READING NOTES ON RUSSIAN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY.

Kenny Cargill has a relatively new blog on Russian history, culture, language, and literature (“I will also be discussing many readings from my M.A. thesis treating Fyodor Dostoevsky’s significance as a public intellectual and journalist during the 1870s”); it’s been around since August 2010, but there are only seven posts so far. The two most recent are a review of The Translator in the Text: On Reading Russian Literature in English, by Rachel May, which I got for Christmas and am looking forward to reading. I found this paragraph a little odd:

If readers could only become familiar with some translation theory, then perhaps they would be receptive to these more avant-garde translations. In particular, Lawrence Venuti in his The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation has contributed the notion of “abusive translation,” meaning translation that deliberately subverts English stylistic conventions, in providing an academic framework in which to appreciate translations that privilege fidelity to the original text’s linguistic structure over all other considerations. Such a technique is ultimately bound to contribute more to the literature of the target language: “If a work is worth translating, then it should not just slip unobtrusively into the target language. It should be allowed to stretch and challenge that language with the same vitality that its original possesses — possibly even a greater vitality, born of new linguistic and metaphorical contrasts” (8). The problem is, however, that most English-language critics and readers, and particularly those monolingual readers who have no way of understanding or appreciating how the target-language translation mimics the source-language text, will naturally privilege fluency, comprehensibility and even some stylistic normativity over experimentation.

The very name “abusive translation” suggests that it’s a bad thing, but it’s described as a good one. The problem (in my view) comes when the alleged mimicry of the source-language text, rather than preserving “the same vitality that its original possesses,” is actually adding an apparent vitality (or Verfremdungseffekt) that is not there in the original; this is precisely the problem with the much-lauded Pevear and Volokhonsky, and I disagree that the pushback against them means that “we as readers in English want to read translations that adhere to John Dryden’s ‘imitation’ principle of translation, that is we want to read what Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pasternak would have written had they been born in England or America, and not in Russia.” I would say rather that it means we want exactly as much weirdness as the author put into the text and do not need added weirdness sprinkled in by the translator for the frisson of exoticism. At any rate, I look forward to reading more by Cargill, whether I agree with a particular point or not. The waterfront he covers is one I frequent myself.

Comments

  1. There certainly is something wrong about literally imitating a language’s syntactic structures and idioms when translating it: the problem being that however weird this sounds in English, it doesn’t sound weird in the original language. I mean, how would it sound if when translating Turkish, we didn’t say “I have two books”, but rather “There is two book on me” (i.e. “İki kitap bende var”)? So okay, the theory isn’t proposing anything that extreme. So in fact, the translator just inserts enough unfamiliarity to sound suitable in their subjective opinion, creating their very own “Turkish-in-English” dialect. This is something that literary authors have been known to do on occasion I think (can anyone think of an example?) to convey that part of their narrative is in a different language. Its suitability for translation is much more debatable.

  2. Another problem is that when I, as a relatively sophisticated reader, encounter a translation that I recognize as replicating an alien structure from another language (along the lines of the Turkish example in Vasha’s comment), it just looks to me like the translator doesn’t know what he’s doing enough to recognize it. So instead of impressing me with his sophistication it only has the effect of making stop reading.
    (Once I was reading a Russian translation of Homo Faber in which there appeared a “девушка с рыжеватым конским хвостом” (girl with a reddish ponytail). Now, a ponytail is in fact called a “конский хвост” in Russian, but the term isn’t nearly familiar enough to be used without quotation marks or some other indication that a haircut is being discussed. In context I couldn’t help but imagine an alluring centaur-girl wandering the airport.)

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    On “abusive” being good: the same sentence goes on to use “deliberately subverts” in what is clearly intended to be a praiseworthy context. Only an uncosmopolitan bumpkin from outside the academy would think that “deliberate subversion” was to be condemned rather than praised, right? It follows that “abusive” is likewise a praiseworthy characteristic.

  4. a translation that I recognize as replicating an alien structure from another language … So instead of impressing me with his sophistication it only has the effect of making me stop reading.
    Same here. The proof is in the putting, not in wild-eyed drives down the fairway of can-do theory. Look what happened to Walter Faber.

