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Visiting London-8 (London Book Fair)

Yet another seminar at the LBF was just as important, interesting and thought-provoking, not least because I could relate to its subject as an author, translator/interpreter, and historian. The seminar ‘Globalisation, Translation, and English’ had two questions to answer: how to make publishers commission translations from other languages into English, and how to make them, as well as the public, to acknowledge the role of a translator?

To begin with, where is a problem here? Foreign literature is not being translated into English, so what? Surely, there’s enough English-language books around – in fact, there’re so many of them that the authors of guides like ‘How To Write a Novel’ start with discouraging a budding author from ever dreaming of making it big (they do so by reminding you that to get ‘ad astra’ you need to drag yourself ‘per aspera’ many times).

To use Prof Eco’s powerful thesis, a translation is a negotiation between the cultural milieu of the source text and that of the destination text. Elsewhere in Mouse or Rat: Translation as Negotiation Eco says that “translation is a process that takes place between two texts produced at a given historical moment in a given cultural milieu”. There are many gains and losses to be accepted, but ultimately every good translation serves to enrich the language of the destination text by exploring its ability to communicate all the aspects of the original text. Translation is also important in keeping us connected to the past. It is especially vital today, when fewer and fewer people learn classical languages.

The enrichment of the language, however, is mostly important in hindsight. At present, if we care to learn our language better, we can simply scour The Oxford English Dictionary and the like. This would be much like striving to improve oneself by living on one’s own and never interacting with other people. Such belief in one’s uniqueness often leads to alienation and decline.

Translation therefore is the way to enrich the culture of the country of the destination text. It is the acquisition of knowledge about a country and a period where we do not live (and often never will). It can also be a source of inspiration: not necessarily an impetus to write, but rather to learn more about the author, his country, or the country and the period in which the novel was set, etc. In the end, literature exists everywhere, but our knowledge of foreign languages is always limited, so we constantly need to negotiate the development of our literature and culture by producing literary translations.

For instance, the development of English language and literature in the 16th c. was much fostered by the boom in translations from the classical and European languages. (I include the translation of the Bible in this list, since it was written in vulgata). Arguably, where this process was concerned with translating the antique historical texts, it was sometimes instigated by the acquaintance with the works of Machiavelli. Together with translations from Petrarch by Thomas Wyatt, followed by many other renderings of purely literary works of both antique and contemporary authors, this boom in translations was as much a means to enrich the English language, as a very important part of the English Renaissance.

The trouble is, and this has been highlighted at the seminar, a translation is often being treated as not. This means that all its educational and artistic merits are being treated on the same scale as those of an originally written text, which can lead to costly misconceptions. Once I came across an article, in which a scholar was comparing a 16th c. translation to a 20th c. translation from Latin, almost disregarding the original Latin text. Several times in his short study he concluded that the 20th c. translator was rendering the text into English better that his 16th c. colleague, – whereas his first purpose should’ve been to determine why it was exactly this text that had been translated. In addition, the scholar did treat the translation as an originally composed text. Given the blossoming of such discipline as Translation Studies in the past 15-20 years, you (myself at least) would have expected its findings to influence the academic community. Alas, this isn’t always the case. 

One of the first things to do when a translation is being chosen for an academic study is to undertake its textual analysis by comparing it against the original text. This is a painstaking and time-consuming procedure, which requires a lot of knowledge and research. If it is done, however, then we’re likely to obtain a very fine example of an academic study which will shed tons of light on the cultural and intellectual process in the given country at the given time.

As follows from the above, translation is a critical act, which again was mentioned at the seminar. Yet it is evident that no translation can be purely theoretical. A text is a rhetorical act which appeals not only to our understanding, but also to our feelings. I firmly believe that it is a mistake to disregard or to avoid translating this emotional message. This means, in turn, that a translator is always a writer or a poet (depending on exactly what is being translated), which further stresses the importance of his role.

Translation is a difficult subject to discuss, a tricky business to run, and a Titanic labour to undertake. But when one considers how many people across the globe have been influenced by the works of William Shakespeare, it is obvious that all the efforts of his translators have not been in vain.

Visiting London-7 (London Book Fair)

In Visiting London-6 I mentioned and already wrote about a few seminars that I attended at the LBF. One of these was on the subject of marketing a bookshop.

