Blesok no. 84, May-June, 2012
The Anthology as a Variant of Interliterary Reception
(Olga Pankina. Short Stories by Macedonian Authors. Moscow: Okoem, 2009)
Marija Gjorgjieva Dimova
„What is it that I wish to say when I use the term ‘literature/literatures’? I wish to emphasize, explicitly and unequivocally, that ‘literature’ has the consistency of a picture which should correspond to the ideal presence of a heritage common to different civilisations. A kind of a limitless, progressive library… At the same time – as indicated by the slash mark placed between literature (and) literatures – literature exists only in the specific literatures created in different languages; their Babylonian diversity inevitably leads to their fluent merging, through translation; in itself, translation is yet another specimen of the common heritage of humankind, created out of countless translations that have always pulsed through every language and an unrelenting, insuppressible power with which it keeps carrying texts and messages across different worlds… Literature/literatures: the intermediate slash (functioning both as a barrier and a joint) is the ‘translation’: it sets in motion the virtuous circle of global dialogue maintained through literatures and their discourses…
Comparative literature is proposed as the study and discourse which strives to cohere with this power of literature/literatures not only as their accompaniment, but also as a knowledge by means of which literary values would be translated (in)to a discourse open to plurality, a discourse that all of us could realize, together and equally, translating one(s) to (an)other(s) and one(s) beside (an)other(s), translating by virtue of the endless, ever-twining network of reciprocities and differences“ (Gnisci, 2006: 9-11). This plaidoyer of translation and comparative literature serves to indicate their mutual dialogical-epistemological and integrative power, which results in the securing of a complex presence/existence of the world/literature, but also in the possibility of a simultaneous existence of different worlds/literatures.
Regarding the field of practice, the dialogical transfer of texts and messages among different worlds/literatures usually follows the course of translation of (belletristic, and particularly bestselling and scientific) volumes from the “greater” literary, linguistic and cultural environments to the “lesser” ones. Less frequent, but nevertheless remarkable, is the opposite course, a process further confirmed by the 2009 publication in Russian of an Anthology of Macedonian short stories, entitled Raskazi na makedonski pisateli (Short Stories by Macedonian Authors). The selection and translation of works were made by the distinguished Macedonist Olga Pankina, who published this collection as the first book of the edition titled Biblioteka na literaturata na Makedonija (Library of Macedonain Literature), which would also encompass volumes on the fields of drama, poetry, children’s literature, criticism, and essayistics.
This impressive 553-page chrestomathy incorporates seventy short stories by fifty Macedonian authors. It also includes several inviting paratexts: a Preface by the compiler/translator, a Foreword by Academician Milan Gjurčinov, short bio-bibliographical notes on the authors covered in the volume, and a summary list of short stories by Macedonian authors published in Russian in the period from 1958 to 2008. This paratextual temporariness of the short stories is of great instructional-informative value to Russian and Macedonian readers alike, since the paratextual framework offers a historical, critical, and theoretical overview of the development and evolution of the Macedonian short story, but it also provides an insight into the comparative-receptive processes in the Macedonian short story production in Russia. It can thus be said that this collection offers an unequivocal illustration of Armando Gnisci’s points of departure regarding the functions of translation and comparative literature: the presentation of Macedonian short stories in Russian promotes the role of translation as a mediating factor, a mechanism of interliterary reception, thus generating a comparative reading and interpretation of the short stories, only this time from the perspective of the Russian reader and/or interpreter. In its turn, this opens the possibility of a comparative analysis of the interpretations of these texts.
Designating this volume as a chrestomathy (by Pankina), that is, an anthology (by Milan Gjurčinov and Ala Sheshken) allows for a two-pronged reception of the volume as a compressed heterogeneity and as a synchronically applied diachrony. Taken as descriptive parameters of every anthological selection, these phrases imply its solid foundation of value and critical criteria, including the criteria for selection and combination. The necessity for such a complex of criteria is even greater in this specific case, because these standards are the key coordinates for the compression of the heterogeneity of the Macedonian short story production, created over a wide time span of six decades. Both the inevitability and the restrictive nature of such criteria are stressed in the Preface by the compiler/translator. As Pankina points out, a chrestomathy can never fully encompass all the authors and works deserving of inclusion. By its necessity and its scope adequacy, a chrestomathy is never exhaustive; it is always a partial collection of works. For these reasons, Pankina explains, the short stories that have previously been translated into Russian, and are therefore already familiar to the reader, have remained outside the scope of this chrestomathy (Pankina, 2009: 5).
