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Baer, Brian James (2016): Translation and the Making of Modern Russian Literature. New York/London: Bloomsbury, 213 p.[Record]

  • Gleb Dmitrienko

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  • Gleb Dmitrienko
    Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

In the era of total globalization, people of different cultures and religions, living in different countries and speaking different languages will always seek for the means of preservation of their national identities. The feeling of belonging, being part of a particular community is, according to Maslow (Maslow 1943), one of the basic human needs. Driven by this need of socialization, a human being is prone to look for the sense of security among the people who speak the same language and who share the same values which are usually embedded in particular social regulations and cultural artifacts, sometimes reinforced by different systems of beliefs. In the contemporary world of globalization and multiculturalism, with the traditional ethnic states becoming more and more obsolete, with the boundaries between different nations and cultures becoming more and more transparent, and with national languages eventually surrendering to “Globish,” people still struggle to preserve what makes them stand out as a nation and what constitutes the core of their national identities: their native language, their national historical and cultural heritage. When it comes to preservation of national identities, cultures and languages, it seems obvious that the leading role here belongs to national literatures which can be seen as tribunes of “national spirit,” metaphoric sanctuaries of what any particular community considers valuable. For the sake of preservation and promotion, the values get embedded into comprehensive literary forms and then passed from one generation to another. However, given that “communities are to be distinguished…by the style in which they are imagined” (Anderson 1991: 6), it becomes obvious that national identities can only be seen in contrast of translation as it exposes what can and what cannot be “carried over.” An example of such investigation, situating the origins of the Russian national identity in translation and imitation which played a crucial role in the making of the Russian national literature throughout the 19th-20th centuries, may be seen in the recent monograph of Brian James Baer Translation and the Making of Modern Russian Literature. Speaking about the necessity to examine the Russian national literature and, by extension, its national identity, through the lens of translation, Baer explains his choice of research methodology by the fact that translation, being “hybrid in its core” (Hermans 2010: 210) fully corresponds to the intrinsic hybridity of Russian culture. The “belatedness” Russian nation-building project led by the non-Russian cosmopolitan elite as well as the internal otherness of different nations constituting multiethnic Russian Empire (p. 6) – those are the main characteristics of Russian dual identity which can be reduced to the oxymoronic combination of phrases “imperial nation” (Clowes 2011: 70) within the “empire of nations” (Hirsch 2005). Ironically, the intrinsic ability of Russian culture to absorb alien elements and to transform them into domestic artifacts (Wachtel 1999: 57) has made it possible to build up a unique Russian nationhood and make it the core of the multiethnic but monolingualized empire (p. 13-14). Here Baer makes a remarkable observation that it was translation that has become the main tool for building and sustaining the hybridity of Russian national identity. A playground of imitation of French and German romanticists, translation rapidly developed into a workshop where Russian national literature, and by extension, its national culture and identity were called to existence. Comparatively weak in its “belatedness,” Russian literature reevaluated imitation as “following the steps of genius” (Pushkin 1836/1986: 401) and evolved towards the rejection of the Western cult of original authorship which resulted in the appropriation, adaptation and integration of translated texts into the monolingualized Russian culture if they had been originally created …