Marketing Your Bookshop was presented by Peter Fisk, a respected marketer who spent years of working with and gained an invaluable experience at British Airways, Microsoft, American Express, and Coca Cola. He is also one of the most inspirational and engaging speakers I’ve seen (and heard) in my life. His style of presentation is of the kind I like to listen to and to deliver myself.

Although focused on marketing a terrestrial bookshop, the presentation has had a far wider scope, and an attentive listener would take away from a one hour talk probably as much as they would after days of intensive training and reading. Needless to say, the advice given is equally applicable to online marketing as well.

Two very basic ideas are genuinely simple: to run a successful business in the modern-day world, you need 1) to combine your logic with your creativity and 2) to cater for the needs and desires of your customer. Legion is the name to those needs, but tuning in to your customers’ voices can ultimately help you enhance and even expand your business. The necessity to expand may be inevitable even for funeral businesses (after all, you may be not the only undertaker in town). Apparently, in the States they began to recognise the fact that the funeral should be a celebration of the life of the deceased, rather than an endless mourning of their death. As a consequence, some American undertakers began to expand their business into the area of fireworks trade and to offer a choice of a firework display to perform at the scattering of the ashes.

Yet the cleverest point of the presentation is Peter’s continuous referring to the two distinct, genuine individuals who in a very powerful way challenged and shaped the 20th c. – Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. The idea of a successful marketing is in bringing together one’s creativity and one’s logical thinking. Picasso and Einstein are referred to as those who embodied creativity (Picasso) and logic (Einstein). As being shown, however, Picasso had received an in-depth academic training in painting, whereby he was eventually able to overthrow the canons of his art and to pave the road to a new artistic vision. Likewise, Einstein, as brainy as he was, had been a dreamer who dreamt up some of his groundbreaking theories while walking in the mountains. Both Picasso and Einstein were capable of such complete success at their “trade” because, in the end of the day, both used logic and knowledge AS WELL as their creative potential.

This point is not only valid, but very powerful indeed, as it shows that a successful business is not just about figures, money, and the GP. Furthermore, Fisk potently demonstrates that art and business are not completely polar, as many of us tend to believe. He doesn’t recommend to turn your business into “show business”, but he urges to try and find this elusive equilibrium of creative thinking and knowledge. Quite simply, if you’re knowledgeable, look to make a new creative use of it. If you’re an artist, don’t lose your mind to the untempered creative impulse.

I suppose the latter point must sound strange coming from somebody creative (myself on this occasion). But, even if we look no further than at the works of literature, we’ll notice that all of them that survived their time and continue to impact and inspire us to this day are not just “lovely stories” or “serious stuff”. Beautiful in form, these works often hide many powerful intellectual challenges. For example, I have noticed long ago that people tend to think that poetry, as art in general, is all about emotion. In fact, it is about concealing the emotion, distancing from it, in order to capture its essence. One of my favourite Russian poets, Konstantin Balmont, when still young, was told by one of the older writers: ‘Let your inspiration crystallise first, then write’. “To crystallise the inspiration” means exactly what Peter Fisk is talking about in his presentation: to apply strict logical thinking to a creative impulse.


Marketing Genius at Amazon.com.

Marketing Genius Live – information about the book, seminars, launches, as well as a few free videos and extracts.

The Genius Works – more about Marketing Genius and Peter Fisk, plus more downloads. (Take a note of the website’s name.)

Peter Fisk’s presentation Business Strategy by Einstein and Picasso (video) from The Genius Works.

Visiting London-6 (London Book Fair)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I visited several presentations while at the Book Fair. There were actually four of these:

Marketing Your Bookshop (16th April)
The Internet as a Marketing Tool (17th April)
Copyright in Context: From Da Vinci to Blogging (17th April)
Globalisation, Translation, and English: a Discussion of Best Practices (17th April)

The Internet as a Marketing Tool was intended to look at how publishers and publishing houses could use the WWW space to promote books and authors, which all boiled down to a few examples of creating more or less fictional websites to bring the books out to the audience. The use of YouTube was also discussed briefly, but I picked upon the point made by one of the panellists. Some authors, he said, were writing great stuff but had little interesting to say, when meeting with their readers online or in person. Apart from the question if a writer should be a good speaker (I think so), this point is important when we think of ghost-writing.

