Thursday, September 23, 2010

On “Unity” (of the Scatological Sort)

Russian toilet used in Mir space station / Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The State Historical Museum in Moscow has a curious exhibit running until October 3 called “Where the King Walked” (as opposed to where he “rode” or “was carried”). So where did the king walk? To the toilet, of course. That accounts for the exhibit’s subtitle: “Hygiene in Historical Context.” And the historical context that the curators have in mind runs from classical antiquity to the present day, with stops along the way at medieval Asian chamber pots, urine collection bags from the Mir space station, and brand new toilet bowls that can quickly analyze what you put into them and give you timely updates on your health. Russian readers can have a look at a full description of the exhibit here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Russian Journal Goes English

For the first time, the New York journal Cardinal Points (Стороны света) has published an issue in English. In fact, it's a double issue, and it's packed with great stuff. Compiled under the guest editorship of Robert Chandler, the new issue includes translations of works by Marina Tsvetaeva, Andrei Platonov, Varlam Shalamov, and Vasily Grossman, along with original poems by Chandler, Glyn Maxwell, and Ilya Kaminsky, among others. There is enough excellent writing here to keep you occupied for many days. Valentina Polukhina, for example, has an interview here with David Bethea about Joseph Brodsky, whom Bethea calls "the last poet in the Russian heroic tradition." And Chandler gives us his own essay on Platonov and Shalamov to accompany their stories.

But my favorite section of the new issue is the one called "The Art of Translation." This is a big section, with contributions by the likes of Daniel Weissbort, Sasha Dugdale, Elaine Feinstein, and Sibelan Forrester. As I see it, the must-read essay in this section is Stanley Mitchell's recollection of the work he did - and depression he suffered - while translating Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. There's no question but that any Onegin translation is a Sisyphean task, and Mitchell's took its toll on him. In the end, though, he turned out something to be proud of: "Repeating Pushkin’s self-congratulation on finishing a piece of work, I said of mine: ‘Well done, you son-of-a-bitch!’"

For a glance at the older issues, go to the journal's Russian-language page.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Good News for Those Who Read Russian

The chaos of the new semester has kept me from doing much with this blog lately, but I thought it necessary to put up a quick message: is up and running again! They were on hiatus for several months, but now they're back online doing their usual excellent work. For Russian readers who are interested in culture (music, literature, art, theater), this site is among the best resources out there.