Analyzing the impact of censorship on translation has become an integral part of researching ideological aspects of translation. In recent years there have
appeared studies of censorship and translation in different societies and historical periods, including the Soviet Union, but little, if any, attention has
been paid to the consequences of Soviet censorship for the post-Soviet countries in the XXI century. This article deals with the impact censorship has had
on translation in modern Ukraine and Russia. The analysis is made on the novel “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and its translations
into Russian and Ukrainian in historical perspective. Ukrainian readers have at their disposal only one translation by O. Lohvynenko (1984); in spite of
the co-existence of different variants of the novel’s translation into Russian, the censored variant by R. Rait-Kovaliova (1965) remains the most
popular one due to post-soviet readers’ specific attitude towards plurality of translations.
nalyzing the impact of censorship on translation has become an integral part of researching ideological aspects of translation in any society. In recent
years there have appeared numerous studies of censorship and translation in different societies and historical periods (see, for example, E. Gibbels, C.
O’Sullivan, J. Santaemilia). It is surprising that research questions about the link between translation and censorship (as a universal phenomenon in
all cultures based on the dissemination of knowledge in written or printed form) has been formulated only recently (Kuhiwczak, 2011).
Speaking of contemporary Ukraine and Russia, to understand the specific character of translation and reception of literary works which were created outside
the USSR and translated by soviet translators, one should take into consideration the conditions of severe censorship that existed in the Soviet Union.
Soviet censorship in Ukraine
Soviet censorship appeared soon after the October revolution of 1917, and the decree on publishing became the starting point for the Soviet ideological
terror. Political censorship was imposed through special state organsThe Central Authority on Literature and Publishing (Holovlit) and The Central
Repertoire Committee (Holovrepertkom), as well as through the Soviet party structures. This system did not change until the 1990s. Irrespective of
different historical stages, (World War II, the “thawing” of the political situation in the 1960s, or the Cold War period) the system remained
the same, with its ideological filling slightly modified. This policy negatively influenced the intellectual and cultural development of the people, and
its consequences are still noticeable (Fedotova, 2012).
The decree on publishing became the starting point for the Soviet ideological terror.
Soviet censorship in Ukraine had a dual purpose. First of all, like censorship in other totalitarian states, its major task was to eliminate all texts that
contradicted the ruling political ideology. That also meant that sex-related and religious texts, as well as coarse vocabulary were censored. The second
purpose grew out of the tsarist Russia colonial tradition to suppress the development of national cultures (including languages and literatures) other than
Russian within the country. Soviet censorship had another specific feature which is worth mentioning. In other European totalitarian countries of the first
half of the XX century, the introduction of severe censorship provoked self-censorship and editorial censorship due to economic factorsto avoid financial
losses for a banned edition (Keratsa, 2005). In the USSR financial factors had obviously no power, so the only effective way to control translation and
publishing was repression (extending to imprisonment and execution of the recalcitrant). The entire history of Ukrainian translation in the USSR is a
history of repressions (see, for example, Korunets, 2003).
Translations of “The
Catcher in the Rye”
by J.D. Salinger and Soviet censorship
Although the impact of Soviet censorship on translation has been extensively studied, its consequences for modern Ukraine and Russia have not yet been
given proper attention. It seems appropriate to analyze the consequences of this censorship through the translations and reception of a well-known literary
work. Although any text potentially contains ideologically-biased elements, the most interesting material for such analysis can be given by comparing an
original and its translations, when the even the reception of the original is controversial from the ideological point of view. An appropriate example of
this would be the analysis of the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which in 1973 theAmerican School Board Journal called “the most widely censored book in the United States” (Whitfield, 2002).
The Catcher in the Rye
(1951) has been translated into many languages; worldwide about a million copies are sold every year, but reception of the novel was controversial. In some
countries and in some US schools in 1950s the novel was banned due to its frankness about sex, blasphemy, and excessive use of coarse language. In the USSR
the novel was first published only in 1965 in Russian (any literary work in the Soviet Union was translated first into Russian and published for all
republics; translations into other national languages appeared decades later or never). The Catcher in the Rye was published in the USSR in spite of
its scandalous reputation. The Soviet censorship let the novel be published as its major conflict was between the main character, an American teenager, and
adult society (in Soviet terms the conflict being “bourgeois” society and its values). Blasphemy was not considered a sin in the anti-religious
USSR, frank conversations about sex were paraphrased, and coarse words omitted or replaced by more neutral terms. As a result, readers got access to the
censored Russian translation by Rita Rait-Kovaliova. The translation has been published some dozens of times since then in different places and also in
Ukraine. In Russia this translation is still popular and was published at least three times during the last decade.
