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Archive for the 'Columbia University' Category

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: Between Dog and Wolf in Translation

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library intern and Columbia Russian Literary Translation MA student Elaine Wilson delves into Alexander Boguslawski’s translation of Between Dog and Wolf.

Sasha Sokolov’s novel Between Dog and Wolf is intimidating in its complexity: time is non-linear, character names are inconsistent, register moves along a wide spectrum from peasant dialect to sophisticated, even Biblical style, and the language is filled with neologisms. It is highly intertextual, astoundingly rich in its reference to Russian literary tradition across the centuries. Space, time, life and death are all uncertain—rarely is any one of them clearly demarcated—and events are told and retold from differing perspectives. And that’s just the content.

The structure likewise poses a challenge: dialogue, monologue and third person omniscient narration coexist on the page with no breaks, no indentation, no typeset cues or even general conventions of reported speech, but rather flow freely along in a train of associative (and sometimes seemingly unassociated) thought. Sokolov’s writing style belongs in a category all its own, a genre Sokolov himself categorizes as somewhere between prose and poetry, or “proetry.” And speaking of poetry, there are plenty of poems throughout, too—complete chapters of poetry tucked among the “proetic” sections of the novel.

How can something like this find its voice in a foreign language? For a long time, publishers and translators asked themselves that very question. When the Russian version of the novel was first published in 1980, critics gave it a rather mixed reception, and many within the literary community—capable translators among them—balked at the idea of an English-language version, suggesting it could never be done.

And yet it could. Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf is being published in English for the very first time, and so the idea of the “untranslatable” returns to the realm of translation mythology. Or does it?

I am a student of translation. Russian into English literary translation, to be specific, and so I feel a personal kind of victory in the release of this novel, a sense of celebration in a triumph over apparently insurmountable linguistic odds. Yet for all my excitement I still wonder about the inevitable losses that occur when we bring a literary work from one language into another; in the back of my mind I can’t help but hear Nabokov denouncing the “sins” of our “queer world of verbal transmigration,”* crying out that all translation but for literal, scholarly renderings are false. (Though perhaps Nabokov would find the most egregious transgression of all to be the lack of exhaustive notes on the same page of the referenced text, an organizational decision specified by Sokolov himself.)

Nabokovian doubt on the value of translation aside, can translation of something like Sokolov’s convoluted work be done well? The novel is difficult, packed with myriad obstacles that translators don’t frequently face, much less all at once. Puns, peasant dialect, a general sense of disorientation—translator Alexander Boguslawski tackles these challenges by the best means possible: culturally conscious creativity, or what Philip E. Lewis calls “abusive translation.” When a translator must force an idea from a unique mode of expression in the source text into a new linguistic framework, the translator’s job is to convey sense and meaning while still communicating the uniqueness of the source form in the receiving language. Often what “works” in Russian won’t work in English, and so the translator needs to “abuse” the text, that is, creatively engage the receiving language so that it can carry the meaning, the humor/ irony/ sadness, etc. and the unorthodox medium of the source in its new linguistic code. Consider Boguslawski’s translation of the Russian dva sapoga para: “two boots of leather flock together.” This is a clever blending of the Russian subject and English idiomatic structure to convey the literal scene—two characters sharing a pair of boots—and the spirit of collaboration implied by the Russian proverb Sokolov uses to describe them. The Russian, literally “two boots are a pair,” folds into “birds of a feather flock together” to create an English-Russian proverbial hybrid.

Why not simply use the English idiom here? Wouldn’t the spirit of the proverb be enough to convey the characters’ sense of comraderie? A translator could take this easy way out, but more than just sounding trite, the imagery would be lost, deafening the line’s descriptive power in Russian. Boguslawki does not take the easy road, and thank goodness, for his solution is lovely: it retains the visual and sense of the Russian while infusing some “foreignness” into the English text, an “abuse” that works in service of conveying the character and style that we experience in Sokolov’s Russian.

So much for linguistic obstacles. What about literary density? Again, Nabokov’s cynicism echoes in the back of my mind: the translator of a text “must have as much talent, or at least the same kind of talent, as the author he chooses.”* Between Dog and Wolf is packed with references to past and modern Russian artists, particularly Pushkin, something which only a reader with comprehensive, arguably exhaustive knowledge of Russian literary tradition would understand. Careful Russian readers have trouble identifying everything that is layered within the story, so how can we expect anyone but the most meticulous scholar to identify these layers, much less translate such a text? Of course, Boguslawski’s friendly relationship with the author establishes him as the closest thing to a Sokolov specialist for this translation, but Nabokov’s standards still reach impossibly high; in the case of this extremely learned text, is anyone capable of translation? Or perhaps the “untranslatable” does not exist, but is it possible that scholarly translation and Nabokov’s towering footnotes are the only recourse? If so, are there “prerequisites” in literary pedigree for both translators and readers of these works?

