This Is My Last Issue as Editor of NER, And Some Readers May Be wondering how it came to be a large double issue containing a special section entitled “The Russian Presence.” There are many reasons for this, including the arrival of Rosamund Bartlett’s fine translations of an intriguing duet of Chekhov stories, but at some point I found myself remembering that for my first issue (Vol. 17, No. 3)—just about twenty years ago—I had asked my late, beloved colleague Eve Adler, who was spending a year in Russia, if she could provide us with a “Letter from Moscow.” A brilliant scholar of Classics, over the course of her career she had also learned Arabic, Hebrew, and German, as well as a full range of Romance languages, and because she had heard that the best translations of the Greek epics were in Old Church Slavonic, she taught herself that language, too. This soon prompted her to teach herself Russian, and fascinated by the language and the culture, she began spending as much time as she could in that country, which was how she came to be there in 1994–95. When she asked me what sorts of things to include in her account of daily life, I suggested that she try to give our readers a sampling of the kinds of jokes that she was hearing; so she concluded her letter with a series of the “Armenian Radio” jokes that were then circulating in the Russian capital. The last joke in the series was this one:
Armenian Radio has been asked:
Is there life on Mars?
Armenian Radio answers:
No, not there either.
Her remarkably observant letter also noted that at that time people in Moscow were worried “about the Chechnya war” and confirmed that “the reports from Chechnya are indeed alarming.” As evidence, she provided a particularly vivid account of the situation, then went on to point out that the report she had quoted was actually “from Tolstoy’s story ‘Hajii Murat,’ first published in 1912, and referring to the events of 1851. My Russian friends [she continued] complain that their government’s wrongheadedness in Chechnya is the result of poor literary education. Haven’t those jerks read Tolstoy?” In light of her spirited participation in such free-wheeling conversations, it hardly seems surprising that within a year she would be the co-author of a dictionary of Russian slang, from which a few representative entries have been taken for this issue.
Over the next seven or eight years, before her untimely death, Eve Adler also supplied us with her translations of the highly original and insistently [End Page 8] uncategorizable writings of the Russian political philosopher Mikhail Epstein, and she told me that I should be sure to get to know Michael Katz, who was leaving the University of Texas at Austin to join the Middlebury College faculty and direct the Language Schools and Schools Abroad. During one of the first talks I had with him, I mentioned that I was interested in publishing a new translation of Chekhov’s wonderful comic monologue entitled “On the Harmfulness of Tobacco” and asked him if he might be willing to undertake that job. Funny thing, he said—as a matter of fact, he was just at that moment working on a translation of that very work. We published his translation in 1998, and in the years since then, in addition to numerous critical articles, many of his translations from Russian have appeared in our pages—of works by an unusual range of writers, including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Akunin, Shcheglov, An-Sky, Jabotinsky, and Sophia Tolstoy. Besides a great deal of editorial assistance, for the special Russian feature in this current issue Michael Katz has provided us with excerpts of his new translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, as well as a new translation—for the first time with detailed annotations—of the record kept by Frida Vigdorova of the 1964 trial of the poet Joseph Brodsky.
As it happens, also included in my first issue of NER was an essay by P. Adams Sitney, whose intricate analysis of the densely-conceived films...