The preliminary, selectional-combinatorial, principles which governed Pankina’s selection resulted in a volume in which the diachrony of the Macedonian short story is organised in chronological and generational order. An illustration of this kind of arrangement and the resulting panoramic span of the collection is the fact that the first author listed in the chrestomathy, Ivan Točko, was born in 1914, whereas the last author included, Goce Smilevski, was born in 1975. This, of course, is a formal principle necessary for the organisation of the volume, because, Pankina explains, the chrestomathy incorporates not only the classics of Macedonian literature, but also the finest young authors, representatives of all literary streams. In view of this network of criteria, the аnthology can be said to represent an intergenerational projection of the idiosyncratic characteristics of the Macedonian short story, a miscellany of storytelling paradigms, narrative sensibilities, and stylistic-poetic traits and dominants – both in an authorial and stylistic-formational sense. The аnthology Short Stories by Macedonian Authors offers manifold insights into the tendencies of development of the Macedonian short story: an insight into short stories from the cultural terrains of Realism, Modernism and Postmodernism, an insight into their thematic heterogeneity and the key tendencies which characterize them (such as fragmentariness, collage, citationality, different variants of intertextuality, Borgesian pseudo-résumés, grotesque, irony, pastiche, apocryphality, and carnivalisation), as well as an insight into the various manifestations of écriture féminine. There is no doubt that the conceptualization of this collection as a compressed heterogeneity endows it not only with the quality of offering a panoramic, poetic, diachronic, and systematic review of the Macedonian short story, but also with the quality of living up to different sets of reading expectations, which from the very outset renders it appealing to a wide audience.
The simultaneous, synchronic, anthological presentation of several narrative and storytelling paradigms offers an insight into the horizontal trajectory of development of this genre in Macedonian literature, but it also has broader implications which allow for a vertical axis of theoretical description and typology of the Macedonian short story. (In this sense, on the basis of the texts included in the collection, it is possible to also identify a fantastic paradigm as a poetic tendency in Macedonian short stories).
Understanding translation as a complex form of mediation, a form of interliterary reception, creation and metacreation, Dionis Djurišin warns of the habitual neglect of, and the lack of appreciation for, the role of the translator’s personality, their taste, artistic authenticity and attitude towards the original, i.e. the lack of respectful regard for the matters of fact which characterize the translator’s poetics (Djurišin, 1997: 50). The relevance of these remarks becomes especially evident when applied to the compiling and translation activities. Hence, the selection of Macedonian short stories made by Pankina, accompanied by the value criteria which serve as its foundation, remind us that an anthology volume is the tangible end product of a complex process requiring both reading and translation efforts on the part of the anthologist: it is a process involving the tasks of reading through a myriad of short stories, looking separately into each individual story, while also placing it into an established comparative context. At the Moscow promotion of the anthology held in October 2009, Ala Sheshken, once again pointed to this dimension: „This is a rare undertaking, because, beside an outstanding knowledge of the Macedonian language, literature and culture, the translator was also required to demonstrate great skill at familiarizing Russian readers with the distinguishing features of the individual styles of over fifty Macedonian authors, by selecting their most characteristic works“ (2009, 15). Olga Pankina’s tremendous competence as the compiler and translator of this аnthology is unquestionable, particularly in light of the following facts: she graduated from the Division of Slavic Philology at the Faculty of Philology at Lomonosov Moscow State University (as part of the first generation of students at the Department of Macedonian Language); she has repeatedly participated in the International Seminar on Macedonian Language, Literature and Culture held in Ohrid; beside making verse translations of a number of poems by Macedonian authors, she has also translated into Russian the novels The Big Water by Živko Čingo and Pirey by Petre M. Andreevski, as well as the dramatic monologue Justinian the First by Jordan Plevneš. Pankina’s competence is further reinforced by her scientific interests and affinities, which she locates exactly “in the field of the contemporary Macedonian language, and primarily the field of lexicography and the theory and practice of translation from/to the Slavic languages” (Pankina, 2009: 14).