To silence this existential questioning I could turn again to literary and translation theory for inspiration, but I don’t need to. A novel’s complexity notwithstanding, translation is ultimately a dialogue between cultures and an exchange of ideas. And even though things are certain to get left by the wayside as they move from one linguistic and cultural framework to another, the receiving language and audience still gain. Perhaps readers won’t or possibly can’t identify all that the author has folded into the text, but this is an invitation to study, to revisit the story and look closer.. No matter how deep the reader chooses to go, reading a text in translation is an entry point into another literary tradition and culture that was previously closed; exhaustive research can be nice, but ultimately we have reason to celebrate because one group has gained insight into another, and that is a beautiful thing.

*Nabokov, Vladimir, (August 4,1941). The Art of Translation. The New Republic.
Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/62610/the-art-translation

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Excerpt from Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.
Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

This excerpt from Chapter 5 finds one of the principal characters, the erudite poet-philosopher Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, reveling in scholarly company at a publishing meeting-turned-party. Uncomfortable in his own skin, his social blunders launch the narration into recollection of awkward episodes past. This passage is the reader’s first formal introduction to Yakov and his interiority.

“And God only knows how long their confusion would have lasted if the porter Avdey, a sleepy peasant with a pitch-black beard reaching up to his dull and birdlike tiny eyes and with a similarly dull metal badge, did not come to say to the master that they should not be angry—the samovar completely broke and that is why there will be no tea, but, say, if needed, there is plenty of fresh beer, brought on a pledge from the cabbie, one should only procure a deed of purchase, and if in addition to beer they had wished to have some singing girls, they should send a courier to the Yar right away. Eh, brother, You are, methinks, not a total oaf, the policeman addresses the sentinel—and soon the table cannot be recognized. The prints and typesets are gone. In their place stand three mugs with beer, being filled, in keeping with their depletion, from a medium-size barrel that, with obvious importance, towers above the modest, but not lacking in refinement, selection of dishes: oysters; some anchovies; about a pound and a half of unpressed caviar; sturgeon’s spine—not tzimmes but also not to be called bad; and about three dozen lobsters. The Gypsies are late. Waiting for them, the companions arranged a game of lotto, and none else but Ksenofont Ardalyonych shouts out the numbers. Seventy-seven, he shouts out. A match made in heaven, rhymes Palamakhterov, even though he has no match. Forty-two! We have that too, the man from Petersburg assures, although again his numbers do not correspond. Deception of Nikodim Yermolaich is as petty as it is obvious, and as outsiders we are quite embarrassed for him; but the pretending of Yakov Ilyich stands out black on white. Possessing from his birth the enchanting gift of artistic contemplation, but being both shy and frail, now and then he tried not to attract attention to the fact that he was the one whom he, naturally, simply was not able not to be, since he possessed what he possessed. For that reason, probably, Yakov Ilyich’s attempts turned into complete blunders and consequently led not to the desirable but to undesirable results, again and again drawing to the gifted youngster uninterrupted, although not always favorable attention of the crowd. Do you remember how once, long ago, he let his mind wander, and a gust of the April chiller did not wait with ripping off the skullcap from his proudly carried head? It’s really not important that the street, as ill luck would have it, teeming with concerned well-wishers, kept admonishing the hero, warning: Pick it up, you will catch a cold! Ostentatiously ignoring the shouts, taking care not to look back, and arrogantly not stopping but turning the pedals forward and—cynically and flippantly chirring with the spokes, the chain, and the cog of free wheel—backward, attempting to present everything as if he had nothing to do with it, he continued riding, the way he definitely wanted it to be seen through the eyes of the side spectator, with melancholic detachment. But, you know, a certain superfluous stooping that unexpectedly for an instant appeared in the entire subtle look of the courier (exactly like his great-grandfather, his grandfather used to say), diminished, even nullified his efforts to make his bodily movements carefree, froze them, made them childishly angular and exposed the daydreaming errand boy, with his feeble straight-haired head, to the curses of the mob: Scatterbrain, dimwit—the street carped and hooted. And if it were, let us suppose, not simply a slouching chirring courier but a real humpbacked cricket from Patagonia, then, with such a mediocre ability not to attract attention, it would have been immediately pecked apart. But, fortunately, it was precisely a courier—a messenger-thinker, a painter-runner, an artist-carrier, and the nagging feeling that everything in our inexplicable here takes place and exists only supposedly did not leave him that evening even for a moment. That is how, either absentmindedly looking through the window or paging in the diffused light of a smoldering lamp through Carus Sterne—once respectable and solid, but now thinned, reduced by smoking and bodily urges, and yet, even now adequately representing the sole volume of this modest home library—Yakov Ilyich Palamakhterov, the incorruptible witness and whipper-in of his practical and unforgiving time, philosophized and speculated.”