  5. But what exact difference are you positing between “what Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pasternak would have written had they been born in England or America” and a translation “exactly as much weirdness as the author put into the text”, without “added weirdness sprinkled in by the translator for the frisson of exoticism”?
    It seems to me that they are two ways of saying the same thing. They even have similarly implausible stipulations attached: of course Tolstoy couldn’t have grown up to be the “same” person (except speaking English!) if he’d grown up outside Russia. But OTOH how can you possibly “equalize the weirdness” when the very names of the characters reverberate differently in different cultures?

  6. If I understand your question, Matt, no — they aren’t two ways of saying the same thing. As a translator, I want my English-speaking readers to have as close to the same experience reading a text as the Russian-speaking readers had with the original. So if the Russian speaker glides over a common idiom in Russian, doesn’t note it as marked or odd, I don’t want to “abuse” English by translating the idiom literally. That would be marked and odd in English in a way that the Russian text isn’t.

  7. Sorry, I must have been unclear. I do see the difference between “abusive” translation and the approach you describe. And in general I agree with you that the latter approach yields more pleasant results, although I do enjoy experiments in the “abusive” tradition and have been known to indulge in such myself.
    What I don’t see is the implied difference in Hat’s last paragraph between (1) “what Tolstoy would have written if he’d been an Anglophone [and yet magically still the same person]” and (2) “what Tolstoy wrote in Russian, translated into English in a way that eschews unnatural attempts to reproduce Russian idioms, word order etc.” They seem to be the same ideal described in different ways (one positive, one negative).

  8. Hat, I would like to report abuse of the words “abusive”, “subvert”, “challenge” and “privilege” in the quoted passage. It’s a miracle that the word “transgressive” is not also being slung around. That kind of stuff is such a pain in the butt.

  9. The “if Tolstoy had been born in the UK” version would be something like having peasants call each other “mate” and Levin saying “I say, old chap, brisk morning with a bit of pea soup, eh?”
    The translation eschewing “unnatural word order,etc” version would be “And then the door creaked open”
    The version of P/V and Venutti would be: “And then creaked open the door.”

  10. Certainly at the verbal level we don’t want extra weirdness just for ‘tude. At larger levels of organization, though, it can’t be helped: I don’t want to read a book about American prisons called A Day In The Life Of John Dennison, nor see a novel about ordinary Tibetan people turned into Ordinary People.
    Furthermore, an author may do what a translator should not. When a book in English represents people speaking Spanish or Irish, it’s quite legitimate to use a sort of Spanish or Irish translationese to represent this, in the manner of Steinbeck, Hemingway, or James Stephens. There’s a subtle use of it in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, where the protagonist Shevek is being addressed for the first time in Iotic, a foreign language of which he only has book-knowledge. He hears Is he sure he’s all right?, and then remembers that the third person in Iotic serves as the polite second person — his native language Pravic, like English, makes no T-V distinctions. Later on in the book, however, the Iotic is rendered into standard English, showing that its conventions are now transparent to Shevek’s ear.

  11. I like that example from Le Guin. Thomas Mann’s characters – for instance in Zauberberg, which I reread recently – always speak a kind of high-flown German. It may be lame-winged high-flown, as when foreigners (Polish/French translationese) or ignorant rich bourgeois are talking, but it’s never demotic or (apart from a few tiny occasions) dialectal.
    I believe he simply arranged things in his plots so that average folks are not called upon to speak. Mann countenances only one variety of ‘tude – his own patrician, polished kind. Any attempt to introduce creative abuse into an English translation of his novels must fail utterly. English versions of Mann are as a rule hopelessly wooden anyway, so throwing subversive logs on the fire will only make it smoke the more.

  12. But why assume that a “Tolstoy born in England” translator will go to such extremes while a “Recreate Tolstoy naturally” translator will not?
    Surely I could just as easily argue that the “English Tolstoy” translator would have the good sense to know that even speaking English, Tolstoy would be too broody and deep (man) to say “Pip pip, old chum!”, but the “Tolstoy naturally” translator would surely try so hard to normalize everything for us that we would end up with “The Really Quite Severe Illness of John Ellison, Esq.”. And no fair saying “well obviously you wouldn’t go THAT far” because any guidelines or common sense you stipulate for translator B can also be granted translator A. Do you see what I mean?

