German question:

I'm trying to translate the following quote from Dürrenmatt, for the article I'm working on:

[A]uch ich habe eine Kunsttheorie, was macht einem nicht alles Spaß, doch halte ich sie als meine private Meinung zurück (ich müßte mich sonst gar nach ihr richten) und gelte lieber als ein etwas verwirrter Naturbursche mit mangelndem Formwillen.

I pretty much understand what it means, but I'm having trouble with the second clause ("was macht einem nicht alles Spaß"). Those of you who know German very well (and are preferably native German speakers): What's your take?

UPDATE: Thanks, all! My preferred translation, which I'm including in my paper, is the following:

I too have a theory of art—what doesn’t one do for fun?—but I keep it to myself as my personal opinion (otherwise I’d actually have to follow it) and prefer to be considered a somewhat scatterbrained nature-boy with no sense of form.

Feel free to keep commenting if you like. I'm adding acknowledgments to "commenters on the Volokh Conspiracy blog" to my paper, but if you feel you want a more specific acknowledgment, shoot me an e-mail.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Durrenmatt bleg:
  2. German question:
microtherion (mail):
Something like "funny, the things you can have fun thinking about", i.e., he acknowledges that working out one's own theory of the arts might not universally be acknowledged as a fun activity.
7.19.2007 3:40pm
KSRobinson (mail):
I think it means "What makes one (person happy) does not make all (people) happy."
7.19.2007 3:41pm
Huck (mail):
(I am a German native speaker.)

The second clause is irony on himself.

Having his privare art theory may be fun, but that's all about it. The rest of the statement is also irony about art theories.

"Was macht einem nicht alles Spaß" should be translated (remenber, I'm no English native speaker) somehow like "there are many ways to get fun".
7.19.2007 3:52pm
Ex parte McCardle:
KSRobinson's rendering is quite close, although "Spaß" is generally translated "fun," as microtherion and Huck have it, in the sense of a joke or a lark, rather than "making happy." The sense of the clause is reflected in the English-language aphorism rendered variously as "One man's trash is another man's treasure" or "One man's meat is another man's poison."
7.19.2007 4:28pm
martinned (mail) (www):

What's been said before is close enough. The whole sentence seems to me to be a translation nightmare. It's a typical example of how dense/efficient German can be.

My attempt for the spass clause would be:

"Ah, the things that one can enjoy..."

In translating the whole sentence, I might put this clause between brackets instead of commas, because it is more of a thought inbetween rather than a modifier.
7.19.2007 4:36pm
Patrick Bowles (the person who translated the play to English) lists the passage as:

"I admit I have my Theory of Art as well, it's a thing one doesn't always enjoy having, and inasmuch as it's my own private opinion I withhold it..."
7.19.2007 4:53pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
TheSaint517: I'm aware of Bowles's version; the reason I'm asking on the blog is that I think Bowles may have the meaning exactly wrong.
7.19.2007 5:07pm
Anonymous436 (mail):
The foregoing comments adequately convey the general sentiment that Durrenmatt was trying to get express, however most of them diverge significantly from a literal translation of the language that Durrenmatt used.

If you want a literal translation, martinned's proposal is definitely the closest, although it lacks the word "fun" — generally regarded as the closest English equivalent of "Spass". I would put it in a paranthetical — to make it clear that it is a somewhat unconnected thought — and translate it as follows: "(the things one does for fun!)". That is the closest I could get to a literal translation, without using language that would confuse, or seem awkward to, the average English speaker.

Btw, in my opinion you are right that Bowles got it backwards.

I am not a native German speaker, but I spent a fair amount of time living there and am fluent.
7.19.2007 6:28pm
Karl Lembke (mail) (www):
How about something like:

"...I have a theory of art, which won't appeal to everyone..."
7.19.2007 6:42pm
How about a free translation?
I have a theory of artistic taste, which may not be to everyone's taste..
7.19.2007 7:10pm
Perry The Cynic (mail):
I grew up in Austria, and have lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years. Note that I know little about Dürrenmatt as a person or artist, so the following is not informed by any particular view of his craft or personality.

The specific parenthetical can be translated in different ways. The meaning (as I read it) is "while it is fun/entertaining to play with theories of art, it is not terribly productive and not something I take too seriously." In context, it leads to the next phrase (keeping his theory to himself). He is being funny (in a German kind of way :-), poking fun at artists (including himself) and their serious theories of their art. The overall message seems to be "adherence to formal theory does not make good art."

I'd translate the whole thing something like this:

I do not consider myself a member of today's avant-garde.[0] To be sure, I too have a theory of theatre[1] (it's a fun thing to play with[2]), but I keep it to myself (otherwise I might have to follow it myself), and prefer to be known as a somewhat confused simpleton[3] with a lack of strict dedication to form[4].

