Gulag translations and Cold War antinomies

Notes for a reflexive Translation Studies


  • Brian James Baer Kent State University, United States of America



translation history, Gulag translations, Soviet translation theory, reflexive translation studies, Cold War historiography


This article examines the phenomenon of Gulag translations, or translations done by incarcerated political prisoners in the Soviet Union, and the discourse surrounding it in order to think past the traditional binary of official/dissident that has dominated western scholarship on communist culture for decades. Understanding the discursive overlap of official and non-official or intelligentsia discourse regarding Gulag translations suggests shared values and shared views on translation as noble, self-sacrificing work. This is not to say that the intelligentsia were necessarily mimicking official rhetoric but, more probably, that both official and intelligentsia discourse fed from a common discursive repertoire developed in the nineteenth century. The article highlights the need to evaluate translations and translation thinking within the specific socio-cultural context that produced it and in which it circulates.


Download data is not yet available.


Akhmatova, Anna. (1967-68) 2013. “On Lozinskii.” In Russian Writers on Translation. An Anthology, edited by Brian James Baer and Nataliya Olshanskaya, 98. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Alekseev, Mikhail, and Il’ia Golenishchev-Kutuzov. 1967. Introduction. In Dante Alig’eri. Bozhestvennaia komediia, translated by Mikhail Lozinskii, 5–6. Moscow: Nauka.

Apter, Emily. 2013. Against World Literature. On the Politics of Untranslatability. London and New York: Verso.

Baer, Brian James. 2011. “Translating Queer Texts in Soviet Russia: A Case Study in Productive Censorship.” Translation Studies 4 (1): 21–40.

Baer, Brian James. 2016. Translation and the Making of Modern Russian Literatures. New York: Bloomsbury.

Baer, Brian James. 2020. “On Origins: The Mythistory of Translation Studies and the Geo-Politics of Knowledge.” The Translator 26 (3): 221–40. DOI: 10.1080/13556509.2020.1843755.

Baker, Mona. 2010. “Reframing Conflict in Translation.” In Critical Readings in Translation Studies, edited by Mona Baker, 115–29. New York and London: Routledge.

Bermann, Sandra. 2005. Introduction to Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, edited by Sandra Bermann and Michael Wood, 1–10. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Brodski, Bella. 2007. Can these Bones Live? Translation, Survival, and Cultural Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Brodsky, Joseph. 1987. Less Than One. Selected Essays. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Brodsky, Joseph. 1997. “Poetry as a Form of Resistance to Reality.” Foreword to Winter Dialogue. Poems by Tomas Venclova. Translated by Alexander Sumerkin and Jamey Gambrell, vii–xviii. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Burnett, Leon. 1985. “The Survival of Myth: Mandel’shtam’s ‘Word’ and Translation.” In The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation, edited by Theo Hermans, 164–97. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Cheyfitz, Eric. 1991. The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from the Tempest to Tarzan. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clark, Katerina. 2001. “Germanaphone Intellectuals in Stalin’s Russia: Diaspora and Cultural Identity in the 1930s.” Kritika 2(3): 529–551.

Clark, Katerina. 2011. Moscow, The Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism and the Evolution of Soviet Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Clark, Katerina and Evgeny Dobrenko, with Andrei Artizov and Oleg Naumov. 2007. Soviet Culture and Power: A History in Documents, 1917-1953. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Curley, John J. 2018. Global Art and the Cold War. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Daniel’, Aleksandr. 2000. Introduction to Iulii Daniel’. Pis’ma iz zakliucheniia. Stikhi, edited by Aleksandr Daniel’, 7–24. Moscow: Memorial and Zven’ia.

Derzhavin, Konstantin. 1961. “Tvorenie Dante” [Dante’s Oeuvre]. Introduction to The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, 5–13. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura.

Dobrenko, Evgeny. 1997. The Making of the State Reader. Social and Aesthetic Contexts of the Reception of Soviet Literature. Translated by Jesse M. Savage. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Etkind, Efim. 1963. Poeziia i perevod [Poetry and Translation]. Moscow: Sovetskii Pisatel.

Etkind, Efim. 1968. Introduction to Mastera russkogo stikhotvornogo perevoda, 5–72. Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel.

Etkind, Efim. 1978. Notes of a Non-Conspirator. Translated by Peter France. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Etkind, Efim. 1997. Introduction to Mastera poeticheskogo perevoda, 5–57. Moscow: Akademicheskii Proekt.

Etkind, Efim. (1994) 2011. “Nevol’nyi krest” [Involuntary Cross]. Novaia Gazeta 93 (August 24),

Fadeev, Aleksandr. (1949) 2013. “Answers to Questions from English Writers.” In Russian Writers on Translation, edited by Brian James Baer and Nataliya Olshanskaya, 85. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Fedorov, Andrei. 1953. Vvedenie v teoriiu perevoda [Introduction to the Theory of Translation]. Moscow: Literatury na inostrannykh iazykov.

