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John Holbo - Editor
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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

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Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

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Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Monday, November 26, 2007

New Translation of War and Peace

Posted by Bill Benzon on 11/26/07 at 01:17 PM

James Wood reviews the new translation of War and Peace in The New Yorker.

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation gives us new access to the spirit and order of the book. Literary translators tend to divide into what one could call originalists and activists. The former honor the original text’s quiddities, and strive to reproduce them as accurately as possible in the translated language; the latter are less concerned with literal accuracy than with the transposed musical appeal of the new work. Any decent translator must be a bit of both. Though Tolstoy has been well served in English, his translators, like Constance Garnett, Rosemary Edmonds, and Aylmer and Louise Maude, have tended to be somewhat activist, sidestepping difficult words, smoothing the rhythm of the Russian, and eliminating one of Tolstoy’s most distinctive elements, repetition. Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are justly celebrated for their translations of Dostoyevsky, are closer to the originalist camp than to the activist. Without being Nabokovians (Nabokov used such clanking words as “mollitude” in his outlandishly literal translation of “Eugene Onegin,” and insisted on calling Stiva Oblonsky, in “Anna Karenina,” “Steve”), they want the English to sound as close to the Russian as possible, and they are fervent about the importance of “roughening up” their versions when the Russian demands it. Translation is not a transfer of meaning from one language to another, Pevear writes, but a dialogue between two languages.


Comments

Pevear and Volokhonsky have been discussed here and here.

The Russian translation world seems especially rife with controversy, and P&V have enemies. They also seem to have friends in the reviewing world. I don’t read Russian and have no opinion about their translations, though I’ve read their “Dead Souls” without incident.

By John Emerson on 11/26/07 at 05:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Constance Garnett made it almost impossible for me to discover Russian literature.

Pevear and Volokhonsky are peculiar. They can translate moderately funny, moderately serious, highly energetic authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky brilliantly.

When it comes to wildly comic, absurdist writers like Bulgakov and Gogol, they fall flat—while their translation of Dead Souls is competent, it isn’t nearly as funny as some of the others out there.

By Joseph Kugelmass on 03/21/08 at 05:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Russian translation world seems especially rife with controversy, and P&V have enemies. They also seem to have friends in the reviewing world. I don’t read Russian and have no opinion about their translations, though I’ve read their “Dead Souls” without incident.

By M.AKRAM12812 on 06/20/10 at 07:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Just read it today. Good choice by Pevear&Volokhonsky keeping all the french expressions.

By Xavier Zambrano on 12/13/10 at 07:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Nabokov in “Lectures on russian Literature” rips apart Constance Garnett.

By traduccion chino on 01/11/11 at 06:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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