VI. International Seminar For Translators at Yasnaya Polyana

Posted by on Ağustos 29, 2011 in Deneme, Etkinlik, Güncel, Manşet, Rusyadan

Between 22-26 of August 2011, “VI. International Seminar for translators of the works by Leo Tolstoy and other Russian writers” took place in Yasnaya Polyana, the Tolstoy Estate.

I was there as a speaker and these are my notes from the seminar.

THE FIRST DAY

The seminar opened with welcome speeches from the organizers of the seminar: Selma Ancira from Spain&Mexico and Galina Alekseeva from Yasnaya Polyana.

The first speaker was Anneliza Alleva from Italy with her speech called “Circular scenes from Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina”. In this wonderful and poetic first speech she told that while translating Karenina she had seen that “circle” was an important figure and metaphor for Tolstoy. She gave different examples from the novel: there is a part that Tolstoy described the character as the sun which lasted for a whole chapter and the characters are mostly described or characterized according to their ways of smiling (which is a circular thing also). Love between Anna and Vronski also looks like the earth and its satellite, and the balls become the universe which include circular orbits of many different characters.

Alleva is an Italian poet herself, besides a couple of her books, she has compiled a contemporary Russian poetry book. She has also translated all prose of Pushkin. And while she was answering to the questions after her talk, she said that her style had changed and developed while translating Tolstoy.

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Cathy Porter from Britain was the second speaker. She has translated and written about Russian revolutionary characters and her speech was on her translation of diaries of Sofya Tolstoy: “On translating the diaries of S. A. Tolstoy”. She reminded that feminism was an important subject at the end of the 19th century and there were places in the diaries that Sofya made revealing references. The diaries told all Sofya’s work as the housekeeper, wife, secretary, friend and everything of Tolstoy. And her emotional history reveals many secret parts of the whole Tolstoy family.

Porter told that she had a complete translation without “englishising” the diaries (“We must not do that,” she said) and she had problems with Russian names as the friend circle of Sofia and Aleksandr was very crowded. Then, as another edition was made a few years ago, they wanted her to shorten the book 2/3, so she used this opportunity to make it more clear who was who.

(At the end of Porter’s talk there was a hot discussion about translator’s invisibility – when Porter said “translator’s task is to be invisible” someone objected and this also reminded that if Sofya’s diaries was not published she would be invisible, and maybe the real life of Tolstoy would also be hidden. Also, as Porter has written and translated about Russian revolution, I suspected that her work could have been translated to Turkish. When I asked her about this, she said that she did not know anything about this. But as I look to the internet I see that Alexandera Kolontai’s Love of Worker Bees has been published (two times: 1987, 1996) with her foreword in Turkey and her translation of Sofia’s diaries has been mentioned at the newspaper, Radikal, in 2009.)

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Third speaker was Eva van Sathen from Holland and the title of her talk was “S. A. Tolstoya’s ‘Whose fault?’ as an answer to L. N. Tolstoy’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’”. Eva told that besides the diaries, Tolstoy’s wife had also written a novella but she did not want this to be published during her lifetime and the book was published in the nineties in the magazine Oktyabr. Tolstoy had changed after writing Anna Karenina, and their family life had also changed with this, because Tolstoy now was more conservative, and he also said that he did not want to write literature anymore. But then he wrote Kreutzer Sonata. Sofia, like everyone else, found the book harsh against women, family life and she was disturbed because everyone thought that Tolstoy had written his own family life. But even so, Sofia was the person who struggled for this book to be published, she herself went to the tsar to ask permission for the publication. Then she wrote her own book and strictly told that it would not be published before her death. The book tells nearly the same story from woman’s perspective.

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Candida Ghidini from Italy talked about intertextual relationships between cultures. “The western adventures of an eastern BASNYA. Tolstoy and the story of VARLAYAME AND İOASAF” was the title of her speech. She showed by photos and drawings of some reliefs from Italy, that an eastern tale had travelled west and then had found its way to Tolstoy’s work with another form. This was both a translation of forms and an intertextual translation.

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(At the break we walked around the estate of Tolstoy, Yasnaya Polyana – we walked through the woods and visited “the place of silence,” Tolstoy’s tomb which was in fact a small, simple, green bump on the ground. He had chosen this place, because this was the place where he had played with his brother as a child and this was the happiest place of his life.

