There
have been countless remakes of Sherlock Holmes, serious adaptations of Conan
Doyle’s stories and funny parodies.

Now we can pride ourselves on our
own TS version of Sherlock. In the fresh October issue of Translation Studies this year, an interesting investigation has
seen the light of day. A missing Russian theory was finally discovered and
extracted from its time capsule. The investigation was led by [Dr] “Anthony”
assisted by his aides, notably “Nune.” I mean Anthony Pym’s and Nune Ayvazyan’s
co-authored (to a degree) article “The case of the missing Russian Translation
Theories.”

This was a really investigation with
all the excitement, little chuckles and satisfied hand-rubbings (“This sentence
is secretly exciting for those of us who went through debates about Vermeer’s Skopos theory in the 1980s”), eurekas
and failures, bursts of enthusiasm and setbacks. – And a lot of sniffing around
of course (“…this is what threw us off the scent the first time around”).

The investigation is meticulously dated (for determining the
winner, little doubt); details are given as to what evidence was found, where
and when, and who helped or (NB) failed (everything should be noted!) to locate
it, to deliver it to Dr Anthony who, equipped with his expertise [=stereotypes
+ intuition; does he need more?] in the Stalinist period of the Soviet history,
as if through a magic magnifying glass, studied the captured capsule. And of
course he could not fail. The article is the declaration of yet another
glorious victory: another problem has been resolved.

The reader’s impression is carefully guided into the
appreciation of how arduous and tortuous the way to the success was – yes,
something was miraculously available online, but how many things, books,
articles, minutes of meetings and political congresses had to be obtained from,
literally, all over the globe. Israel, Switzerland, France, the USA, Canada
figure in this investigation! A Ken-Follett or Michael-Crichton scale, indeed!
One, however, cannot help noticing one missing source – Russia… Ah well, they
tried to purchase a book from an online Russia-based shop, but failed. Was it
their fault?

But why not contact colleagues from the St Petersburg
University, some of whom knew Fedorov personally (Viktor Shadrin whose article
is cited could have been of help), who would definitely have explained what
puzzled Dr Anthony. But no! Then it would have been their investigation!
Instead Dr Anthony relied entirely on Nune who came from Armenia, although
Russian was her first language, but who obviously did not go a translation
programme in any Russian university where any university library would have
Fedorov’s publications, where Fedorov’s translation theory is taught and therefore known by any translation
programme graduate. (One might think that he himself is for a purely linguistic
approach, rather than taking account of a socio-cultural context with the help
of those initiated, but that is not so, of course.)

Otherwise, this is a stunning piece of the deductive method:
a scrap here, a stain there, a bit of guesswork – and here we are: now we’ve
got an authorized biography of Andrei Fedorov large as life and an
interpretation of a little extract translated impromptu by “Nune,” into the
bargain.

My skepticism butts in again, though. Why all that fuss
about reconstructing Fedorov’s biography and feats (“So who was Fedorov, when
all is said and done? Here is what we are able to piece together from various
sources.”), if his daughter is perhaps still alive (I took part in one of the
first annual conferences Federovskie chteniia, Fedorov’s Readings, which are
still alive and kicking (http://phil.spbu.ru/fotogalereya/fedorovskie-chteniya-2012),
in which Fedorov’s daughter was present) and his students, so why not interview
her and those students? There are also plenty of materials about Fedorov published
in Russian, why not ask somebody to translate them for you, if you are keen to
learn about him and his academic career!

The goal of this exercise is none other than – so we are
assured at the end of the investigation – to let “historical justice” prevail! Although
from time to time, the principal investigator’s style smacks of slightly
vainglorious ‘You-did-not-know-it-but-here-I-am-discovering-it-for-you’, even
when you are uncooperative: “Anthony remembers that Brian Mossop had urged
Brian Baer to do this, but the latter Brian had been less than enthusiastic,
hadn’t he?”

It’s
been said above that Dr Anthony was guided by his excellent knowledge of
Stalinism smelling its influence on Soviet scholarship. Well… anybody who is familiar
with that bit of Soviet history, nevertheless, would not help noticing several
serious flaws in the otherwise impressive (as usual) deduction.

Dr
Anthony does not seem to understand (and his assistant is probably not too
knowledgeable, either) what philology means in the Russian education system, otherwise
he would not write the following: “Looking at the biography, some things do not
make sense; they do not fit in. Most obviously, if Fedorov was a linguist,
where did he receive training in linguistics? And in what kind of linguistics.”

One
can open any biography, however sketchy, of Andrei Fedorov, and everything adds
up elementarily (provided you know what things mean). For instance, in 1929,
Fedorov graduated from the slovesnoe
(=philological) department of the Fine Art School, Institute of the History of
Arts (in today’s St Petersburg) where he was a student of Lev Shcherba (Щерба),
Iurii Tynianov, Viktor Vinogradov, Viktor Zhirmunskii, among others. All of his
teachers were specialists in both linguistics and literature studies – they
were philologists. Lev Shcherba, for instance, is known as an outstanding
linguist, yet he wrote brilliant analyses of Lermontov’s translations of Heine.
These analyses combined both literature studies and linguistics and what we
would call today translation studies.

