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.