New 'Solaris' translation locked in Limbo
June 19, 2011 4:29 AM   Subscribe

Solaris, Stanislaw Lem's 1961 masterpiece, has finally been translated directly into English. The current print version, in circulation for over 4 decades, was the result of a double-translation. Firstly from Polish to French, in 1966, by Jean-Michel Jasiensko. This version was then taken up by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox who hacked together an English version in 1970. Lem, himself a fluent English speaker, was always scathing of the double translation. Something he believed added to the universal misunderstanding of his greatest work. After the relsease of two film versions of the story, and decades of speculation, a new direct English translation has been released. Translated by American Professor Bill Johnston 'The Definitive Solaris' is only available as an audiobook for the time being. Copyright issues, hampered by several, widely available, editions of the poor English translation may mean it is some time yet before a definitive print edition makes it onto our bookshelves.
posted by 0bvious (64 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why on earth didn't they ask Michael Kandel to do this? He's pretty much the only one who does Lem right ...
posted by kyrademon at 4:37 AM on June 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whoop!

Also, Rats!

Great post. Won't hold me till they resolve the copyright issues, but still.
posted by likeso at 4:41 AM on June 19, 2011


How odd that there's an audiobook that isn't tangled up in rights issues, but the print version is.

How does that work exactly? Are the rights issues that different for audiobooks vs print? The implications of that are pretty interesting as far as rights and stuff go, if that's the case.
posted by hippybear at 5:22 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be very interested to read/hear this.

Solaris, bad translation or no, has long been a favorite for me in the treasured genre I think of as "futility porn," where there are no neat conclusions, perfect endings, and Hollywood hermetic containment of ideas in a complete universe. I've read and re-read Solaris for decades, and it's one of those books, like The Lathe of Heaven, that just keeps yielding new notions and metaphors for the things I think about when I'm letting myself be adrift. I can read the same lines for the hundredth time, and they still have fresh things to say to me. I wonder if that's a product of the instability locked up in an awkward translation, where things just sort of shimmer in the transition from language to language, or if it's the source material emerging despite the inaccuracies.

I have to hope the last lines survive the revision, though.

I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.
posted by sonascope at 5:36 AM on June 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


The last link states that there'll be an e-book version out in six months.
posted by Huck500 at 6:20 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


great, I've been steering people away from this book and towards the Star Diaries for years for this very reason.

Also I had a hunch I knew who else favorited the first comment regarding the essential translator Kandel and I was right! It was my counterpart! This isn't over!
posted by klapaucius at 6:29 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Lem, himself a fluent English speaker, was always scathing of the double translation."

I'm honestly confused...why didn't he translate it then?
posted by ian1977 at 6:50 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


the treasured genre I think of as "futility porn,"

There are so many variants on this... like the powder drug version, where you're horny as hell but can't get hard no matter how hard you try... or the SSRI version, where you're fucking like mad but can never get the bits of your mind to connect to achieve orgasm, or the...

oh, wait...

that's totally not what you're talking about.

nevermind
posted by hippybear at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is great. I haven't read it in ~35 years and most of my memories of it are mixed up with images from both movies. I'll definitely re-read it when the e-book comes out. Lem was amazing; Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Chain of Chance and The Futurological Congress are favorites of mine. It's sad to see in Lem's wikipedia page that there are quite a few of his works that were never translated into English.
posted by octothorpe at 7:04 AM on June 19, 2011


Futurological Congress is my favorite. What a fun read.
posted by ian1977 at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly confused...why didn't he translate it then?

Fluency is not the same as native speaker competence. And translation is one tough gig — you typically need a wide range of resources ranging from accuracy, (the minimum), tone, (getting harder!) and inflexion to the more poetic considerations (semic networks, intralinguistic landmarks, etc.), which then have to assembled in a coherent, seemingly organic whole.

This is more or less the why bit.
posted by Wolof at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


The linked interview indicates that Lem "understood English fairly well," yet preferred to be interviewed in Polish. Fair English comprehension does not a translator make. One must be fluent--even perhaps literary--in both languages in order to perform an idiomatic translation, unless what is being translated is nothing more than a technical manual.

I am maximally grumpy that one must enter into indentured financial servitude to Audible.com in order to obtain Dr. Johnston's Solaris. I ordinarily have no use for "performed books," but I would have made an exception, absent the onerous subscription terms. I will have to wait for the ebook. If one were available, I would buy it today.
posted by rdone at 7:12 AM on June 19, 2011


This is more or less the why bit.

