Saturday, 12 April 2008

[14] Conclusive Proof

Here is the final chapter of my dissertation. This one needs the most work, definitely, but until I have sorted out everything before it, I can't write anything definitive.


Chapter 8 - Conclusion

'I suspect that it's not only the writing, but also the translation that makes these stories feel like antique mirrors to our contemporary times. (Gray, in Constantine, 2002, x)

'I am convinced that 'naturalising' his plays, or coming up with American or British images in place of the Russian, produces elements that diminish his powers of dramatic art. The way to Chekhov's Russia is neither the Brighton Line nor the New York Central, and the translator buying either ticket will reach Moscow as fast as the three sisters.' (Bristow, 1977, xxxii)

In the previous chapters, I have attempted to illustrate how translators have approached details of cultural reference in translating The Seagull. Indeed, the approach is idiosyncratic, which is not surprising given the case-by-case, subjective 'rules' of translation. However, it is only in few circumstances that these details, the 'cultural communication' that I defined in chapter 1, are conveyed adequately. I surmised that it is hard, even impossible to footnote, explain and inform through performance. However, the attitude of some translators, such as Tom Stoppard, who would bury these references to Russian culture in favour of Shakespearean quotations, is detrimental to the educative qualities of the text. Not only do these translations render Chekhov's references arbitrary by neutralising or removing them, they fail to realise that The Seagull, as a cultural text, is a guide for the international audience to 19th century Russian culture and literature. The intertextual allusions are opportunities for informative action; poetry like that of Nekrasov's is not currently well known in the West. However, the community of translators should use this opportunity to raise awareness for the wider tradition of Russian literature, as opposed to crystallising and constraining the Literary Canon further.

It is telling that Frayn, in hope of not misrepresenting the Russian text, often removes these references. However, in the Methuen Student Edition used for the purposes of this study, Worrall retains footnotes to words and speeches not present in the published translation. Sadly, these references still retain a scholarly slant; the Methuen and Norton Critical editions are the only translations used that sought to root out the sources of Chekhov's quotations. The more popular, performance-related texts, do not attempt to educate readers, and merely present the script as produced on stage. Instead, they present the translated words, along with stylistic quirks and selective thematic concerns. In doing this, they merely serve their own cultural preconceptions, and inevitably misrepresent the foreign as familiar.


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