Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lizok's Bookshelf: Listed in the Zero Years

Lizok's Bookshelf: Listed in the Zero Years: "To paraphrase, the continuing influences of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky make it difficult to export Russian writers, but Alma sees value in what “could be the classics of the future.”"

It's interesting how a -- controversial, at best -- concept, that seeks to explain a whole national literature in one sweeping phrase, has a life of its own...

What is being paraphrased is itself something that is likely borrowed from Joseph Brodsky's "Катастрофы в воздухе" ("Catastrophes in the Air"): "The trouble with Russian writers is that they still appear to be writing under the shadow of their nineteenth-century masters and try to out-Tolstoy and out-Dostoevsky each other all the time. This makes them very hard to export outside Russia. But on the other hand these books could be the classics of the future, so it would be a crime if they were to be lost to an English readership."

What Brodsky once wrote was: "Толстовская гора отбрасывала длинную тень, и, чтоб из-под нее выбраться, нужно было либо превзойти Толстого в точности, либо предложить качественно новое языковое содержание" -- quoting by my Russian edition; approximately: "Tolstoy was a mountain that was casting a long shadow, so to get out of that shadow one had to either out-perform Tolstoy in exactness of describing life, or to offer radically new language content".

The 25-year old lecture by Brodsky is just one -- admittedly, one very popular -- opinion. The reason someone from a publishing house would try to use it to prop ones view of "what is the matter with Russian literature" might well have something to do with marketing: nothing's bad about being exotic to the English reader and at the same time like the classics, right?

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