  13. I’m not sure this is so black and white, with “text-weirding” of the P&V variety on one hand, complete normalization on the other, and nothing in between. Some books make a conscious break with written conventions, which is both difficult and necessary to convey in translation. For example, Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor opens with

    And so let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, alwaies keep the Structure intirely in Mind as you inscribe it. First, you must measure out or cast the Area in as exact a Manner as can be, and then you must draw the Plot and make the Scale.

    The Russian translation goes

    Итак, начнемте. Да помните: наблюдая, как сооружение на глазах Ваших обретает форму, всегда в голове держите все строенье целиком, таким, каким оно Вами начертано. Первым делом надлежит Вам отмерить или же расчесть место для него манером самым наиточнейшим, за сим сделать рисунок и установить масштаб.

    It’s a good try. The translator could have easily ignored the peculiar style and diction and just translated it with an eye to “smooth legibility.”

  14. One of the problems with translating from Japanese is that sometimes the “weirdness” comes at the narrative level, not just at the syntactic level. So whereas Vasha’s example of Turkish is clearly wrong in English, what do you do with a language where topic sentences come at the end of a paragraph? Where the whole way of thinking is post-posed/reversed, from an anglophone point of view?
    This is one of the reasons Japanese writing tends to have a just-out-of-reach feeling in English, which is what contributes to a lot of the wobby/sobby mystical image it has. It’s also one of the reasons the translator of Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (whose original title, appropriately enough, is 世界の終りとハードボイルドワンダーランド — sekai no owari to haadoboirudo wandaarando, aka The End of the World and Hardboiled Wonderland) did a lot of rearranging of paragraphs.
    It’s an approach that I think can be justified in Japanese, but you have to have a very understanding editor.

  15. The first historical novel I ever read in English, James Clavell’s SHOGUN, also makes use of this “exoticizing” effect: conversations among the Japanese were written in a kind of English that was both oddly bookish and containing many word-for-word translations of Japanese expressions, quite unlike the ordinary English used when representing the conversations among Europeans (who for the most part were supposed to speak Dutch or Portuguese). This reminded the reader that the Japanese on the one hand, and the Europeans on the other, lived in very different mental and cultural universes. A wise choice, I think, inasmuch as culture clash/shock (between the Japanese and Europeans) is a major theme of the novel.

  16. But that wasn’t a translation, so it was appropriate (insofar as that kind of thing is ever anything more than a gimmick).
    Shogun is a good example of a challenge for a translator, though, because they would have to exoticize the translation in the right places.

  17. General discussions of translation technique might be simpler if in them the possibility were taken seriously that some texts simply cannot be reproduced or even approximated in certain other languages/cultures. There is a small Korean restaurant in Cologne, the front window of which displays faithful replicas, in colored plastic, of the meals offered. You would never guess from these pleasing artefacts that kimchi is completely ungeniessbar.
    [As a public service, and out of consideration for Hat's nerves, I have here suppressed a Luhmannesque passage in which I set out some further views on this matter.]

  18. @Matt: You raise an interesting point. As I see it, the difference is that something can remain palpably and noticeably Russian (such that English readers would, unavoidably, have a somewhat different experience of the book) without making a point of being weird and exotic by using too-literal translations that do not convey the original. O.K., so maybe Russian is a bad example. Substitute a less weird/exotic culture, to taste. ;-)

  19. What we’re forgetting here is the reader. You have to assume a reasonably intelligent/informed reader in order to make a proper translation. You can’t cater to people who won’t get it no matter what (obviously), and you also can’t cater to the bilingual brainiacs in the faculty lounge, where all the harebrained stuff about “subverting the language” comes from.
    Our intelligent and well-informed monolingual reader will understand when certain things are just going to sound non-native, like the words to a folk-song, or a joke, or a description of some culture-specific artifact. What he won’t expect, however, is strangeness in those universal interactions all humans take part in, like a husband telling his wife good morning.
    You also have to consider the type of text you’re translating. An academic annotated translation of a classic is going to stick to the original a lot more closely, because its readers will presumably be interested in knowing what the original is like, maybe even have studied the language of the original. If you’re translating a mid-brow police thriller, you might transplant a character’s reference to a Japanese TV detective by using “Columbo” instead (like I’ve done), because the whole point of the character’s comment is to share a cultural reference with the reader, and “This guy’s just like Ninzaburo Furuhata” would just leave a question mark bouncing up and down over the reader’s head, which is the exact opposite of the effect intended by the author.
    There are a lot of variables you have to take into consideration, but the reader is the most important. Which shouldn’t be surprising, since the reader is the most important thing a writer has to take into consideration, and translation, at bottom, is just writing.

