Saturday, 19 April 2008

[19] Shine a Light (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2008)

I'm not too happy with this, I might post a follow up at a later date with points I couldn't work into this piece (including the collaborations with Christina Aguilera, Jack White and Buddy Guy, which were all good, and Scorsese's innovative, yet not wholly successful manipulation of the sound mixing).

Blogger doesn't seem to want me to attach photos, but nevermind.

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About two thirds of the way through Shine A Light, Martin Scorsese's camera glides over the heads of the audience, taking in the scene of the Rolling Stones banging out their time-honoured take on the blues. One audience member, shrouded in shadow, thrusts a digital camera into the air; for a second, the previously all-encompassing sound of the Rolling Stones dims, to be subsumed by an over-dubbed CLICK. This moment could speak volumes, of the concert experience, of the need to photograph and record every notable event in our lives, or of the curious novelty of a band in their sixties rocking with as much energy and enthusiasm as their musical grandchildren. Or it could be a brief moment of anarchic glee on behalf of Scorsese, lampooning the audience, who mostly stand still, nod their heads and take camera phone pictures for the majority of the concert.

It is the little moments, like this one, that elevate Shine a Light above a mere 'live concert film'. The performance, however, is damn exceptional. Drawing on both 'big' songs and some choice cuts from lesser-known albums, with a distinct focus on 1978's long-player Some Girls. Throughout these, Mick Jagger is on top form, putting current-generation indulgent frontmen to shame with his energy and physique. Despite Jagger's showmanship, the overall feel is surprisingly loose. Charlie Watts tackles his drumming duties with an air of self-effacing humour; he ends one song on a cymbal crash, before turning to the camera and giving an exaggerated sigh. Keith Richards seems at home in front of a crowd, and playfully sends up the occasion by chuckling through the backing vocals for 'Faraway Eyes', waltzing around the stage during the brilliant 'You Got the Silver' and approaching his riffs and licks from 'Live With Me', 'Satisfaction' and 'Sympathy for the Devil', which he must have played thousands of times, as if they were mere sketches for jams. Those expecting fidelity to the record, 40 years later, will be disappointed. Instead, Richards and Ron Wood play exactly like the 30-years-and-ongoing guitar duo they are. Solid, but by no means slickly professional. They're having fun, keeping the music fresh, with Richards often turning away from the audience to whisper in Wood's ear or to lean on his shoulder during a lead break. A perfect antidote to the ageing-rockstar backing group, consisting of 'Steely Dan Reject Keyboardist', 'Bassist with Beret', 'Powerful Diva Vocalist' and 'Sometimes Cheesy Sax Player' - they're great, mind you, they nail their respective parts, but with less-compelling bands, younger backing musicians merely highlight what is lacking (in this case: Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart, etc). Thankfully, the Rolling Stones are charismatic enough to hold your attention throughout this 2 hour film.

The much-referenced 'archive footage' is fantastic. However, it must be said that these snippets of television programmes and interviews do not take up more than 15-20 minutes of the film. This is not 'No Direction Home - The Stones'. It is a concert film, with every 2 or 3 songs being punctuated by short glances at the band's history. Not to take away from the stellar live performance, but these clips only remind the audience of what the film could have been. You will not leave the cinema any wiser about the band, you probably will not gain much insight into their personalities, beyond what you probably already know from Rock Folklore. Equally, the introduction merely tantalises, as Scorsese uses both staged and documentary footage of the preparation for the gig, showing tensions between Marty's neuroticisms and Jagger's distant and uncompromising demeanour. There are genuine laughs as Scorsese sends up Life As The Rolling Stones, as they are asked to meet-and-greet various guests for the gig, including Hillary Clinton's mother. Those accusing the film of being too servile and respectful should rewatch this segment for the surprisingly ironic sanitisation of 'The Biggest Rock Band in the World'.





Similarly, those complaining of the mostly middle-aged, mostly business class audience should get with the programme - to expect youthful, hip audiences at what amounts to a nostalgia-fest of 'prestige classic rock music' is severe self-denial. Hell, even my cinema was filled with people on the bad side of 50, with its own issues and problems. The tweens, teens and twenties were all watching Awake or Meet the Spartans next door. What is important, is that the Stones still got it. Speaking as a mild fan, with 4 studio, 1 live and 1 compilation album to his name, I enjoyed this. It's certainly the closest I'll get to a Stones concert this side of a gold card or hospitality package. The little glimpses are fun, transcendent and compliment the mood nicely. They hint at what could have been a briliant Stones documentary - but this is a concert film at heart. A great one at that.

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Friday, 18 April 2008

[18] Experimental Blogging

Much to my pleasant surprise, my previous post got picked up by GoNintendo, and in turn TheMushroomKingdom.net, and wii.kombo.com, amongst other sites. I'm incredibly grateful for the plugs, and thanks to everyone who had a read. I'm glad it's pricked up some discussion.

I wrote the piece alongside the review, which I submitted to CC2K. It was my attempt at a provocative 'opinion' piece, more in the style of what you read on gaming blogs. The topic of Mario Kart Wii's tracks was something that I'd thought about a lot in preparation of my review, but scrapped because, well, it was a little self-indulgent, the intended reader had to know a lot about Mario, Mario Kart and Nintendo to understand it, and it was also relatively 'dashed off' for me, as I usually spend a lot of time on my writing.

So I gave it a home here. It gave me the chance to experiment with different methods of publicising my blog. I've been writing here for over 3 months now, and, up until yesterday, had about 50 visits in total. These had mostly come from my infrequent postings on forums and sites like reddit and digg. I used the opportunity afforded by a provocative title and 'list' format to submit the post to sites like GoNintendo, which do feature original work, but are mostly made up of interesting, related links to other sites. Having a link on sites like these can really 'break' a post, and in the 24 or so hours since my post went up, I've had 2000 hits. This is really fantastic.

If anyone who has read the post wishes to stick around, feel free. I can't promise any more gaming-related posts for the time being, as my final year exams are looming. I do have some film-related posts coming up, and maybe some music reviews. I do have a shipment of import DS games coming in, so depending on my impressions of Contra 4, Professor Layton and the Curious Village and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, I might post more up here.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

[17] 4 Tracks That SHOULD BE In Mario Kart Wii

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Super Mario Kart was the original 'fan service' game. Released 7 years before the first Smash Bros, it became one of the most beloved of the SNES generation not just because of its tight, addictive arcade gameplay, but also because of its key ingredients: characters and locations from the extended Mario game family.