Philology, rather than separate linguistics and literature
studies, was inherited by Russian
academic institutions from the German educational system in the
eighteenth century; philology is still taught today in the oldest universities
in Russia (Moscow State, St Petersburg). So there is no mystery about how,
where and from whom Fedorov learned linguistics and what kind of linguistics it
was; and how he managed to combine linguistic with literary features in his
translation theory. Nothing miraculous or mysterious for anybody knowing the
Russian system of education.

Most surely, and here Dr Anthony is perhaps right, Stalin
did play a role in the evolution of perevodovedenie
[translation studies] in the USSR (as in many other spheres of the Soviet
life of the period – sometimes intentionally and knowingly, sometimes
unintentionally or unawares) but this hardly was the triggering mechanism for
the emancipation of the linguistic branch in translation theory.

Once again, Dr Anthony and his assistant seem to be ignorant
of the project initiated by Maxim Gor’kii dating as back as 1918 – Vsemirnaia Literatura (World
Literature). This was an ambitious project to translate or re-translate all
what was found to be the best in the world literature for the new Soviet
readership. Soon after the launching the project, it was realized that certain
common principles of translating had to be formulated and a new generation of
translators needed to be trained. In Kornei Chukovskii’s diaries we find the
following record (dated November 12, 1918): “На заседании была у меня жаркая
схватка с Гумилевым. Этот даровитый ремесленник — вздумал составлять Правила
для переводчиков.
По-моему, таких
правил нет. Какие в литературе правила — один переводчик сочиняет, и выходит отлично, а другой и ритм дает и
все,— а нет, не шевелит. Какие же правила?” (In the meeting [of the Vsemirnaia
Literatura editorial board], I had a heated dispute with Gumilev [Nikolai
Gumilev, a poet and a translator, Anna Akhmatova’s first husband]. This gifted
craftsman suggested drawing up rules for
translators
. In my opinion, no such rules exist. What rules are there for
literature! One translator creates
and the result is perfect; another observes the rhythm and everything, yet [the
result] does not move you at all. – My
translation, S.T.
)

Note here the opposition: craftsmanship with rules vs.
creation highlighted by Chukovskii himself. This opposition fuelled many a
debate how to translate and the linguistic rules of translation had nothing to
do the academic specialisation of its author (there was the common philological
background), rather it was a dispute whether translation is an art or a skill (искусство или ремесло). The
linguistic rules for translators started from Gumilev’s rules for translators,
his attempt to harness artistry.

Eventually, Chukovskii gave in and in the later editions of
his A High Art he presented the case
registered in an entry of his 1918 diary differently: as if he had always
realized the necessity to formulate some principles to be observed while doing
literary translation.

Fedorov joined the team later and worked not so much in the
linguistic direction pure and simple, rather he continued the line of
harnessing artistry and approached this as a scholar and philologist (hence, a
combination of linguistic and literary features in the extract analysed by Dr
Anthony).

There are many more things to say about Dr Anthony &
daughters’ investigation… Perhaps, just one thing: instead of re-inventing the
wheel, they could have turned to the existing translations of Russian
translatologists. There are Palma Zlateva’s 1993 book with extracts from
Bulgarian and Russian translation scholars, there is Peter Fawcett’s 1997 book
on linguistic theories of translation with a handful of Russian theorists,
published in the series edited by whom? Bingo! Dr Anthony himself. (Of course
it was published by the publisher who does not include Pym in her collections
of critical TS publications, as if Pym has not written a piece of that class in
his entire career, hence, perhaps, – eye for eye and tooth for tooth – Dr
Anthony avoids mentioning anything positive about that publisher.)

Another glaring omission is of course Vilen Komissarov whose
Slovo o perevode [A Word on
Translation] was published before Barkhudarov (1975) and has been considerably
more influential and systematic in presenting translation theory (with the five
levels of equivalence).

But
let us be thankful: Dr Anthony & Co. have noticed that far corner of Europe
and, sort of, promote research into what’s been done there. Flattering!

But
let us not be too difficult: It all started as “[a] quiet day at the office – time to dig out some unsolved
cases.” For would-be Sherlocks, it is as dangerous a time, when their mind is
idle and uninspired, as it was with their model: “My mind,” [Holmes] said, “rebels
at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse
cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper
atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the
dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen
my own particular profession, – or rather created it, for I am the only one in
the world.”

Unfortunately, not all Sherlocks among those mounting
investigations: to some of them the real Sherlock would have said: Elementary,
Dr so-and-so.