  20. I’m not sure this is so black and white, with “text-weirding” of the P&V variety on one hand, complete normalization on the other, and nothing in between. Some books make a conscious break with written conventions, which is both difficult and necessary to convey in translation.
    While your first point is unassailable (since hardly anything is black and white, especially when it comes to translation), your second does not support it. Nobody would argue about a book that makes a conscious break with written conventions; of course that should be somehow conveyed in translation. The question is whether a book that reads perfectly normally in the original (a detective novel, say, that sounds just like an ordinary detective novel, with no stylistic fireworks or deep allusions) should read as exotic in translation. Obviously on one level the exoticism can’t be helped; if it’s a Finnish mystery set in a small Finnish town, a lot of stuff is going to seem exotic to an English or American reader (and in fact that’s one reason people read foreign mysteries). But that issue should be separated from exoticism at the sentence/dialog level; when P&V put “my little dove” in their translation as though it were a perfectly ordinary endearment in English, I want to have their translating license removed and destroyed.

  21. Stu: As so often happens, your comments leave me happily irritated and wanting to respond.
    I take it for granted that people who seriously discuss translation acknowledge that some stuff is particularly hard to translate, and that there is no such thing as perfect translation. But “simply cannot be reproduced or even approximated“? Really?
    Kimchee is not ungeniessbar. I know this because I selbst have it genossen. It tastes better, in fact, than a plastic replica possibly could. But I can see that for those who prefer sauerkraut the kimchee might taste worse than the plastic replica. What’s your point?
    And don’t tease us by sitting on the Luhmannesque. The luminosity shining out around your ass is distracting.

  22. But “simply cannot be reproduced or even approximated“? Really?
    Really. I gave as an example the novels of Thomas Mann. Translated versions of these are plastic replicas that please some people, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I forgot to mention that the restaurant sells the mocks as well as the meals.
    Note that I said discussions about translation technique might become simpler with the assumption that (to put it another way) not everything is possible and can-do-able by the brave-hearted. Among other things, it might become easier to accept that excellent translations are rare, unpredictable and due to translators with unusual abilities, when and if they appear on the scene. My own view is that the question of what makes for a good translation is reducible to the question of how a translator can learn to be outstanding at his job. But then you might as well discuss the most general question of all: how a writer can learn to become an outstanding writer.
    Some things can be learned in creative writing courses, but not how to write or translate Zauberberg. I do not regard translators as an inferior kind of writer.
    Kimchee is not ungeniessbar.
    Is depends on the consumer, as marc put it so well above in his comment starting with: “What we’re forgetting here is the reader …”. I was a bit surprised by his remark that “the harebrained stuff about ‘subverting the language’” comes from “the bilingual brainiacs in the faculty lounge”, but he’s probably right. My general idea in the past has been that that stuff was a lame excuse – coming from people who either were not bilingual, or if bilingual were unable to express themselves well in both languages, or else were too lazy to make the effort.
    And don’t tease us by sitting on the Luhmannesque.
    In view of all the flak I recently got from you and Hat about Advanced Thinking in my comments, surely you don’t believe I’m so stupid as to fall for that ploy. At most I expected praise for my sarcastic restraint, not renewed criticism for yielding to previous criticism. I guess it’s like translation: you can’t please all the people all the time.

  23. Oh, and thanks for the hint – I’ll go see a doctor tomorrow about that luhmannassity.

  24. My experience in recent years with reading Spanish-language novels translated into English (Marias, Marquez, Bolano) is that they seem to have a unity of, for lack of a better word, style that makes them recognisable to my eyes as coming from something similar. I wouldn’t say this ‘something similar’ is culture as I’m not sure that you can really say they all come from the same culture (Spanish, Columbian, Chilean – is hispanic culture that unifying?) Rather I think it is more of a case that certain translators have succeeded over a couple of decades in effectively defining a translation style for Spanish-language literature – Gregory Rabassa’s translations of Marquez were defining for the literature perhaps? Schleiermacher wrote about how it wasn’t enough to translate just one work to influence a culture, but instead most of the works by an author should be translated so that the ways of expression can be distilled from a larger sample.
    Note: I haven’t had this feeling with the translations of the classics from German and Russian literature – and haven’t read any recent translations from either language (I’ve been preferring to read contemporary German novels in the original).

