9 thoughts on “Have I told you guys that I became a sad playwright recently?

  1. Please, no plays like Chekhov’s. And none of those scenes where everybody stays up all night drinking and smoking cigarettes and saying incomprehensible deep Russian things. Or hunting a bear.

  2. I love smoking cigarettes all night with Russian literature geeks who say deep incomprehensible things. Some of the best conversations I had were with my coworker, Igor. I worked all night taking pizza orders for a small restaurant, which, unfortunately, no longer exists. Igor drove. I love driving with Russians too. Their spatial awareness is flawless. Something about Igor actually reminded me of the other Chekhov, James Tiberius’ helmsman. I think cool Russian driving has something to do with the way they add suffixes to the object of a sentence to emphasize the prepositional relationship, i.e., the direction/position of the subject. When a book is on the table, the word table is followed by a suffix that’s different from the one used when the book is under the table. My aspiring anthro geek wants to say that this must make all types of travel infinitely more efficient for Russians than our clumsy English does for us. English was designed for writing insurance policies.

    Sometimes when we were busy, and there were too many cooks in the pizza place, and no room for the ordertakers, I’d grab the cel, jump in the car and help Igor with his English while we drove around. That practise helped me to stay awake on those long overnight shifts. He’d ask me about the kookiest translations, like “Xena, vot is stoop n scoop?” or “Xena, vot is stoic?” I couldn’t quite figure it out at the time, but in retrospect, I think he was trying to wrap his head around English words that looked or sounded like Russian words. I hope I wasn’t condescending in my attempt to teach what I thought might be cultural differences. He was from the country our obnoxious boss used to call Ker-GEE-za-stan. I had no idea whether people in that place owned dogs or yaks, lived in yurts, or gleaming oil refinery cities. So I was thorough. From dog poop by-laws to Clint Eastwood to Matthew Goode. Igor loved the song “Apparitions”. He said his mother was very taken with the supernatural.

    Don’t most arty Russian writer types speak 5&6 languages? I bet some of them aren’t sad at all. Their brows are just all furrowed from the constant translating, right? 🙂

    Was Chekhov sad or funny? I found the story about the horse named Misery absolutely gut wrenching. It reminds me of my favourite cat. He died shortly after I read the story.

  3. I guess my Chekhov experience has been colored by Constance Garnet’s translations. I think she was a proper serious lady who left out the naughty bits.

    I did once read three volumes of Chekhov’s short stories and was left with an existential hole that has never filled up.

  4. Don’t most arty Russian writer types speak 5&6 languages?

    Naaaaaaah. Nobody has time for 5 or 6 languages, nowadays.

    Chekhov’s stories are both wildly sad and funny. The plays are funnier, however. Chekhov was born into extreme poverty, and he made fun of wealthy families going to seed. He was one of those people who didn’t take himself extremely seriously either – you can see it in the way he faced his illness, for example.

    There’s nothing wrong with Garnet’s translations, although I suppose that some of them are a little dated by now. The problem is with how Chekhov is often performed: if the director’s vision is too earnest, the entire thing just falls apart. The humor is lost and the sadness loses its impact.

  5. Ah, that explains a lot about Chekhov’s work. I discovered him on my own, without a prof to explain the subtleties in whatever irony he was using in the stories I read. DIY isn’t always the best way to go at literature.

    As for Constance Garnet, I did study one of her translations with a prof, and one without. The frame narrative about JC’s Second Coming in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers K (my apologies for being too lazy to spellcheck that :)) was STUNNING. Truly life-changing.

    Crime&Punishment–not so much. I barely made it through 20 pages before the headache kicked in. Her description of the “tipsy” men drinking in a time and under circumstances that other literature geeks have described as appalling was too dishonest for words. I also got the impression that whatever cognitive dissonance the original unreliable first person narrative was trying to portray, as well as the social commentary that should have been assumed, was lost in Garnet’s Victorian Church Lady candy coating.

    I guess I can safely assume that Garnet did a better job of translating biblical messages and religious arguments than she did of situations that got her fee fees up in a bunch.

  6. That’s an interesting observation on Garnet. I’d never so much as glanced at her translation of C&P. I guess I tend not to look at translations – unless I’m figuring out which one I ought to recommend to a friend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s