Copyright in Context: From Da Vinci to Blogging had a misleading title, to begin with. Or perhaps, such title reflects the reality in which we now live. When I read “Da Vinci”, I first and foremost think of Leonardo. In the case with this seminar, “Da Vinci” was an abbreviation of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. I allow for a possibility that this was an error that ended up on the website and in the booklet. But it is nonetheless a peculiar error. The talk centred first on discussing various legal suits that concerned plagiarism, which nowadays comes in two forms: borrowing an idea and borrowing facts. As far as blogging goes, the main topic here wasn’t so much the protection of copyright on the web (which would involve the discussion of Creative Commons licence), but rather about ethical issues. What to do if you’re being abused through your blog? Or what if somebody accidentally or purposely abuses you?

(This presentation only touched upon the issue of ethical blogging, but this issue has recently been highlighted in these two posts on BBC Manchester Blog. First, Kate Feld looked at Manchester bloggers’ reaction to the suggestion to develop a Blogger’s Code of Conduct. And then Robin Hamman turned a critical eye on whether or not it is appropriate to use blogs when some of them are supposed to remain private or semi-private. The question rose following the use of blogs to report on Virginia Tech tragedy, and I would expect it to generate a discussion. As far as BBC Manchester Blog goes, it is an open community, so follow through to Robin’s post to read and to share your thoughts on this.)


Robin Hamman, When Is a Blog in Public Meant to Remain Private?

Visiting London-5 (London Book Fair)

Three years ago, during my first visit to London, I was researching in the day and writing at night. This April I went there for the annual London Book Fair. I will not write about it more than you could already have found at the LBF official website.
My main impressions are:

  • meeting with my old University friend (yes, this world is really small!);
  • buying an English translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s My Discovery of America (I’ll be writing about this later);
  • attending three very interesting presentations;
  • spending about half an hour with a very interesting multilingual lady, who recently wrote a book about a cultured cat.

I’ll leave the third one out till later. Meeting my old friend was one of the biggest surprises in my entire life. I wrote somewhere on the blog about the new website that aims at bringing together current and former students from all Russian high education institutions. So this girl has finally registered there in early April, we exchanged a couple of messages, and then we found out that both of us were going to London for the Book Fair. Naturally, we decided to meet, which occurred in the form of stumbling into each other in the foyer. Soon after we sat outside chatting about each other and our unimates.

Strange things come out in these conversations. We had a girl in our year, who was a dedicated student of German medieval monasticism. Although a devoted Russian Orthodox, she was once very seriously discussing with another girl, whether they should attend the Christmas service at a Catholic or a Protestant church in Moscow on December 25th. Ultimately, she went to study in Germany for a year, where she’d met her present husband, a Muslim, for whom – reportedly – she’d converted into Islam. On one of the photographs we saw she was wearing a burqa.

Buying an English translation of Mayakovsky’s digest of visiting America was another huge surprise. When I saw the book on the stand, it didn’t even occur to me that I may not be able to buy it. So I just asked how much it cost. I bagged it with no problem whatsoever. Yet believe it or not I still haven’t read D. H. Lawrence, so when I saw several of his books on Wordsworth Classics stand, I asked if I could purchase Sons and Lovers. Turned out, they weren’t actually allowed to sell books. This was confirmed at another stand where I saw a book on successful blogging.

And the lady I spoke to is Brigitte Downey – a multilingual, cultured, well-travelled, exuberant person who spent years making documentaries and loving opera, and who had some wonderful recollections of Russia and Russian ballet. Half an hour that we spent chatting after I shared with Brigitte my knowledge of search marketing by explaining the difference between organic and sponsored results is the time to remember. And Chapter One of Diaries of a Cultured Cat is generally reminiscent of my experience of Moscow and Manchester that I have mentioned in chapters 1 and 4 of Visiting London.

In Egypt, as we know, cats were worshipped. And in 1932 T. S. Eliot wrote Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats that was adapted for the stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber. You can browse the chapters from Old Possum’s Book here, but this is an extract most relevant to us:

You’ve read of several kinds of Cat,
And my opinion now is that
You should need no interpreter
to understand their character.
You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whome we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse –
But all may be described in verse.

Brigitte Downey is describing this in prose, but even after one chapter I feel her knowledge and style will make this book an insightful reading.


Vladimir Mayakovsky, My Discovery of America
Brigitte Downey, Diaries of a Cultured Cat
T. S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
London Book Fair
Wordsworth Classics
Brigitte Downey’s website

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