Okay that makes sense. I guess I put too much credence in the word 'fluent.' Still, if it was such a thorn in his side I wonder why he didn't just have it re-translated. Money, resources, time I suppose.
posted by ian1977 at 7:15 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Money, resources, time I suppose.

Yes.
posted by Wolof at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2011


Solaris is one of my favourite novels, and I'll be fascinated to read the new translation when it comes out. In the Kilmartin translation, the novel is, or appears to be, very clearly a religious allegory, in which the attempt to understand the 'mind' of the planet becomes a search for meaning in a godless universe. However, I've heard it argued that in the original, the novel is more of a political allegory about the failure of ideology, which got 'spiritualised' (as it were) in the English version because the translators didn't understand the political references.

The Guardian article also explains the 'Snow'/'Snout' thing, which has puzzled me ever since I saw the Tarkovsky film. I'd thought it must be a mistake in the English subtitles, but no, it turns out to be another mistake in the Kilmartin translation:

The same is true of Kelvin's crewmate, who in Polish is called 'Snaut', pronounced like the English word 'snout'. In the Kilmartin/Cox version he is 'Snow', a name that immediately identifies him as an English speaker and sounds completely ordinary. 'Snaut', on the other hand, is comic or, perhaps better, grotesque – for Poles who spoke English or, more likely, German it would recall 'snout' or 'Schnauze' – and it's also hard to place nationally, like 'Gibarian', 'Sartorius', or indeed 'Kelvin'. Once again I restored the original name.

As for "why didn't Lem produce a better translation?" the answer is that he wasn't free to do so, having sold the English language rights.
posted by verstegan at 7:24 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's only one other user who can favorite that first comment, and it's not me.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:28 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two, actually.
posted by Trurl at 7:32 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


nm
posted by Trurl at 7:34 AM on June 19, 2011


I'm honestly confused...why didn't he translate it then?

Translation is a special skill and mere fluency in both languages is just a starting point (if you want to get a literary translation. If you just want something serviceable then it's a different matter).

I'm unable to find a reference, but I recall a Norwegian (?) writer who wrote his sci-fi book in English because (a) like most Norwegians he spoke it well enough and (b) the market for sci-fi books in Norwegian is very small. It eventually got translated back into Norwegian for the Viking and lutefisk market by someone else, so he had the odd experience of reading his book in his native language, but with someone else's word choice.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:37 AM on June 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having just finished reading one of the not so great English translations, I can't say which makes me happier; the announcement of a better version, or the username Lem jokes in this thread.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 7:37 AM on June 19, 2011


I still haven't recovered from the shellacking he gave me after the last meet-up.
posted by Trurl at 7:41 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hippybear:

"How does that work exactly? Are the rights issues that different for audiobooks vs print?"

It's likely that when Lem first sold the English translation rights that audio rights were not part of the license; this would have been a number of decades ago when the audiobook market did not exist or was not mature. So the audio version rights would have been available -- but the audiobook would not have been able to use the existing translation without permission from the English language rights holders. So they would have had to make a new translation.

These days audiobook rights are taken as a matter of course by the print publisher, although if you have a bit of clout you can reserve them away for a different publisher (the print publisher will often not pay you an additional advance for the audio rights but will apply sales against your initial advance; a new publisher will give you an additional advance).
posted by jscalzi at 7:55 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a Lem fan from awhile back and I always wondered how some of his wackier, wordplay-dependent fiction (such as The Star Diaries and The Cyberiad) had been translated from Polish. Solaris is relatively unornamented by comparison.
posted by bad grammar at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Possibly the coolest thing about the original Solaris movie is the ANS synthesizer that Edward Artemiev used to record the film's score:
The technological basis of his invention was the method of photo-optic sound recording used in cinematography ... which made it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to realize the opposite goal—synthesizing a sound from an artificially drawn sound wave.
posted by crayz at 8:04 AM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


0bvious posted "'The Definitive Solaris' is only available as an audiobook for the time being. Copyright issues, hampered by several, widely available, editions of the poor English translation may mean it is some time yet before a definitive print edition makes it onto our bookshelves."

A transcribed pirate ebook is probably already available though. Another classic operation foot-bullet by the assorted copyright holders.
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, one Lem book stands above them all: The Cyberiad.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:58 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm listening to it now (finish in the next day or two) and find it disturbing. Like a mix of the movie Alien(*) and Knut Hamsun's Hunger (style and tone). Luckily never saw the films or read the other translation, so have no idea where it's going.