Of course, we also visited the famous bank that Tolstoy loved to sit. We sat there and took pictures of each other like Tolstoy did.)

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Elina Kahla from Finland talked about “Lev Tolstoy and his Finnish contemporaries.” She told that Tolstoy had created a deep impact in Finland all his life. Finnish writers and artists had visited Yasnaya Polyana and they had all tried to carry Tolstonian thought to Finland. There were writers who had been killed in time of war, because they were pacifists and anti-militarist like Tolstoy. The first translations of Tolstoy had appeared in Finland and Tolstoy had been the northern star of translators.

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The sixth speech of the day was also from Finland. Markku Kivinen’s speech had the title “Lev Tolstoy’s influences on Finnish thinkers” and it perfectly completed Elina’s speech. Markku talked around the Finnish philosopher who was a realist writer and philosopher and also a Tolstonian – Georg Henrik von Wright. Wright had been a friend of Wittgenstein. He had praised Anna Karenina as the highest point of realism  and he had asked a simple question: “Tolstoy is against nearly everything, where does he get this idea?” Wright analyzed dualisms in Tolstonian thought and he had found that there was a link between the Russian populism, Tolstoy and Bolshevism. Bolshevist populism, with its idea of “likvidatsiya / liquidation” had links with Tolstonian (populist?) anarchism.

(This idea was not accepted by one of the speakers, Kosta and he argued that the three “populisms” were different concepts. And it was a very strange coincidence that Markku mentioned works of Richard Stites, a writer that I have translated just this year. His Revolutionary Dreams was published by Sel Publishing House, as “Devrimci Hayaller“. )

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Eva Malenova from Czechoslovakia talked about the Czechoslovakian visitors of Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy was deeply interested with the Czechs – there are paintings and books by Czechs in the house and on Tolstoy’s table. Tolstoy was also supporting the independence movements of Slavs.

Eva has made a discovery at a small bookshop last year. She has found a small book printed in 1925 in Prag which tells about Czech visitors of Yasnaya Polyana and she plans to translate this book into Russian.

*

Before the end of the first day, a workshop, a “master klass” in Russian with the title “L. N. Tolstoy’s War and Peace: problem of translation” took place and Hélène Henry-Safier from France directed it. The guests compared and discussed on two examples from two different translations: one was made in the middle of 20th century and the other was from the beginning of 21th century. There were striking differences and similarities, and Hélène showed that in the text that she chose the subject was clouded, there was “teatr tela” (theatre of body) going on, so the translator had to focus on it.

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At the end of the day there was a concert by two angels: Julina Ziganshina sang Russian romances from the 19th and 20th century; and Elena Frolova accompanied her with her own romances. Everyone was speechless and I remembered why I was working as a translator of Russian, I mean “the reason”, again.

THE SECOND DAY

The second day, Kosta Solev from Macedonia (who is in fact working at the translation studies department of Moscow) was the first speaker. He started a good discussion with his presentation: “On the problems of lexical repetition in L. Tolstoy’s English and Yugoslavian translations”. Using the word “durna” and its usage in Anna Karenina as a central example, he proposed that “durna” had been a word that had a lexical continuity in Tolstoy’s work and thought. Translators should at least be careful or give attention to this in order to have consistence in translation.

(The discussion has mostly centered on word choices, but maybe it could also be said that this is first of all a study for literary experts on authors – they could prepare dictionaries for important concepts, words of authors for translators and anybody else to use.)

*

Stanislaw Rubáš from Czechoslovakia made a speech which was very well accepted by everyone: “Collective translation as a method for making an intercultural interpretation of the literary text”. (This speech was effective also in evolving Kosta’s idea.) Stanislaw commented that it was possible to overcome the problems of working alone by working as a team of translators. They have given an example of this with the students at the university by working on one of Bulgakov’s texts: the collective translation has been published as a book and it has sold about 2000 copies to reach into second edition.

(This is of course similar to the translation made by the Union of Translators of Turkey – which was at that moment Union of Literary Translators – in Turkey: Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book was translated as Yastikname by about a hundred different translators, but the central idea and working conditions very different. Stanislaw’s concept has a really different perspective which could change – also which necessitates changing – the working conditions of publication industry.)