[0] This is how the sentence starts in the original, as per
[1] Kunsttheorie = literally "theory of art", here clearly meaning the art of writing (and, I suppose, directing) a theatrical piece.
[2] The parenthetical phrase suggests "even something as comparatively useless as that (i.e. a Kunsttheorie) can be done in good fun".
[3] Naturbursche = lit. "nature boy", a man who is untouched by the sophistication of "unnatural" (city/cultured) life. Not usually meant in an unduly derogatory way (and certainly not here, though a note of self-deprecation is clearly present).
[4] Formwillen = lit. Will (desire, drive) to form (structure, formalism). I believe this means (in this context) an effort to adhere to formal structure or rules (in context, of theatre).

Note that has (was macht... spaß) in parentheses, which makes more sense (at least to me) than using commas.
7.19.2007 7:20pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
KSRobinson, Karl Lembke, and dearieme: I believe that's not the sense of the clause. I feel you may be misunderstanding the role of the word "alles" in the clause.
7.19.2007 7:28pm
MMarks (mail) (www):
It's self-deprecating, I think, a throwaway insert, following the reference to a theory of art, which others might regard as pompous. It's along the lines of 'it's curious what hobbies people have'. I'm close to martinned and also think Bowles is wrong.

'Was ... alles' means something like 'all kinds of things'.

(Sent here by Ed at Blawgreview!)

7.19.2007 7:38pm
“I too have a theory about art -- what isn’t considered fun these days? -- but I’ll keep it to myself as personal opinion (otherwise I’d have to live by it) and rather be considered a confused and formless nature boy.”
7.19.2007 7:44pm
jimbino (mail):
The only problem is the interpretation of "alles Spaß."

"Kunsttheorie macht mir kein Spaß" means "Art theory is no fun to me."

"Kunsttheorie macht mir nicht Spaß" means "Art theory is not fun to me."

"Nicht alles macht mir Spaß" means "Not everything is fun to me."

"Was alles macht mir Spaß," the grammatical equivalent of "Was macht mir alles Spaß," means "All of which is fun to me."

"Kunsttheorie, was macht einem nicht alles Spaß..." must mean "Art theory, all of which is not fun to a person ..."

Though I would have said, observing proper word order in German, "Kunsttheorie, was alles einem nicht Spaß macht ..."
7.19.2007 9:21pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
jimbino: My impression is that "was... alles" is an expression (like "what all"), as in "was es alles gibt." And with that expression, the "nicht" doesn't have to be negative: for instance, "Was es nicht alles gibt!" means something like "My, what things there are!"
7.19.2007 9:24pm
Luis (mail) (www):
I never got beyond first year German, but to my eye it looks like "...which results in something that is not all fun..." or "...which results in something that is not 'fun' to everybody..."
7.19.2007 9:47pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Luis: "alles" is not in the dative.
7.19.2007 9:49pm
Luis (mail) (www):
Cheers, Sasha. I can't believe you took the time to be so kind as to point that out.

Bloody damn cases. This is what gave me fits in Armenian as well, and will if I ever get around to Russian.
7.19.2007 9:59pm
Luis (mail) (www):
Looking again at Ananymous436's post, it looks like he is saying that the literal translation is "...what won't one do for fun!" which lines up rather better with other takes than my earlier, uninformed attempt.
7.19.2007 10:01pm
"Einem" is dative: "What makes everything fun for one [man]"
7.19.2007 10:21pm
Mad Jurist (mail):
Thanks for the fun brain-teaser--I regret I haven't kept up my German since I earned my MA years ago. Perry the Cynic seems, as far as I can tell, to be closest to the general meaning of the phrase, but that one clause you specifically mention in your post is the tricky one. I think that if it were to mean something along the lines of "Fun for me, but not for everyone" it would have to read "nicht allem" and not "nicht alles". As far as I can tell, the sense of the sentence is something along the lines of "Yeah, I've got a theory of art too -- it's not all fun and games, that's why I keep it to myself; else, I'd have to follow it."

(That's a rather loose translation...)
7.20.2007 1:21am
Friedrich (mail):
Native German speaker here: the way I read it, the clause you are having trouble with is an interjection, and does not actually fit into the structure of the sentence. It is like something you would use en or em dashes for in English. I'd translate the sentence literally as:

I also have a theory of art -- what, among all things, is not entertaining? -- but I keep it to myself as a private opinion (lest I actually have to act in accordance with it) and would rather count as a somewhat confused nature-boy with lacking desire for form.

The first part of the sentence might be more smoothly rendered as:

I, too, have a theory of art, who doesn't, but I keep it to myself...