When looking at the collection as an entirety and at the interrelation between its preliminary paratextual/introductory/explanatory part and the textual complex of short stories, one must notice the relationship between Acad. Milan Gjurčinov’s Foreword and Olga Pankina’s anthological selection. Beside their evident complementarity, what is remarkable is the functionality of the Foreword as a true introduction to this аnthology, but also as a general introduction to the history and theory of the Macedonian short story. Acad. Gjurčinov promotes this role of the Foreword, describing this work as an occasion and an opportunity to present to the Russian reader a far more detailed account of this genre in Macedonian literature (Gjurčinov, 2009: 6). The Foreword is therefore of immense encyclopaedic value to all readers of the аnthology: as its title suggests, it gives a literary-historical overview and a literary-theoretical outline of the Macedonian short story form the following perspectives:
1. the reasons for its belated emergence, as contrasted to the presence of works of poetry and drama as early as the period between the two World Wars;
2. the distinctive thematic, stylistic and poetic features of each stage of development and their contribution to the moulding of this genre in Macedonian literature, with an accent on individual contributions;
3. a comparative understanding of the evolution of the Macedonian short story, as motivated by interliterary relations with (chiefly) Soviet/Russian, Anglo-American and French literature(s), as well as a comparative awareness of the problems resulting from the absence of such relations. According to Gjurčinov, one reason for this is the isolation from neighbouring literatures - the absence of an objective look from aside - that has lasted for decades. As he points out, the distinctly national criteria and ethnocentrism provide a fertile soil for the growth of a self-confidence based on thin air, but they also often provoke a delusion of grandeur in some authors (Gjurčinov, 2009: 20).
In reminding of the lack of a critical and evaluative attitude towards the short story production in Macedonia, the Foreword reveals an additional critical/metacritical dimension to its purpose. The extraordinary expansion of the short story in Macedonian literature during the last decades of the 20th century may be taken to testify to the vividness of the genre, but at the same time it indicates the domination of quantity over quality, as well as the absence of an adequate critical verification of the production (2009:19). As Gjurčinov states, there is no longer an active critical attitude towards this new reality; criticism in general has abated, descending into axiological relativism and high theoretical rhetoric, no longer able to produce an answer to the question of what in this abundant production is indeed valuable, and what is not (Gjurčinov, 2009: 20).
Any author, reader, and scholar of literature must draw undeniable pleasure from this presentation of Macedonian literature in a literary and linguistic environment to which we are related by affiliation to the group of Slavic languages/literatures, and by sharing a common literary past of socrealist poetics and aesthetics, or of distinct avant-garde and modernist tendencies. Even though our relationships with the Russian literary and cultural environment at times seem absent, the truth is that they are always there; they are just insufficiently tangible and promoted. And it is works such as the Anthology Raskazi na makedonski pisateli (Short Stories by Macedonian Authors) that constantly remind us of the presence, the existence, of those relationships. In fact, Pankina herself, as a compiler/translator of this collection, views it as another contribution to the maintaining of continuity regarding the translation of Macedonian short stories for the Russian readership. This аnthology, Pankina emphasizes, fills in the picture of Macedonian literature, the contours of which the reader has had drawn by such works as Sovremena jugoslovenska novela (The Contemporary Yugoslav Novella), published in 1965, Rastopeniot sneg (Melted Snow) (1965), Požar (Fire) (1973) and Povesti i raskazi na jugoslovenski pisateli (Novellas and Short Stories by Yugoslav authors) (1978), and it aims to present contemporary Macedonian ‘small’ prose in all its versatility (Pankina, 2009: 5).
Undoubtedly, the anthological collection of Macedonian short stories in Russian has proven to be the most effective medium in the presentation of a genre in Macedonian literature through the prism of its diversity. Understood as a citational illustrative genre (Oraić Tolić, 1990: 59), the anthology successfully carries out the function of representation and adoption of foreign texts and cultural traditions, thus once again confirming its status as a vehicle which keeps the virtuous circle of global dialogue in motion (Gnisci, 2006: 10).
Gjurčinov, Milan. „Ways and Accomplishments: The Emergence and Development of the Macedonian Short Story,” Foreword to Short Stories by Macedonian Authors. Tran. Comp. Olga Pankina. Moscow: Okoem, 2009, 6-22.
Djurišin, Dionis. What Is World Literature? Novi Sad/Sremski Karlovci: Zoran Stojanović Publishing Bookstore, 1997.
Gnisci, Armando. „Comparative Literature,” Preface to Comparative Literature. Ed. Armando Gnisci. Skopje: Magor/Macedonian Comparative Literature Association, 2006, 9–19.
Oraić Tolić, Dubravka. Theory of Citationality. Zagreb: GZH, 1990.
Pankina, Olga, trans.comp. Short Stories by Macedonian Authors. Moscow: Okoem, 2009.
Sheshken, Ala. „Short Stories by Macedonian Authors: An Anthology”, University Newspaper 97, Skopje:University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, 2009, 15-16.
Tasevska, Roza. „Olga Pankina, a Confirmed Macedonist”, University Newspaper 97, Skopje: University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, 2009, 11-15.
1. One of the numerous illustrations of this process is the global anthology of short stories titled Svet vo malo (A Small Universe), ed. К. Kjulavkova, Skopje: ProLitera, 2008.