The Burial at Thebes, CSSD 25 July

July 26, 2018

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Picture acquired from Twitter

A large audience of thin and good-looking young people followed with interest this version of Antigone, which struck me as a mainstream translation without added Heaney.  The theatre was also quite Greek, with its curved and raked rows of seats and a bare playing space.  The production alluded to Greece at the time of the War of Independence and some effective choruses were sung in a language that was not Attic or Greek or Irish.  The production concept worked rather well and effectively captured the necessary scale of the public and the communal. Our Antigone was probably mad, certainly dangerous to know and definitely her father’s daughter.  I was not sure that Heaney’s version captured the contrast between her language and that of Creon, though he did get some dead monsters of metaphors.

Our Antigone was certainly vehement, but especially at the beginning I had difficulty following her words.  The same kind of thing applied to Ismene, and it meant that Antigone tended to come off worse in her confrontations with Creon.  Creon and Eurydice were the performers who actually dominated the stage.  The Messenger for some reason had a Scottish accent that sometimes turned Irish, especially for constructions like I was after…The production was not entirely in control of time–the narrated deaths of Antigone and Haemon passed by rather quickly, then Eurydice’s death became one more thing after another.

All in all, a production that recognised the issues in staging Greek tragedy and dealt with them thoughtfully, though it did not always succeed in resolving them.

 

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11 pictures, 8 days, 4 places, 2 countries, 1 holiday

June 8, 2018

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Ljubljana Castle was quite a nice tourist attraction (from the outside).

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And there was also a bijou opera house, which put on a very nice performance of Pepelka/La Cenerentola/Cinderella:

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The orchestra were especially good and really tore into the music as though it meant something, while our Angelina dealt very prettily with her coloratura and the Prince also impressed. The Slovenes’ idea of bringing their Slovene children along was less successful, causing me irritation and the children an eternal agony of boredom. I’m not sure the grown-up Slovene’s really got bel canto either.

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This picture of the really rather impressive gluten-free section of Maximarket earned me a telling-off…

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…while here is a further example of disrespect to the Cyrillic alphabet–rdeča must just be ‘red’…

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The journey to Nova Gorica occasioned scenes of wild panic, as he bus managed no more than 5 metres in the direction of Nova Gorica when the driver declared it was kaputt. After lengthy consultations on his mobile, he said there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage. Then he couldn’t open the baggage compartment because the bus was kaputt…

Or rather: said something in Slovene which starting from Russian I interpreted as indicating there would be another bus in ten minutes and we could transfer our luggage.

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This is the border between Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy), with an abandoned Cold War style checkpoint–you just walk, drive or cycle on through. Wouldn’t it be great to be part of the civilised world like these two countries?  (Even though recent elections produced desirable results in neither of them.)

O Iago the pity of it, Iago the pity…

What confused me was that the signposts in Nova Gorica failed to acknowledge the existence of Gorizia (though they are now essentially the same place). Then at the suggestion of a helpful local gentleman I got the shuttle from the Nova Gorica bus station to the Gorizia train station, which was just as far from my hotel but did have a map on display, so I eventually reached safety.

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A picture of Italians talking in the street, accompanied by small dogs.

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The hills above Lake Bled had something of Caspar David Friedrich about them, or perhaps Arnold Böcklin…

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…while the lake itself provided a picturesque pre-lunch walk.

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Back in Ljubljana before flying out, some traditional British-style holiday weather cleared the streets pretty quickly–you can’t expect these Europeans to understand the point of taking one’s pleasures sadly, masochistically even.

An interesting shop sign in Ljubljana

June 5, 2018

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At first sight, this sign has two points of interest.  It turns out that trg pronounced ˈtə́rk is just square, like torv in Danish say or torg [trade] in Russian–trade happens in a square.

It does seem at first glance that GERM is an unfortunate woman’s surname though… 

On further investigation, we find that Germ is a Slovenian surname, but the less-worrying echt-Slovene form is Grm (grm being Slovene for bush), which may have arisen from somebody localising the German surname Busch: https://www.dnevnik.si/1042412578

Gosh, how exciting!

On a less happy note, the mention of Danish led a friend to point out that Sick is a surname there.  A site devoted to German surnames says that was originally the same kind of thing as Siggi, a nickname derived from the root Sieg/victory: http://www.deutsche-nachnamen.de/index.php/herkunft-a-z and it’s common in Schleswig-Holstein, which is next to DK.

Brooklyn again again

April 24, 2018

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Two incidents which disturb the generally realistic flow of Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn may indicate another level of meaning to this work.  In the first, Eilis while assisting at a Christmas dinner for the insulted and injured of Irish New York encounters a man who at first she takes for her dead father before deciding there is really no resemblance.  That man who is not her father the entrances the company by singing a traditional Irish song.

Now traditional Irish beliefs hold that the dead enjoy a state of blessedness  in a land way to the west, so that way we can say both that America is a rich and blessed country and also a place where the dead (like Mr Lacey) are to be found.  This then leads to the question of the type of sacrifice that Eilis’s sister Rose has made.  At the level of Eilis’s consciousness, Rose has sacrificed the chance of having a family of her to look after their mother so that Eilis can go to America.  But at the folktale or mythological level  she sacrifices her own life to cause Eilis’s return from the Land of the Dead.  Indeed her offence in keeping silent about her life-threatening medical condition may be the expiation of Eilis’s silence regarding her marriage to Tony.

That’s the other strange thing of course.  The way they marry suddenly at Tony’s insistence recalls the typical fairy-story motif where the hero meets a fateful female in some enchanted or unreal sitting and receives a token or a wound which means he is still bound to here when he returns to his home.

Another aspect to think about…

 

Some inconsistencies in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’

April 21, 2018

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SPOILER ALERT:  In what follows we consider some inconsistencies in the plot of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which of course gives the plot away…

Work

At the beginning of the book, we are informed that EO works in a graphic design agency whose owner Bob took her on while she was bearing signs of a beating on the presumed grounds that she would be cheap.  So this seems to be a pretty hole-and-corner affair.  But later on when EO has been on sick leave Bob has to follow HR procedures in filling in forms and a phased return to work, which sounds like a rather large organisation.  Also after her promotion to office manager EO describes herself as a section head, one of the Praetorian Guard reporting to Bob.

EO’s colleagues also seem to have undergone the same kind of process of melioration.  At the beginning they make fun of her because she is different, while at the end they react like the typical kind of concerned colleagues.

The workplace also has a staffroom, which seems strange for a design agency…we will pass over Sammy Thom saying I don’t know anything about graphic design when nobody has in fact mentioned it…

An extra-literary explanation would be that the author Gail Honeyman was just reverting to the kind of public sector background she was familiar with.  We will come on to literary explanations later…

Eleanor and health issues

EO tells us that she drinks two [litre] bottles of vodka every weekend.  I doubt that a woman of normal weights (she tells us) could do that for nine years and go on living, never mind go to the office on Monday morning.  But I could be wrong!

She also tells us that she cannot sing because of the effects of smoke inhalation, but later on she and Raymond sing at Sammy Thom’s funeral.  People turn round and look at them of course…

With regard to mental health, we are clearly in the realm of fantasy, especially regarding auditory hallucinations that can be dismissed at will…

Eleanor and housekeeping

On page 83 as part of her normal routine Eleanor cleans the bathroom, washes the kitchen floor and takes out the recycling, all of which sounds quite efficient.  Then on page 313 as part of her recovery she fills four black bags with rubbish.

Where does Raymond’s mother live?

On the one hand, it’s a neat terrace.  On the other hand, when Raymond and Eleanor visit they go round to the back door, which is difficult even in an end terrace…

What does Eleanor know?