  25. Thank you for the comments. I found the whole notion of abusive translation rather strange too (perhaps I should have made that clearer in my post), but as you will discover May thinks it is a strategy that helps the translator assert his or her importance: “[T]he beauty of recent theories of ‘abusive’ translation is that the translator gains a role rather than losing one: the stretches and distortions of the target language ‘belong’ to the translator at least as much as to the author” (87). But I think that you are right that there is a confusion here: if the language of the original isn’t unnatural or otherwise experimental, then the translation should not sound that way. But then again, the texts and their translations that May chooses to discuss are often anything but plain-vanilla Russian prose (for example, she quotes extensively from translations of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which is full of non-standard Russian and interesting uses of punctuation)

  26. I dunno, Stu, if Thomas Mann can’t even be approximated in another Germanic language, then what is possible? Are you sure you don’t just have exceptionally high standards because you enjoy the originals so much?
    when P&V put “my little dove” in their translation as though it were a perfectly ordinary endearment in English, I want to have their translating license removed and destroyed
    It’s worse than that — you don’t even need a license! Personally, I don’t have a problem with things like “my little dove”, or even syntactic trickery, really, when done artfully and judiciously (it’s not like “Open creaked the door” is an _ungrammatical_ word order in English). My personal line tends to be drawn at the level of things like saying “they rolled away” about people in a carriage — where the result is absurd rather than just affected. (And no doubt there are academic degenerates with looser standards even than I, who delight in translations featuring such “abuse”.)

  27. Matt: if Thomas Mann can’t even be approximated in another Germanic language, then what is possible?
    Depends on what you mean by Germanic – possibly, for a linguist, English is Germanic. What I originally wrote is: “that some texts simply cannot be reproduced or even approximated in certain other languages/cultures”. Of course I would expect that Mann could be successfully translated into Dutch, say.
    Having looked, over the years, at several English translations of Mann (and Nietzsche), I haven’t found one that didn’t seem Teutonic, as if written by the Katzenjammer Kids after four years at college.
    I unavoidably have “exceptionally high standards” when it comes to translating Mann into English. There’s no point in translating Zauberberg if you can’t recreate and sustain the style. Nothing much happens in the novel, after all, so you couldn’t make an Eric Ambler thriller out of it.

  28. I just checked the WiPe, which says that English is a “West Germanic language”. So that explains one problem for a translator from German to English: the languages are similar enough to lull him/her into neglecting the differences, until the translation has been published and it’s too late.
    So it’s no surprise that Mann tends to sound Teutonic when rendered into West Germanic. There would be no such discordance if he sounded pacific in a Japanese translation.

  29. @Matt. I’m not sure I quite understood your question, but I hope Hat answered it.
    @Kenny. There’s invisibility and invisibility. As a translator, I get very annoyed at reviewers who apparently find the translator invisible and don’t mention him or her. But when I’m translating, I don’t want to insert myself into the text to become visible and remind the reader that there’s a translation in their hand.
    I certainly agree with Venutti that stripping a foreign work of everything foreign in it — “localizing it” — is a Bad Thing. But I don’t at all agree that you should consciously insert some oddity of language to remind the reader. A. The reader can’t tell if the oddity of language was in the original and can’t form an opinion about the author’s style. B. It breaks the reading experience in a way that it isn’t broken for the reader of the original. C. It’s totally unnecessary. If people are sleeping on stoves, wearing fur hats with earflaps, and standing in line for 4 hours in a state clinic — chances are the reader is aware that the action is taking place somewhere other than upstate NY.
    I don’t at all agree with May’s bit about “asserting importance.” I don’t need to distort or stretch the target language to feel important. Sheesh. I “just” need to do a good translation that creates as close to the same reading experience for English-speakers as the Russian did for Russian-speakers, without stripping the text of its cultural markers. If I want to distort and stretch English, I’ll write something of my own. Or I’ll translate a writer who distorted and stretched Russian.

  30. where the result is absurd rather than just affected
    I consider “my little dove” absurd in English. YM, as they say, MV.

