Friday, February 19, 2010

Robert Chandler on Andrei Platonov

This title sure caught my eye: “Andrei Platonov: Russia’s greatest 20th-century prose stylist?” Here’s a link to the article, Daniel Kalder’s guardian.co.uk interview with translator Robert Chandler.

Chandler, who translated Andrei Platonov’s Котлован (The Foundation Pit) not once but twice, speaks here, among other things, about the repeat translation, Platonov’s language, and some odd realities connected with The Foundation Pit.

I particularly enjoyed reading what Chandler says about working on the collection Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida:

“I worked on this for several years, did most of the translations myself and revised them many times. I read through the proofs with enjoyment – I was still happy with the choices I had made – but there were only two writers whom I was still able to read with real wonder: Pushkin and Platonov.”

The stories? Pushkin’s Пиковая дама (“The Queen of Spades”) and Platonov’s Возвращение (“The Return”), both of which are personal favorites of mine, too. “The Return,” by the way, is written in fairly simple language, making it a good way for non-native readers of Russian to introduce themselves to Platonov. I wrote a bit about “The Return” in this 2008 Victory Day post.

So is Platonov is Russia’s greatest 20th-century prose stylist? I’m not sure but Chandler’s interview brought back memories of how much I loved the piercing precision of “The Return.” I think it’s time to push Ювенильное море (The Juvenile Sea) to the top of the book pile.

Previous post on The Foundation Pit

Platonov on Amazon

Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida on Amazon

Platonov image from user 53RUStm, via Wikipedia

12 comments:

  1. It sure seems like Platonov is in the air right now! I absolutly agree with the Englis translator of his works, and right now I'm finishing up reading "The Foundation Pit" myself. I am so in love with the language, with the syntax, with how he builds up the mood and constantly keeps you wondering what's really going on... I love it! And yes, a post on this is coming up on the Russian Blog :)

    More Platonov to the people!

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  2. I'm glad you're enjoying The Foundation Pit, Josefina -- yes, Platonov keeps things interesting on all levels! It's a fascinatingly complex book that probably gets better with new readings... I can see why Chandler decided to translate it again. I'm looking forward to your post!

    Счастливого чтения!
    L.

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  3. I heard Robert Chandler's discussion of Kotlovan on the podcast World Books (you can download it for from from itunes). I must say, I've really tried to like Platonov, and have read a number of his works. But I just don't get it. I feel his style is ridiculously poshlost', and I can't tell if he's being overly sentimental to be satirical or serious. I hope this isn't coming across as too harsh: I greatly respect what you've written here, and think it's quite interesting. I just don't understand what this recent Platonov fuss is all about.

    Anyway, I'm so happy to have found your blog! Thanks for the great reading.

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  4. M, thanks for your comments on Platonov -- I'm glad you found my blog, too!

    As for liking or not liking Platonov... he and I didn't have a great start: I felt completely lost when I tried to read The Foundation Pit first. Reading a few short stories acquainted me with his style; then I felt comfortable enough to read The Foundation Pit. I now have a strange (albeit minor) fascination with Platonov, probably because of his style and the feeling of something always being off-kilter. (I don't know how to explain it.) To paraphrase what a former Russian co-worker once said about Brodsky, Brodsky's work is like a house that isn't very inviting or comfortable. I feel the same way about Platonov: I can't say that I always feel at home with either Brodsky or Platonov but I do find them fun and/or intriguing challenges, depending on the piece.

    That said, I can completely understand never warming to Platonov. You can see in this Languagehat thread that one commenter also has trouble feeling a real connection to his work: link. I've heard similar things from other readers.

    Enjoy your reading!
    L.

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  5. I am absolutely blown away by Platonov; I wouldn't call him the Greatest Prose Stylist of the Century or anything (and such podium awards are silly anyway), but he's unquestionably a great and unique stylist. I think Sashura's comment in that LH thread is spot on: Platonov combines important features of the 19th-century classic novel, the experimental prose of the Acmeists, and the early, pre-formulaic period of socialist realism. Vladimir Sorokin, for one, could not have existed without him, but Sorokin uses the technique of distorted officialese for nihilistic purposes; Platonov was a true believer who was appalled at the consequences of his beliefs as he saw them applied around him, and it's that moral urgency that gives his writing such power. Thanks for giving me the final push to read him, Lisa!

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  6. I agree with the translator's assessment of Platonov. I don't think there is anything in the 20th century Russian prose that comes close. Have you read "Chevengur"? However, it seems to me that everything that makes his style so special would get lost in translation. I would be curious to take a look at Chandler's work.
    I've been following your blog for a while, although this is my first comment; I really appreciate your passion for Russian literature, and your reviews of new books, since I am not up-to-date on the current state of things.

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  7. I have Chandler's new translation, and I think he does an excellent job of conveying the weirdly distorted feel of Platonov's Russian. Obviously it loses a lot, as is inevitable (what can you do with something like констервация?), but it's an amazing job, and I think people who don't read Russian will be able to get an adequate sense of Platonov from it.

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  8. @Languagehat: You're welcome -- I had a feeling you'd enjoy The Foundation Pit! I, too, thought Sashura's comments about Platonov on LH felt quite apt... including his comparison to Petrov-Vodkin's paintings. I could certainly use "off-kilter" to describe many of those, too. Thank you for mentioning the quality of the Chandler translation... I haven't seen any of his work with Platonov beyond what I linked to in my original Foundation Pit post, but I also had the impression that he gives a very, very decent representation of Platonov's style.

    @Marina: Thank you for visiting and commenting -- I'm glad you found some helpful posts! I have not yet read Chevengur but am going to look for it. I also want to read the full version of Джан -- have you read that one? I'm still relatively new to Platonov's works so am glad for recommendations.

    L.

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  9. including his comparison to Petrov-Vodkin's paintings

    I think he was actually talking about Petrov-Vodkin's books; I looked them up and added a couple to my timeline.

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  10. Thanks for pointing this out, Languagehat. It's funny: some of Petrov-Vodkin's paintings are so embedded in my mind and so similar to how I "see" Platonov's work that it never occurred to me that Sashura could have possibly meant "imagery" to mean anything but Petrov-Vodkin's paintings!

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  11. This blog entry, these comments, and that interview with Chandler, have made me rethink my initial dismissal of Platonov. I won't have time to return to him for a while, but I do hope to return to him some day.

    Great discussion! Thank you!

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  12. M, I'm glad you enjoyed the discussion on Platonov. I'd love to hear your impressions when you read him later.

    L.

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