Reflections on Translation in Literary, Everyday, and Anthropological Practice

I put on academia-e-d-u my reflections on translation that I prepared for a seminar in linguistic anthropology. I might not be able to attend the seminar scheduled for October because of the delay of my student visa, but I figured, if I won’t record the thoughts that this invitation prompted in me, they will remain in the noosphere.

Thanks to Professors A.W. and C.H. for the opportunity to think about it.


Whenever we think about translation, it is about (mis)translation inasmuch. Vladimir Nabokov famously required another Vladimir Nabokov to translate his own work (the list of qualities of his ideal translator that he named narcissistically centered Nabokov himself, who, at least in his own assessment, of course, possessed all these qualities).  Some writers refused to translate themselves. Others, translating, transformed their own work to the degree it became an independent new work. The funny stories of mistranslations abound. In a sense, the situation when a speaker ventures into the unfamiliar territory of the new language brings risks. These risks are not unlike the risks that anthropologist experiences stepping onto the land where she did not live before—or even if she lived, in her new capacity of the researcher that defamiliarizes the familiar to her. The speaker of a language not mastered fully is in a similar situation. They are definitely outside of their comfort zone and up to surprises.

In my own practice, I used translation for the literary impossible purposes of recreating “the violet in the crucible,” by Percy Shelley’s expression, in my daily experience of living abroad from the country of my native language—Russia—for more than seven years, and in my anthropological practice. All these versions of translating things from one language into the other, from one culture into the other, were closely intertwined. I will begin with literary translation, talk about everyday translation, and finish with the translation in anthropological practice. The different ways to translate things lead to the Babylon point of bifurcation of the languages that might be not a curse but a blessing. All these instantiations are called into existence in order to be considered in the light of the main idea of this writing: there are no different languages; “language” is a social construct.

Before you frown at the triteness of the expression “social construct” or say “so, is everything social construct nowadays?”, allow me to elucidate my thesis. When I first heard myself to profess this conviction, which happened at a lecture of Expressive Culture at UT, Spring 2019, I was probably more surprised to hear it than anyone else in the audience. Yet,
~
Unfortunately, academia-e-d-u acting out and does not show the preview. I already wrote them about this and another piece that I uploaded and that I will introduce here soon, but it remains to be known how quickly they will fix it. But you can still download my talk (and write me a comment about it, too!)
Translation is a mystery that will never stop bothering me! I wish the same to you.
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Will

It is clear at this point that, no matter how hard I work for the rest of my life, I will not succeed in bringing to fruition the majority of writing projects that I already have, and that I will not be able to oversee them being published.

I am composing this list for my family and friends to know what to publish after I am dead. I would like to have my writings see the light. I will add things here as time passes.

I hope my husband and especially my son will make sure that these writings are out in the world. If that is not possible to publish them on paper, they must at least be uploaded in the electronic form; that is at any rate possible.

I would expect the author’s marginalia to be deleted from the text, the manuscript copywritten. Please work with the last versions; they are all dated (with negligible exceptions), some have numbers after the name of the title, use the file with the biggest number.

 