Felch, Susan M. 2011. “‘Halff a Scrypture Woman’: Heteroglossia and Female Authorial Agency in Prayers by Lady Elizabeth Tyrwhit, Anne Lock, and Anne Wheathill.” In English Women, Religion, and Textual Production 1500-1625, edited by Micheline White, 147–66. Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate.

Frost, Robert. 2007. “Message to the Poets of Korea (1957). In The Collected Prose of Robert Frost, edited by Mark Richardson, 182. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.

Ginzburg, Eugenia Semyonovna. 1975. A Journey into the Whirlwind. Translated by Paul Stevenson and Max Hayward. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

Golenishchev-Kutuzov, Il’ia N. 1967. “Bozhestvennaia komediia” [The Divine Comedy.” In Dante Alighieri. Bezhestvennaia komediia, edited by Il’ia N. Golenishchev-Kutuzov, 467–95. Moscow: Nauka.

Gulina, T. I., R. V. Razdoburdina, and M. G. Shimanskaia, eds. 1996. Musiny-Pushkiny. Iaroslavl’: Verkhne-Volzhskoe knizhnoe izdatel’stvo.

Gumilev, Lev. 2004. Dar slov mne byl obeshchan ot prirody. Literaturnoe nasledie: Stikhi, dramy, perevody, proza, edited by N. N. Skatov. St. Petersburg: Rostok.

Gutbrodt, Fritz. 2003. Joint Ventures: Authorship, Translation, Plagiarism. Bern and New York: Peter Lang.

Khotimsky, Maria. 2011. A Remedy for Solitude: Russian Poet-Translators in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras. Unpublished PhD diss., Harvard University.

Klots, Yasha. 2011. “Brodsky as a Poet-translator.” In Contexts, Subtexts, Pretexts: Literary Translation in Eastern Europe and Russia, edited by Brian James Baer, 187–204. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.

Levin, Iurii. 1988. Shekspir i russkaia literature XIX veka [Shakespeare and Russian Nineteenth-century Literature]. Leningrad: Pushkinskii Dom.

Marshak, Samuil. 1990. Sobranie sochinenii v chetyrekh tomakh [Collected Works in Four Volumes]. Vol. 4. Moscow: Pravda.

Monticelli, Daniele. 2016. “Reconfiguring the Sensible through Translation: Patterns of ‘Deauthorisation’ in Postwar Soviet Estonia.” Translation and Interpreting Studies 11 (3): 416–35.

Murav, Harriet. 2005. “Failure of the Word: The Jew as Translator in Soviet Russia.” Cardoza Law Review 26: 2401-2413.

Niranjana, Tejaswini. 1992. Siting Translation: History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Offord, Derek. 1999. Nineteenth-Century Russia: Opposition to Autocracy. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Oushakine, Serguei. 2001. “The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat.” Public Culture 13 (2): 191–214.

Parthée, Kathleen. 2004. Russia’s Dangerous Texts: Politics between the Lines. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Plamper, Jan. 2001. “Russia: Writers, Artists, and the Gulag.” In Encyclopedia of Censorship. New ed., edited by Jonathon Green and Nicholas J. Korolides, 2110. New York: Facts on File, Inc.

Pym, Anthony. 2014. Exploring Translation Theories. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.

Rafael, Vincente L. 2005. The Promise of the Foreign. Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines. Durham: Duke University Press.

Robinson, Douglas. 2011. Translation and the Problem of Sway. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.

Rubin, Andrew. 2012. Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Shalamov, Varlaam. 1994. Kolyma Tales. Translated by John Glad. New York and London: Penguin Books.

Shlapentokh, Vladimir. 1990. Soviet Intellectuals and Political Power. The Post-Stalin Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Spechler, Dina. 1982. Permitted Dissent in the USSR: Novy Mir and the Soviet Regime. New York: Praeger.

Tarkovskii, Arsenii. (1973) 2013. “The Opportunities of Translation.” In Russian Writers on Translation. An Anthology, edited by Brian James Baer and Nataliya Olshanskaya, 119–21. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Tymoczko, Maria. 2007. Enlarging Translation, Empowering Translators. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Tymoczko, Maria. 2010. Introduction to Translation, Resistance, Activism, vii–ix. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Vek perevoda. N.d. “Sergei Petrov.”

Venuti, Lawrence. 1992. Introduction to Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology, 1–17. London and New York: Routledge.

Wanner, Adrian. 1996. Baudelaire in Russia. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Yurchak, Aleksei. 2005. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Zabolotsky, Nikita. 1994. The Life of Zabolotsky. Edited by R. R. Milner-Gulland. Translated by R. R. Milner-Gulland and C. G. Bearne. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Zemskova, Elena. 2013. “Translators in the Soviet Writer’s Union: Pasternak’s Translations from Georgian Poets and the Literary Process of the Mid-1930s.” In The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia, edited by Leon Burnett and Emily Lygo, 185–212. Oxford and Bern: Peter Lang.



30.06.2021 — Updated on 07.07.2021


How to Cite

Baer, B. J. (2021). Gulag translations and Cold War antinomies: Notes for a reflexive Translation Studies. STRIDON: Studies in Translation and Interpreting, 1(1), 9–32. (Original work published June 30, 2021)