SMK was a true celebration of its platforming counterpart, Super Mario World. Players were able to revisit areas such as Donut Plains, Chocolate Island and Bowser's Castle in a racing context. Mario Kart 64, Double Dash and DS similarly included these nods, references and allusions to the plumber's primary vocation - with 64's Royal Raceway being situated in the shadow of Peach's Castle, and Super Mario Sunshine's Isle Delfino serving as context for Peach Beach and Delfino Square on the Gamecube and DS games respectively. Even spin-off games got a look in, with the Sherbet Land area from the Gameboy's Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land appearing in both Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, and Luigi's Mansion getting its own course in both Mario Kart DS and Double Dash.

So, as I pick up and play through the recently-released Mario Kart Wii, I wonder. Where are these little stabs at creative continuity in Mario's latest racer? Sadly, if you're looking for a wealth of references to recent games in the extensive Mario family, you will be sorely disappointed. It seems that the really great ideas for level design have gone into Super Smash Bros Brawl. This is a shame. Since the release of the Wii, the extended Mario franchise has spawned some important hits, including Super Paper Mario, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves and, of course, last year's Super Mario Galaxy. The DS has also become home to one of the biggest selling Mario games of all time, in New Super Mario Bros: a comfortable and resoundingly wonderful masterclass in 2D platform gaming.

Also, along with the introduction of Nintendo's Virtual Console download service, fans have been reintroduced to classic Mario adventures, including most of the original NES, SNES and N64 installments (as well as the previously-unreleased 'Lost Levels'). Mario's market saturation and critical standing is probably at its highest since the early 1990s, so why did the developers not add in more intertextual goodies? Super Mario Galaxy, arguably the greatest Mario game ever, is only referenced in any tangible way on the Rainbow Road course (through quotation of its main musical theme), a course which has appeared in every Kart game in some form or another anyway.

Safe to say, I was personally disappointed. Some of the tracks included are pretty great, such as Coconut Mall and Wario's Goldmine - however, their association with Mario requires a lot of imaginative brainwork. A shopping mall? Could easily be Dawn of the Dead Racer. A careening harem-scarem chase through an underground mine? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Racer. While thinking long and hard about what I wanted Mario Kart to be, I came up with some tracks I would have loved to have been included. Tracks that would have stretched the imaginations of the designers yet still worked within a Mario framework, giving fans something to feast their eyes on. I came up with 4, a nice even number.

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1. Luigi's Purple Coins

One of my favourite areas from Mario Galaxy was the Toy Time Galaxy. Some of the hardest, yet most concentratedly fun levels involved the same mechanic, and culminated in the level Luigi's Purple Coins (video below). The player must pick up 100 purple coins within the time limit; the coins are spread over a large, floating area, shaped (and coloured) like the pixelated Luigi from Super Mario Bros. Simple enough, but differently coloured tiles make the endeavour much harder. Green tiles shrink and disappear after being stepped on, yellow tiles rotate, revealing a fatal drop. It would be great to play through a track that had certain corners or edges that disappeared after being touched, so that liberal drifters or lazy steering would be punishable. There could be also tiles in the centre of the track, acting as booby traps for asute racers to avoid. A track like this should not be hard to design, drops are an essential part of what makes Mario Kart a punishing game for some players. I want it to be more so.




2. The Comet Observatory

Mario Kart 64 proudly displayed Peach's Castle in the Royal Raceway, Mario Kart Double Dash and DS heavily featured areas from the Isle Delfino. Where's the Comet Observatory in this latest installment? Some critics of Super Mario Galaxy didn't think that this central hub stood up to those in previous games in terms of exploration and design, but I'm surprised that Mario Kart Wii didn't include a track inspired by it. Take a look at it, it wouldn't take much to wrap a Rainbow Road style 'super fiendish' course around it. Then throw in some flying Lumas and The Toad Brigade and you'll have yourself a sweet track.



3. Generic Galaxy Course

Maybe using specific areas from Super Mario Galaxy is a little too much to ask. The areas, galaxies and planets are a little too indistinct, certainly against Isle Delfino and the Mushroom Kingdom. However, I'm still very surprised that little aspects of Super Mario Galaxy weren't put in. Why isn't there a course spread over various planets of different shapes and sizes, connected by Launch Stars, along with enemies from across the whole game. It couldn't be as free-form or as zero-gravity as SMG, of course - this is a racing game, not a platforming adventure - but still. Where is the love? Alternatively, why not rework a Mushroom Kingdom track to take place during the Star Festival?


4. The Virtual Console

OK. Here is my last ditch attempt at prime blue-sky crazy. A Virtual Console Level. Why not? They've had battle levels based on the DS and the Gamecube before. And Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros, Super Paper Mario AND Wario Ware all show a comfortable, slightly nostalgic, but entirely permissable look towards past glories. Here is how it would run.

- The racers start by driving over the length of a Wii-mote, being launched into a Virtual Console icon, like a channel icon on the Wii Home menu.
- The race then cycles through various classic Mario stages from various Mario games, these sections could be designated as 'rooms', or the players could 'jump' in between, like the use of cannons or pipes in other Mario Kart levels. These will include:
- Level 1-2 from Super Mario Bros, boosting off a platform over the top of the cavern's 'roof' into the warp zone, leading to...
- A Birdo battle (with flying carpets, turnips, eggs all over the place) from Mario Bros USA then...
- A section on Bowser's airship from Super Mario Bros. 3 (with cameos from the Koopalings)...

...And so on. It needn't be restricted to just canon Mario games, as it is a Virtual Console track, after-all. The Karts could race across a huge Picross board, or zoom by a Punch-Out!! boxing ring. The list is (relatively) endless.

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That's it for me. Have you got your own dream Mario Kart course? That's what comments are for.

Monday, 14 April 2008

[16] Mario Kart Wii - Review

As promised, here is my review of Mario Kart Wii. It will probably be up in some form on CC2K within in the next week or two, but I'll give it a home here:

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The Mario Kart series is one of Nintendo's biggest selling franchises. However, it is also one of those very franchises which attract criticism from the more 360 and PS3 inclined gamers for cutesy design and essentially sameygameplay across the 5 (now 6) console installments. Sporting online functionality and a spiffy new Wheel peripheral, is this new installment a classic? The result is not ground-breaking - it does not, ahem, 're-invent the Wheel' - but it is a solid and enjoyable game only marred by specific, frustrating design choices.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is this franchise all about? Well, Mario Kart is not Forza 2 or Gran Tourismo. The 'Mario Sports' series of games is well-known for taking a sport of serious and international stature (Soccer, Baseball, Basketball), flying in the face of the more simulation-minded competition (Pro Evolution Soccer) and creating addictive, arcade-style doses of pure fun. Since the first in the series, on the SNES back in 1992, Mario Kart has been based around the same central tenets. The player picks a character from the Mario family (Luigi, Bowser, Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong etc), and races around well-designed courses inspired by locales from the plumber's other games, all the while picking up power ups that either boost the kart's speed (mushrooms) or attack other racers (green shells).

