Rehabilitating Ulrike Meinhof
Translating, inventively reordering, and strategically redeploying
Luise von Flotow (University of Ottawa) [BIO]
Throughout the 1960s in the depths of Cold War Germany, Ulrike Meinhof was a recognized, even celebrated (by some), left-wing journalist who wrote passionately on topics of what might now be called “social justice”: against an anti-democratic ‘emergency measures act’, in support of the anti-militaristic Constitution of post-war Germany that was systematically being dismantled, against nuclear armament and in support of diplomacy and peace, in support of free-thinkers and oppositional opinions (always with the horrors of the recent Nazi regime in mind), against the privileged positions that “old” Nazis had managed to re-gain in government, the legal system and public life, in support of the student movement of the mid to late 1960s that sought to reveal and dismantle such privilege and generally struggle for a just society both at home and abroad, and finally in growing support of women and girls. Meinhof’s influence was widespread and powerful. Yet today, only 30 years after her suicide by hanging in a prison cell in 1976, she is known almost exclusively as an urban terrorist – in Germany and beyond – as the most reviled woman terrorist of the late 20th century.
The translation of a selection of her journalistic work into English (heretofore hardly available outside Germany) is motivated in part by the desire to rehabilitate her memory, do justice to the passionate intellectual labour she engaged in, and recognize the enormous moral force that was Meinhof before she became the harried victim of both the arch-conservative and sensationalist yellow press and the hardline urban guerilla group she joined in the early 1970s.
My paper will briefly examine Meinhof’s early career, and contrast it with the four short years during which she was constructed as a vicious, soulless terrorist, and then move on to the question of translation as a force for “re-ordering and re-deploying” memory. I will refer briefly to other women writers and thinkers, written off by collective memory and re-membered as a result of translation, often through the work of women translators. Finally, I will address a number of specific translation strategies and effects that aid in this rehabilitation of Meinhof as a powerful female voice of the 1960s.