By BRYAN KARETNYK
The lecture theatre at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology proved an unexpectedly germane setting for Thursday evening’s talk on "Alexander Pushkin and the myth of untranslatability". Lining the walls of the Leventis Gallery are softly lit display cabinets – home to the institute’s collection of Cypriot and Eastern Mediterranean ceramics – with placards, bidding the viewer to reflect on antiquity’s "cross-cultural channels of communication". It is precisely this link, between history and communication, that UCL’s Translation in History lecture series, now in its fourth year, endeavours to explore.
An engaged audience comprising the general public, academics and even a number of veteran translators convened to hear Robert Chandler discuss the trajectory of literary translation from Russian into English over the past hundred or so years. Chandler, who is most noted for his translations of Vasily Grossman, Andrei Platonov and, more recently, the émigrée writer Teffi, is exceptional on the list of speakers in the UCL lecture series: he is the only full-time practising translator, and indeed the only non-academic. Perhaps it was for this reason that his approach to the task seemed so refreshingly pragmatic.