Whilst ostensibly a 'casual' game (even after so many years, the game mechanics are still quite easy to pick up), the series has garnered a great hardcorefanbase. This is not only because of its association with Nintendo's mustachioed mascot, but through the deeply competitive multiplayer modes. One of the more popular 'gamer nostalgia stories' is going to a friend's house to play Super Mario Kart on a Saturday Afternoon, and Mario Kart 64's implementation of the console's 4 controller ports was a landmark in mutual gaming. Equally, 2005's Mario Kart DS added in significant Wi-Fi compatibility, taking the race online for the first time and marking Nintendo's first serious foray into a worldwide race.

So, the nametag alone guarantees hype, but Mario Kart Wii is itself notable for two reasons. One, for bringing the handheld version's online awareness to the home console market, and also for being the first iteration since Nintendo's return to the top of the best-selling lists with their latest family-friendly piece of hardware. The addition of the 'Wii Wheel', a free peripheral for the Wii-mote that turns it into a wireless steering wheel, is also a selling point, being emblazoned on ads and promo shots for the game. Opinion has been divided on this accessory, with many 'hardcore' fanboys lambasting Nintendo for going 'casual', whereas others have praised this use of the Wii-mote's unique technology. The reality is more in the middle: the wheel works well, and provides an easy, workable experience. It definitely adds to the pick-up-and-play factor of the game. However, on harder levels and higher speeds, where every drift and boost count, the responsiveness of the wheel is somewhat lacking. Luckily, Nintendo have once again displayed their deep understanding of giving the gamer choices - the player can choose from one of 5 controller schemes, including Classic and Gamecube set ups for the hardened old-schooler. Players will be thankful for these more traditional schemes, especially online.



Online play is where the game's strengths lie. From the initial press releases, which promised 12 player races and battles, Mario Kart Wii has been touted as Nintendo's first step into the world of Internet Gaming - a world dominated by competitors like Xbox Live and Playstation Network. The online package is well-designed, well-implemented, and, so far, a success. It is quick and simple for a player to join a race, and experience has proven there to be little lag. There are also worldwide and continental time trial leaderboards, with the option of downloading 'ghost data' (a recorded run-through) that lets you challenge the world's best Mario Kart players. Sadly, with less than a week since release in both Japan and Europe, leaderboards are filled with cheaters logging inhumanly fast scores, but hopefully these bugs and exploits will be ironed out before long. There is also space for 'competitions', which hasn't been explored yet. All this points to a good mileage for Mario Kart Wii's online play.

The single player and local multiplayer modes, in comparison, seem a little overlooked. Mario Kart DS featured 8 Grand Prix cups, a total of 32 tracks; half were remastered classics from previous installments. MK Wii follows this formula, although the new tracks are given a little design boost over the handheld, with some details that will impress and amuse, even during a heated rush. Tracks shift and change during races: one example, based around a volcano, has the outer edges of the track crumbling away, leaving the final lap to be fought out on a thin strip of land surrounded by lava. Sadly, beyond Grand Prix and Time Trials, there is little to keep the solo player interested. The missions mode from the DS, which included challenges and boss battles, provided a neat little break from the pure racing experience; it is a shame Nintendo didn't transpose this mode for Wii.

The resulting game is solid, however it is the minor niggles which reduce it from 'real classic' to a mere 'step in the right direction'. Previously, I mentioned the importance of the local multiplayer, with fanatics wasting hours on the battle mode. MK Wii's local multiplayer is arguably 'botched'; the free-for-all, 'deathmatch' style battles have been replaced by a strictly team-based approach. Equally, the 'balloon battle' mode is now timed, with the epic encounters now replaced by a points scoring scramble. The 4 player mode is also restricted by the tracks, which have been tooled for 12 player online games; with only 4, courses and arenas seem over-whelming, and much of the enforced time limit is spent simply trying to find opponents. These little design choices really hurt the game, especially since they could have been avoided by extending the multiplayer options.

Sadly, these minor issues aren't restricted to the multiplayer. Even though the gameplay is on the whole of a good standard, not every aspect truly resonates. This installment brings bikes into the competition, and although it is good to see the developers trying new things, they do not greatly affect the overall feel of the game. Equally, adding 'tricks' that can be easily performed while jumping off ramps, and simplifying the drift-and-boost mechanic from previous games only serves to make harder modes more frustrating (you will need to nail every jump and boost on every corner to secure first place). Speaking of difficulty, this game is hard, and sadly, not in the challenging and fun way. The set up of the Mario Kart series has always been somewhat tough, mainly due to its array of items which punish speedy racers in favour of those lagging behind. However, with Mario Kart Wii, it seems the contingency factor has imposed itself even more - you can be a consistent and speedy player, and finish first on one race, only to be struck by 5 lead-killing attacks at once, finishing 12th on the next. Also, the lack of a 'replay race' function, effectively binding the player to the rest of the Grand Prix (unless they restart from the beginning), is immensely frustrating, since you will want to try the harder difficulties, and the gold trophy will be your ambition.

However, even though the dev team have packed the game with unlockable characters and vehicles, they are not really desirable or worth the effort. The player can unlock all the tracks within their first hour of play, on the easiest difficulty. Beyond that, there isn't anything that will change the game; only aesthetic differences, such as that between playing as Donkey Kong or Funky Kong (or Bowser and Skeleton Bowser). There is the unlockable option to play as your mii avatar, which is a nice touch. However, I stopped playing as my Mii because the provided voice acting was so unbearable. Little pips and squeaks that NO-ONE wants to hear during a high speed chase. I know it is hard to expect anything more from a Mario game, but the sound effects, and especially the voices, are utterly terrible. Maybe I was spoiled by Mario Galaxy's surprisingly graceful, even at times epic rendering of Charles Martinet et al's usually god-awful, racist, sexist etc voice work, but in Mario Kart Wii it is badly-judged and badly-implemented. The music, too, is underwhelming, generic and forgettable, although thankfully they retained the classic tunes for the retro tracks.