(*) Solaris came first.
posted by stbalbach at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2011


From the interview:
"Lem drives recklessly, like most Polish people. He sits very close to the steering wheel, gestures as he drives, and curses the other drivers on the road as he passes them."
Never would have imagined.

From the Guardian article:
"…it's also hard to place nationally, like 'Gibarian', 'Sartorius', or indeed 'Kelvin'."
Speaking as someone who read a fair bit of Soviet science fiction, it wasn't actually uncommon to give characters futuristic, international-sounding names (Yefremov's Andromeda being a great example). I think it appealed to the dream of a bright socialist future when ethnic and national boundaries would blur and people of various ethnicities would freely collaborate and communicate with each other. It's also very common in Strugatsky novels, etc. You get a lot of teams made up of "the Uzbek," "the Ukrainian," and so on.

FWIW, "Gibarian" is suggestive of Armenian family names (e.g., "Abovian," "Nalbandian," "Arpiarian," etc.). It's also how the character was depicted in the Tarkovsky film. Sartorius, ending in -us, sounds vaguely Latin, and hence Polish (the tradition of Latin, I think, was much stronger in Poland than in the countries of the USSR). "Kelvin" is, of course, reminiscent of the Kelvin scale, and hence just sounds sci-fi.
posted by Nomyte at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't wait for the printed version! My commute isn't long enough for audiobooks anymore, and I won't buy ebooks because DRM makes them worthless. I do hope they get the copyright stuff straightened out, because I will gladly pay someone cash money for a dead-tree copy. Ideally that someone would be a publisher, so some royalties could go back to the translator and Lem's family.

If they don't, I guess my only recourse will be to find a pirated PDF of the ebook, and print myself a bound copy at a print-on-demand shop.

Are you listening, publishers?
posted by otherthings_ at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2011


Someone should translate this into French and then back into Polish...

Luckily never saw the films or read the other translation, so have no idea where it's going.

After watching Tarkovsky's version, I read the book some years later and was surprised to discover that it had a plot.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2011


I guess my only recourse will be to find a pirated PDF of the ebook, and print myself a bound copy at a print-on-demand shop.

That's not your only recourse.

Find a MeFite who lives in a country where the new English version is being published. Arrange with them to have a copy of the book purchased in their country and shipped to you.

That shouldn't be too difficult to arrange.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 AM on June 19, 2011


Just tore apart my house looking for Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. Couldn't find it so I ordered an new copy from Amazon. It's all your fault.
posted by Splunge at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


hippybear writes "Arrange with them to have a copy of the book purchased in their country and shipped to you. "

At the present time there aren't any plans for printed versions of this translation.
posted by Mitheral at 11:33 AM on June 19, 2011


Ah, I hadn't understood that. I thought it simply wasn't being published in the US due to our arcane copyright laws.

That's pretty sad. A new translation of a well-known book which can't be published... meanwhile, Sense And Sensibility And Seamonsters and The Meowmorphosis find their way to print with no problem.

*shakes head in bewilderment*
posted by hippybear at 11:44 AM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Firstly from Polish to French, in 1966, by Jean-Michel Jasiensko.

I think that's supposed to be Jasienko with no second s.
posted by pracowity at 11:52 AM on June 19, 2011


The eventual eBook of this might tip me over the edge and buy something to read it on. I'd still prefer print over eBook or audio though. This deserves a very sexy print edition.

Thanks for all the comments. Some addition avenues to explore
posted by 0bvious at 11:59 AM on June 19, 2011


"Lem drives recklessly, like most Polish people. He sits very close to the steering wheel, gestures as he drives, and curses the other drivers on the road as he passes them."

Man, I gesture and curse when I drive. Who knew I was part-Polish?
posted by rodgerd at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2011


Huh. Apparently there's an audioplay of Solaris, and it's on YouTube in 8 parts.

Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Not sure how good it is -- I haven't listened to it yet. But there it is for people who are interested.
posted by hippybear at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I understand the power of a proper translation. I was pointed to the John Ciardi translation of Inferno by Dante early on. The English professor said that it was the best possible if you couldn't read the original. Since then I've started two others and they never seemed to do the rhyme and scansion justice. At least as far as I can tell. I may be wrong. I guess you never quite forget your first.
posted by Splunge at 12:55 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


John Ciardi translation of Inferno

Oooh...thank you for that. Mandlebaum is quite passable and, as my first, the one I compare others too, and the Pinsky is overblown and pompous, much like the poet himself (although if you have a chance to hear him read his work, DO SO he's an incredible reader, and it adds volumes to his poetry), and I've been a bit at sea with where the fuck to go next, so I will give Ciardi a shot!

