Abstracts of my articles and conference talks

Here are abstracts of some of my articles and conference talks:


Vsemirnaia Literatura [World Literature]: Intersections of Translating and Original Literary Writing


Translation and the Communicative Ecology


The lecture will introduce the notion of public sphere and discuss the role translation plays in it. Theorizing PS and the communicative ecology has been enriched since their earlier days, yet an important factor, translation, is still missing. Dialogue is identified as a way of socializing in the sense that it is getting out of one’s own ‘bubble’ (one’s own worldview), and contacting another person, another ‘bubble’, another worldview. Dialogue requires a means of bridging the gap between the two ‘bubbles’. This means is translation. Translation should also be considered as a fourth layer of the communicative ecology, together with communicating actors, the technology they use and the topics they discuss.


Translation Broadly Conceived


Translation will be shown as a complex phenomenon with a number of kinds. Three kinds of translation are going to be singled out – kinetic, intralingual and interlingual. Kinetic translation deals with transfers on the level of gestures. Intralingual translation, otherwise referred to as re-wording, handles transfers within one verbal language. Interlingual translation, or translation proper, is the transfer between two or more languages. All the three types are actively used in the social realm.


Translation and Compromise


Translation is examined as an instrument of negotiating compromise. Compromise is interpreted as a useful social mechanism. Different scenarios of compromise in and through translation are analyzed. Substitution compromise is sought when the co-principals do not share common ethical values and identify an option of handling a problem outside their usual ways of acting. Intersection compromise unfolds when the co-principals have an overlap in their ethical values. Conjunction compromise is the only way ahead when the co-principals’ ethics conflict: then a combination of solutions which only partially agree with either co-principal’s convictions. In all the three types translation is shown to be the underlying mechanism of negotiating compromise. The notion of the density of translation problematizes viewing translation as a transparent social agency.


Translation through the Prism of Habermas’ Sociological Theory


Translation is shown to work not only at linguistic ruptures as is usually believed but as a ubiquitous means of communication in the social realm. Translation is a catalyst of social interactions. Yet as a chemical catalyst, it can facilitate interactions or hinder them. Translation works in the situation known in sociology as double contingency. Drawing on Jürgen Habermas, translation is examined as either a communicative action or an instrumental one. Moreover, translation can aggravate the instrumentalization of social actions or contribute to communicative actions in the public sphere. Translation, if practiced ethically, can help the instrumentally minded mediated parties to enrich their appreciation of the lifeworld of the other and thereby lessen the instrumentalization of modern public spheres.


Strategies of Translating Sexualities as Part of the Secularization of Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russia


(Comparative Literature Studies, Special Issue 'The Gender and Queer Politics of Translation: Literary, Historical, and Cultural Approaches', ed. by William J. Spurlin, Vol. 51, no. 2, 2014)


Keywords: Russia; translation; sexuality; Luhmann; Sappho; Pushkin


This article considers one of the understudied areas of Russian translation history—the role translation played in introducing works of verbal art with a distinct sexual component as part of the program of westernization of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Russia. The purpose is to look at the broad spectrum of translation strategies that were used in order to introduce sexuality as a literary theme into a new secularized Russia spanning from bowdlerized to faithful renderings, and thereby liberalize social mores and challenge dominant systemic discourse. With the help of Luhmann’s social systems theory, translation is shown to be both a means of enriching the nascent Russian literary subsystem with established masterpieces of Greco-Roman antiquity and western European vernacular literatures and, at the same time, not infrequently forcing unpalatable manifestations of sexuality into the target system’s set of values. The author analyzes the vicissitudes of translations of Sappho’s Second Ode and Pushkin’s use of translation techniques in order to challenge the official religious and state establishment in some of his controversial poetic works, notably AnImitation of the Arabic, Monk, and Gavriiliada.


What’s Translation to the System, or the System to It? 

(Logos, 2012, no. 3, see here)


Keywords: translation, sociology, westernization of Russia, Niklas Luhmann, social systems theory.


The article considers translation as a social function (sub)system in terms of Luhmann’s social systems theory and as a conditio sine qua non of Russia’s modernization. Drawing upon Russian historical texts, the authors shows the genesis of translation as a subsystem in Russia viewed as a social function-based system. Three axes of translation’s functioning in Russia’s westernizationare singled out. The first axis is the translation-facilitated radical change of the dominant discourse in the social systemic communication—Russia began learning from Western Europe. This is an example of translation’s intrasystemic workings. The second axis is Russia’s translation-mediated self-projection into the social-systemic environment—Russia manipulated its environment by commissioning translation of positive information about itself. Finally, the third axis is Russia’s integration into the modern global function system. Once again, translation played a key role in making Russia’s function subsystems ‘compatible’ with and part and parcel of subsystems of the overall world mega-system. The second and third axes are extrasystemic involvements of translation.


Holes in the Closet, or 'An Unsaid Love': A Case Study of K.R. (Grand Prince Konstantin Konstantinovish Romanov)


The presentation considers the case of Grand Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich who signed his original poetry and translations with his nom de plume K.R. He was married and fathered nine children, yet in his diaries he left direct evidence of what he called his ‘sin’ (grekh), ‘vice’ (porok) or ‘lust’ (pokhot’) whose objects were males: “I fantasize about the bathhouse attendants whom I know – Aleksei Frolov and especially Sergei Syroezhkin. My passion is always towards these simple [=not belonging to the nobility] men… outside their circle I have never sought or found co-participants in this sin” (April 19, 1904). Such confessions are always accompanied by his sincere Christian repentance. Metaphorically, one may speak of ‘holes’ in Grand Prince’s closet as a bisexual man. Arguably, another type of holes in his closet can be found in his poetry and translations. However, unlike direct confessions of his diary, K.R. is considerably more discrete as a poet and translator. I focus on several of his poetic translations (from Rückert, Helen Engelhardt-Schnellenstein, Sully Prudhomme) some of which can be interpreted as telling hints at the translator’s sexuality. K.R.’s output as a translator (and poet) is especially interesting because of the tension between the degrees of his openness and willingness to discuss his sexuality which was not a trivial matter for a member of the royal family, married and father of nine children, as well as a statesman occupying important positions in the government. To throw K.R.’s translator profile into a sharper relief I compare him with another poet and translator of a comparably high social status—Ivan Dmitriev who expressed his homosexuality in his poetic translations.