Re: Interpreting dead people's creative works (was: Riddles ...)

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Fri Jan 05 2001 - 19:32:13 MST

At 11:17 AM 5/01/01 -0800, Hal wrote:

>The [Lem] poem is nicely done and widely
>quoted on the net: [...]
>Surely the translator deserves at least as much credit as Lem for
>producing this poem (assuming he was the one who created it), but I
>never see him credited.

Michael Kandel sparklingly translated this Lem book, and some others. He is
in consequence greatly admired among [those few] literary folks who enjoy
both sf and good writing. Other Lem work had been execrably rendered (*The
Invincible*, e.g.). Kandel confessedly does not try to find an English
equivalent for every Polish word; he seeks to convey the spirit of the
original text in the best and closest available English. My pal George
Zebrowski, who grew up lucid in Polish and knows Kandel (who learned Polish
as an adult), says he finds some of Kandel's renderings forced and on
occasion simply wrong due to ignorance. Ah well. I don't care that much,
because Kandel's work is such fun.

As for Hofstadter and Onegin: this reminds me of the famous row between the
great American critic Edmund Wilson, and Vladimir Nabokov. Wilson also
taught himself Russian to translate Pushkin and others; Nabokov, whose
family had escaped from Russia early (and who'd grown up, like Hofstadter,
fluent in French and English), denounced Wilson's translations - and yet
many Russians found Nabokov's own Russian encrusted with a sort of
stuck-in-amber Edwardian floridity, a bit like the English translations of
Tolstoy by Constance Garnett.

Thanks to Amara for those delightful reflections of poetic form (and
content). It's nice to see something on this list from the other side of
the great cultural divide, especially from a professional astronomer. :)

Damien Broderick

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