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The Dark Side of Translation: 20th and 21st Century Translation from Russian as a Political Phenomenon in the UK, Ireland, and the USA

Project description

The political dimensions of Russian literary translation

Translation helps prevent cultural and national isolation across nations. However, translation can be politicised and conditioned by ideological prejudices or state influence. This ‘dark side’ of translation can be used by subaltern nations to contend cultural equality with larger neighbours. The EU-funded RUSTRANS project will investigate how persons and governments utilise translation in this sense by translating their own literature into global languages such as English. In particular, it will research the impact of Russian literature on other European cultures, studying translation as a vehicle of self-promotion and cultural unification for emergent nation-states, and will also compare this type of translation with new translation strategies used in modern Russia.


What is the dark side of translation? Translation is valued, taught, and often funded as a deterrent to monolingual nationalism and cultural parochialism. Yet the praxis of translation is highly politicized, often subverted by ideological prejudice or state interference. Translators have a personal agenda, as do editors, publishers, and other agents. Every translation is an act of cultural appropriation. This may not be detrimental to the culture of origin; even inaccurate translations can confer prestige on the former. The ‘dark side’ of translation – its immanent politics – often allows subaltern nations to assert cultural parity with larger neighbours.

RusTRANS investigates how individuals, and governments, exploit this ‘dark side’ to reap cultural capital by translating their own literature into global languages (and the reverse). The PI and postdoctoral research assistant will research four case studies about translators of Russian literature, and their networks, in Anglophone contexts (Ireland, the UK, and the USA). Three doctoral students will study the transmission of Russian literature in other European cultures. We will also commission new translations of contemporary Russian writing in order to observe the dynamics of translator (and publisher) networks today.

RusTRANS offers two key innovations. First, we explore an obscure, paradoxical, yet crucial function of translation: as a means of self-promotion and cultural consolidation for emergent nation-states. By focussing on literary translation, and on the transmission of a single language (Russian), we create a coherent paradigm for historians of the cultural reception of national literatures in translation. Second, our diachronic approach to translation praxis allows us to contrast past translation networks and strategies with cultural agents in the ever-more volatile context of modern Russia, as we document the political pressures placed on contemporary authors, translators, and publishers.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 346 896,00
The queen's drive northcote house
EX4 4QJ Exeter

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South West (England) Devon Devon CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)