What this blog is for and about

I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

Remember: all pictures can be expanded to full page size by clicking on them.


03 March 2012

Irish literature and W.B. Yeats's sex life

Last night the Irish Embassy hosted a fascinating evening of literature and poetry readings. The occasion was the first publication of a new journal Ирландская Литеатура, subtitled (a) Irish Literature in Russia Translation and (b) Litríocht na hÉireann aistrithe go Rúisis (which, for all I know, means: “Don’t forget Croke Park 2007”). This is a joint initiative between Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious university, and the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. The journal carries parallel texts in English and Russian. Readers who wish to know more may wish to visit: www.irlandskayaliteratura.org where you can also download the whole journal.
     The Irish Embassy is ahead of the diplomatic pack when it comes to promoting its own country’s arts in Russia. Partly this comes from the Ambassador himself, who is a noted poet (and appeared once reading his own verse on my radio programme: http://english.ruvr.ru/radio_broadcast/28742746/37222188.html ). Last night’s event was timed to coincide with the opening of an exhibition of the life and work of Ireland’s foremost poet, W.B. Yeats, at the Foreign Literature Library in Moscow. Yeats won the first of Ireland’s four Nobel Prizes for Literature (coincidentally the same number as USSR/Russia has won). He promoted, with a kind of savage honesty, the cause of Irish culture in the face of hostility from both the British imperialist class and, when they had moved out, the Irish political establishment that took over from them. Any serious exhibition of Yeats’s life is likely to be very interesting.

     Pictured above is the first paragraph of the Introduction to Ирландская Литература which contains an interesting language point. Readers will notice that the author, Robert Tracey, writes about the “conversation” between Europe and the Americas and between Russian and Ireland. This is translated as диалог in the Russian text, when разговор might have been used as it would be the normal translation for the word “conversation”. But what appears at first sight to be a slight mistranslation is, in fact, very apt. A dialogue is more public than a conversation, which implies a certain intimacy. The reason why “conversation” can be used here by Mr Tracy is interesting.
     In the late 1990s the arts of the political “spin doctor” reached such heights that, for example, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, began to think that the words in which policy announcements were couched were more important than the substance of the initiatives themselves. This is not my observation but that of his own spin doctor-in-chief, Peter Mandelson, whose autobiography I recently reviewed in Passport magazine (see: http://www.passportmagazine.ru/article/2416/).
     One of the many Mandelson-Blair tricks was to call government public relations a “conversation”, implying that they were having a cosy chat with the British people on the same sort of candid, chummy basis that friends might have over a pint of beer or a mug of tea. Of course, that was complete tosh. Blair was friends with no-one, not even Peter Mandelson in the end. But it was successful tosh, and David Cameron has continued the practice. This is how, to the justifiable mystification of many Russians, the English language evolves.
     Yeats accused the politicians of his own day of using the methods of “medieval Spain”. One wonders what he would have said of twenty-first century political “conversationalists”. I would very much like to know, not least because it is hard not to admire a man like Yeats who had a vasectomy at the age of 69 in order to re-invigorate his sex life. And it worked.

No comments:

Post a Comment