Challenging the classics

Ekaterina Genieva hopes the congresswill lead to the creation of a newinstitute in MoscowSource: Vicktor Pogontsev, PhotoXpress

Ekaterina Genieva hopes the congresswill lead to the creation of a newinstitute in MoscowSource: Vicktor Pogontsev, PhotoXpress

One of Russia’s most inluential cultural reformers would love to read some modern translations of the literary classic.
Director of the Russian State Library of Foreign Literature for 17 years, Ekaterina Genieva has spent almost four decades at the institution, and isn’t afraid of unpopular topics. For instance, well aware of the tough KGB repression, during the coup attempt of August 1991, she made the library’s printing press available to publish banned newspapers. More recently, her work as president of the Open Society Institute (Soros Fund) and her continued exhibitions on antisemitism and Hebrew culture which started in the ’80s didn’t keep her out of trouble.

Now, after a year and half of planning, her ambition to hold the First International Congress of Translators in Moscow becomes reality. The idea is to gather together th e translators who carry the responsibility of translating the great names of Russian and world literature.

“We are very satisfied to have such prominent orators such as Stanley Mitchell,” said Genieva.

But the British translator, responsible for an acclaimed version of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin into English, will not be the only star of the event. By Genieva’s invitation, representatives from more than 25 foreign countries – including the US , Italy, France, Britain, Portugal, Brazil and Japan – will take part. Prominent Russian authors, among which stand out contemporary writers Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Tatyana Tolstaya , Evgeny Popov and Olga Slavnikovа, will read their own texts and will hear how the translators have treated their work.

New authors and translators, however, will not be excluded. There will be place for young talents such as James Rann, winner of the Young Translator Prize 2009 for his work on Dmitry Bykov’s novel The List ( Spisanye ). “I’m very satisfied with the fact that my romances are being translated in to English, and overall because the translators were presented with a prize,” said Bykov. “All we have to do now is to wish that Russian reality finally becomes interesting for ourselves. Then our books will be also guaranteed international readers’ interest.”

Genieva believes young authors and translators must be encouraged. “One can’t say that because Lozinsky translated The Divine Comedy , no one also can do it again,” she says. To make her point,Genieva recalls an exhibition held in the Pushkin Institute where new translations of William Blake into Russian were presented and compared with the classic ones by Samuil Marshak. “And the results were even better,” she said.

According to Arlete Cavaliere, a Brazilian translator and academic who will take part in the congress, “the translation problem is an endless problem”.

Cavaliere says that “because of the major task of recreating, in the language into which we translate, the artistic procedures that made a classic of the author, the more you study the text and the author, the most you can see deeper and newer nuances.”

“Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya says a translator is a person who knows more about you than your husband, than your brother.

At the congress there will be discussions on, among other things, the real possibilities of translating artistic literature, of teaching translation and the problems of translating of Russian literature.

Future plans for this cultural reformer include the creation of a translation institute, “a kind of institution that does not exist in Russia yet”. According to Genieva, it means that new translators should be interested not only in Russian language, as for that the fomentation from Russkiy Mir subsidiaries worldwide would be enough. “There must be a system for the preparation of Slavists who will be able to choose, read, translate and present new works.”

Another aim of the new institution might be to foster academic trips for foreign Slavists to Russia, because some of them do not personally know the country. Among Russian language scholars, she says, it is still common to find professionals that don’t have opportunities to practice conversation.

“The idea that we live in a globalised world, in a global village, shows itself even more legitimate in our preparation for the congress: yes, you can discover the world in a second, you can call everyone, send emails.

“But how delighted would our translators be if they have the chance of meeting each other face to face,” says Genieva.

The First International Congress of Translators in Moscow will be held in Pashkova House 
on September 2-4.

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