This is a divisive game. It is not bad, it is not perfection. It is a bold statement on behalf of Nintendo that they take online gaming seriously; however, they have taken one of their flagship franchises and, through nothing but absent-mindedness, removed some of its prize aspects and brought relatively little to the table. Instead, we are saddled with a game that is undeniably impressive on the one hand, yet upsettingly stripped and hollow on the other. Its addictive quality centres on the Wi-Fi angle, and will go down a treat with high score fiends and those who don't mind long-distance competition. Those who prefer a night in with friends will most likely be sorely disappointed.

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Sunday, 13 April 2008

[15] Dissertation Digest, and moving on...

I now have a full rough draft of my dissertation on this blog. I'll gather links to all the posts here for simplicity and ease of navigation (especially as I wrote and posted them out of order):


Chapter 1 - Problems of Translation: The Case of the Seagull

Chapter 2 - By Any Other Name...? The Russian Patronymic and Diminutive

Chapter 3 - Istanbul, not Constantinople... or Byzantium: Translating Place

Chapter 4 - Gone, but still forgotten? Nikolay Nekrasov in Translation

Chapter 5 - Gogological Problems in The Seagull

Chapter 6 - Pushkin and Shovin'

Chapter 7 - The Universal Bard? Shakespeare in The Seagull

Chapter 8 - Conclusion


The titles are still work in progress. Perhaps because of my approach to writing this, the chapters do not segue as well as they should. The chapters I posted earlier, especially 3 and 5, are incredibly sketchy, and will require the most work from now on. This draft is also way too long. My word limit is 6000 words; this draft is 10,000. Luckily, I have two and a half weeks to tweak it. Unfortunately, I think I might have to cut out whole chapters, and I worry that the less-literary examples (2 and 3) will have to face the chopping board.

This is probably the last dissertation-inclined post I'll put on here. Although, when I finish, I might link to a googledocs page with the final draft.

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I now have to move on to working on a Linguistics essay discussing English as an International Language. I'm focusing on English Lyrics in Japanese music, and the ideologies, opinions and quality judgements inherent in the use of English. I'll probably post something from that on here in due time.

I am also planning on writing a short mini-essay about the use of memory (psychological and cultural), photographs and fantasy in Chris Marker's La Jetée, as part of my revision for an exam in May. Hopefully I'll have the time to write this in the next few days.

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Mario Kart Wii is a good game. It is not ground-breaking, and I don't think it is in the same league as the original, or the DS iteration from 2005. It is, however, a very big step in the right direction from the Gamecube installment, Double Dash.

On the whole, it is very well designed, the Wi-Fi multiplayer functionality shows Nintendo thinking seriously about online content. It is a hard game; I was tag-teaming with two housemates - with expert knowledge of the franchise between us - and we were still finding 150cc difficult. It looks nice and plays well - however, the minor niggles and frustrations build up. I hope to finish off my proper review later on today.


It also has the worst boxart for a major Nintendo franchise I've ever seen. I understand the foregrounding of the Wii Wheel (which works well on lower settings, but is not responsive enough for the more intense moments), but this was a publicity shot from months ago. The outer box, game case, and manual all have this picture. It seems a bit lazy, considering the beautiful art for recent Wii games.

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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.


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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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Friday, 11 April 2008

[13] Mario Kart Wii - in the house!



This morning I went into Birmingham and picked up Mario Kart Wii.



I'm reviewing it for CC2K; as it's released here in Europe before in North American territories, we're hoping to get some good hits.

It's a nice little package, I'll probably update with the review itself, or some more raw reactions as they happen. The Wii wheel is a cute peripheral, we'll see how it turns out.


As I've done a lot of work on the dissertation over the last few days, I'm taking today off to get my teeth into this.

(The pictures I've attached to this post also reveal the other games I've been playing recently: see them?)

Thursday, 10 April 2008

[12] Introduce Yourself

Here is the draft of the opening, introductory chapter for my dissertation.

I've had a flash of inspiration regarding the title. I think I might go for: 'Translating Literature, Translating Culture: Cultural Communication in English Translations of The Seagull'. However, I noticed it is perhaps too close to the Mueller and Irmscher collection 'Translating Literatures, Translating Cultures: New Vistas and Approaches in Literary Studies'. We'll see.

I think this draft is too long. Tell me what you think.

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Problems of Translation: The Seagull in English


'Translating Russian plays is a complex game in which each participant defines his own boundaries, makes his own rules, and keeps his own score... No single opinion concerning the aim of translation prevails: so the game is played without controlling principles. Part of the difficulty stems from the very nature of translation: part, from the components of theatre, and part, from the translator's bias... Yet the impossibility of total translation affords an excuse for literalists to rely upon the letter and for stylists to revel in the spirit.' (Bristow, 1977, xv)

'Since different languages reflect different cultures, translations will nearly always contain attempts to 'naturalise' the different culture, to make it conform more to what the reader of the translation is used to' (Lefevere, 2004, 243)


As Bristow states in the above quotation, there are no set rules for translation. Indeed, translation theory is one of the oldest areas of critical debate in terms of literature, and has a rich history of comment from Cicero, through Dante, Dryden and Nietzsche, to the more recent theories of Derrida and Nabokov. Of course, in terms of translating Russian drama (the focus of this piece), there is a distinct framework for a translator to follow. Translations can be written for many purposes, but are primarily stated as serving: the audience's response, the actors' performance or the author's reputation. However, I will suggest an important aspect of translation, which is quite often overlooked: the small details of the text, namely that of reference, inference and citation. There is certainly a feeling that these little details, often hard to convey in translation, can be left out, or rendered using the closest equivalent in English. Pam Gems, in the introduction to her translation on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, states that:

'Characters in a play can be anywhere at any time, because the human ideas behind the material are universal.' (1994, xi)

The focus on universal aspects of themes, ideas or 'the human condition' can give rise to translators basing their decisions on prominent or popular interpretations of 'what The Seagull means' or 'why Chekhov is important'. In such a context, there can be a tendency to anglicise or neutralise such a distinctly foreign text. Some of the first elements of the text to be removed or neutralised are foreign cultural properties, be they grammatical (Russian names and modes of address), geographical (references to areas of Russia outside of Moscow or St Petersburg) or artistic (for instance, literary figures unknown to English-speaking audiences). Indeed, these concerns are not unfounded, as in performance, it is hard to explain references; a director cannot footnote a line of spoken dialogue.