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At the break, we visited Tolstoy’s house which has been preserved as a museum. I plan to write about it in a detailed way later, now it’s enough to say that I had a photo with my t-shirt of Translators Society of Turkey there, to leave an impression.

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As the third speaker of the day, Vitaly Shentalinsky from Moscow did make a deeply shocking performance (it is not enough to say “a speech”) on an Old Russian book named Statir. The book was by a priest, it was lost for a long time, but with the help of some extraordinary people it was protected and as it was found again at the national library a couple of years ago, Vitaliy was asked to translate it from Old Russian. Vitaliy talked about how he was deeply affected by the book’s rich language, its beautiful poetry, its philosophical liveliness, in a way that everyone was affected. (It is so strange that I had no idea that I was listening to a man that changed the course of Russian literature in many ways, I saw that he was an extraordinary man, but as I searched the internet I was shocked.)

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Ljubinka Milincic from Serbia also added a different perspective to Vitaly’s approach with her speech on “The difficulties of translating to a similar language”. Remembering that the Russian and Serbian had the same Slavinian roots, Ljubinka told that in Serbian this root was better preserved, even after the language reform. There are many translators of Russian in Serbia, she said, but conditions of translation are not very well as the publishers pay poorly even for serious works. Television and internet has developed translational work, but still it would be good if travel could be easy like in the past. The most important problem has been the inconsistency in written language and Ljubinka underscored a thing very clearly: “The translator should be able to write in her language.” Ljubinka is a writer herself and her last book on Putin has been published in 2011.

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Alla Polosina from Yasnaya Polyana told an interesting and rich translational history with her speech: “L. N. Tolstoy’s tale ‘Three Bears’. History of its translation”.

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Julia de Florio from Italy has been the last speaker of the day. Her speech, “Three Deaths and Resurrection” created a link between the short story of 1859 and the novel published in 1899. With a rich analysis of Italian translations of the works, she showed that the most problematic translational elements are cultural and religious elements such as concepts of Christian religion, clothes, social positions and titles.

(This speech also created a wave of discussion, because many translators there had many experiences for these problems. I was also happy to be able to talk about my Oblomov translation, in which the most important original thing was Oblomov’s cloth, which the old translation translated with a wrong word choice – “hirka” – and made Oblomov look like an ascetic – which he certainly was not. Oblomov was wearing a schlafrock as his social position necessitated.)

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The day ended with two events: Visit to the Nikolo-Kochakovski Necropol, Tolstoy’s family cemetery (Bulgakov’s tomb was also there) and watching the film on a translator’s life, “Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten” which made us all very sad.

THE THIRD DAY

The first speaker was compositor and folklorist Tatiana Shentalinskaya with her speech on a very lively subject and with a very lively presentation: “Colorful hypostases of the meaning. Translational problems in the natural elements of one’s own language.” While commenting on a folk poem, she also sang it to show its meaning could potentially changed through the ages and translations.

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Svetlana Vlasenko from Moscow talked on the need of cultural variations and adaptations while translating folk tales. Her speech named “On the translation of Russian tales to English” started with her own experiences of translating folk tales in the 1990’s and developed to the analysis of examples by different translators. An interesting example was the transformation of a simple tsar in a Russian tale to “Terrible Ivan” in the English translation.

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Sabri Gürses, that is me, talked on the history of Pushkin translations, especially the history of Eugenie Onegin translations in Turkey, Vladimir Nabokov’s discovery of “Pushkin the translator” and how this little discovery could be helpful in commenting on the Turkish translations.

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Mary Hobson from Great Britain, who was the honorary figure of the whole seminar, presented her speech on “The translation of ‘Woe from Wit’”. It was in a way an analysis of her own translation, the difficulties in finding the rhymes and words necessary to make the poetical play clear to English readers, and at the same time building the same world with Griboedov. (Mary, a fascinating woman with a style, has learned Russian at the age of 58 and now has prizes for her translations. Her translation of Eugenie Onegin had just been published before the seminar.)

