One Flew Over the Translator’s Nest: Aleksandr Livergant/ Ãëàâíàÿ / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / One Flew Over the Translator’s Nest: Aleksandr Livergant
One Flew Over the Translator’s Nest: Aleksandr Livergant
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– Anyway, what opportunities do you see for the translator’s profession in Russia?
– They are not very promising – people read less and less, most people have almost forgotten about reading fiction, the reading audience has shrunk. Mostly, aged people read. All of these facts have their effect – the most popular literature in Russia is mass literature: fantasy, erotics, thrillers, detectives.
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– I am citing your words now: “In case we think that the translation has to become the fact of the Russian literature, we have to burn the authentic work, it mustn’t exist”.
– It depends on the authentic work. One author does not allow treating him freely, and another does. It is better not to translate a humorous story by O.Henry word by word, or it won’t by funny. When you translate a chapter about a weaver’s loom or a bride’s dress, you have to be precise and almost literal. When it comes to a two rumdums’ chat, the translator can take a liberty to make something up. Well, I often say to my students that a good fiction translator is like a plane, which flies over the land very low or very high, depending on its advantage.
– What is the first step you make before taking a new possible translation?
– I estimate how the book will be read in Russian, will it be understood, in other words if it can be translated adequately. There are works, which were not written to be translated – they have to be read in original by those, who speak the language.
– What is your attitude towards new translations and alternative versions?
– There are translators, who love translating the text once already translated. By the way, it is a foreign trend to make new translations for every new generation. For instance, there are 23 (!) German translations of “Anna Karenina”. Can you imagine this? Do we have the same amount of “Faust” translations? Of course, no.
For example, there is a marvelous translation of “The Catcher in the Rye” by Rita Wright-Kovaleva or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Nina Daruzes. These translations are cut, they are partly inaccurate, there are ideological omissions. Back in the day, some Soviet publishers thought like – let well enough alone, what is the point of translating once more? Until they faced a problem like this: for example, you want to publish a Shakespeare’s play translated by O. Soroka and contact his successors. They ask for unreasonable money or reject giving the rights at all. Out of despair, you start looking for a new translator.
Or you take an old, tested translation, compare it to the original and find out, that the translation is more that inadequate, there are many mistakes, and you have to order a new translation in this situation, too.
New translations are also needed for other reasons: first of all, the generation has changed, and the political situation has also changed. Well, for example, a famous Soviet translator Evgenia Kalashnikova translated perfectly, by she did not allow rude “street” words, including in “The Great Gatsby” novel, where his ex-business partner approaches his dead body, lying in a coffin and says “You poor thing”. And the original says “You son of a bitch”. Why didn’t she use the original meaning? Were these her good manners? It was intolerable for her to use dirty words! And you can find numerous examples like that one.
– You have translated Jerome K. Jerome, E. Wauhg, Malcolm, Bradbury, Updike, Somerset Maugham, H. Miller and many other American, English and Irish writers. Who was the most difficult to translate?
– If you like the author, you take difficulties as a pleasure! It’s like flirting – it is not interesting to court a woman of easy virtue. My list of “difficult authors” includes Evelyn Waugh, Chesterton, Samuel Pepys. I like reading and translating humorous literature most of all.
– There are several translations of “Alice in Wonderland”: by N. Demurova, Nabokov’s version “Anya in Wonderland” and Boris Zahoder’s version, which is very far from the original. Which one of these famous versions is just a version, not a translation?
– Despite all my love to Nabokov, that was a bad try. Nina Demurova’s version is more for an adult reader. I think, there is sense in adapting books like this, as B. Zahoder did. It is right to adapt a book for children of your country. Literature gets younger in time, in general. For instance, “Gulliver” was written by Swift for an adult reader, but gradually the deep message “washes out” and there is only an adventure left.
– We are having a year of British literature, not English-speaking. Is there a big difference between the American and English literature?
– Oscar Wilde has once said “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language” and was absolutely right. Back in the day, the American literature was, to say, “dependent” – it imitated and tried to follow the European fashion, but at the beginning of the 20th century it became hefty and, perhaps, the best. Let’s remember Hemingway, Faulkner or beatniks.
And the approach to literature is different. Put simply, the English literature is much more traditional and American – more modernist. Americans allow themselves more, they treat their reader/viewer and the material itself in a more free way. The same comes to the modern American fine arts, although modernism was created in the British Isles: Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Lawrence. The tradition is kept in Britain.
In case an English writer wants to get famous, he won’t write too mind-bendingly. It can be understood from the way how the English perceive translated literature, including Russian. For example, Leskov’s and Platonov’s translations were not in demand among critics until lately. Only after that Robert Chandler has translated “Chevengur” (he had been working severely and for a very long time), have they admitted that he is a great writer. By the way, there is only 3% of translated literature in England, when in France and Germany this number is more than fifty. A few years ago, we created the Institute of Translation exactly to promote Russian literature abroad.