However, translations and performances can effectively influence not only the status of the play and its author, but the cultural reception of the play's country and tradition of origin. I will refer to this concept as 'cultural communication'. There are aspects of the source-language text which, when rendered in translation, can educate and inform the target-language audience of a foreign culture. A piece of literature's 'foreign' nature is often found in these small details which, when left out, can create a totally different work. Gunnilla Anderman, in her study Europe on Stage, refers to mid-20th century translations of Chekhov, through such selective practices, as creating a distinctly 'Middle Class English' drama (2005, 129-130).


Indeed, what makes these small details and references all the more important is that they are integral to Chekhov's dramatic style, and reveal thematic and characteristic undertones necessary for interpretation. Bristow says:


'Like Ibsen, Chekhov relates every moment in a play to all other moments in that play, and translators should be wary of cutting, transposing, or 'improving' Chekhovian drama...' (1977, xxii-iii)


Chekhov's use of quotation and other intertextual strategies are conscious, and do in fact add to his stature and the play's 'meaning' itself. However, in the following chapters, I will be arguing that the decisions on the part of the translator have implications that go beyond simple analysis of the text. Using extracts from a selection of translations, published between 1923 and 2007, I hope to illustrate that there is a wealth of cultural knowledge and information in Chekhov's work that is not accurately or adequately conveyed by English-language translations. Without footnotes, or explanation, references to 19th century Russia, and it's culture, are rendered arbitrary. This results not only misrepresents Chekhov's craft, but does disservice to the web of intertexts themselves (some forgotten precisely because of selective translation and publication in Western Europe). No translation is perfect; however, the sparsity of notes and footnotes in popular editions of The Seagull is still inexcusable. The title of this introductory chapter was inspired by Vladimir Nabokov's essay 'Problems of Translation: The Seagull in English', his conclusion calls for:


'...Translations with copious footnotes, footnotes reaching up like skyscrapers to the top of this or that page so as to leave only the gleam of one textual line between commentary and eternity. I want such footnotes and the absolutely literal sense' (2004, 127)


In terms of cultural communication, this model is the noblest of all.

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Wednesday, 9 April 2008

[11] What's in a Name?

I've almost finished this initial draft of my dissertation. This is the last analytical chapter; I just have the introduction and conclusion to write. This chapter is very long, and I'm not sure if it is entirely necessary in the structure as it has evolved during the writing process. Nevertheless, I'll post it up here.

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'By Any Other Name...?': The Russian Patronymic and Dimunitive


‘So...this defective edition… I… have transported it from France to England; put it in English clothes; taught it to talk our tongue’
(John Florio, 'The Epistle Dedicatory from translation of Montaigne's Essays')
In the introductory chapter to his Anton Chekhov's Plays, titled 'Translating Chekhov', Bristow highlights aspects of the Russian which must be retained 'as signs to the reader or to the audience that the scene is indeed Russian, not mid-west American' (1977, xxxi). Primary of these aspects is the 'transliteration of personal and place names' (op. cit.). Indeed, one of the more recognisable topics facing Russian to English translation is regarding names. To quote Bristow further, 'the Russian language has numerous variants of personal names which reveal the attitude of the speaker toward the person he refers to'. A full Russian name consists of three elements: the given name, the patronymic, and the surname (example: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov). The patronymic is derived from the name of the person's father, and the given-and-patronymic form (Ivan Ilyich, Ivan Denisovich) is used 'by people who know each other fairly well, but are not particularly intimate friends' (Frewin, Teach Yourself Russian, 1977, p.70).

There is also another form of address called the diminutive, I will quote Frewin again:

'Russians use a great number of diminutives in everyday speech. Their use often suggests, apart from considerations of size and such, some emotional attiude of the speaker towards the object or person he is addressing, describing etc. By the use of various suffixes it is possible to suggest affection at one end of the scale and contempt at the other. The most common of the diminutives are probably those indicating tenderness.' (1977, 262-263)



There is more information of these forms on sites like this, or on wikipedia (patronymic and diminutive). One area where these various modes of address is encountered is in the translation of Russian literature. Frewin believes that learning the diminutive form (e.g. Masha, Vanya, Sasha) is 'indispensable' for the understanding of Russian novels and plays. Translators approach these Russian forms in different ways; I've attempted to illustrate some of these below, using examples from The Seagull; first focusing on play's dramatis personae in translation, then moving onto usage in Act I.

Character names are seen to be important to the audience's understanding of a play, and the Russian forms of address are sometimes seen as almost too exotic and unfamiliar for English-language spectators. Some of the translations consulted include a prefatory comment or note on the translation, pronunciation or meaning of Russian names. These concerns are for the benefit of the listener (the audience) and the speaker (the cast). There are some, mostly mid-20th century translations which seek to anglicise the characters' names, in order to comply with a more English frame of mind; of course, this reveals the view that names and forms of address are not important to the play, it is the 'matter' which must be communicated. David Iliffe, in his 1953 translation, reworks Pyotr Sorin and Semyon Medvedenko as 'Peter Sorin' and 'Simon Medvedenko', because 'their Russian equivalents are very difficult to pronounce in English'. This sentiment is echoed in the dramatis personae of translations by Magarshack and Hingley (table here).

However, even though the majority of the lists of characters in translation follow Chekhov's original Russian, the use of names in the body of the play is not uniform. To illustrate this, I have highlighted a series of names used in dialogue during Act I (table here).

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Example 1:

The first example, from the opening exchange of the play between Medvedenko and Masha, is the audience's introduction to Konstantin and Nina. He says (my translation):

'Medvedenko. ...Zarechnaya will be performing in a play written by Konstantin Gavrilovich.'


In the Russian, Chekhov has Medvedenko use Nina's surname, and Konstantin's given-and-patronymic forms. Worrall describes this choice in his notes: 'it is interesting that Medvedenko refers to the amateur actress as if she had the professional stage name of someone like Arkadina. He also refers to Konstantin with a degree of formality' (2002, 69). Even in this early stage, the choice of names used by characters are important and conscious in terms of revealing relationships, interplay and characterisation. Few of the translators attempt this (Bristow, Fen), and others either default to first names (Frayn or Magarshack's 'Konstantin.. Nina') or attempt an English fore-and-surname equivalent (Iliffe's 'Nina Zarechnaya... Constantin Treplev'). Equally, Hampton and Garnett have 'Miss Zarechnaya', which is admittedly a close equivalent in English. However, translators like Mulrine effectively reverse the thematic undertones of this by not only changing 'Zarechnaya' to the familiar 'Nina', but by removing the respectful 'Konstantin Gavrilovich' and replacing it with the intimate 'Kostya'.