Rita Rait-Kovaliova (1898-1990) was a Russian author and well-known translator; according to S. Dovlatov, her style was considered exemplary (Dovlatov,
2006). Translating Salinger’s novel she begged her editor to be allowed to use proper vocabulary, but, of course, her request was denied. Signs of
censorship can be seen in any fragment of her translation. For example, let us analyze Holden Caulfield’s talk with Robert Ackley (Chapter 3). The
teenagers’ dialogue contains elliptical sentences (e.g. “Not him, though; Think they’ll make ya pay for em”), the spelling
reflecting carelessness of speech (ya, em, ‘bout, hellya), and multifold repetition of lexemes Chrissake and Goddam, which in
the 1950s were perceived as blasphemy. In translation the dialogue loses its sharpness and its deviations from the standard language. As for the
vocabulary, the translator omits all Chrissakes, Goddams and What the hells, and only once translates Goddam (book) by the neutral
“Не видишь (книгу читаю)” (Don’t you see ( I’m reading a book).
Like each fragment of the text, the translation of the title also reflects censoring (or at least self-censoring). R. Rait-Kovaliova translated the title
as “Над пропастью во ржи” (Over the abyss in the rye), though in the original there is no image of an abyss, just a cliff. Here we can trace the Soviet stock phrase “the
abyss of capitalism.”
The first translation into Ukrainian was published only in 1984. The translatorOleksandr Lohvynenkomanaged to deliver the informal character of the
narration, but this translation has obviously been censored as well. Thus, some sex-related fragments were omitted or replaced. For example, the phrase
“she wasn’t exactly the type that drove you mad with desire” is translated as “тільки ж
вона не з тих, у кого можна
вклепатися по самі вуха”
(i.e. “she is not one of those with whom you can be in love over head and ears”). As to the blasphemy, O. Lohvynenko preserves its character in
the translation and depending on the context translates it as: Goddamтриклятущі (damned),
ідіотська (idiot-like), чорт бери (damn it),
бісового батька (devil’s fatrher);
Chrissakeотуди к бісу (heck); What the hell…що в
біса. In general, the translation of the novel in the form of a teenager’s tale of his life looks very natural, and really
reconstructs the impression of a spontaneous narrative by a 16-year-old boysensitive, unbalanced, and indignant at adults’ hypocrisy.
The title of the Ukrainian version is a word-for-word translation of the Russian title, not the English: “Над
прірвою в житі”. There have been some editions of this translation after
Ukraine gained its independence, and O. Lohvynenko remains the only “The Catcher’s” translator into Ukrainian.
The echo of Soviet censorship in modern Russia
As soon as the Soviet censorship ceased to exist, there appeared some new translations into Russian in the post-Soviet states. Their reception both by
critics and readers was varied and rather negative. It results from objective reasons, since not all of the published translations were of high quality;
but there were also subjective reasons, i.e. the peculiarities of the translators’ understanding of their task under the new political conditions and
the perception of new translations by post-Soviet Russian readers. These factors will be analyzed further.
According to O. Borisenko, after the abolition of Soviet censorship everybody was so busy reinserting coarse words, religious issues and political
sedition, that neither time nor skill remained for the beauty of style (Borisenko, 2009). This comment is a certain exaggeration, but the translator Sergei
Mahov, who was the first to publish a new translation of “The Catcher in the Rye” (1998) paid great attention to reconstruct those original
traits that caused the novel’s scandalous reputation and were lost in the censored Soviet translation. As S. Mahov mentions in the foreword to his
translation, Russian readers often say the novel is moth-eaten just because they have read it in the censored translation that has nothing in common with
the original, prohibited in its time for its blasphemy and anti-patriotic character (Mahov, 1998). In spite of the translator’s rebellious spirit,
his work failed to attract readers’ attention.
