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Письмо N 3

Дата: 01 февраля 2001 г.
От: Владимир Свиридов <selim@freemail.ru>
Кому: Mark Hooker <mthooker@indiana.edu>
Тема: Complementarity

Dear Dr. Hooker,

it was very pleasant to me to receive your fast and informal answer to my letter about Gruzberg's translations. I am very grateful to you for clarifying me how a native speaker feels the sentence which became stumbling-block for so many people including myself.

Most closely I took to my heart a passage where you have written:

"I like to compare the two approaches to translation to photography and painting. One is "literal" the other "interprets" the image. Both have their place. Both have an audience. I like both "photography" and "painting". That is the point that I was trying to make in my closing sentence. While I like Gruzberg for his literalness, I also like M&K for their literariness. What I would really like to see, however, is a combination of the two. Tolkien is still waiting for the definitive translation of his works into Russian. If you make it feel too Russian, you destroy some of the subtle foreign message that Tolkien had. If you make it too literal, you can't see the forest for the trees. You need enough familiar literary ground to stand on while you enjoy the view of the strangely worded trees."

Let me associate your considerations with an example from my professional area. There is Bohr's principle of complementarity in quantum mechanics. It states that full description of an object always demands to know such quantities that exactly measuring one of them prevents another one from being measurable. When I explain this to my students I deliver a story about an elephant investigated by blind men. One decides that the elephant is long, flexible, and hollow; another concludes that it's sharp and hard; the third compares the elephant with a pillar while the fourth with a sheet... Of course, the real elephant is a sheet, AND a pillar, AND a tusk, AND many more - simultaneously. But the world is constructed in such a way that we can feel only a single feature of the elephant for a time.

Expanding the principle of complementarity to the problem of Tolkien in Russian, I have to agree with you that the multiplicity of translations and translators is inevitable. But I am rather less optimistic in hope for coming a "definitive translation". Complementarity does not means unitability. Literariness is not soluble in literalness (by the way, what a beautiful opposition you've found!).

    Не можно впрячь в одну телегу
    Коня и трепетную лань.

Therefore the problem of choice between different translations is eternal. I choose for artistic works because if I want to investigate "the trees" I turn to the English source and even try to translate a little with my own. If one doesn't want to be an investigator or is not able to read and enjoy the original text, he won't take many benefits from reading a translation "with subtle foreign message". Such a translation will be perceived simply as a crippled Russian text - what is the case with the translation of Gruzberg.

Please note that I don't stand under question mark a qualification of A.A. Gruzberg as a philologist. But there is a difference... Well, when I reported my doctor thesis in Physical Institute of the Academy of Sciences - a glorious institution of world greatest rank - I naturally was quite uneasy about the impression made by me on the audience. Asking Secretary of Solid State Physics Department about this, I was answered: "Well, Volodya, these walls heard reports on more outstanding discoveries. But only a few of their authors were able to tell about them with such a fascination". You see, great physicists were not masters at delivering lectures.

As for translation of the Georgian joke, I was staggered by your fluency in spoken Russian and your creativity in English (American). So a bottle (half liter) of vodka you've fairly won (please notify me when you will be going to Russia). But I can't recognize you to fulfill the condition in the full extent. I wrote "if the found form will appear to be close in its wording to the Russian prototype". It is the pretty version of the three ones that, by me, is closest to the prototype in its sense and spirit. But this version is most distant, of the three, from the prototype in its wording! In fact you've corroborated my statement that exact (in its sense) translation of a complex text tends towards literariness rather than literalness. We could verify this judgement if you would allow me to publish the bet for my colleagues in TTT team.

And finally, with great pleasure, about the story on three deaf boys. To transplant them into Russian soil, let them be not boys but мужики, not hearing-impaired but considerably drunk (поскольку у нас поддатые мужики встречаются гораздо чаще, чем глуховатые), and let they are riding not in a car-spool to a school but in a "Kirovets" tractor in searching for more drink.

    Три поддатых мужика едут на тракторе в поисках еще одной бутылки и 
    беседуют, с трудом ворочая языком:
    Первый: "Нам надысь по ящику посулили дожди".
    Второй: "Эт' надо ждать года три".
    Третий: "За ящик водки три года? Поехали по домам!".


поддатый = slightly drunk;
надысь = recently, some a day ago;
ящик = TV set;
посулили = promised;
эт' = это;

The first мужик tells about weather forecast on TV.

But the second мужик hears: "по ящику [выпивки] посулили, да жди [теперь]", i.e. "they promised a box of drink to each, but [now] we to wait for".

(He and the third мужик understands now that a free box of drink may be stolen only)

He answers "One has to wait for some three years" (appeal to Russian proverb "Обещанного три года ждут").

But the third мужик hears: "[За] это надо ж дать года три" (дать три года = to sentence [for some crime] for three year imprisonment).

He has a vague memory that the first told something about a box of vodka and wonders a severe penalty for stealing it. He decides that such an expedition is too risky.

Best regards,
Vladimir Sviridov

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