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Tolstoy Madness!!!

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Okay, I’m one martini into it, but this is my blog dammit and I can rant about Tolstoy again if I want to!

So he’s popping up everywhere. I’m so thrilled. The world can’t be completely going to hell if Leo is getting this kind of column space.

The New York Times has gone even more mad than me. This is like a fantasy. Here’s a screenshot (of page one of three), just in case it disappears one day and we want to relive it (please tilt your head to the left):

Tolstoy frenzy

I also just discovered this New Yorker article but I am way too overstimulated to read calmly. How can they not give more info on the photo? I know Tolstoy’s wife was big into photography — was this one of hers? It looks like an autochrome… is it? What year?

I was in my local English-language bookshop (one of two! Help! Please send English language books to: …) and saw the British edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky War and Peace translation in person and fell in love. In the online photo it doesn’t look like much, but in person it’s beautiful: grey cloth, red text… I wanted desperately to buy it, but the only copy they had (?!?) had been in the window and had somehow gotten horribly water damaged.

Cruel, cruel fate…

But I think I’ll order a copy (ISBN-10: 0099512238 / ISBN-13: 978-0099512233). What the hell, it’s gonna be Xmas soon. I’m tired of counting centimes. After all, this isn’t something useless like rent or food — this is a book.

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Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear translate Tolstoy’s War and Peace!

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I suppose you’ve guessed what this post is about.

I’m so excited!!! I’m not sure when I’ll get it here, maybe late October, early November. Time to call in sick at work! Too bad I’m self-employed.

When Brigg’s translation came out I was devastated. I’d been hoping and waiting for eons for my favorite Russian-to-English translators to get to War and Peace. I thought surely no publisher would release another translation of it for at least for a few years. How happy I am to be wrong.

While we’re all waiting, I found a wonderful article (reproduced in full) about Russian-to-English translators, translations and translating issues. It includes interesting details about V and P’s technique and the rather astounding fact that D.H. Lawrence and Constance Garnett were friends. (Somehow I can’t possibly imagine them in the same room together, let alone speaking.) There’s a lot of wonderful information in it, but I must say that I did find the writing of the article itself a bit uneven. Not that that stopped me — I devoured it in minutes!

I copied the text from the comments of this post on Prufrock’s Page (thank you!) and pasted them into a word processing program, then printed it out. I think if I’d read all 17 pages of it in that teeny text on my dreadful screen I would have gone blind (”…or insane!” Remember that from Love and Death? Ah, how I miss the early Woody Allen films…)

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Flaubert, Du Camp, early photography in Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

old photograph Maxime Du CampIf you’ve read Flaubert in Egypt or Geoffrey Wall’s magnificent biography Flaubert, you’ll remember Gustave’s travel companion, Maxime Du Camp.

Before they headed to Egypt, Du Camp studied for six months with a professional photographer. No disposable or point-and-shoot digital in those days! You practically had to be a chemist. And the amount of luggage it generated was incredible: bottles and bottles of delicate chemicals, crates of glass plates plus all the peripheral equipment and finally, the camera itself. It was a major undertaking.

geoffrey wall flaubertAnd Du Camp, if memory serves, was the first to take photos in Egypt. The first to capture the pyramids, the desert, the ancient monuments. I remember reading somewhere (where?) that Flaubert was horrified — no one would ever see these things for themselves first, through their own eyes. From then on, everyone would see these wonders through layers of previously seen photographs.

Well, it’s far too late to us, drenched as we are in images. So enjoy flipping through some lovely early photos of Egypt and North Africa and here’s a complete NYPL scan of the book of photos that Du Camp published when he returned.

And just for fun, here’s an excerpt from Wall’s bio.

Flaubert made conscientious efforts to imitate the bizarre cry of the camel. “I hope to perfect it before we leave, but it is quite difficult because of the particular gurgling sound that quivers somewhere beneath the screech…” […and a little later…] Suppressing the urge to put a bullet through his friend’s head, Du camp sent Flaubert away to ride ahead at a safe distance.

the sphinx still buried in sand
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Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Oh, this was brilliant!

I’m tempted to just stop there. It’s like trying to tell you about being alive. Where do you start? What can you say that won’t just sound limp? This book is funny and terrifying, beautiful and nauseating. The whole world is stuffed inside it. I was shocked at how moved I was by it.

I suppose the most important thing is to encourage you to forget the hype, the reputation, the capital letters that everyone uses when talking about MOBY-DICK. All that stuff. Open the window and shove it out. (And just pray no one is standing underneath!) Really, it drives me crazy when people turn things into Classics (whether this title is deserved or not. Often not.) Immediately a good portion of the population suddenly assumes the book is inpenetrable, painfully dull, and about as thrilling and personally relevant as a moth in a coma. The worst is when people are intimidated. No, no, no. Out the window with that one too.

Okay, now that you’ve got a blank slate, let me give you a few excerpts to get you excited:

“For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air.”

“The three mast-heads are kept manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner — for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is immutable.”

“…lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him…”

“He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

“Now then, I thought, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves…here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction…”

from the chapter The Whiteness of the Whale : [about the color white and its associations: purity and beauty, and at the same time ] “…yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

“for whatever is truly wonderous and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books.”

That may be, but this book comes closer than most.

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