& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Of Tagore, Tolstoy & translations - II

continued from the entry above...

Earlier this week, I got Leo Tolstoy’s How much land does a man need published by Calypso Editions. The publishing venture established in 2010 describes itself thus: “An artist-run, not-for-profit press dedicated to publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective.”

Boris Dralyuk has translated Tolstoy’s short story. I learnt from author Brian Evenson’s Introduction to the new translation that James Joyce described it as “the greatest short story the literature of the world knows.”

Evenson explains that the story is written in skaz tradition – a Russian oral folktale tradition. Skaz is a literary mode inclined towards the informal expressions of oral speech by a simple rural narrator, which creates potential distance between the narrator and the author (Boris Eikhenbaum, a Russian literary scholar and historian).

Dralyuk’s translation retains the skaz tradition that the earlier translations didn’t.

Evenson says, “Tolstoy offers a complex and irregular narrative texture, one that seems much close to modernist impulses than to the realism of Tolstoy’s novels...Earlier translations have generally smoothed out these deliberate irregularities, de-skazifying the skaz, making the story less oral and less informal, making it more deliberately literary, “correcting” the way in which the narrator’s voice from time to time infects the language of the characters themselves and even occasionally just out, disrupting the surface of the prose like a spine of jagged rocks zigzagging brokenly but sublimely through an otherwise placid lake.

"(Boris) Dralyuk’s translation of the character’s speech is deliberately a little more frenetic and disconnected, more like the rhythms of natural speech. It gives the impression that Pakhom (the protagonist) has just arrived at this particular thought and said it without thinking it through. In the (earlier) translation, on the other hand, Pakhom feels like a courtly stage actor trying to mine a peasant. We are already experiencing the tale at a distance, are already firmly ensconced in the realm of the ‘literary’ and the ‘significant,’ a realm that is hostile to the quickness and lightness (in Italo Calvino’s sense of the words) of the skaz tradition...These aspects of the story are precisely what separate it from Tolstoy’s work, making it distinct and powerful. Yet these aspects are precisely what have been minimised or effaced in earlier English translations. And that is why Dralyuk’s new translations is so important.”

Click here to buy the book: Calyspo Editions

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