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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 281–98.       Gained in Translation: Chekhov’s “Lady” Carol Apollonio Translation  it  is  that  openeth  the  window,  to  let  in   the  light;   that  breaketh  the  shell,  that  we  may  eat  the  kernel;   that   putteth   aside   the   curtain,   that   we   may   look   into  the  most  holy  place;   that  removeth  the  cover  of  the  well,  that  we  may   come  by  the  water.   —the  translators  of  the  King  James  Bible1   A  common  view  of  translation  considers  its  greatest  challenge  to  be  lexical:   the   task   of   finding   equivalent   target-­‐‑level   vocabulary   for   the   words   in   the   original  text.  In  his  famous  article  “On  Linguistic  Aspects  of  Translation,”  Ro-­‐‑ man  Jakobson  argues  that  this  lexical  approach  is  appropriate  for  translating   language  in  its  cognitive  function:  “all  cognitive  experience  and  its  classifica-­‐‑ tion  is  conveyable  in  any  existing  language.”2  Even  when  grammatical  struc-­‐‑ tures  differ,  what  Jakobson  considers  to  be  the  essential  meaning—the  con-­‐‑ crete  referent—can  be  conveyed  through  lexical  means.  So,  for  example,  the   Old  Russian  dual  brata  translates  as  “two  brothers”  (148).  The  implication  is   that,  by  using  combinations  of  vocabulary  of  the  target  language,  any  expres-­‐‑ sion  is  translatable.  For  what  Jakobson  is  calling  the  “cognitive”  function  of   language  in  translation,  a  standard  of  equivalency  is  at  work.3  Other  functions   of   language,   however,   present   different   challenges.   “In   jest,   in   dreams,   in   magic,  briefly,  in  what  one  would  call  everyday  verbal  mythology  and  in  po-­‐‑ etry  above  all,  the  grammatical  categories  carry  a  high  semantic  import”  (149;                                                                                                                             I   would   like   to   thank   John   (Cal)   Wright   for   his   careful   reading   and   excellent   comments.   1  The   epigraph   is   taken   from   the   introduction   to   the   King   James   Bible,   http://www. kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611-Bible/1611-King-James-Bible-Introduction.php   (accessed   14   Au-­‐‑ gust  2011).     2  Roman  Jakobson,  “On  Linguistic  Aspects  of  Translation,”  in  Theories  of  Translation,   ed.   Rainer   Schulte   and   John   Biguenet   (Chicago:   University   of   Chicago   Press,   1992),   144–51,  here  147.   3  In  his  book  Becoming  a  Translator  (London:  Routledge,  1997),  Douglas  Robinson  situ-­‐‑ ates   a   standard   of   equivalence   (such   as   Jakobson’s)   within   a   utilitarian   (“user’s”   or   “outsider’s”)  economics  of  translation  (7).     282 CAROL APOLLONIO my  emphasis—C.A.).  Jakobson  cites  the  example  of  certain  culturally  specific   concepts  that  are  anchored  in  the  grammatical  category  of  gender  (feminine   “life,”   for   example,   or   masculine   “sin,”   concepts   whose   gender   is   language   specific).     In   spite   of   the   sophistication   of   his   argument,   Jakobson’s   examples   are   relatively  primitive—heavy  on  nouns—and  feature  simple  categories  such  as   number   and   gender.   When   grammatical   structures   differ   radically   between   languages,  the  problems  of  translation  become  much  more  complex.  This  is   true  even  when  dealing  with  works  by  writers  whose  vocabulary,  and  even   grammar,  can  seem  deceptively  simple,  like  Anton  Chekhov.  This  apparent   simplicity   has   led   authoritative   readers   to   claim   that   Chekhov   is   “easy   to   translate.”4  But  as  we  shall  soon  see,  the  subtlety  of  Chekhov’s  writing  can   cause  considerable  challenges  to  readers.   Chekhov’s  poetics  is  rooted  in  his  manipulation  of  features  of  language   that  are  unique  to  Russian.  So,  as  Radislav  Lapushin  shows,  his  prose  is  pro-­‐‑ foundly  poetic,  taking  full  advantage  of  the  phonetic  characteristics  of  the  in-­‐‑ dividual  Russian  word  and  phrase.5  It  is  impossible  to  follow  an  equivalency   standard   in   translating   phrases   whose   meaning   depends   on   their   rhythm,   rhyme,  and  general  acoustic  quality.  In  this  sense  the  lexical  and  referential   function  serve  only  part  of  the  message—in  artistic  texts,  it  could  be  argued,   the  lesser  part.6  Chekhov’s  work  draws  on  that  vast  Russian  field  of  essences   that   elude   direct   expression—what   elsewhere   in   this   volume   Cathy   Popkin   calls  “the  spaces  between  the  places.”  As  I  hope  to  show,  translation  does  its   most   important   work   in   those   places   in   Chekhov’s   text   where   the   Russian   grammar  allowed  the  writer  to  say  nothing,  but  where  English  demands  that   something   be   said.   I   will   focus   on   two   kinds   of   examples   taken   from   “The   Lady  with  the  Dog”  (“Dama  s  sobachkoi,”  1899),  as  dealt  with  by  twelve  dif-­‐‑ ferent   translators.   One   set   of   examples   features   impersonal   expressions;   the   other—verbal   tense   and   aspect.   In   both   cases,   the   reader   of   multiple   translations  will  discover  a  breadth  of  potential  meaning  that  may  elude  the   reader  of  just  one  text  (even  if  that  text  is  the  “original”).7  Translation  it  is  that   openeth  the  window,  to  let  in  the  light.                                                                                                                             4 D.  S.  Mirsky,  A  History...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780893578923
Related ISBN
9780893573928
MARC Record
OCLC
859687104
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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