This transposition of “The Nose” by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol represents the first publication of a story in this newly developed genre. It takes Gogol’s original narrative (about a man who loses his nose) and shifts it from Saint Petersburg, Russia in the 19th century to New York City in the 21st century on a systematic basis similar to translation.
In the essay accompanying his transposition, Henry Whittlesey explains some of the differences between translation, transposition, and adaptation, since transposition falls between translation and adaptation. The transposition of “The Nose” represents a purely literary transposition that retains the form and shifts the content of the original story. This essay looks into five important aspects related to a transposition of content: character, setting, consciousness, identity, and the narrator’s voice. As the content shifts from 19th-century Saint Petersburg to 21st-century New York, these five elements undergo various degrees of transfiguration, depending on the extent to which their manifestation in the original is commensurate with the given phenomenon in the present day.
This was the first English translation of Victory over the Sun, which was originally performed in 1913. A re-creation of the original 1913 production using Larissa Shmailo’s translation was held in conjunction with the exhibition The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910-1930: New Perspectives at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (July 8 – September 28, 1980), and at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. November 20, 1980 – February 15, 1981. This translation has also been performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and at theaters and museums internationally.
Original production credits: text by Alexei Kruchenykh; prologue by Velimir Khlebnikov; music by Mikhail Matiushin; and stage and costume designs by Kazimir Malevich.
Anatoly Gavrilov’s minimalist style is marked by extreme laconism and painstaking lexical and grammatical selection, which affords his stories a measure of heightened density. He belongs to what Osip Mandelstam called a “minor line” of Russian literature–the tradition that began with Nikolai Gogol, Evgenii Boratynskii, and Fedor Sologub, and continued in the twentieth century with Daniil Kharms, Leonid Dobychin, and Evgenii Kharitonov. While attention to word selection and style unites him with such Modernist master stylists as Bruno Schulz, Isaak Babel, and Vladimir Nabokov, his poetics are certainly more comparable to Kafka and Beckett. The marginally tragic-comical distance Gavrilov establishes to his narrators/protagonists is reminiscent of Robert Walser. Here’s an excerpt from a recent review of Gavrilov’s collection by Igor’ Klekh (translated by Sasha Spektor):
“Gavrilov is a grotesque, hallucinogenic, extremely formal writer–somewhat in the tradition of French literature. The exquisite style together with the notorious atrociousness of the described subject, the absence of falsity–this is all that Gavrilov can offer to his real, potential, and hypothetical readers. The music that he, in his words, “hates,” determines the construction of his texts. Rhythm is the main structural element of Gavrilov’s prose. While the words can be chosen randomly, what’s important is their repetition, each time performed with a precise degree of difference. This dance of the simplest words, the whirlwind of dance positions hypnotizes the reader.”
Polina Barskova is known as one of the best Russian poets of her generation. She has won a number of awards for her poetry.
Known for his famous definition of Acmeism as “nostalgia (or thirst) for world culture,” in the later poem of 1933 Osip Mandelstam wrote: “Do not tempt foreign tongues–attempt forgetting them, alas,/Because your teeth will never bite the glass,” which seems to deny everything he believed.
Having gone through all the circles of earthly hell and purgatory and anticipating his own arrest and perhaps death, Mandelstam, nevertheless, claims that heaven is a “lifetime home” creating thus his own pattern of “Paradiso terrestre.”
The “Slate Ode” is one of the most esoteric poems in Mandelstam’s creativity. The poet is known for his exceptional manner of hiding allusions and destroying bridges-associations.
Omry Ronen in his profound book An Approach to Mandelstam made diachronic and synchronic analyses of “The Slate Ode” and “January 1, 1924.”(1) While restoring the bridges in these of Mandelstam’s poems written in 1923, Ronen hit the right target and even created a kind of a history of the Russian verse from Lomonosov and Derzhavin to the twentieth century on the one hand, and connected Mandelstam’s prose, essays, and poetry on the other, by thus achieving a striking and sometimes a superfluous effect as, for example, in his citations of the use of blazhen and blagosloven (blessed) in Russian poetry: since Derzhavin and especially Pushkin there was hardly a Russian poet who did not use these words.
Although there is an evident affinity between Roald Mandelstam and Silver Age poets such as Blok, Gumilev, and Osip Mandelstam (to whom he bore no relation), his poetry differs from theirs in its distinctive syncretic imagery, vision, and intonation. Moreover, he is an existential poet and, as such, continues the highest traditions of the Russian poetry from Derzhavin and Tiutchev to Gumilev and Osip Mandelstam.
Kirill Medvedev, in a review of the third posthumously published book of Mandelstam’s work, compared his poetry to the French les poètes maudits. But Mandelstam’s lack of agonism, decadence, and narcissism resist that designation. It is notable that his closest friends were underground Petersburg artists of the so-called Arefiev circle, rather than literati.
Mandelstam’s work was rediscovered by Mikhail Shemiakin, who published his poetry in the almanac Apollon-77, and K. Kuz’minskii, who published selected works in the anthology U Goluboi Laguny (At the Blue Lagoon). Kuz’minskii came to a contradictory conclusion: on the one hand, he regarded Mandelstam as peerless, but on the other hand, he claimed that the poet was a “typical representative of constructive eclecticism.”
Grigori Dashevsky was born in Russia in 1964. He has published four books of poetry and a number of critical articles and translations from English and French. He was short-listed for the Andrei Bely prize. He is considered by many to be the youngest “classic” in Russian poetry. Appropriately, his poetry often utilizes rhythms found in Ancient Greek and Roman poetry. As the poet Elena Fanaylova writes, “Dashevsky’s poetry approaches something biologically real, something that is mainly located outside of literature’s administration. It approaches an impact. An experience. It recreates its power, evoking gratitude from those who still haven’t lost the skill of poetic reading.”