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Columbia University Press at Columbia University

Each month we feature a new set of books by Columbia professors in a vitrine on the Columbia University campus:

February Vitrine

This month’s books include:

The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions
Richard W. Bulliet

Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy
Edited by Jean L. Cohen and Cécile Laborde

Practice Extended: Beyond Law and Literature
Robert A. Ferguson

A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind
David J. Helfand

Friday, June 19th, 2015

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

This week, University of Chicago Press blog features an In These Times interview with Micah Uetricht and Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars , about whether or not the great American culture wars are over. They argue that the Christian Right is largely a “lost cause” and have retrenched from the national stage in favor of smaller factions that debate out of the public purview.

Over at University of Minnesota Press, Ryan Thomas Skinner, an Assistant Professor of ethnomusicology at the Ohio State University, discusses the complex and ever shifting character of Malian music. Drawing from years of personal observation and scholarly research, Skinner argues that despite the cultural and political disruption of the March 2012 military mutiny, Malian music is far from “dead”. In fact, Skinner claims that Malian music is defined by the convergence of ethnic, religious, urban, economic, etc. positions under which it’s produced.

University of Illinois Press blog features a video of Corrupt Illinois authors, Thomas J. Gradel and Dick Simpson discussing the abundance of governmental corruption in the state. Though the news is saturated with high-level Illinois corruption with the recent investigation of Representative Aaron Schock and the indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Gradel and Simpson claim that they uncovered corruption at all levels of public government. From state, aldermanic, and city corruption, to county employee and suburban corruption, it appears Illinois’ long history of machine politics continues to haunt the Land of Lincoln.

What is the fewest number of guards per shift an art museum can employ without sacrificing the security of any of the pieces? This question is the focus of this week’s Princeton University Press blog post by Marc Chamberland, author of Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers. Chamberland explains how to calculate it in a snappy video embedded in the post.

At the University of North Carolina Press blog, Erin Smith, author of What Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth Century America, explores religious books’ lack of critical success despite their commercial popularity. In the post, Smith discusses the varying motivations of authors, publishers, and readers when it comes to religious scholarship.

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Columbia University Press Open House Event at the Columbia University Bookstore

On Tuesday, December 3 at 6:00 we are holding a special open house event for the Columbia community at the Columbia Bookstore. Editors, publicists, book designers, and other members on the press will be on hand to celebrate our newest books and discuss book publishing with students and faculty members. We look forward to seeing you there!

Columbia University Bookstore Event

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Around 1948 with Khalidi, Liu, Moyn, and Nelson

An event last week at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute brought together a fascinating panel to discuss the advent and the global impact of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fittingly titled “Around 1948: Human Rights and Global Transformation,” the panel discussion included four prominent authors from a variety of fields (they also all happen to be Columbia University Press authors): Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University; Lydia H. Liu, Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University; Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History, Harvard University; and Deborah Nelson, Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago.

Here is the video from the panel discussion:

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Columbia University Press at Columbia University

Columbia University Press Vitrine

We are very pleased to announce that Columbia University Press now has its own vitrine on the campus of Columbia University! The vitrine gives us a a great opportunity to feature some of the excellent books we’ve published by Columbia University faculty or authors associated with the school.

Since the picture above might be a bit difficult to make out, the first four books we’ve included are:

Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life
Axel Honneth
Axel Honneth is professor of philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt and the Jack C. Weinstein Professor for the Humanities at Columbia University.

The Columbia Anthology of Yuan Drama
Edited by C. T. Hsia, Wai-yee Li, and George Kao
C. T. Hsia (1921–2013) is professor emeritus of Chinese at Columbia University.

Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea: Freedom’s Frontier
Theodore Hughes
Theodore Hughes is associate professor of modern Korean literature and film in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University.

The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism
Dean Starkman
Dean Starkman is an editor and Kingsford Capital Fellow of the Columbia Journalism Review.

For a fuller, but by no means complete, list of other recent CUP titles by Columbia University Professors.