Also the new Solaris audio, I snapped that up from Audible soon as it came out, but have yet to find a moment to give it a listen.

Also, Tarkovsky's film, stands many repeated viewings and becomes more haunting and effecting with each one, although props to the version with Clooney in it, not half bad...
posted by Skygazer at 1:10 PM on June 19, 2011


Find a MeFite who lives in a country where the new English version is being published. Arrange with them to have a copy of the book purchased in their country and shipped to you

Most of the British online bookstores (including Amazon UK) will ship to the U.S. A bit pricey, but British books are so fucking nice anyway it's worth it.
posted by Skygazer at 1:14 PM on June 19, 2011


I still haven't recovered from the shellacking he gave me after the last meet-up.
posted by Trurl at 7:41 AM on June 19 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


The petty and the small
are overcome with gall
when genius having faltered
fails to fall

Klapaucius I ween
will turn the deepest green
To hear such flawless verse
from Trurl's machine

Sorry that just bubbled up from my long term storage banks.

Memoirs found in a Bathtub is another favourite - a wonderful weird-pulp time capsule of Cold War derangment.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:35 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


here's my obvious question I didn't see answered - why not get the audio book and then do voice to text? is it because voice recognition is still not there? I still prefer reading books to listening to them. and listening to a book being read is not the same as reading a book.
posted by TMezz at 1:53 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Солярис
Pt 1, Pt 2 (Russian, w English Subtitles, Official release version from Mosfilm; TY Mosfilm, your collection is 10 kinds of awesome)
posted by infinite intimation at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2011


I'm holding out for the translation of this.

more information
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:27 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm unable to find a reference, but I recall a Norwegian (?) writer who wrote his sci-fi book in English because...

Is this The Quantum Thief by Scottish-resident Finn Hannu Rajaniemi? He wrote it in English and it was translated into Finnish by Antti Autio.
posted by ninebelow at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2011


The Cyberiad was the first book I read where I was really astounded at at translation. It was the following passage that did it. I read it over and over. I just couldn't believe it was originally written in another language and then forced into English.

Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally, he nodded and said:

"Very well. Let's have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit."

"Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?" Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:

Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
Their indices bedecked from one to n,
Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

Come, every frustrum longs to be a cone,
And every vector dreams of matrices.
Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

In Reimann, Hilbert or in Banach space
Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
Or asymptotes no longer out of phase,
We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
And in our bound partition never part.

For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

Cancel me not--for what then shall remain?
Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
A root or two, a torus and a node:
The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
Thy product of our scalars is defined!
Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh,
Bernoulli would have been content to die,
Had he but known a2 cos 2 ϕ!
posted by Quonab at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2011 [15 favorites]


ninebelow, yes it was indeed Hannu Rajaniemi I was thinking about (assuming my ramblings could be construed as "thinking").
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:15 PM on June 19, 2011


here's my obvious question I didn't see answered - why not get the audio book and then do voice to text? is it because voice recognition is still not there? I still prefer reading books to listening to them. and listening to a book being read is not the same as reading a book.

What about punctuation and paragraph breaks? The best voice recognition can do is to transcribe words.
posted by grumblebee at 3:44 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I blame Oracle.


Wait, what?
posted by b1tr0t at 5:34 PM on June 19, 2011


Me too exactly, Quonab! That poem just blew me away. But I wonder how closely it sticks to the original Polish text; it's mostly about being clever and geeky, and you could change the meaning quite a bit while still being true to the spirit of mathematical wordplay.

Is this where I admit that I loved The Cyberiad and The Star Diaries but never got into Solaris? Am I an intellectual lightweight or can I blame it on a lousy translation?
posted by Quietgal at 7:16 PM on June 19, 2011


But I wonder how closely it sticks to the original Polish text…

I suspect that the Polish is quite a bit different from the English. I don't have the original on hand, but here's what my Ukrainian translation says in the relevant place:
— Гаразд. Нехай буде про кохання і смерть, але щоб усе це мовою вищої математики, а саме алгебри тензорів. Може бути також вища топологія й аналіз. І при цьому еротично сильне, навіть зухвале, то того ж у кібернетичних сферах.
— Ти, певне, з глузду з'їхав! Математика про кохання? Ні, в тебе не все гаразд з головою, — почав Трурль. Але й він, і Кляпавцій раптом замовкли, бо Електрибалт почав декламувати:

Несмілий кібернетик-екстреміст
Не знав, чи є кохання, чи нема.
Та по натурі був він оптиміст,
Програмував, моделював, і недарма…

Де не глянь, лапласьянці з вечора до ранку
І векторні орти з ранку і до темна!
Ближче, контрзображення! Уже час буремно
Стиснути кохану в обіймах на ганку!

