Aphorisms by Tobias Grüterich: Wise and Off the Cuff

Tobias Grüterich
BY Andreas Berner


Translator’s Note

While I was selecting poems to contribute in translation to the New European Poets anthology a few years ago, I was intrigued by a growing collection of aphorisms by a young writer from the former East Germany, Tobias Grüterich. (Grüterich was eleven when the wall came down.) His single-minded focus on aphorisms defied common sense and was something I admired.

…what is true in one language may not be true in another.

The aphorism as a form is bound up with truth or at least with the ring of truth. As debatable as its claim to truth may actually be, the immediacy, the ring, is indispensable. Complexity drawn out gradually may make an engrossing novel but a lousy saying. Aphoristic complexity is condensed, aimed at disarming the listener into an involuntary and immediate nod of recognition. To catch by surprise, to remain undetected until the moment of impact, it must be crafted to sound natural; it must seem both wise and off the cuff. Some truths are just not true if you don’t use the right words in the right order. Without artifice, a true-sounding truth in German may emerge as a truth that sounds untrue in English. In other words, what is true in one language may not be true in another. In this case, fidelity to either the letter or the spirit comes second to the ring of truth, any truth.

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