Tag Archives: literature

Anna Karenina, Found in Translation

Masha Gessen reviews two new translations of Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic Anna Karenina for The New York Times Book Review.

This is an exercise millions of native Russian readers of the novel perform several times in a lifetime. Teenage girls read the novel as melodramatic; adult readers of both genders begin to perceive irony — its amount seems to vary from reading to reading. The author’s sympathies, too, invariably appear to shift between characters with every reading; this, combined with ironic distance that is always contracting and expanding, makes the book endlessly rich — and endlessly difficult for the translator, who can never hope to keep pace with the author. How earnest, ironic, condescending, moralistic and simply funny a Tolstoy should the translator inhabit? Perhaps the only way to render Tolstoy’s variable voice is to continue producing ever-varying translations.

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Distant Reading

Kathryn Schulz’s New York Times Book Review essay on distant reading has interesting thoughts on how technology can help us understand the greater body of literature.

We need distant reading, Moretti argues, because its opposite, close reading, can’t uncover the true scope and nature of literature. Let’s say you pick up a copy of “Jude the Obscure,” become obsessed with Victorian fiction and somehow manage to make your way through all 200-odd books generally considered part of that canon. Moretti would say: So what? As many as 60,000 other novels were published in 19th-century England — to mention nothing of other times and places. You might know your George Eliot from your George Meredith, but you won’t have learned anything meaningful about literature, because your sample size is absurdly small. Since no feasible amount of reading can fix that, what’s called for is a change not in scale but in strategy. To understand literature, Moretti argues, we must stop reading books.

But distant reading misses the point on how and why people enjoy the literary experience: curling up with a good book; being transported to another realm.