  • Debris of Utopia: Soviet Childhood and the Ruins of the Future
  • Pale Automaton (book of poems)
  • Compendium of Fieldnotes – change names, delete surnames
  • On Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology: Production of Ethnography Through Observation, Recollection, and, Occasionally, Forgetting
  • Meanderings (particularly the third part, Texas Landscape; TL can also go as a separate text)
  • Handwriting project (with photos)–just type the handwritten text and let C.C. write the preface
  • Siberian Photo Diary
    Things below are in the folder MainProjects:
  • hologram and flamingo superimposed
  • Introduction to (delete the list of names at the beginning)
  • Notes 2018
  • Selfie
  • Soft Sheen
  • The Book of Lovers
  • Letters from the Depths of Solitude (including Alfonsina, Countess of Dolyna, Sybil’s Book, and Monstrous Abbess–these are all in one file)
  • System of Mirrors
  • Writing (text titled “Writing” in the folder “Writing”)
  • Episodes
  • The King of Autumn
  • Cities of the Future: Landscapes of Nostalgia and Hope in Post-Industrial Eastern Siberia (I am actively working on this one right now and I certainly hope to make it work, but if I die tomorrow, it can be made into a PDF and uploaded anyway, this one with marginalia because such marginalia can help my fellow travelers).
  • Poems (let’s make sure that they are not only on Tumblr because platforms die)
  • One girl (https://twitter.com/onegirrrl)
    These are out there, but if the platforms that host them collapse, I would like them to still be accessible:
  • Anthro Notes
  • The Vicissitudes of Using English for the Purposes of Academic and Creative Writing in the Experience of a Non-Native Speaker: Convoluted Travelogue (Plus, Writer’s Change of Language: Nabokov and others–these can go together)
  • Lectures on Expressive Culture (8 uploaded, 4 not uploaded, in these 4, such things as greetings should be deleted)
  • Futures and Ruins: Eschatology of Devastation and Hope: Ethnography of the Duke University Workshop
  • You can also publish shorter bits and pieces, as well as poems, as you please, except for the ones that I sealed for the next 100 years; please respect my wish and do not look into folders I marked such.Please maintain my website or make sure that the texts available there are available somewhere else (http://www.vasilinaorlova.com/publications.html). I don’t mind all the works above being published on my website as well. If the “website builder” collapses, redesign.

 

In Russian

  • ПЯТЬ ЛЕТ XXI ВЕКА: Дневники на компьютере (дневники), другие дневники 2004-2008.
  • Мальгратский дневник (отсканировать).
  • Блог blog 2007-2010_on_vassilina_cih_ru (на полетевшей платформе, я скопировала всё, но там много текстов ошибок).
  • “Техасский дневник” и вообще всё в блоге после Лондона, после записи 28 авг. 2011 (см. “Лондонский дневник”, Издательский дом “Выбор Сенчина”, 2017. (http://vassilina.cih.ru/blog/)). (Файл Texasskiy_dnevnik в папке Newest_Russian_prose)
  • “Севочка” (в папке Seva, файл Sevochka02)
  • Стихи на русском языке (https://t.me/vasssilina и в фейсбуке – “Императрицын цыкл”, цикл про Франциска Сан-Францисского и т.д.)
  • “Одна девочка” (https://t.me/onegirrl)
  • “Сны о России”
  • “Какаду”, “Золотое зеркало”

 

Тексты ряда опубликованных повестей в папке vse-teksty-vyverennie (кажется, я все повести потом всё равно правила в других местах, но, по крайней мере, многие из них есть в этой папке, если вдруг надо для переизданий).

~

I am pleased to announce that I am all set and now ready to die any moment nonchalant.

The last edition 6/21/2019
The last edition 8/17/2019

ASEEES 2018 (December, Boston) Abstracts

For the American Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies convention in 2018, I am planning to do two things:

Present the paper “Affective Infrastructures and Mobility: the Soviet Sublime, post-Soviet Concrete, and post-post-Soviet Recursion” at the panel Alexandra Simonova and I organized, Politics of Belonging for Hybrid Identities: in the Shadow of the Soviet Sublime.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

I examine the tensions in the everyday life of people who engage with the morally outdated and sometimes malfunctioning infrastructures in remote Siberian villages on the shore of the Angara River. These villages came to life in their current form as a consequence of the Bratsk dam construction in 1954-61. Although the villages emerged as the result of infrastructural development, the infrastructures locally have been lacking from the start. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, their existence has drastically changed. How do people make decisions regarding their mobility in a place where the infrastructure is failing? Making use of what I call “affective infrastructures,” I connect the theories of affect (Deleuze and Guattari, Stewart) and the theories of infrastructure (Larkin, Simone) through the analysis of the intersecting points such as network-like structures, flow, exchange, and connection. I show how infrastructure generates affects as well as affects partake in the construction or repurposing of infrastructure.