Він напівметричний дрож в ритмі неспокійнім
Змінить в групи оборотів і зв'язок зворотній,
І то такий іскрометний, такий безтурботний,
Що злютуються вони у порусі рвійнім!

Слухай, класе трансфінальний! Величино сильна!
Непримарний континіум! Праструктура біла!
Віддам Стокса й Крістофелла — бо саме до діла, —
Щоб похідна у кохання була для нас спільна.

Твоїх просторів скалярних хащі буйнолисті
Хай побачить занурений в Теорему Тіла,
Кіберіадо кипарисів, бімодально ціла
В градієнтах, розмножених в польотах вогнистих!

О, не зазнає насолоди той, хто новизну
У простір Вейля й Браувера вчення в топології
Внесе недбальство без належних хронологій,
Досліджуючи Мебіуса вічну кривізну!

О комітенте, безліч почуттів складних
Твої безцінні і лиш тим відомі,
Хто, відчуваючи параметрів недомір,
В наносекундах гине, згоряє серед них!

Як пункт, що входить до голонімічної системи,
Позбавленної координат нуля асимптотою,
Так в останній проекції ласки доторк
Кібернетика вбиває від любовних взаємин.
Ukrainian shares quite a bit of lexis and terminology with Polish, so this translation should be quite close to the original. You'll note, however, that it doesn't mention Banach spaces or eigenvalues. Nor does the English reference Stokes's Theorem and the inverse image.
posted by Nomyte at 10:07 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, and here is the Polish. It is similar to the Ukrainian, and quite far from the English. Anyone care take a stab at a translation?

Nieśmiały cybernetyk potężne ekstrem
Poznawał, kiedy grupy unimodularne
Cyberiady całkował w popołudnie parne,
Nie wiedząc, czy jest miłość, czy jeszcze jej nie ma?

Precz mi, precz, Laplasjany z wieczora do ranka,
I wersory wektorów z ranka do wieczora!
Bliżej, przeciwobrazy! Bliżej, bo już pora
Zredukować kochankę do objęć kochanka!

On drżenia wpółmetryczne, które jęk jednoczy,
Zmieni w grupy obrotów i sprzężenia zwrotne,
A takie kaskadowe, a takie zawrotne,
Że zwarciem zagrażają, idąc z oczu w oczy!

Ty, klaso transfinalna! Ty, silna wielkości!
Nieprzywiedlne continuum! Praukładzie biały!
Christoffela ze Stoksem oddam na wiek cały
Za pierwszą i ostatnią pochodną miłości.

Twych skalarnych przestrzeni wielolistne głębie
Ukaż uwikłanemu w Teoremat Ciała,
Cyberiado cyprysów, bimodalnie cała
W gradientach, rozmnożonych na loty gołębie!

O, nie dożył rozkoszy, kto tak bez siwizny
Ani w przestrzeni Weyla ani Brouwera
Studium topologiczne uściskiem otwiera
Badając Moebiusowi nieznane krzywizny!

O, wielopowłokowa uczuć komitanto,
Wiele trzeba cię cenić, ten się dowie tylko,
Kto takich parametrów przeczuwając fantom,
Ginie w nanosekundach, płonąc każdą chwilką!

Jak punkt, wchodzący w układ holonomiczności,
Pozbawiany współrzędnych zera asymptotą,
Tak w ostatniej projekcji, ostatnią pieszczotą
Żegnany - cybernetyk umiera z miłości.
posted by Nomyte at 10:51 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the input, Nomyte. Just looking at online translations, the Engilsh does look like it is a long way from the Ukrainian or Polish.

I guess this is one of the cases where the translator interprets more than he translates (see Arthur Waley). I will still enjoy it the way I originally read it, though I will try to be more skeptical in the future. The poem seemed to be too traditional to be from a foreign language, and I guess it was.

Personally, I have always have had a hard time learning foreign languages. I have spent many hours in their pursuit. I am envious of anyone that can manage them.