BTW I'm not familiar with the word "Formwille." I've just translated the components literally; does it have a specific meaning in this context?
7.20.2007 1:36am
occidental tourist (mail):
FYI - my sister who lived in Germany took this stab at it which analytically tracks KS Robinson,Karl Lembke and Dearieme who you thought might have the sense wrong. I forwarded it because she explained how she took that inference from her literal translation (and because I'm fascinated that it could be such a complicated art to derive the author's meaning - literal or figurative :

I also have a theory about art, which not everyone would agree with, so I keep my opinion to myself (or else I’d have to follow it as well) and I’d prefer to follow a more natural freestyle approach.

As the blog interpretations described, Spass is best translated as “fun.” So, it literally means, “which doesn’t bring fun to everyone.” I would interpret this as “which not everyone would agree with” or “which wouldn’t make everyone happy.”

Maybe her husband who is German will also weigh in.

7.20.2007 7:20am
So have the VCers officially solved "Die Deutsche Frage"? If only VC had been around in 1871, think how much better it would have been!
7.20.2007 10:21am
MMarks (mail) (www):
>>My impression is that "was... alles" is an expression (like "what all"), as in "was es alles gibt." And with that expression, the "nicht" doesn't have to be negative: for instance, "Was es nicht alles gibt!" means something like "My, what things there are!"<<

That's correct. Is this an interview, btw? This is something one would not usually find in a written text, and it's problematic to punctuate for that reason - probably needs a question mark.

This is coming from Germany, where I've been living (this time) for 25 years.
7.20.2007 10:25am
MMarks (mail) (www):
And a final note: I've checked Hammer's German Grammar. Here's an example (5.3.3d in my copy):
'Wem hat er nicht alles geholfen! - Who(m) hasn't he helped!'
7.20.2007 11:23am
occidental tourist (mail):
And from my sister's husband, native german speaker agreement with Sasha ruling out my sister's interpretation arguably making sense of this, and he argues accurately representing the German phrases:

Close, but no cigar. The phrase with "Spaß" is a particular German formulation whose construction you don't find in english. I'd translate this as follows:

"I, too, have a theory about art, hard to believe what kinds of things one gets enjoyment from, but I keep it to myself as my own personal opinion (otherwise I'd always have to follow it) and would prefer to be known as a somewhat crazed free thinker who lacks an ability to form an opinion."

Hey, nobody said this language was easy ...


7.20.2007 12:33pm
Uhlenspiegel (mail):
My (free) translation

I have a theory of art as well, oh the things that you can waste time with, but I keep it to myself (otherwise I would be bound by it) and rather be considered a slightly irrational country bumpkin lacking consistent principles.

As pointed out above it is an interjection. It denigrates art theory as a wast of time, only good for amusing mind games. I would literally tranlate it as: the things that can amuse.
7.20.2007 2:13pm
Tanker J.D.:
I'm an English speaker, but have taken German in High School, College, and auditted courses while in Law School. I also lived in Germany for a bit.


First, the phrase is certainly paranthetical, and should be set off appropriately, with commas if it is still clear, otherwise with parentheses.

Also, the jist of it is something along the lines of "what one person finds fun, another won't" or "not everyone finds fun the things that one person does." It is not just self-referential as is the phrase, for exmample, "oh the things one can enjoy," because the phrase contains both "einem" and "alles".

One literal translation might be "Also, I have a theory of art, which makes some but not all happy . . . " The problem with that translation, however, is that it seems to refer to the speaker's own theory of art, not the process of theorizing about art, which seems to be the true meaning of the phrase.

Maybe this is better:

"Also, I have an theory of art (fun for one is not for all) . . ."
7.20.2007 2:48pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Thanks, all. You can continue posting if you like, but I've put my preferred translation into the update to the post.
7.20.2007 3:19pm
Uhlenspiegel (mail):
I disagree with the translations that translate the phrase as something like "fun for some, but not others" The best translation for the word Spass in this context is "amuse," not fun, as in "amusing distraction." To understand the text better I tried to find the complete sentence. I am giving the original and my translation of the previous sentence and the first part of the sentence in question below:

Man spiele den Vordergrund richtig, den ich gebe, der Hintergrund wird sich von selber einstellen.
Ich zähle mich nicht zur heutigen Avantgarde, gewiß, auch ich habe eine Kunsttheorie, was macht einem nicht alles Spaß,

Play the scene as I rendered it, the backdrop will become clear on its own. I do not count myslef among the current Avant-garde, even though I have a theory of art as well - oh the thing that you can waste time with -

PS: I am a native German speaker, even though I have lived in the US for 20+ years and may have forgotten a few things.
7.20.2007 3:27pm
Lawrence (mail):
Quibble: [A]uch ich = [E]ven I. Thus the author sets the tone of the quote.

I would not translate "alles."
7.20.2007 3:37pm
The Real Bill (mail):
My wife is a native German speaker who attended university in the US. Here's her version:

I, too, have a theory of art--the things you can get into!--but I keep it to myself (otherwise I would have to adhere to it) and I'd rather be known as the slightly confused natureboy lacking a viewpoint.
7.20.2007 5:06pm