January 21st, 2011

Pasternak’s granddaughter loathes the new translation of
Doctor Zhivago


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  1. ed says:

    Here is the Pevear & Volokhonsky rendition of the scene where Yuri consoles his dying aunt.

    “See, they wanted to confess me…Death is hanging over me…Any moment it may…You’re afraid to have a tooth pulled, it hurts, you prepare yourself…But here it’s not a tooth, it’s all, all of you, all your life…snap, and it’s gone, as if with pincers…And what is it? Nobody knows…And I’m anxious and frightened.”

    Anna Ivanovna fell silent. Tears ran down her cheeks. Yura said nothing. After a moment Anna Ivanovna went on.

    “You’re talented…And talent is…not like everybody else…You must know something…Tell me something…Reassure me.”

    “Well, what can I say?” Yura said, fidgeted uneasily on the chair, got up, paced the room, and sat down again. “First, tomorrow you’ll get better—there are signs, I’ll stake my life on it. And then, death, consciousness, faith in resurrection…You want to know my opinion as a natural scientist? Maybe some other time? No? Right now? Well, you now best. Only it’s hard to do it like this, straight off.”

    And he gave her a whole impromptu lecture, surprised himself at the way it came out of him.

    “Resurrection. The crude form in which it is affirmed for the comfort of the weakest is foreign to me. And I’ve always understood Christ’s words about the living and the dead in a different way. Where will you find room for all these hoards over thousands of years? The universe won’t suffice for them, and God, the good, and meaning will have to take themselves out of the world. They’ll be crushed in this greedy animal stampede.

    “But all the time one and the same boundlessly identical life fills the universe and is renewed every hour in countless combinations and transformations. Here you have fears about whether you will resurrect, yet you already resurrected when you were born, and you didn’t notice it.

    “Will it be painful for you, does tissue feel its own disintegration? That is, in other words, what will become of your consciousness? But what is consciousness? Let’s look into it. To wish consciously for sleep means sure insomnia, the conscious attempt to feel the working of one’s own digestion means the sure upsetting of its nervous regulation. Consciousness is poison, a means of self-poisoning for the subject who applies it to himself. Consciousness is a light directed outward, consciousness lights the way before us so that we don’t stumble. Consciousness is the lit headlights at the front of a moving locomotive. Turn their light inwards and there will be a catastrophe.

    “And so, what will become of your consciousness? Yours. Yours. But what are you? There’s the whole hitch. Let’s sort it out. What do you remember about yourself, what part of your constitution have you been aware of? Your kidneys, liver, blood vessels? No, as far as you can remember, you’ve always found yourself in an external, active manifestation, in the work of your hands, in your family, in others. And now more attentively. Man in other people is man’s soul. That is what you are, that is what your conscience breathed, relished, and was nourished by all your life. Your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what then? You have been in others and you remain in others. And what difference does it make to you that later it will be called memory? It will be you, having entered into the composition of the future.

    Finally, one last thing. There’s nothing to worry about. There is no death. Death is not in our line. But you just said talent, and that’s another thing, that is ours, that is open to us. And talent, in its highest, broadest sense, is the gift of life.”

    January 22nd, 2011 at 11:06 am

  2. ed says:

    The first English translation of the passage, by Hayward & Hariri, can be found here.

    Having compared them, I don’t find a huge difference.

    Where differences exist the H&H is usually the more conventional English, and (as said) in this context that means better. The H&H impression is superior, it seems to me, for presenting a smoother, quieter tone. But the differences in tone are not huge.

    Thus, this passage alone doesn’t present enough controversy to support an assessment of Ann Pasternak Slater’s thesis.

    January 22nd, 2011 at 11:54 am

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