Example 2:

The second example occurs later in the act, as Polina chastises Dorn for staying up late into the cold evening. Polina's line goes something like (my translation):

'Polina Andreevna. ...You were so carried away talking to Irina Nikolayevna... you didn't notice the cold.'


Polina is referring to Arkadina by her real name, in the given-and-patronymic form 'Irina Nikolayevna'. Arkadina here is the stage name for Konstantin's mother, who is elsewhere referred to as Arkadina. In translation, her full name is usually lost, and translators have adopted some unusual techniques to render this line. The various approaches reveal a definite, not entirely unfounded uncertainty regarding the audience's understanding of Russian names. Frayn decides to avoid the issue altogether, and replaces the name with a knowing, damning '...her...'; Stoppard follows suit, but retains a sense of respect by using the epithet 'madam'. Iliffe emends the line in order to stick with Arkadina, and evokes the stage name with a hint of irony ('that great actress Arkadina'). These translations are coupled with more straight-forward anlgicisations, such as Crimps 'Irina Arkadina' or Magarshack's 'Irene'.

None of these aforementioned translations attempt to convey Russian forms of address. The care taken by the translators might be due to a concern that the audience may be confused. Indeed, while seven of the translations retain a Russian given-and-patronymic form, and most of them reproduce full dramatis personae in order to keep readers informed, there is still confusion. In my library copy of Pam Gems' translation, a previous, entirely confused reader had underlined 'Irina Nikolayevna', and written in the margin 'Arkadina'.

Examples 3 and 4:

Towards the end of the first act, after the play-within-a-play, Arkadina calls for Konstantin, who had stormed off. In doing this, she uses the diminutive 'Kostya'. This is followed by Masha offering to find him, who walks off stage with the line (my translation):

'Masha. ...Aa-oo! Konstantin Gavrilovich! Aa-oo!' (where 'Aa-oo' is a close equivalent to 'Coo-eee' in English).


These two examples display two different characters' modes of address for the same person. Arkadina uses the diminutive intimate form, whereas Masha is relatively respectful with the given-and-patronymic. These lines are positioned side-by-side, and display the distinct relationships between the characters involved, as well as their own perceived relations with Konstantin. In this very marked situation, it is obvious that some translators feel more comfortable with these distinctly Russian forms, as 11 retain the diminutive and 6 retain both forms. It can be argued that the scene is very explicit in terms of character and motive, so the more 'confusing' aspects of address would appear more understandable through contrast and context. However, Masha's call of 'Konstantin Gavrilovitch' is still reduced to merely 'Konstantin' (Crimp, Magarshack, Iliffe) or even 'Kostya' (Mulrine, inadvertently adding extra dimensions to their relationship). Frayn and Stoppard again avoid the clashing terms by leaving Masha's line as 'Halloo-oo! Halloo-oo!'.

Example 5:

This last example is concerned with Arkadina's introduction of Trigorin to Nina. She introduces him with this line (my translation):

Arkadina. ...Allow me to present to you Trigorin, Boris Alekseyevich.


She places his surname first, followed by the given and patronymic names. When translated into English, this approach perhaps seems rigidly formal, as if from a roll call in a high security prison, or a register at a public school. Those translators that follow the Russian order are in the minority, and most attempt to convey the translation in a more comfortable English manner. The most popular is 'Boris Alexeyevitch Trigorin', which is not 'un-Russian', and is perhaps more comfortable for the understanding of English speakers. Nevertheless, there are still some translators that seek to shoe-horn the Russian into English naming structures. Mulrine, Magarshack and Crimp all attempt first-and-surname forms, ending up with 'Boris Trigorin' - although Crimp inexplicably goes with 'Aleksei Trigorin', a true mistake if there ever was one.

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I hope that these examples show that even in such small details as naming, translations are by no means consensual. It also reveals how there are certain aspects of language that translators will mould, edit, amend, even remove, for the sake of their own perceptions of what is 'understandable' or 'comfortable' for the English language audience. Indeed, these structures have been grammatical, but it is also a very important and distinct difference between English-speaking and Russian-speaking cultures. Translations of famous works serve very important duties as sources of information and education regarding these foreign cultures. To cram Russian literature into an aggressively English framework, to 'put it in English clothes', educates no-one and breeds ignorance. I have here been talking about grammatical, linguistic structures. The difference between the given-and-patronymic and diminutive forms of address may not be vastly important to criticism, world affairs or international culture. However, Chekhov uses these small decisions in order to meticulously create a thematic whole. In the following chapters, I shall focus on cultural references - places, poems and people - and how translators have approached these important and informative instances with a similarly idiosyncratic, often cavalier attitude.

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Monday, 7 April 2008

[10] Pushkin and Shovin': Rusalka in The Seagull

Double digit blog posts, and another draft chapter from my dissertation. This is chaper 6, and is concerned with a distinct reference to Pushkin's unfinished dramatic poem Rusalka. It will be the last chapter concerned with Russian cultural references, before a concluding chapter on Shakespeare (already posted here).

I've almost finished this draft of my dissertation. I'm already over the 6000 word limit, with 7000 words at the moment. I still have half a chapter (Chapter 2: 'By Any Other Name...?: The Russian Patronymic and Diminutive'), and the (hopefully) short introduction and conclusion to write.

Here's the draft.

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Pushkin and Shovin': Rusalka in The Seagull


In previous chapters, I have discussed translators' approaches to literary references of various kinds, including quotations from now-forgotten poets (Nekrasov) and allusions to foundation texts of Russian literature (Gogol's Diary of a Madman). This final chapter concerned with Russian cultural properties will focus on a reference in Act IV of the play to Pushkin's unfinished dramatic poem, Rusalka (Russian text here).

In the final act of The Seagull, which takes place two years after the rest of the play, Konstantin has become a published writer, and Nina has left to pursue her life as an actress. There is an exchange between Konstantin and Dorn where the young man narrates Nina's tragic story (quote from Mulrine, 2005, 54):

'She had a baby. The baby died. Trigorin tired of her and went back to his former attachments, as one might have expected. Actually, he'd never given them up - he's so spineless he'd somehow managed to string them both along. As far as I can make out, Nina's personal life had been a disaster.'