The panel’s framework is as follows (Magdalena Stawkowski took part in polishing it):

How do tensions between new and old infrastructures throughout post-Soviet space, affect the ways in which people build and perform their identities and make everyday decisions? This panel brings together scholars of anthropology and regional studies (working in Crimea, Kazakhstan, and Siberia) doing interdisciplinary research on infrastructures and material objects in their production of hybrid identities, politics of belonging, and citizenship in the context of disparate and conflicting allegiances. Considering the Soviet period as a “lingering reverberation” that creates identities, sameness, and differences, we examine how old Soviet and new post-Soviet categories of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, health, and class, as well as generational divide, express themselves in practices of working through and reconstructing the narratives of living.

Taking into account the spatio-temporal phenomenon of the Soviet collapse allows us to not only concentrate on the peculiarities of performing hybrid identities in contested socio-cultural contexts, but also to speak to broader concerns of infrastructural development, ideas of progress and modernity, mobility, and precarity. The USSR-related experiences acquire a new importance in the today’s volatile political climate worldwide. The construction of infrastructural and architectural projects brought to life the affect of the Soviet sublime connected to a grand Soviet narrative. Today’s infrastructures are in disarray. Still, they are a part of the material and environmental settings where hybrid identities emerge and are performed. How people are making the everyday decisions in these material settings are the focus of this panel’s inquiries.

 

For the roundtable on literature and gender, I put together the final version of this talk just now; the talk is titled “‘I am a Little Poetess with a Huge Bow:’ Female Poets in Contemporary Russia.”

In this talk, I am reciting the originals of the poems by contemporary Russian poets Dana Kurskaya, Inga Kuznetsova, Irina Ysn, Alina Vitukhnovskaya, Luba Makarevskaya, as well as by Irina Odoyevtseva (1895-1990), alongside translations of these works by me and others. It is done in order to open the space to think through emergent poetics and points of imaginary cross-references. Imaginary, because these poets are from different groups; they are not connected to one another. What connects them then? A translator and reader’s arbitrary will. But is it arbitrary? Irina Odoyevtseva is a poet who foreshadowed some of the creative practices of the contemporary Russian poets by and large, and she is not as often spoken or widely read as Tsvetaeva or Akhmatova. Other poets all present different ways and tactics of navigating the cultural and “real” world; they build different universes of meaning and affect. I will analyze their creative practices (which are very different and include, for Kurskaya, a publishing project; for Kuznetsova, prose; for Ysn, jewelry making; for Vitukhnovskaya, political self-representation, and for Makarevskaya, art) in connection to their poetry. I will look at whether they position themselves as feminists, and if not or yes, why, and what does it tell us about positionality of female writer and poet in Russia, and why this positionality matters in regard to feminism. I will use the answers by the poets to the questions that arise in connection to their creative practices. My talk will enable other participants of the roundtable and the public to talk about different ways of navigating, expressing, or denying gender-related ideologies in poetry, but that will not be the center of it. The center of my talk will be poetry itself. I will show that all these poets are working with the aesthetics positioned on the edges of the respectability; in their writings, they consistently push the boundaries and limits of acceptable.

 

In the photo: an interior of a house in the village of Atalanka, Siberia. The picture is taken by the author in 2013

Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

Here is a recording of my lecture “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)” read for the course Culture and Communication at the University of Texas at Austin 9/28/2017. I listened to some of it; I promise, it is fun.

I will upload the text (which is slightly different from the talk) a bit later to this very same blog post; watch this space. UPD: Here it is, 10/2/2017: the text of my talk on Academia.edu. I still think to listen to the talk is more fun, but as matters go in all writing-related fields, what is unwritten, does not exist (see Derrida for the elaboration).

~

For my other recordings, please visit my page on SoundCloud. I am over the limit there though; to upload more, I must convert into a customer, and I am not ready for such a decisive step. I will upload my recordings here (I have one so far), all gathered under the title “Presentations and Talks.” Enjoy.

Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not)

I am very excited for the today’s lecture in the Culture and Communication class at the University of Texas at Austin that I am going to give: “Anthropology and Poetry: Different Languages (Or Not).” 9/28/2017

I am going to upload the text of the lecture later on my page on the Academia.edu.

Wish me luck!

