It’s a Beautiful Day to Be Stuck on a Container Ship, and Other News


On the Shelf

The Hanjin Geneva, doing exactly what it can’t do now.

  • Today in ridiculous situations brought to you by global capital: the artist Rebecca Moss has been stranded at sea, stuck on a container ship owned by a now-bankrupt shipping line; ports around the world have denied the ship because it can no longer pay the docking fees. Moss had boarded the ship for an artists’ residency. She has some good material now: “When I watch back all of the footage I have of the containers being loaded, for example, with the knowledge they are destined for nowhere in particular, it becomes comic, but also such a tragic waste of labor. Whereas before I was trying to tease out an absurdity, now it is hitting me in the face everywhere I look … I change between emotions of amusement to anger and incredulity. It is a dumb situation. The fact that nobody is rushing to buy these containers off of us shows that they cannot be needed that desperately in Asia. In some ways they feel very valuable (surely some contain food?!) but apparently they are worthless. Some of the containers contain animal skins. What did they die for?”

  • While we’re all disputatious and shit, here are some defenses of Pevear and Volokhonsky, the translators of Russian lit who took, as you may recall, quite a drubbing from Janet Malcolm in The New York Review of Books over the summer. But the literary world loves a rebuttal: “Not even an acute critic like Janet Malcolm is qualified to pass judgment on a translator’s work if she has no knowledge of the text in its original language. It is one thing to express a preference for the spontaneous and graceful style of Constance Garnett, with those fine short sentences that Hemingway so admired, over the more ponderous renderings of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. However, it is quite another to put up your dukes as Malcolm does … It goes without saying that translation is an impossible task, fraught with pitfalls, and that the result can never be more than an approximation. Personally, as a translator I try to create a window onto the text, as fine and transparent as I can make it. And personally, as a reader I love the translations of Pevear and Volokhonsky because I always sense the presence of the original behind the window.”