Konstantin goes on to revealing how he had received letters from Nina, and Chekhov inserts a reference to Pushkin:

'Она подписывалась Чайкой. В «Русалке» мельник говорит, что он ворон, так она в письмах все повторяла, что она чайка.'

or (my translation)

'She would sign herself Seagull. In Rusalka the miller says, that he is a raven, in a similar way she would repeat in her letters that she was a seagull.'



This revelation serves multiple purposes in the course of the play, almost being the crux of the play, as 'The Seagull' of the title is linked with Nina's traumatic experiences. However, of more interest to this project is the reference to Rusalka. Again, like with the reference to Poprischin from Diary of a Madman, Chekhov does not plainly state the author of the work. However, like with the example of Gogol, some translators have added in the author's name to better convey the reference (translation table here).

Rusalka is an interesting case. As an unfinished dramatic poem, its standing in the English-speaking world is not very prominent. There is also some confusion over its title, as it has been translated as 'Rusalka' (a Slavic mythical creature), 'The Water Nymph' (Magarshack), 'The River Nymph' (Fen) and 'The Mermaid' (Garnett, Bristow). Even the differences in translating this title are fascinating, with some going for literal description of the creature (Water/River Nymph), or a 'cultural equivalent' (The Mermaid), or simply retaining the Russian word, providing a sense of language transfer over understanding. This in itself is a microcosm of the decisions facing translators when they deal with cultural properties.

Unlike Nekrasov's poetry, Rusalka has been translated, although is usually hidden in collections such as Oxford World Classics' 'Boris Godunov and Other Dramatic Works' (which, at the moment, is the only UK translation I can find). However, whereas Pushkin is one of the major heavyweights of Russian literature, intimate knowledge of his work in the UK is probably less than Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Of course, Eugene Onegin (Evgenii Onegin), The Queen of Spades, Boris Godunov and perhaps The Bronze Horseman are all important pieces of literature - but it can be argued that, outside of the knowledge Russian students, their popular standing is more due to successive and successful productions of the operas based on Pushkin's, than of familiarity with the original texts. The Tchaikovsky duo of The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin are regularly performed, with the latter just recently completing a run at the Royal Opera House. However, Rusalka is an unfinished, arguably minor work

What is interesting with this example is that the reference is at least in part explained by the speaker. Konstantin relates Nina's use of the epithet 'The Seagull' with the miller in Rusalka calling himself a raven. Some translators have attempted to convey a fuller or more rounded sense of the reference, such as Frayn's:

'She'd sign herself "The Seagull". It was like that play of Pushkin's where the old miller goes mad with grief and says he's a raven...'


Frayn (and Stoppard) here sacrifices the title for more informtion regarding the reference; Nina is likened to the old miller, both go mad with grief and adopt names of birds as epithets. This manages to convey one level of this multi-faceted reference. The story of Rusalka, for those who have not read it, goes like this (from Bristow's footnote, p.42):

'A dramatic poem, Rusalka (1832) by A.S. Pushkin that was never finished. In the poem, the miller's daughter (betrayed by a prince) throws herself into the Dneiper River and becomes a rusalka. Her father goes mad with grief over his daughter's death.'


Indeed, Nina is likened to the miller, but the thematic links between The Seagull and Rusalka run deeper. These parallels are not conveyed as clearly as in Konstantin's line, but rely on the audience's knowledge of the dramatic poem itself (although, my Russian edition does footnote this reference). Bristow recounts that the miller's daughter is 'betrayed by a prince'; this is also a tidy link with Nina's relationship with Trigorin. In his notes on Frayn's translation, Worrall quotes Paul Schmidt, from his 'The Plays of Anton Chekhov', who stresses the importance of this reference to Rusalka:

'In addition to Hamlet, another play [dramatic poem] whose action parallels the plot of The Seagull is The Water Nymph (Rusalka) by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin... Russia's foremost poet. Educated Russians would be as familiar with his work as we are with that of Shakespeare...The Water Nymph was written between 1829 and 1832, and was left unfinished [but] is about a young girl, a miller's daughter, who lives by the shore of a river and is seduced, made pregnant, and abandoned by a passing prince...'


There is a distinct parallel between the stories of the daughter (the Rusalka) and Nina (the Seagull) - both the eponymous characters of their respective pieces. However, this extra level, that Nina represents the abandoned daughter as well as the grief-stricken old miller, is not conveyed in any of the translations. Indeed, even the Russian edition footnote only explains the relevance of the miller to Nina's story. Nevertheless, this reference, which could be lost in the multitude of similar quotations and citations, is important. It also represents both a direct reference, and a more subtle allusion. However, the fact that the work itself is not well known has led to translations short-changing Chekhov's link between his work and Pushkin's drama; the majority represent only half of the link's thematic content, and three of the translations studied removed the reference altogether. However, as Schmidt reveals, there is a case to be made that Rusalka is an effective parallel and precedent for The Seagull.

It is unfortunate that too much of the reference is subtle, left unspoken, and that it would be too obscure a reference for English-speaking audiences to understand. This parallel, therefore, is lost, and Schmidt would attest that this is to the detriment of English analysis of the play. It seems that, especially in this case, translators are bound by the perceived knowledge of their audiences, or of the critical tradition of which they are a part. The prevailing analysis of The Seagull, especially in English-language cultures, is that it is a retelling, or resetting, of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Schmidt highlights Rusalka as another important parallel; but the prominance of Hamlet in translations of The Seagull could certainly be influenced by Shakespeare's own dominance, certainly over Pushkin, in the culture of literate English speakers. The approach to Shakespeare in The Seagull, and the possibility of double standards, will be analysed and discussed in the next chapter.

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Friday, 4 April 2008

[9] Poor Old Nekrasov

I have another article on CC2K.us, as part of the Weekly Guide to Gaming's collaborative article on Sex and Gaming. Check it out, I'd like to know what you think.

I'll dedicate the rest of this post to another draft chapter from my dissertation. This is chapter 4, which will be placed after the chapter discussing the reference to Tver. It will be the first chapter discussing literary references, followed by the chapter on Gogol, and a chapter on a reference to Pushkin's Rusalka (which I will upload soon), culminating in the chapter titled 'The Universal Bard?'.

Please comment with any suggestions, criticisms or advice. It will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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'Gone, and Still Forgotten?' Nikolay Nekrasov in The Seagull


In the previous chapter, it was illustrated that unexplained reference can lead to elements of cultural communication and information being rendered arbitrary and empty. However, whereas Tver is an example drawn from geography, there are other examples of this 'neutralisation' of cultural property in terms of literature. The Seagull includes a plethora of literary quotations and references, and a good few of them are still relevant to modern English-speaking audiences. However, Chekhov also makes use of poetry, folksong or texts which are not familiar to 21st century audiences. This presents a sliding scale, from the relatively known to the unknown. Like with Tver and the 'complicated' or 'exotic' modes of address, translators approach these references in different ways. In this and the following chapters, I will attempt to illustrate these issues, and engage with the thought process and value judgments behind the translation process.