  31. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. However imagine if you added some great graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this blog could certainly be one of the greatest in its niche. Superb blog!
    The very first laugh I’ve had in a trying and overstretched day, with more Bad Stuff to come. Language Hat with graphics and videos! We already have conversations, which is all Alice thinks a written work needs not to be dull. (Pictures work equally well for Alice; for Hat, not so much, unless indeed we were to see more posts about hats.)
    Grumbly: German is a West Germanic language too, according to the usual taxonomy. Indeed, the term covers all the living Germanic languages except the six children of Old Mama Norse. (There were seven, but the littlest one was eaten by Scots.) East Germanic is extinct, with Gothic represented only by parts of a fourth-century translation of the Bible, two dozen random texts that may or may not be Gothic, and a word-list filled with errors recorded a thousand years later from one of the last surviving speakers (not even a native speaker at that). The other East Germanic languages have left behind even less: place names and borrowings preserved in other languages.

  32. I consider “my little dove” absurd in English. YM, as they say, MV.
    What it suggests to me is this. (I agree, of course, that it’s a lousy translation of голубчик, a high-frequency endearment that should translated as such.)

  33. John: that’s a nice dysfunctional family history of languages eating each other. What I said about Mann “sounding Teutonic in West Germanic” actually reflects a surprise insight that I had. What is hard to avoid when translating high-flown German – as I too have found – is trying to make the English fly at the same height, in the same flight corridor.
    The differences between German and English are just as crucial as the similarities. Wooden translations of Mann are attempts to render justice to German in an English court.

  34. My experience in recent years with reading Spanish-language novels translated into English (Marias, Marquez, Bolano) is that they seem to have a unity of, for lack of a better word, style that makes them recognisable to my eyes as coming from something similar
    That’s odd because in the original Castilian, Marquez and Bolano are not stylistically similar from what I recall. Marquez is a more conscious stylist and more descriptive, Bolano’s prose is far more direct.

  35. I suspect it’s a tradition of translating from Spanish rather than of Spanish literature.

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    “It was queer, standing in the little secret room with its revolutionary posters, listening to a conversation of which I did not understand a word. The Russians talked quickly and eagerly, with smiles and shrugs of the shoulders. I wondered what it was all about. They would be calling each other ‘little father’, I thought, and ‘little dove’, and ‘Ivan Alexandrovitch’, like the characters in Russian novels. And the talk would be of revolutions. The unshaven man would be saying firmly, ‘We never argue. Controversy is a bourgeois pastime. Deeds are our arguments.’ Then I gathered that it was not this exactly.” (from Down and Out in Paris and London)
    Me, I like it when English translations from Russian leave the distances in versts. YMMV.

  37. Me, I like it when English translations from Russian leave the distances in versts. YMMV.
    So do I, but this is certainly one of those things about which reasonable people can disagree. But if you’re going to change versts to miles, you should also be willing to change kilometers to miles (if translating for a metric audience, make it versts to kilometers and miles to kilometers respectively).
    I should reread Down and Out in Paris and London; I loved it when I read it many years ago.

  38. > I consider “my little dove” absurd in English. YM, as they say, MV.
    I wonder if it seems absurd to you in English precisely because you know Russian. To me it seems merely quaint, but I imagine that if I shared your instant, unconscious knowledge that it’s a too-literal translation of a Russian platitude, then it would lose its quaintness for me, and I’d find it as absurd as you do.

  39. I think you’re not understanding me correctly. What I mean is that it is absurd as an equivalent. If a Russian says голубчик, it should be translated as “my friend” or some other context-appropriate equivalent that does not call attention to itself. To render it “my little dove” is absurd. By itself, not in the context of translation but just as something one English-speaker might say to another, it may be quaint or jolly or anything you like (compare the W. C. Fields clip laowai linked above); I am talking solely about its use as a translation, where it is supposed to be giving you an idea of what the Russians are saying to each other.
    In other words, it’s as absurd as translating Japanese “Arigato” by “You put me in a difficult position” instead of “Thank you.”

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely that’s the wrong W.C. Fields clip, and a more idiomatic Englishing of the Russian endearment in question would be “my little chickadee.”

  41. JW: What’s wrong with “my little mud turtle” ? The Germans use kleine Kröte (this or this) as a term of endearment for little children. Since taxonomists can’t make up their minds what a Kröte is, why shouldn’t parents use their own classification system ?

  42. Indeed, I was misunderstanding you. Thanks for the explanation!

  43. “Turtle” is Schildkröte in German. That’s what reminded me of Kröte as an endearment. A Schildkröte is a frog under a shield, which is a pretty neat description of a turtle, especially in light of the fact that taxonomists can’t agree on what a “frog” is.