Although she seems to watch a lot of TV, Top Gear is a mystery to her.  Similarly, while she seems to know at least some classics of English literature, Arnold Bennett is as well.

That leads on to her education, where the questions are more wide-ranging.  Ignoring the point that nobody is likely to allow a child with suspicious bruising to be home-schooled, the question arises of how she got to do a degree in Classics.  If an Latin A-Level was required, that implies a rather posh type of school, while if she studied Latin and Greek ab initio that still leaves the question of where the specific interest came from.

So what does all this mean?

The book starts of seeming to be about loneliness as a widespread social ill and ends up by blaming it all on the evil fantasist Sharon Smyth (pictured) 29 who has quite literally scarred EO for life.  So is she supposed to represent loneliness or the causes and consequences of loneliness, which might be unrealistic expectations, inappropriate behaviour, a feeling that one has to be superior to one’s surroundings or that Life is Elsewhere?

An alternative explanation would be that these inconsistencies show that Eleanor is really just having a fantasy about escaping from her misery but it doesn’t quite hold together.  I doubt they are systematic enough for that, though it might explain why Raymond’s mother is specifically described as having no character–Eleanor’s imagination can’t extend far enough to create one for her…

 

In Search of Pavel Filonov

March 31, 2018

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So when Tanya from Vologda kindly sent me a listing of the most popular Russian painters  to talk about, I was impressed by Filonov’s Udarniki (or Shockworkers) as shown above.

Some time later I thought I would buy a reproduction to hang on my wall.  Putting some combination of filonov and udarniki plus one of price print reproduction into Google did not yield anything.  But I did find out that the work was apparently also known as Eleven Heads.  

Searching with that title showed that you could buy reproductions on amazon.com, but only framed versions could be sent to the UK.  That sounded expensive and inconvenient. So then I decided to see what might be available from Russian sources.

There turned out to be a variety of Internet shops selling reproductions of this picture and on the whole they expected you to collect though they could also deliver within the boundaries of Moscow or St Petersburg or possibly in the extreme case to the rest of Russia.

What most impressed me was the offering from Ukraine:

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They had decided to turn it from portrait into landscape by chopping most of it off–a novel idea, one might say.

All seemed lost.  Then I thought of searching for an image rather than a name (in whatever language).  Putting the first image above led to discovering it was available from a place in North Shields called Spiffing Prints in a variety of sizes and finishes, under the name of Blue Faces.

Extreme patriotic excitement!

So I’m trying that.  The moral seems to be that if you are looking for an image you should search for an image and not guess at words…

Some resources for Russian translators (and other interested parties)

February 3, 2018
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Robert Chandler writes as follows:

I am sending out a message I keep on my computer and send out now and again.  

The most important [resources] are in bold!


1.  Michelle Berdy’s THE RUSSIAN WORD’S WORTH (GLAS) is brilliant.
  

Michelle is an American who has lived in Moscow for the last 25+ years.  This collection of her articles about translation problems is elegantly written and very funny.  Few people know more than her about Russian life and the difficulties many Westerners face as they try to understand it.

2. Sophia Lubensky, RUSSIAN-ENGLISH DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS REVISED EDITION (Yale Univ. Press, JAN 2014).

Truly outstanding – and a fantastic bargain given the many, many years of work that have gone into it.
An earlier version can be found here:
Idioms: http://phraseology_ru_en.academic.ru/
Большой русско-английский фразеологический словарь. — М.: ACT-ПРЕСС КНИГА. С.И. Лубенская. 2004.

3. Cardinal Points  (a literary journal which I co-edit)

http://www.stosvet.net/stosvet_eng.html
You will find my article about translating Kapitanskaya dochka here. And I esp. recommend Stanley Mitchell’s moving essay (his ONEGIN, by the way, is  superb). 