The next Russian translation was made public in 2008 under the title “Ловец на
хлебном поле” (“The Catcher on the Bread Field”). Translator Max
Nemtsov tried to render the original’s all traits, but he must have also aimed at replacing the antiquated and inadequate translation by R. Kovaliova
by the new one in readers’ minds. Such intention may account for the translator’s deliberate deviations from the norms of the Russian language
and some other disputable solutions. Even the translation of the title sounds rather strange in Russian because of the word combination “bread
field” (normally people say “rye / wheat field”). But this unusual combination may have helped to draw readers’ attention and to
make them understand that R. Kovaliova’s “classic” translation is not an absolute substitute to the original. M. Nemtsov’s
translation caused a hot discussion and negative reactions from critics: the translator had not just rendered all features of the original, but had
exaggerated some of them. The main character uses Russian slang and quite different social dialects (кипиш,
лохи, трындеть, шнобель,
халдей, гроши, брательник,
не в жилу). The translator replaces some neutral lexemes by substandard ones, e.g.: “one nice
thing”“путевая фигня” (reasonable crud), “rear
end”“пердак” (farting thing),
“parents”“предки” (fossils). The translator obviously tried to render the emotional shading
of the original and the effect the latter produced in 1951. Anyway, Nemtsov’s translation failed to replace Kovaliova’s old one. Two years
later, Eksmo Publishers, which had published Nemtsov’s “Catcher on the Bread Field”, turned back to the Soviet translation by
Another Russian translation by Yakov Lotovskiy did not cause so much ado. It was published in 2010 inSem’ Iskusstv Journal (Seven Arts)
and seems to be adequate and the most faithful to the original. The translator does not soften Holden Caulfield’s coarse speech, translating his
filler words “Goddam” and “Chrissake” depending on the context as фигня (chiken feed),
чертов (damned), идиотский (idiot’s),
гнусный (foul). At the same time, he does not emphasize vulgarisms and renders the humor of the original. The
translation sounds natural.
Despite evident advantages, Lotovskyi’s translation has not gained popularity. The only explanation for this is the very special reservations Russian
readers have towards new translations; this attitude has been formed during seven decades of communist rule. According to O. Borisenko, in the Russian
culture new translations of once translated fiction are condemned to being considered bad: modern translators are rejected for lifting their arms against
the sacred (Borisenko, 2009). In the USSR, all kinds of literature were banned except socialist realism, but translated literature, even censored, did not
only acquaint readers with foreign authors but also brought some literary innovation against banal style. Thus, translated literature became a part of
Russian literature and was perceived as nativetranslated and censored according to the ideological norms of the Soviet Union. As a rule, only one
translation variant was allowed. This way it was easier to control the situation: before publishing, a translation had to pass the censors’ control,
but a once-published translation tended to become the only, generally acknowledged, “canonical” version; no one was allowed to criticize it.
Such policy resulted in the particular stance of common readers with respect to translations. This attitude remains in contemporary Russia, as old
translations tend to be considered high-quality, classic. People do not feel any need to have new translations, and it was also prompted by the fact that
the abolition of censorship resulted in the publication not only of uncensored adequate translations, but also of inadequate dilettantish ones.
Despite having a common past, literary translation in Ukraine and Russia experience different consequences of Soviet censorship today. In the USSR the
Russian language had the status of the language of international communication and the use of other national languages was suppressed. Foreign literature
was translated first into Russian and translation into other national languages of Soviet republics was performed decades later or never. It resulted in
the lack of opportunities for Ukrainian readers to become acquainted with foreign fiction in their native language for a long time (though Ukrainian
translations later became more adequate due to the weakening of the censorship pressure). Soviet Russian translations are often republished in contemporary
Russia despite their deviations from the original, caused by censoring and rather obsolete language. That is caused by the specific attitude of Russian
readers with respect to old (Soviet) and new (post-Soviet) translations. The old translation, approved by Soviet censors, has entered readers’
consciousness as an absolute substitute to the original, and even today it is perceived as “canonical”; many readers condemn re-translating a
novel as an attempt to remake a distinguished, almost original, text.
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