  44. Oh, now I get it. But isn’t Kröte toad? I wouldn’t expect taxonomists to know the difference between a frog and a toad, but I think that Germans do. The one gives you wishes, the other gives you warts.

  45. Frogs are green, whereas toads live in my garden.

  46. The one gives you wishes, the other gives you warts.
    This is unfamiliar territory for me. I thought the big, fat warty ones (toads ?) give you wishes, warts and hallucinations. The cute little neon-green-and-orange ones (in South America) poison you.
    I can’t imagine what the toads in Crown’s garden think they’re up to. He did a post about them once. As I remember, they migrated like the Vikings but in the wrong direction, mistaking winter Norway for Mallorca.

  47. One of Crown’s toads used to play the drums with Eric Clapton.
    Of course in distinguishing (or not) between frogs and toads we must all find our own ways. German wiki says
    Kröte = family Bufonidae
    Echte Kröte = genus Bufo
    English wiki says
    true toads = family Bufonidae

  48. That’s right; we had a toad called Ginger, who played the drums.
    I think you’re confusing my toads with my slugs, G. According to the locals, the latter emigrated – or immigrated, if you prefer – from Spain or thereabouts. We also have a breed of snails from France; they were imported, I think by plane, for eating, and escaped.

  49. Escaped from the restaurants ? What do they eat now, just plain old fish and chips like everybody else ?

  50. Hallucinations, that’s mushrooms. You don’t eat toads. Not unless you’re very, very hungry.

  51. J.W. Brewer says:

    Thesis: Ginger Baker’s heavyhanded and overtheorized style (which tended to call unnecessary attention to himself when he ought to have faded into the ensemble) made him the Pevear and Volokhonsky of rock drummers. Discuss. For extra credit, identify the Nabokov-translating-Eugene-Onegin of rock drummers.

  52. I was thinking of those toads you can lick. This was brought up here in 2009 after an acrimonious discussion of melons.

  53. Humph. Who says he should have faded into the ensemble? Are the other members of the ensemble supposed to fade into the ensemble, too, or just the drummer? What’s the theory?
    Not that I care about theory. I have no objection to drumming that calls attention to what the drummer is doing if I happen to like what the drummer is doing, and I happen to like what Ginger Baker does.
    That said, I should add that I pay little attention to such things. I can name very few other rock drummers, and can recognize the distinctive styles of perhaps no other rock drummers. Baker stands out because he is different — original — heavyhanded, maybe? — anyway, heavy on the tom-toms.
    Humph.

  54. In other words, I may not know much about drumming, but I know what I like.

  55. For extra credit, identify the Nabokov-translating-Eugene-Onegin of rock drummers.
    Mickey Hart?

  56. I didn’t know Humph played the drums. Coincidentally Humph’s father was English teacher and mentor to the critic John Bayley, well-known in Britain at least for writing a memoir in which he hung all his wife Iris Murdoch’s personal laundry out to dry after she’d developed Alzheimer’s and was unable to defend herself. The coincidental bit is that Bayley said of Nabokov’s translation of Onegin that it was ‘by far the most erudite as well as the most fascinating commentary in English on Pushkin’s poem…as scrupulously accurate, in terms of grammar, sense and phrasing (John Bonham), as it is idiosyncratic and Nabokovian in its vocabulary (Keith Moon, unless you’re thinking of Terry Bozzio).*
    Anyway, I agree with Ø. Cream had three solos going at the same time, and that’s what I liked. It’s the only interesting music Eric Clapton ever played, and the only thing I’d criticise Ginger Baker for is not getting along with Jack Bruce. Besides, he has the most aggressively cockney accent I’ve ever heard from a famous person. Still after 50 years of fame it sounds like a rusty dagger.**
    Mickey Hart is married to my former sister-in-law’s friend from law school. I may have mentioned this.
    *(I can’t pretend I knew this before I read it in Wikipedia)
    **Kenneth Tynan

  57. I know opinions are divided on whether Bayley should have published that. I think there are just a lot of people out there who Don’t Want To Know, and like to faint at the sight of blood and other disgusting stuff.
    I read the book and was very moved, especially since Bayley didn’t try to cover up his own failings. He published the book in almost unseemly haste after she died – that’s about all I might say against him.