 

4.  Anna Wierzbicka, Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-specific Configurations (brilliant book comparing words like ‘fate’,’soul’ etc across different cultures)

5. Boris Akunin’s witty and informative lecture
on translating in theSoviet Union: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8ME1aAaEV0

6. A good resource for contemporary Russian language: 
http://www.bash.im/
http://tinyurl.com/n9s9ryh

7.  A FEW Online dictionary sites:

http://www.gramota.ru/slovari/dic/ is brilliant (Clare Kitson recommends it highly!).
http://www.lexilogos.com/english/russian_dictionary.htm
http://slovco.ru/
http://multitran.ru/c/m.exe?a=1
http://www.ruscorpora.ru/
http://www.linguee.com/
http://dic.academic.ru/  Gives results from monoling dicts & quotes from books and films

The Russian Grammatical Dictionary
http://seelrc-iis.trinity.duke.edu/russdict/

Morphological dictionary:  http://starling.rinet.ru/cgi-bin/morphque.cgi?flags=endnnnn

8. Journals interested in publishing translated work:

http://www.pen.org/journals-seeking-work-translation

9.  Two outstanding books, both by by Genevra Gerhart & Eloise M. Boyle:

The Russian’s World: Life and Language 
The Russian Context: The Culture Behind the Language


10. Most important of all – here are some excellent email forums, both open to everyone:

http://seelangs.wix.com/seelangs#!howsubscribe/cee5

If you would like to join the UK-based
russian-literary-translation-network@googlegroups.com
then you should write to Anne Marie Jackson
 
And, to join the ETN (Emerging Translators’ Network), write to Roland Glasser

11.  The translator George Butchard adds: 
dtSearch, an excellent free resource:
https://dtsearch.com/
You can create searchable indexes of all your documents, so if you’ve
got a sense that you’ve come across a word/phrase before but can’t
quite remember where, you can easily track it down.
 
12. Museum of Russian Icons iconography glossary:
 http://www.museumofrussianicons.org/pdf/JournalOfIconStudies/IconTerms2014Opt.pdf

13.   All thick Russian journals in one place:
http://magazines.russ.ru/

And a collection of fiction and nonfiction texts:
http://postnonfiction.org/narratives/
14.  THE PENGUIN BOOK OF RUSSIAN POETRY:  
this site gives the Russian texts of all poems not under copyright:

https://pbrp.wordpress.com

Byzantine Summer School, Dublin

February 2, 2018

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Martine Cuypers writes:

The Department of Classics at Trinity College Dublin is delighted to welcome back the International Byzantine Greek Summer School (IBGSS) in July–August 2018. This well-established course, directed by Dr Anthony Hirst in Belfast, Birmingham and Dublin since 2002, teaches Byzantine Greek at Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced level and allows early learners to engage with original Byzantine texts from the start.

Course dates:

Level 1 – Beginners: 15–28 July

Level 2/2.5 – Intermediate: 29 July – 11 August

Level 3 – Advanced Reading: 29 July – 11 August

Further information: www.tcd.ie/Classics/byzantine/

Applications:

  • Please complete and return the form at www.tcd.ie/Classics/byzantine
  • Deadline: 6 April 2018
  • Course fee: €450/two weeks

  • Accommodation: can be booked on application to the course at €400/two weeks
  • A limited number of student bursaries are available for this course.

 

VISIT TO PERM, RUSSIA SEPTEMBER 2018

February 2, 2018

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Karen Hewitt writes:

At the beginning of every year I circulate everyone with details of this year’s group visit to Perm. Many of you have been on this visit aand I hope you still think it was worthwhile. 
I would be very grateful if you could publicise it among your friends who might want to apply; I’m especially eager to have people from Oxford and Oxfordshire or at least with a strong Oxford connection who do not live too far away. (Potential applicants who live in Berkshure, Bucks, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Northamptonshire can be considered as Oxford-neighbours – if, like several of you, they are in fairly regular contact with Oxford.)