The Only Poem Mentioning “Grant” in Existence

Preface of the Publisher (That is to Say, Me)

A while ago I had a project, called Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote. “Poems” consist of broken into lines passages from anthropologists’ works, which the authors themselves never had an intention–a wild idea–to break into lines.

Also recently, I got on Skype, which I do not do that often. And this is not a remarkable event worth mentioning by itself, but only in connection to the poem, which I found there to my amazement. This poem was written by my scientific advisor, Professor Campbell, during our conversation when for reasons of unstable internet-connection he could hear me but I could not hear him. Which made it a one-side communication poetry often is. The text is already broken into lines, and, although it was not intended as poetry, in this it shares the feature of many pieces of poetry. Even more, perhaps poetry written with an intention to write poetry is not poetry. And perhaps poetry is only poetry when it is written by chance and without intention. Without further ado, here is the piece (with the title I gave it):

 

Skype Poem

there are many
visual documents
photoessays
on soviet ruins

a grant
I received to copy
many slides
this is a good idea
it seems to me a strong visual component would be good for this project.

your photographs
plus archival documents
it is important because of
a very strong contemporary record of ‘ruin porn’

this is your response.

Baffling Disparity Between the Sound of the Word and its Surprising Meaning

“Stéphane Mallarmé, amazingly sensitive to the sound texture of language, observed in his essay Crise de vers that the word ombre is actually shady, but ténèbres (with its acute vowels) suggests no darkness, and he felt deeply deceived by the perverse attribution of the meanings ‘day’ to the word jour and ‘night’ to the word nuit in spite of the obscure timbre of the former and the light one of the latter.” (Jakobson, 1965, 34)
I surely did have this kind of wonder before, and articulated it.

Some Words

Some words mean just what
You would expect,
Like, onomatopoeia,
Struggle, breakthrough, dance, cooing,
Coconut, disguise, and latte.
They are transparent
In their look, sound, and the path of syllables alternating
Between stressed and unaccented
In an enduring rational succession;
On the chessboard of vowels and consonants
Former and latter
Measured in a reasonable balance.
Other words
Are just more elusive.
They seem to pretend to appear to be something
They are really not.
For instance, love*,
Hate°,
Scream^,
And dash`.
________________________________
*evidently, «love» should mean «a sort of yellow stretchy marmalade,» based on the way it sounds and looks
°a screeching of the wheels on the sharp turn
^tin pipes of the old red-brick houses
`a small golden fish hiding under the green log in a gleaming round pond shadowed by a willow
How much this feeling is amplified when you study a language that is not your native, is hard to convey. When I started speaking English, it was a constant source of feeling deceived and cheated on. Clearly “itch,” “notch,” “luminosity,” and “glory” are on the right places; but what about “vanguard” (a heavy fog), “darkness” (whiskers), “agglomeration” (a gluten-free sweet of sorts) and other ridiculous things? One can imagine a text written in this manner, but for it to be read it should be supplied with an ample commentary produced by the author.

Saussurean guess of “arbitrariness” of assigning the meaning to sound is not of much help. How does this arbitrariness come to life? Who orchestrates it and how? Language is perfected by all its speakers day and night, now how can it have this vortexes of inexplicable disparity between the sound and its meaning?
Reference

Jakobson, Roman. (1965) “The Quest for the Essence of Language.” Diogenes. 13(51): 21-37.

Poems by Famous Anthropologists They Were Unaware They Wrote

Bronislav Malinowski, I Watched Them

I watched them a long time
through binoculars
and waved my handkerchief–
I felt
I was taking leave of civilization.
I was fairly depressed, afraid
I might not feel equal to the task before me.
After lunch
I went out on deck.

 

Franz Boas, If I Undertake

If I undertake
to describe
some of my arctic experiences,
I cannot entertain you
with exciting adventures,
such as shipwrecks and narrow escapes,
for such were not my share.

 

Clifford Geertz. He decides

He decides,
For reasons I have never been quite able to fathom,
That you are real,
And then he becomes a warm,
Gay, sensitive, sympathetic,
Though, being Balinese,
Always precisely controlled
Person.
You have crossed,
Somehow,
Some moral or metaphysical
Shadow
Line.