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Fulvio Franchi from Argentina talked about a subject which was not much discussed, but which is very important to understand Dostoevsky’s world: “Language of Mr. Golyadkin, the hero of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Double’. Difficulties for translation”. He commented that Golyadkin’s language, which Bahtin also noted as the starting point of dialogical style in Dostoevsky, was important and difficult with its peculiarities. (Franchi has used a kind of literal style in translation in order to show Golyadkin as he is to Spanish readers. And I felt like listening to my own double during the speech, because I had made similar comments in the preface of my Turkish translation of the book, İkiz.)

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Elena Freda Piredda from Italy had the speech with the longest title: “Russian books for reading. Different tendencies in Italian translations and their usage in education.” But her speech, unlike the title, had all that Calvino asked from modern texts: speed, liveliness, compactness and wit. With half-smiling comments she presented many examples of translational problems in the texts, showed that Tolstoy’s tales had become anti-Tolstoy and came to the conclusion that many texts were unusable.

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Zhou Quichao from China made a detailed presentation on the translation of classical Russian authors to Chinese. “Translation of classical works and formation of the literary image of Russia in modern China” was the title of his speech and he told that translation of Russian works has started early and nowadays translated Russian literature has reached to a high percentage that Chinese people are very familiar with Russian literature. Quichao is a translator himself and he told that translations are generally published with commentaries, prefaces, illustrations or photographs to help Chinese readers.

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Aleksandro Gonzales from Argentina had prepared his presentation as a workshop. The title of his presentation was “Family names in A. P. Chekhov’s story ‘A Terrible Night’”. This was a story that Chekhov had used the names of places and people to create a funny effect. Aleksandro distributed copies of the story to everyone and asked from the group to translate underlined place and family names to their own language. The result was interesting as each member of the group found different solutions. But Aleksandro’s main point was that a familiarizing effect could also be used, and this could be achieved by changing the names but saving the Russian suffixes. He showed a table that compared different translations of the story in Spanish: For example, the surname Panihidin had been used as “Panijidin, Funeralez and Funeralov” in three different translations.

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Aleksandr Kazachkov from Moscow made a live criticism of Selma Ancira’s translation to Spanish. This surprised everyone, because his title was “Bulgakov’s ‘İvan Vasilevich’ speaks ‘Spanish’” and there was no hint that this was Selma’s ‘Spanish’. Aleksandr was highly objective with harsh criticisms and sound praises. (This method of live criticism could be used in Turkey I believe, if both sides are gentle and wise enough, it creates a good intellectual environment like it did at the seminar.)

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As the last speaker of the seminar, Christina Lehmus from Finlandia talked “On the translation of Pavel Basinski’s ‘Escape from Heaven’” and commented about Basinski’s philosophy. (This is also strange: I saw Basinski’s book in Moscow and Tula, but I had no idea that Elif Batuman had been to a conference with Pavel Basinski – world becomes really small. By the way, this article must certainly be read by translators: A writer without residence)

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Presentation of the new translations of Tolstoy’s books and presents by the guests were made just before Aleksandr Kazachkov’s speech. Vasili Tolstoy, the inheritor and director of Yasnaya Polyana thanked everyone and talked about new cultural contacts and agreements with Russian authorities. After the announcement of new prizes, funds and programs of translation, he was asked about troubles of keeping Yasnaya Polyana alive and in order. Then he sadly told that there were some companies who had set eyes on the land of Yasnaya Polyana and even the Ministy of Culture helped, some legal problems were not solved yet. Everyone agreed to do what they could to preserve Yasnaya Polyana.

*

The day and the seminar ended with the concert of two angels again. This time Elena Frolova sang songs from Russian poetry and then Julina Ziganshina accompanied to Elena’s songs.

They were singing, a whole room of translators, literary critics and Tolstoy admirers were listening and the open window revealed a pastoral view with an open sky – it was just like a scene from Turgenyev.

Of course, at the very end of the day, there was a celebration with drink and songs, just like the scene in The Fiddler on the Roof, the book which I believe to be a good metaphor for translators’ life – just like the Tevye family, we would be leaving Russia soon.

(In fact, the seminar continued as a journey to Lermontov museum in Tarhan, but I had to come back to Turkey early for my son Krasniy Tigr.)

Thank you Tolstoy, Galina and Selma, and everyone that I met there.

*

PS: Turkish translation of this article would be happily received.  Tatiana Shabaeva was also there as a reporter, and you may see her piece in Russian.

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