This first example regards Nikolay A. Nekrasov (1821-1878). Nekrasov was a poet, publisher and critic, and a friend and colleague of many of the great Russian thinkers and writers of the 19th century (Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Belinsky to name but three). However, despite his important role in the literary culture of his time, his standing in contemporary English-speaking culture is comparatively non-existant. I had not heard of him until reading for this project, and beyond Wikipedia and a handful of translated poems online, it is hard for a monolingual English reader to acquaint themselves with is work. Both the Birmingham University library and the British Library have few translations of his work (dating from 1910-1930), and online bookshops like Amazon and Abebooks have little besides a translation of 'Who Can Be Happy and Free in Russia?'. I feel the need to point out that even though this edition is published 2007, the translation, by Juliet Soskice and introduced by David Soskice, is from 1917 and available for free on Project Gutenberg.


In the first act of The Seagull, Konstantin describes his mother, Arkadina, as being able to 'recite the poetry of Nekrasov by heart'; a similar situation is present here, where some keep the reference, but some default to an arbitrary remark about her reciting poetry. Although more translators (nearly all, in fact) retain the reference to Nekrasov, the fact that the majority of them are not footnoted or explained conveys an arbitrary meaning (table here). Indeed, Alexander and Sturridge's neutralisation of the line to 'she's capable of... reeling off poetry at you' has essentially the same thematic effect, as to the general English-speaking audience, Nekrasov will default to 'a poet', and by extension the image of a pretentious old actress dropping lines of poetry in conversation will prevail.


However, this default position for characterisation is not completely accurate. Only two translations footnoted this reference, the scholarly editions (Bristow and Frayn/Worrall). Both of these footnotes focus on the ideological background to Nekrasov's poetry, and how knowledge of these aspects should affect the audience's view of Arkadina. Worrall's note calls Nekrasov 'a civic poet with a social conscience... His work tended to idealise the Russian peasantry, which makes Arkadina's apparent enthusiasm for his poetry seem a conscious piece of Chekhovian irony' (2002, 70). Once this reference can be described as 'conscious', it becomes clear that the straightforawd, neutral translation is not satisfactory.


Indeed, many of the cultural references in The Seagull fulfill specific thematic or intertextual roles. Moreover, not only is it a shame that this delicate nuance is lost (remember, this is the first description of Arkadina in the play), but also Nekrasov, the important cultural property, is not effectively communicated. As a result, the audience will not understand this aspect of Chekhov's style. It also contibutes to Nekrasov's muted international profile; ignorance of his poetry in the English-speaking world will continue, and his works will remain out of print.


This isn't the only reference to Nekrasov in The Seagull. Another aspect of the Russian text that translators often discuss, underestimate, or neutralise is the quotations of Russian poetry, song and folksong, mostly given by Chekhov to Dorn and Sorin. Like names, these short quotations are often discussed in introductions and prefatory comments. Frayn, in his 'Note on the Translation', notes:

'Chekhov gives precise references for all the songs that Sorin and Dorn sing to themselves. I have retained the titles of only the two which may still be familiar. The others, which have disappeared into the mists of time and would be entirely unfamiliar even if disinterred from the archives, I have reduced to unspecified humming.'


One of the quotations comes from a poem by Nekrasov: 'Тяжелый крест достался ей на долю', or 'A Heavy Cross' in English. I would link to an English translation, but the only reference I can find for such a thing is in the Harvard College Library sound recordings archive, of Vladimir Nabokov reciting his own translations of Russian verse. Obscure indeed! This particular quotation comes during an exchange between Dorn and Polina, here is the line:

Дорн (напевает). «Не говори, что молодость сгубила».

or (my translation)

Dorn (hums). 'Don't say, that youth was ruined'


The translation of this line, across the 13 sampled is idiosyncratic (table here). Frayn, Williams and Crimp remove the quotation, and reduce the line to 'humming'. Like Frayn's approach to certain uses of modes of address, or Alexander and Sturridge's 'reeling off poetry', this method attempts to convey the 'gist' of the line, without misrepresenting or under-representing the Russian text. Nevertheless, this hedge away from specific reference manages to short-change the audience and reader.

The majority of the translators do include the line, although there are many variations on its meaning. The original line quoted by Chekhov does not contain a personal pronoun. This opens up the line to various interpretations, including 'my youth', 'thy youth', 'her youth' and 'our youth'. Nevertheless, two central thematic and character-based ideas are transmitted through this line, showing 'Dorn's casual treatment of [Polina], and his general all-round insouciance' (Mulrine, 2005, xxvi), as well as having 'significance for the play as a whole, especially as it affects the fate of the young people' (Worrall, 2002, 73). Indeed, it must be noted that Worrall retains a footnote about this reference, despite Frayn's retraction; these little snippets of poetry and song are important to the play.

However, the cultural communication is still absent. The intertextuality of the original reference, like the aforementioned Nekrasov allusion, is not carried across. The footnotes quoted above only state the poet and attempt to relate the reason for inclusion (Bristow is strangely silent in this instance); neither Mulrine or Worrall trace the line back to its source. I was only able to discover the title of the poem through my Russian edition of the play, which includes short textual footnotes (although is standoffish in terms of themes and analysis). That the English-language editions, especially those which feature extensive footnotes on all aspects, including kopeks, snuff and Shakespeare, neglect to include the poem's title, is a gross oversight.


With this in mind, it is clear to see where the attentions of English language translators are focused. The 'forgotten' references stay forgotten, or at very most are explained in restricted circumstances in relation to the translation in question. The literary community created by the intertextuality Chekhov develops is an important aspect of his literature. Indeed, it would be naive to expect English-language audiences to understand these references, but The Seagull's role as a culural touchstone, as communication with a different place and time, is seriously hindered as these references are either sacrificed or made arbitrary in translation. The loss is not Chekhov's, as his standing is perpetuated by such high profile performances and editions. Instead, it is the audience who miss out on the varied tradition of Russian literature. And poor Nekrasov, reportedly hailed by Dostoyevsky as the greatest Russian poet since Pushkin and Lermontov, remains out of print, unread and forgotten.

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