The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre together with the University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

Perm is Oxford’s twin city in Russia so the visit is open chiefly to people in Oxfordshire or with an Oxford connection such as attendance at OUDCE summer schools. Others will be considered if we do not fill all places. The programme of the fortnight can vary according to individual interests. As guests of Perm University you will be asked to talk to University students, while your activities can include: visits around the city, and to the Urals countryside; canoeing along the Silva river; professional and specialist contacts with economists, lawyers, local politicians, (and lectures if you are willing and able); visits to art galleries, concerts, ballet; studying the work of the city council and local voluntary groups; taking part in family life with your hosts and their friends. Previous visitors on this scheme have seized all sorts of opportunities to see how Russian society works. Several have returned for a second visit.

A knowledge of Russian is not necessary since interpreters will be provided, but obviously you will learn more if you know a little Russian. Participants should be physically fit and willing to walk reasonable distances. Some of our hosts do not have cars, and walking, climbing flights of stairs and public transport are normal. And you should be adaptable…

DATES: Saturday 8th September to Sunday 23rd September 2018 (Fifteen nights) The journey is by British Airways scheduled flight to Moscow. You will travel from Moscow to Perm by train – about 900 miles and the first day of the Trans-Siberian route. You will have a few hours in Moscow on the return journey.

COST: £1035 This includes air fares, train fares, other travel in Russia, accommodation with a family, breakfast and many other meals, a programme of activities including two visits to the opera or ballet, and two full day tours. It does not include visas, insurance, and some cheap meals. We will arrange your visas and inform you in June of the cost. Currently official visas are £50 plus admin and special delivery postage – in total about £85. You will need to go to London to give your fingerprints, but otherwise it should be straightforward.

Better email Karen if you are interested and sufficiently Oxonian!

The War Has Not Yet Started, Southwark Playhouse 18 January

January 20, 2018
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Picture from British Theatre Guide

This £12 preview had a large and enthusiastic audience–perhaps the actors were famous or something?  They were certainly very very good, and there was at most one early-run fluff that I noted.

Someone in the audience had pointed out that the programme didn’t tell you what the play was about, though there was some suggestion it was connected with war as a metaphor for human relationships.  Then the set was specifically enough a late-Soviet flat though the action of the twelve separate scenes, all with different characters and situations, seemed to be taking more or less in the present.   References to presentations and clients seemed to fix the period, while a character in the first scene drinking vodka and then beer to get calm determined the locale closely enough.

And you could see that war was somehow present in most of the scenes, although the couple copping off at the party and then him saying she was his first and only one might be difficult to fit into that.  And also the robot with an absurdity implant waiting to see the doctor.  The scenes at the beginning did recall actors doing improvisation exercises, which was all very clever but did they need an audience?  Interest did however grow as the evening went on.

A critic on the 172 bus afterwards said she liked the way the women played men and the man played women.  I think that wherever possible Sarah Hadland played a man and Mark Quartley played a woman, while Hannah Britland was not so typecast.  But it did seem to me her T-shirt was artfully billowed to disguise pregnancy–of the woman not of a character–, and so I was frankly terrified during a scene that threatened domestic abuse.

Now then, in his local media  playwright Mikhail Durnenkov gave a very straightforward interpretation of the play–it was meant to fix the period of its writing, when preparations for war were apparent and Russians were subjected to ceaseless propaganda.  That gave rise to incomprehension, hatred and violence in ordinary life.  The play was written with love for humanity and in the hope that Russia would not fall into the waiting abyss. To me that all makes sense:  the inbreaking of war, and rumours of war, result in dislocations–violent dislocations–of everyday life.

And also of sex roles, which might well be more of a shock in Russia than here.  The original text says that the thing is meant for three actors who can play the different characters without regard to age and sex.  Personally I would have gone for masks and probably a chorus as well.  With regard to that text, the translation was more in the line of an adaptation–the original robot just had an absurdity module, while from Thursday I remember an implant, between the second and third vertebrae.  A lot of the dialogue had also been normalised from the demotic and individual to general speech of educated people as well.

Certainly a lot to think about!