Leonid Schwab, a Russian-language poet, was born in Bobruysk, Belarus in 1961. Since 1990, he has lived in Israel. Schwab’s poems have been published in a number of prominent Russian-language literary journals, both in print and online. In 2004, Leonid Schwab was included in the shortlist of the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize. In 2005, he published a book of poems called Poverit’ v botaniku (To Believe In Botany). In 2008, together with Fedor Svarovskiy and Arseniy Rovinskiy, Leonid Schwab published a compilation of poems under the title Vse Srazu (All At Once). The book was very well received by literary critics and regarded as a manifestation of a new poetic trend, the “New Epic,” which the authors define as “narrative texts with metaphysical content.” As one critic wrote of Schwab’s poetry, “his poems move in the rhythm of Pushkin’s fragments. However, the plot doesn’t form, instead thickening as a small cloud, changing as the air changes after the military curfew has been announced.” Schwab’s poetry does not yield to the habitual tricks of experienced readers. His distinct, deliberately impersonal style introduces the reader to fascinating and unfamiliar contexts, where all conventions of language and art appear fractured and yet not altogether abandoned.
Semyon Khanin, a Russian-language poet, was born in Riga, Latvia in 1970. His original works have been published in Latvia, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Ukraine. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Just Now (2003) and Missed Details (2008). His poetry has been translated into Latvian, English, Czech, German, Italian, Swedish, Estonian, and Ukranian. He is a participant in the literary project “Orbita” (www.orbita.lv), and editor of the almanac with the same name. As the poet Yuliya Idlis writes, in Khanin’s poetry “we see the process of an endless stratification of the lyric subject, the divison and the fragmentation of the “I” into tiny and often not quite anthropomorphic particles. At the same time, there’s a constant search for wholeness, unending pursuit of the proofs of the subject’s existence, a torturous struggle for self-identification.”
Oleg Yuriev, a writer of poetry, prose, and drama, was born in Leningrad in 1959 and has been living in Frankfurt, Germany since 1991. During the Soviet era, he participated in Leningrad’s unofficial cultural life (the “Kamera Khranenia” group). Since the late 1980s, his original works have been published and staged in Russia. Yuriev’s plays and prose have been translated into English, German, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian, and French, and performed in Russia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, and Ukraine. Yuriev has had multiple publications in Russian, Russian diaspora, and German magazines. His poems have been translated into English, German, Italian, and French.
Publications include Two Short Plays (1990); the poetry collections Stikhi v Nebesnom Nabore (Verses in Heavenly Font, 1989), Izbrannye stikhi i khory (Collected Poems and Quires, 2004), and Frankfurtskii vystrel vechernii (The Frankfurt Evening Shot, 2007); the prose collections Progulki pri poloj lune (Walks Under the Hollow Moon, 1993), Frankfurtskii byk (The Frankfurt Bull, 1996); and the novels Poluostrov Zhydiatin (Zhydiatin Peninsula, 2000) and Novyi Golem, ili Vojna starikov i detej (New Golem, or the War Between Old Men and Children, 2004). He has seven books of prose in German translation, the last four published by Suhrkamp.
The signature tension in his poems is often derived from putting parts of the natural world–flora, fauna, changes of season, meteorological conditions–into positions of conflict, causing the texts to resemble a battlefield. This tension is mirrored by the intricate phonetic combat within the texts. The density and the dizzying succession of alliterations and consonances ultimately confer to Yuriev’s poems a lightness that the translations featured here attempt to preserve.
Aleksey Khomyakov (1804–1860) was a Russian religious philosopher, historian, economist, poet, painter, engineer, and inventor. He was the leader of the Slavophiles and promoted the idea of Pan-Slavism based on the principles of Orthodoxy. His early poems, created within the framework of romanticism, are concerned with the inner unity between the spirit and nature. Later he drew the most important source of his poetry from Orthodox Christianity. His theological writings influenced Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Solovyov. Khomyakov’s poetry remains largely untranslated.
Minimalism? Stevens, “the nothing that is”; Williams, “a machine made of words.” Economy of means, focus on surfaces, concreteness, eschewing figuration, making silence and absence present, self-effacement, and the spareness of Suprematism. In the American context, Robert Morris, “Maximum resistance to…perceptual separation” inviting the viewer’s participation and co-production in the creation of meaning. Donald Judd’s “Specific Objects” and their “indeterminancy of arrangement” making for unclassifiable art “between” painting and sculpture, challenging the poetry/not poetry distinction, non-Art references and the use of industrial materials akin to citation, cliché, common speech, public announcement, advertising slogan, proverb, etc. But also Zen, a nearly spiritual pursuit, and human voice as sound sculpture. Not a movement: “Minimalism is not really an idea; it ended before it started” (Sol LeWitt). In the Russian context of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a resumption of the ‘30s generation’s Absurdism, the naïve populist lyric of the war generation with its creation of a sphere for private utterance, a truly subversive act, parody of ‘50s Socialist Realism through coding, implication by omission, and ironic critique of the Soviet status quo. The emergence of Russian Conceptualism and so called SotsArt (Russian Pop Art). Yes Irony, but also pathos and a kind of aesthetics of exhaustion, both of the personal and of the historical kind. Minimalism: that legal definition of pornography: I know it when I see it. Enough said.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).