It is clear that I do not have the understanding of Lem's work that I thought I did. I appreciate Metafilter for letting me know. However, a proxy war by unmanned drones on the moon seems more relevant today than it ever has. However divergent the translation, Lem still has a lot to offer.
posted by Quonab at 12:38 AM on June 20, 2011


As far as my limited ability to enjoy English verse allows me, I can confirm that the English translation is more than congenial, it's better than the original. While I love Lem's prose dearly, his attempts at poetry are... most politely can be called funny in a silly way, and while not out of place in Cyberiad, not exactly serious itself, in this particular case Kandel's work (it's Kandel, right?) fits better - it's over the top but not silly, if I read it right.
posted by hat_eater at 3:51 AM on June 20, 2011


Why does the less-than slash more-than sequence work in the quick preview window but not in the comment proper? grumble grumble. Now I have to click the preview button!
posted by hat_eater at 3:57 AM on June 20, 2011


Please, don't stop at this, Lem's non fiction production is very interesting, Summa Technologiae, for instance, a collection of essays, more info about Lem in A Stanislaw Lem Reader, a must read for Lem fans.
posted by samelborp at 4:09 AM on June 20, 2011


sebastienbailard, I stumbled across 'Ijon Tichy, Raumpilot' maybe a year ago. So excited! I spent hours looking around for it on the web, questioning whether my limited Deutsch would make it worth getting it un-subtitled, and gave up. The best I got was a 2-3 minute clip in the original German.

I don't think Lem is big enough in the English-speaking world that it would ever get translated/subtitled. Maybe the BBC, but I hear they're having money troubles. Sigh.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:53 AM on June 20, 2011


There is only one audiobook version of Solaris for me.
posted by Eideteker at 10:40 AM on June 20, 2011


I'm honestly confused...why didn't he translate it then?

In addition to the other reasons people have given for this, Lem has always had an...interesting...relationship with the English-speaking world of SF. Bruce Sterling has a great little article about it that begins with this striking analogy:

You're a kid from some podunk burg in Alabama.[...]Then one joyful day you discover the work of a couple of writers...Their names are "Tolstoy" and "Dostoevsky." Reading them, you realize: This is it! It's the sign you've been waiting for! This is your destiny-- to become a *Russian Novelist*!
[...]
Then, after years of steadily growing success, strange mail arrives. It's from Russia! They've been reading your stuff in translation, and you've been chosen to join the Soviet Writers' Union! Swell! you think. Of course, living in backwoods Alabama, it's been a little tough finding editions of contemporary Russian novelists. But heck, Tolstoy did his writing years ago! By now those Russians must be writing like nobody's business! Then a shipment of modern Russian novels arrives, a scattering of various stuff that has managed to elude the redtape. You open 'em up and--ohmiGod! It's . . . it's COMMUNISM! All this stupid stereotyped garbage! About Red heroes ten feet tall,
and sturdy peasants cheering about their tractors, and mothers giving sons to the Fatherland, and fathers giving sons to the Motherland

posted by straight at 11:24 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Surely no discussion of translating Lem can neglect this amazing challenge he set for his translators:

“Have it compose a poem — a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism and in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!”

A challenge to which translator Michael Kandel rises to spectacularly:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed.
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

posted by straight at 11:27 AM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


The challenge was a little bit different in the original:
"- Niech ułoży wiersz o cyberotyce! - rzekł nagle, rozjaśniony. - Żeby tam było najwyżej sześć linijek, a w nich o miłości i o zdradzie, o muzyce, o Murzynach, o wyższych sferach, o nieszczęściu, o kazirodztwie, do rymu i żeby wszystkie słowa były tylko na literę C!"
"Have it compose a cyberotic poem! - he said suddenly, brightening. - No more than six lines, about love and treachery, about music, Negroes, high society, calamity, incest, all in rhyme and every word beginning with the letter C!!"
But I think he might be forgiven for changing the conditions somewhat...
posted by hat_eater at 1:28 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read Solaris while doing a individual study pscyh measurement course that had me re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence, Wittgenstien's Philosophical Investigations and all the other post-tractatus stuff while doing a Honour's thesis examining the validity of all the major Self-Esteem inventories in use in Psychology at the time using every possible multivariate statistical method.

It was like I was on acid for about an entire school year. I am fairly post-positivist that I broke my brain.
posted by srboisvert at 6:51 AM on June 21, 2011


Ok, just watched the Ukranian film adaptation of Solaris and it is incredibly good. I saw it again many years ago, but I don't think it sunk in as it did tonight... sooooo good! now for this audio book...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:49 AM on June 27, 2011


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