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Durham University

Chinese Studies

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Publication details for Dr Sergey Tyulenev

2014 'Strategies of Translating Sexualities as Part of the Secularization of Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russia', Comparative Literature Studies 51, pp. 253-276

Author(s) from Durham


This article considers one of the understudied areas of Russian translation history—the role translation played in introducing works of verbal art with a distinct sexual component as part of the program of westernization of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Russia. The purpose is to look at the broad spectrum of translation strategies that were used in order to introduce sexuality as a literary theme into a new secularized Russia spanning from bowdlerized to faithful renderings, and thereby liberalize social mores and challenge dominant systemic discourse. With the help of Luhmann’s social systems theory, translation is shown to be both a means of enriching the nascent Russian literary subsystem with established masterpieces of Greco-Roman antiquity and western European vernacular literatures and, at the same time, not infrequently forcing unpalatable manifestations of sexuality into the target system’s set of values. The author analyzes the vicissitudes of translations of Sappho’s Second Ode and Pushkin’s use of translation text in his attempt to challenge the official religious and state establishment in some of his controversial poetic works, notably An Imitation of the Arabic, Monk, and Gavriiliada.