look back in history. Stalagmites tell us much about climatic developments extending across thousands of years. By examining them we can find out what the climate was like when Hannibal crossed the Alps. And they also tell us whether we should pack snow boots or bathing trunks if we intend to emulate him in future.

The limits of literature

Plays without actors, novels the reader puts together from a box of file cards, virtual poems that are never printed – these are the subject of Peter Paul Schnierer’s article. For some these literary phenomena are impudent nonsense, for others they represent modernism taken to its logical conclusion or allegories of human existence. At all events, they add new fuel to the debate on what we can permit ourselves to call "literature”.

Time out for the memory

"Transient global amnesia” is the term used by neurologists to describe a memory disorder that leaves just as much of an impression on scientists as it does on the people affected by it. All recall is suddenly lost, and the memory gap takes hours to close again. Earlier, such episodes of total forgetfulness were frequently dismissed as "imaginary”, but modern imaging resources have now detected an organic cause for the memory’s spectacular refusal to function. Kristina Szabo and Hansjörg Bäzner describe their research on this phenomenon.

Expecting the unexpected

For more than 50 years, particle physicists have been investigating what it is precisely that "holds the world together”, using bigger and bigger equipment to study smaller and smaller structures. In the next article in the magazine, Hans-Christian Schultz-Coulon boldly asserts that a new era has dawned in particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN European research centre is about to go into operation, extending the limits of what energy research has been capable of so far. Physicists all over the world are waiting with bated breath for the new accelerator and the results of the experiments conducted with it – expecting the unexpected.

Direct democracy: motor or impediment?

Two years ago, the European Constitution was floored by the referenda in France and Holland. Uwe Wagschal inquires whether direct democracy acts as a motor or an impediment in the European integration process. What factors influence national referenda on European issues? A research project by the Institute of Political Science at the University of Heidelberg has come up with some interesting answers to these questions.

"Images give shape to inconceivable phenomena” is the title of a brief report by Anja Eisenbeiß. Around the year 1500, people were alarmed by strange events taking place in the skies. They were observable both in southern and northern Germany, in Trier and Maastricht. Visualisation not only gives shape to the inconceivable, it also helps to categorise the seemingly inexplicable and inquire into its nature.

Women in academia is the subject of Jadranka Gvozdanovic’s article, in which she calls for equal opportunities for all: "Equality guarantees that academic study can develop its full potential.” The author indicates tenure-track opportunities at the University and recalls both the Olympia Morata Programme and services designed to make it easier to combine a career with family life.

The section "From the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation” comes this time from Ekkehard Felder and is entitled "No Knowledge without Language”. All human insight is dependent on language, he reminds us. Even in the so-called exact or objective sciences, measuring results have to be expressed and interpreted verbally.

"Ruperto Carola” is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost € 5 plus postage. Like the special subscription offer (€ 30 for four issues) they can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the entrance area of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues (in German) go to

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317
Editor: Email
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