  58. >>Cream had three solos going at the same time, and that’s what I liked.
    Funny, that’s exactly what I hate about them.
    >> calling attention to the drumming
    Makes him the Donald Barthelme of rock
    >>It’s the only interesting music Eric Clapton ever played
    Bah! Looked sharp only until I became familiar with Hendrix (who actually had heart as well as chops and originality.) Clapton’s best was Blind Faith & Dominoes, only times he was in a band.

  59. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps with drummers as with translators not everyone agrees on the desiderata for excellence? I mean, I take it lots of people affirmatively like P&V’s way with Russian prose. But consider Ginger Baker’s unusually understated drumming on “Badge” and ask yourself whether deploying his more typical style in that particular context would have made the song better or worse. (On the Blind Faith LP he’s very heavy-handed on “Had to Cry Today” and of course the interminable composition they end the album with but the touch on “Can’t Find My Way Home” is so light one wonders if Winwood just sent Ginger down the pub and overdubbed the percussion himself. The more active Baker style actually works to pretty good effect on, say, “Sea of Joy.”)

  60. Perhaps with drummers as with translators not everyone agrees on the desiderata for excellence?
    I’m sure that’s true, and considering you hate Ginger’s work it’s nice of you to look for his good points.
    I mean, I take it lots of people affirmatively like P&V’s way with Russian prose.
    My God, I don’t think so. Not here anyway. Everyone despises them, as far as I remember.
    Grumbly, I think John Bayley’s a good writer, if that’s any consolation. I just wonder what he thought he was doing publishing a book like that.
    Mark, apples & oranges. Just cos I like Bach, it doesn’t mean I’m obliged to hate Schubert.

  61. Man, people are hard on Clapton around here! Doesn’t anybody like his work with the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers? Or Derek and the Dominos? For my money, Layla is one of the all-time great rock records. Hell, I even like 461 Ocean Boulevard. I mean, there’s middle ground between God and the Devil.

  62. Ah, thank you, JW. You’ve put your finger on what I like about Ginger Baker: it’s how he plays on the what you call heavy-handed ones, like Had to Cry Today and even Do What You Like. Otherwise you may as well get someone else to play.
    Language, all those ones you mention are good, except can you stand to listen to Layla for the ten-millionth time? I can’t bear to.

  63. Fortunately, I never listen to rock radio, so I haven’t had it spoiled for me that way. (I find it hard to listen to for other reasons; it was the soundtrack to my worst romantic disasters.)

  64. Oh well, better Layla than, for example, Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto, whose sentiment smothered the weird 1940s love story Encounter in Briefs.

  65. Grumbly:
    Zu der Schnecke sprach ein Weißfisch: »Kannst du denn nicht schneller gehen?
    Siehst du denn nicht die Schildkröten und die Hummer alle stehen?
    Hinter uns da kommt ein Meerschwein, und es tritt mir auf den Schwanz;
    Und sie warten an dem Strande, daß wir kommen zu dem Tanz.
    Willst du denn nicht, willst du denn nicht, willst du kommen zu dem Tanz?
    Willst du denn nicht, willst du denn nicht, willst du kommen zu dem Tanz?«
    »Nein, du kannst es nicht ermessen, wie so herrlich es wird sein,
    Nehmen sie uns mit den Hummern, werfen uns in’s Meer hinein!«
    Doch die Schnecke tät nicht trauen. »Das gefällt mir doch nicht ganz!
    Viel zu weit, zu weit! ich danke – gehe nicht mit euch zum Tanz!
    Nein, ich kann, ich mag, ich will nicht, kann nicht kommen zu dem Tanz!
    Nein, ich kann, ich mag, ich will nicht, mag nicht kommen zu dem Tanz!«
    Und der Weißfisch sprach dagegen: »’s kommt ja nicht drauf an, wie weit!
    Ist doch wohl ein andres Ufer, drüben auf der andren Seit’!
    Und noch viele schöne Küsten giebt es außer Engelland’s;
    Nur nicht blöde, liebe Schnecke, komm’ geschwind mit mir zum Tanz!
    Willst du denn nicht, willst du denn nicht, willst du kommen zu dem Tanz?
    Willst du denn nicht, willst du denn nicht, willst nicht kommen zu dem Tanz?«
         —Antonie Zimmermann

  66. Cute !

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