Rendering Russia’s literary masterpieces into English

Orlando Figes

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. Since the publication of their acclaimed version of The Brothers Karamazov in 1990, they have translated fifteen volumes of classic Russian works by Dostoevsky, Gogol, Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, restoring all the characteristic idioms, the bumpy syntax, the angularities, and the repetitions that had largely been removed in the interests of “good writing” by Garnett and her followers, and paying more attention (in a way that their predecessors never really did) to the interplay or dialogue between the different voices (including the narrator’s) in these works—to the verbal “polyphony” which has been identified by the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin as the organizing principle of the novel since Gogol.

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Mark Thwaite (Ready Steady Book) posts an extract from Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essays:
Simone Weil
Simone Weil

The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live. It is mostly a matter of tone: it is hardly possible to give credence to ideas uttered in the impersonal tones of sanity. There are certain eras which are too complex, too deafened by contradictory historical and intellectual experiences, to hear the voice of sanity. Sanity becomes compromise, evasion, a lie. Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness. The truths we respect are those born of affliction. We measure truth in terms of the cost to the writer in suffering—rather than by the standard of an objective truth to which a writer’s words correspond. Each of our truths must have a martyr. (more…)

Charlotte Higgins (The Guardian) on the continuing relevance of a 3,000-year-old poem

Many wishing to make sense of wars in their own time have reached for The Iliad. Alexander the Great, perhaps the most flamboyantly successful soldier in history, slept beside a copy annotated by his tutor, Aristotle. “He esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge,” according to Plutarch’s biography. Simone Weil’s essay, “L’Iliade ou le poème de la force”, published in 1940, holds that “the true hero, the true ­subject at the centre of The Iliad is force”, which she defines as “that X that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing”. (more…)