Now Online: Our Interviews with Pevear and Volokhonsky, Plus Peter Cole



Pevear and Volokhonsky in their apartment in Paris, 2007.

With that chill in the air, summer seems so long ago, doesn’t it? We’re trying to relive some of that Estival Enchantment™ by publishing the interviews from our Summer issue in full, online. Just think: what our print subscribers read on vacation—at the beach, by the pool, in the sun—you can read in that vast, indifferent, weatherless place we call the Internet.

First there’s the Art of Translation No. 4, with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky—who have been married for thirty-three years and whose thirty-odd translations include The Brothers KaramazovCrime and PunishmentWar and PeaceAnna Karenina, and Chekhov’s Selected Stories. “I do live in the book, in the voice or voices,” Pevear explains: 

If you don’t enter into it, you can’t really translate it. But there is also a certain detachment. You keep having to step back and think, How do I say that in English? Translation isn’t done by principle or by a machine. The only way you can judge what you’re doing is by how it feels to you. Is that the life of it? And for that there has to be a lot of identification—not with the characters but with the art of the book, the art that went into it. You have to have that in order to choose your words. They have to feel right. It’s impossible to define. Writers know this feeling.

Cole in 2014.

And in the Art of Translation No. 5, Peter Cole, who translates poetry from Hebrew and Arabic, notes the difficulty in tackling the subject at all. “Smart people say such dumb and disappointing things about it,” he says:

Such as that, unlike so-called original composition, it’s always a matter of compromise, of negotiation—that translation is inevitably a failed approximation, or like a black-and-white photograph rather than color. But what in life that’s valuable over time doesn’t involve negotiation or intelligent compromise? Where does friendship come from? Or marriage? Education? Commerce? A culture? Would you colorize Stieglitz? And who says that original composition is fundamentally different from translation? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No ­matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Beckett isn’t talking about translation there, he’s talking about life, or writing, period. Poetry isn’t lost in translation, it is translation. It’s lost only in bad or gray translation—and in the mindless repetition of the thin figures of speech we use to talk about it.

I’ll close with a friendly reminder that you could’ve read these interviews months ago. For the latest in our Writers at Work series, and for the best in new fiction, poetry, and art, subscribe to The Paris Review now.