Preparing visual material for my talk on polyphony in translation.  International Conference: Translation as an Act of Cultural Dialogue. Conference held in honour of the 220th Anniversary of Alexander Pushkin at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 7 December 2019

7 December 2019, I attended the I International Conference: Translation as an Act of Cultural Dialogue where I was given an opportunity to present a paper on what forms the main area of my research and represents a subject of my enduring fascination: translation of polyphony.

The event took place at the University of Glasgow and was dedicated to the heritage of Alexander Pushkin and  cultural links between Scotland and Russia.

Like golden thread, translation  wove a path through the fabric of the day, and I feel privileged and honoured to have spoken about my research, amongst others, alongside such legendary figures from the world of translation as Alexander Livergant and  Grigory Kruzhkov.

Two great minds: Livergant and Kruzhkov
Absolutely unbelievable: I am on the same programme as all these distinguished scholars! It was a joy and a challenge to be audacious enough to speak after them and in front of such a prestigious audience!

The theme of polyphony has been troubling me for several years, since I discovered Jacques Derrida, who triggered my fascination for voice in its written form, and Mikhail Bakhtin, whose polyphonic theory opened the door for me into the colourful world where voices “interact, disagree and argue with each other”.

The idea of a voice being not only independent but also equal to the author of the original text is intriguing and thought-provoking. It offers an entirely new approach to reading, understanding and analysing the source text.

In music, the term goes back to the 10th century and the coexistence of voices in the Baroque style of Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi gives a real joy to classical music lovers. If a performer is good, voices come out with clarity and dexterity. One can follow each melodic line independently from the others.  And yes, those voices do argue and compete for attention. Yet, the harmony of the piece is still there and the listener whose ear is untrained to understand the polyphonic aspect and decode the meaning of each individual voice, can still enjoy the beauty of the music.

In literature, the concept of multi-voicedness offers a chance to see literary work as “many-in-one”.  The polyphonic approach reveals dexterity and a wealth of dimensions in writing. Yet, those who may not be able to decode this concept, can still enjoy the story.

I often compare a translator to a performer in music. Musicians deliver to the audience ideas and concepts of the composers. They translate the heritage of Mozart, Bach etc. into a unity of sounds so that we can strive to understand the message of those masters. If the performers do not succeed — the listeners, at best, are presented with a melodic nonsense. It takes a big talent and years of hard work to reach such a level that musical voices sing to the audience through the hands of the artists.

In translation, the best of us will try to decode the message of the original together with as many undertones as they can find in the source text. They will strive to re-create the style, the meaning, the context — so that the target readership will benefit from as many nuances of the original as possible.  Yet, unlike in classical music, there is no specific training for translators to understand and decode voices as well as the impact they could make on the reader, let alone, a system that would allow to preserve those voices in translation.

The theme of preserving polyphony in translation is fundamental to my research, which is still at the very beginning and needs a lot of expert help and hard work. Allowing me to speak about this in front of such notable people, including many professors from the University of Glasgow, gives me a thrill and enthusiasm to continue.

A lot of work is yet to be done, but I am optimistic and ready to do this work! My sleeves are rolled up and my head is delving down into the research!

I am hugely grateful to Dr James Rann, Dr Tiina Tuominen, Dr Shamil Khairov, Dr Nadia Rahab, Dr Alex Krouglov, Dr Mercedes Carbayo-Agonzar and Dr Piero Toto for all the help and support so far!

The day of the Conference was an insightful learning experience and brought a lot of nostalgia to my Russian side!

This wonderful present I received for my humble speech!

And of course…

Алёнка — a legendary chocolate bar “Alyonka” that survived the collapse of the USSR: a taste of childhood. Still there!

My wholehearted words of thanks go to all the organisers of the event!


©2019 Liudmila Tomanek

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *