Vitaly Chernetsky (University of Kansas, USA)

Mogutin Translating/Translating Mogutin:

Literary Translation, Queer Discourses, and Cultural Transformation



           What ethical and political issues arise when one considers translation in the context of the nascent countercultural queer Russian-language writing? What challenges, from cognitive to aesthetic, does one face when engaging in such translation practices, reaching beyond semantic equivalence and transparent communication? As a site of knowledge production with far-reaching implications for power relations, how does a translated text’s status change when approached from the perspective of generating “opportunities for queer political intervention through […] globalized coalition politics”? As Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé and Martin Manalansan argue, the position “occupied by queer sexualities and cultures in our globalized world as a mediating figure between nation and diaspora, home and the state, the local and the global […] has not only been a site of dispossession, it has also been a creative site for queer agency and empowerment.”[1]

          In what follows below, I approach this nexus of related issues through analysis of the role of translation practices in the work of a unique figure in the emergent Russian queer culture of the post-Soviet era, Yaroslav (Slava) Mogutin.

           It is no run-of-the-mill event when an individual in a national culture—and Russia here is no exception—emerges as a multimedia phenomenon, combining individual specificity and a reaching out to many global currents.  Moreover, one usually describes the savvier stars of popular culture in these terms (Madonna being perhaps the most obvious example), not avant-garde writers or artists. Yaroslav (Slava) Mogutin (b. 1974) is a remarkable exception—a poet, essayist, journalist, prose writer, literary translator, photographer, and visual and performance artist (to list just some of his accomplishments) who successfully fashioned a unique identity, beginning at the tender age of seventeen and running through successive, ever-more-dazzling reincarnations, in the context of both Russian and global culture, building upon multiple strategies of self-assertion and countercultural subversion.

           In the world of Russian culture of the post-Soviet era, Mogutin stands out for several reasons. Publishing prolifically since the age of seventeen, he quickly established a reputation as a leading, if controversial, representative of “new Russian journalism” and also began publishing original poetry and fiction and preparing editions of previously banned authors and texts. Mogutin emerged as Russia’s first “gay” public figure (with the possible exception of Mikhail Kuzmin nearly a century earlier). Out from the very beginning of his career, Mogutin made his sexuality into a central aspect of his creative work. Mogutin’s activity as a cultural producer ended up provoking hostile reactions from the Russian authorities; in 1995 he became the first Russian citizen to be granted asylum in the US on the grounds of persecution due to sexual orientation. In the US, his voice as an original poet and prose writer, as well as a literary translator, continued to mature, and in 2000 he was awarded the Andrei Bely Prize, one of Russia’s most prestigious literary awards.

            Mogutin’s ascent to fame was truly meteoric. In February 1994, an article in Nezavisimaia gazeta, at the time one of Russia’s most influential newspapers, named him “the best critic writing today.” Yet controversy and trouble were not far behind. On 12 April 1994, Mogutin’s name spilled over from the world of literature and journalism to that of public activism and newsmaking. On this day, together with his partner at the time, the American artist and expatriate Robert Filippini, Mogutin attempted to register the first same-sex marriage in Russia. Although their attempt was rejected by the authorities, the event was picked up by major news media outlets all over the world, and became no less a landmark in the emergence of Russian gays into visibility than the publication a few months earlier of the collected writings of Evgenii Kharitonov (1941–1981), the leading Soviet gay author of the samizdat era, edited and with an introduction by Mogutin.

            Although Russia repealed the Stalin-era law criminalizing sodomy (muzhelozhstvo) in May 1993, it was still a very homophobic country in the spring of 1994 (and homophobia has been increasingly on the rise again in recent years, as documented by numerous sociological surveys and reports by human rights organizations[2]). Mogutin immediately became a target for harassment by police and other state authorities.[3]  But true to his peculiar style of self-fashioning, he refused to play it safe. The often controversial views he expressed in his journalistic writing led the state to initiate a criminal case against him, charging him under Article 208, Part 2 (“malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and particular insolence”) and Article 74 (“inflaming social, national, and religious enmity”) of the Russian criminal code. Although represented by one of Russia’s most famous human rights lawyers, Genrikh Padva, Mogutin found his situation increasingly difficult. In March 1995 he left Russia for the US, with an invitation from Columbia University to deliver a series of lectures, and applied for political asylum.

            His arrival in the US serves as the major divide in Mogutin’s creative biography. Like most new arrivals to the US, he had to reinvent himself, to reaffirm (and in the process, restructure) his identity. In the process, he rapidly evolved both in terms of his personal intellectual and artistic goals. In Russia, he was first and foremost a journalist writing on cultural topics, indeed a major star of post-Soviet “new Russian journalism.” He was only beginning to emerge publicly as a poet. His attempt at registering a same-sex marriage became a landmark event in the history of Russian LGBT rights movement, and drew unprecedented global visibility to the plight of the Russian LGBT community—yet Mogutin has never considered himself a gay activist in the narrow understanding of the term, and has always sought to distance himself from the often petty and cliquish world of “professional gay activists” and from what he saw as the shallow commodified life of the gay ghettos in the large cities of the West. Landing in the middle of New York’s bohemian art world and kaleidoscopically diverse queer culture, Mogutin honed his skills as a keen observer and witty commentator. However, his focus now dramatically shifts, from occasional journalism to more ambitious creative writing projects, in a wide range of genres.

           Within Mogutin’s professional activities, translation has consistently occupied a prominent place. One can, in fact, argue that the aesthetics of his original in-your-face unapologetic poetic and prose texts developed in part as a project seeking to enact cultural translation of counterculturally-inclined gay authors from a number of literary traditions, from Arthur Rimbaud to contemporary American queer writing. His activities as a cultural critic also helped bring to the Russian reading public the work of earlier translators, such as Gennadii Shmakov’s acclaimed translation of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, one of the key gay-themed literary classics of the twentieth century, which had earlier circulated in samizdat before it was finally published in 1993 with a preface co-authored by Mogutin.

          Many of Mogutin’s Russian-language writings, both his own original texts and translations from English, first saw the light in the literary journal Mitin Zhurnal, a samizdat publication that transitioned to “above-ground” status in the 1990s but continued to focus on innovative modern and contemporary writing, both by Russian authors and in translation. It was there that Mogutin’s translations of poetry by Allen Ginsberg and prose by William S. Burroughs and the contemporary American writer Dennis Cooper were first published. Mogutin’s translation thus appeared in a context radically different from the preceding era when, as Brian Baer demonstrated in his recent article “Translating Queer Texts in Soviet Russia: A Case Study in Productive Censorship,” struggling with the restrictions imposed by the regime resulted in the development of a whole host of creative strategies by such translators as Shmakov, and earlier Mikhail Kuzmin and Ivan Likhachev (Baer 2011). These earlier translators, as Baer has shown, created a “closet canon” (25), giving access to a space where an “alternative interpretive community” (26) could coalesce, enabling a queer reading of many masterpieces of world literature. Mogutin’s translations, by contrast, emerged in an era of unprecedented openness that now, given the increasing restrictions on press freedom and an intensifying climate of homophobia in Russia in recent years, is viewed by many with palpable nostalgia.

           Mogutin’s translations into Russian, just like his original writings and later his visual arts work, can be seen as a deliberate effort aimed at building a vision of queer personhood that is not bound to accomodationist, normalizing, consumer-oriented strategies. On the contrary, he celebrates the right to be different, to transgress dominant social norms, to give expression to identities and experiences previously voiceless in Russian.

           Writing as recently as 2007, Cristopher Larkosh noted:

Despite the growing interest of questions of translation and gender throughout the 1980s and 90s to the present day, the relationship between translation and sexuality, and more specifically those forms of sexuality often considered to be beyond the limits of the normative, has still been given relatively less attention in the field of translation studies. (Larkosh 2007, 66)

           While an intersectional project between LGBTQ studies and translation studies is still in its infancy, there have recently emerged a number of important contributions, and in fact, a major international conference titled Queering Translation—Translating the Queer took place in March 2015 at the University of Vienna.

           Among the pioneers of this emerging intersectional field is the British scholar Keith Harvey, whose influential 1998 article “Translating Camp Talk: Gay Identities and Cultural Transfer” was included in The Translation Studies Reader edited by Lawrence Venuti. In this article, as well as in his later publications, such as his 2003 book Intercultural Movements: American Gay in French Translation, Harvey focuses on a number of challenges posed by literary texts that draw on traditions of self-articulation within the gay community, stemming from a cluster of factors that go beyond close attention to the source text and involve cultural and even autobiographical issues for the translator. These issues include: (a) the existence, nature and visibility of identities and communities predicated upon same-sex object choice in the target culture; (b) the existence or absence of an established gay literature in the target culture; (c) the stated gay objectives (if retrievable) inherent in the undertaking of the translation and the publication of the translation (for example, whether the text is to be part of a gay list of novels); (d) the sexual identity of the translator and his or her relation to a gay subcultural group, its identities, codes and political project. (Harvey 2004, 403)

           In this article, Harvey focuses specifically on the tradition of “camp talk” (verbal performance including parodic and exaggerated reimaging of stereotypical femininity), which is frequently contrasted to normalizing behavioral strategies associated with being in the closet or with a desire to blend into the mainstream society. As Harvey demonstrates, camp talk can be used either as a strategy of othering a character in the text or as a defiant strategy of affirmation and resistance by creating “ironic distance around all semiotic practice, constituting devices of ‘defamiliarization,’” signaling “a suspicion of all encodings of sincerity.” Additionally, they “reinforce gay solidarity between interlocutors” (407). In his research, he focuses on examples of English to French and French to English translations, where complications arise due to the feature of French culture whereby “gayness—construed as a defining property of a distinct group of human beings—conflicts in France with the philosophy of the universal subject inherited from the Enlightenment” (415). As a result, an additional macro-level challenge is created for rendering such polyvalent, code-blending textual elements. These specific challenges faced by translators are similar to those of displaced/diasporic gay persons in the process of reconstituting their identities, such as those of Filipino gay men in New York described in the work of the anthropologist Martin Manalansan (Manalansan 2004 and Cruz-Malavé and Manalansan 2002). In the Slavic context, arguably the best-known example of the challenge of cultural transfer associated with the traditions of camp talk can be found in the work of the Polish writer Michał Witkowski (b. 1975), especially his debut novel Lubiewo (2004), which challenges the normalization and accommodation strategies by revaluation of socialist-era camp talk and behavior of the older generation of Polish gay men. This book presents formidable challenges to the translator, and we are fortunate to have a brilliant English translation of it by William Martin, and, in the East European context, an ambitious translation by the Ukrainian writer and translator Andriy Bondar (pub. 2006), a straight ally of the LGBTQ community, who basically had to invent a Ukrainian-language campy gay slang as it would have sounded in the 1970s. By comparison, Yuri Chainikov’s 2007 Russian translation of Witkowski’s novel was able to build on the published resources of Russian gay slang, the so-called khabal, but with somewhat uneven results.[4]

            But camp talk and affected parodic performance of femininity does not constitute the only recognizable pattern of gay culture. As Alexandra Berlina convincingly demonstrated in her analysis of the Russian translation of Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, even well-meaning Russian translators often struggle with rendering in their texts non-homophobic descriptions of everyday lives of members of the LGBT community. The problems arise already on the level of translating basic vocabulary (see Berlina 2012). It is all the more remarkable, then, that in his translation projects, Mogutin is drawn to the forms of gay culture that blossomed in the West in the years of sexual revolution of the 1960s—1970s, which celebrated newly emphatic but polymorphously non-mainstream masculinity. As I have argued elsewhere, Mogutin’s gender identity is neither comfortably hegemonic nor straightforwardly oppositional; his masculinity is a subversive strategic appropriation of a motley assortment of signature traits of many possible masculinities, a quintessentially postmodern open work in Umberto Eco’s (1989) sense. Drifting toward outward visual signs of masculine toughness, Mogutin invests them with a strong erotic charge and combines them at the outset with an unbridled, indulgent potlatch of queerness. As Dmitrii Kuz'min has noted, in Mogutin’s writing “homosexuality for the first time [in the Russian tradition] is victorious, endowed with excessive vitality” as opposed to the previously dominant representation of male “homosexuality as a lack in masculinity or as a refusal of the latter, when masculinity is understood as almost a synonym for vitality” (1997, 158).

            Mogutin’s choices for translation into Russian are thus celebrations of unbridled sexuality, like Allen Ginsberg’s 1970s poems “Sweet Boy, Gimme Yr Ass” and “Come All Ye Brave Boys,” or William Burroughs’s acerbic, contrarian essays “Women: A Biological Mistake?” and “Sexual Conditioning.” They form a continuum with his own original writings of similar style and seek to nourish an unashamed discourse celebrating sexuality in Russian, smashing the strictures of prudery. The texts thus come across as far more transgressive in Russian than they were in English at the time of their writing due to the different history of discourse about sex and sexuality in the two cultures; as a result, in Mogutin’s rendition, Ginsberg’s “Sweet Boy” reads not so much as a sex-positive text with the cadences of the Song of Songs than as a Mayakovsky- or Rimbaud-style slap in the face of public taste and, by all intents and purposes, deliberately so. This is partly because the Russian words for genitalia retain to this day considerably more shock value than their English counterparts (thus Ginsberg’s already defiant “prick shaft delicate” becomes in Mogutin’s translation an even more in-your-face “ствол хуя нежный”). Most importantly, Mogutin succeeds in rendering the tone of Ginsberg’s poem as both lyrical and conversational, aggressively masculine and tender. Mogutin’s practices of queer translation illustrate what William Spurlin, in his introduction to the recent special issue of Comparative Literature Studies on queer translation, describes, building on an earlier argument by Lawrence Venuti, as the ability of the translated text to continue to accrue […]. meanings and values that may differ from those invested in the source text, expose translation not only as a socially mediated and ideologically constructed practice, but also one that is potentially dissident and resistant to unimpeded correspondence between languages. (Spurlin 2014, 202)

           In his contribution to this special issue, Aarón Lacayo calls for developing a “queer mode of translation […] premised on its approach to the text as a body, that is, on a respect both for this foreign body in all its contours and for the foreign distance marking one language from the other.” For Lacayo, to consider an ethics of translation as an aesthetics of the erotic is to envision the act of translation as an alluring caress of the interval. Such allure is both a simultaneous embrace and an abandon. The act of translation gestures to the variegated forms of abandon: relinquishing, indulging, reveling. It is in this way, invoking Irigaray, that translation is both a freedom and an attraction, a separation and an alliance. It is a caress always left ajar, always open to an outside, with the force to bring forth aesthetic possibilities of the new (Lacayo 2014: 228).

           I would argue that Mogutin’s translation of Ginsberg’s 1975 poem “Come All Ye Brave Boys” offers a particularly insightful instance of the kind of approach to translation described by Lacayo. Mogutin registered the celebratory biblical overtones present elsewhere in Ginsberg’s writing (for instance, in “Sweet Boy”) and transformed this particular poem, which in English is a rhymed and somewhat-regularly-metered humorous text more reminiscent of Elizabethan-era bawdy poetry that could have come from the pen of someone like Christopher Marlowe, into a Whitmanesque free-verse hymn:


Come all you young men that proudly display
Your torsos to the Sun on upper Broadway
Come sweet hearties so mighty with girls
So lithe and naked to kiss their gold curls
Come beautiful boys with breasts bright gold
Lie down in bed with me ere ye grow old . . .

Come sweet delicate strong minded men
I’II take you thru graveyards & kiss you again


[Сюда, вы все, молодые мужчины гордо демонстрирующие
Солнцу свои торсы на Верхнем Бродвее
Сюда, милые кореши такие могущественные с девчонками
Такие гибкие и обнаженные целующие их золотые локоны
Сюда, великолепные парни с чреслами из яркого золота
Ложитесь со мной в кровать покуда не постарели,…

Сюда, милые хрупкие мужчины с крепкими мозгами
Я проведу вас через погосты и поцелую опять] [5]


           In his translation, Mogutin generally closely follows the vocabulary and syntax of the original, yet continuously plays with the tone and style, for instance through introducing the Church Slavonicism chresla [hips, thighs] where the original speaks of breasts (thereby anticipating the text’s upcoming shift of attention from torsos to thighs) and by translating “graveyards” with a word that likewise carries historical and religious overtones, pogosty, yet rendering the stylistically neutral “strong minded” with a deliberately coarse phrase “s krepkimi mozgami” (literally, ‘with tough brains’). While he is quite skilled at metered and rhymed poetry, here Mogutin chooses not to render the alliterations and rhyme of the original, but builds instead a poem that references the Whitmanesque style prominent in other works by Ginsberg, thereby creating a text that is engaged in a more complex dialogue with the larger œuvre he translates. A free verse translation of what is a rhymed text in another language is a deliberate, provocative violation of established Russian translation practices, which more often than not opt for rhyming even unrhymed original poetry. Through this gesture, Mogutin’s text enters a polysemic dialogue with the lengthy and rich tradition of translating Whitman into Russian that began with Turgenev’s pioneering efforts in the 1870s, continued, among others, by a leading Symbolist poet, Konstantin Bal’mont, and especially through the efforts of Kornei Chukovskii, a prominent Russian critic, children’s author, and translation theorist, for whom translating Whitman became a lifelong passion and who helped, with his translations, establish an accepted mode for free verse to exist within Russian literary discourse. For a long time, in contrast with many other European poetic traditions, modern Russian-language poetry was strongly resistant to free verse, and Chukovskii’s influential translations, began in the late 1900s and continued through the late 1960s, arguably became the first major crack in this seemingly unbreachable wall (see Chukovskii 1969). At the same time, these translations, although consistently de-eroticized, still provided, albeit in a coded, veiled fashion, a Russian-language expression to Whitman’s palpable homoeroticism—even if it was consistently explained away in Soviet-era publications as universal love or sympathy for the proletariat (see, for instance, Chukovskii’s preface to the 1955 edition of Whitman in Russian[6]). The selection of Ginsberg’s poems in Mogutin’s translation emerges as indeed an ethical affirmation of, and an erotic tribute to, the themes and diction of the American author, highlighting Ginsberg’s homage to, and development of, Whitman’s homoeroticism.

            When Mogutin moved to New York City in 1995, he had to rethink and reinvent his public persona for a different context, much like the Filipino diasporic gays studied by Manalansan. In fact, he became a pioneer and a documenter of a new Russo-American queer identity that has since been claimed on a greater scale by a new generation of lesbian and gay refugees from Russia and other post-Soviet nations—an identity that interrogates the presuppositions of what it means to be Russian, to be American, to be gay or queer, and numerous other identity markers. This resulted in Mogutin staking out and articulating two related but independent projects: a Russophone one, aimed at his Russian-language readers both in Russia and globally, and a globalized one (primarily, but not exclusively, Anglophone). Thus the process of translation of his Russian-language texts into English, by the author himself, individually or in collaboration with others, or by other translators, needed to take into account the different contexts in which his texts would operate in English. Being seen as a spokesperson of a new post-Soviet Russian queer culture, or at least of a segment of it, entailed very different things when aimed at different audiences. The author and his translators had to take into account the different implications in the new context of his public role as a poet, and more broadly of a creative person who is openly gay, and more specifically as a diasporic/exiled Russian. His creative endeavors across many genres paid off: in addition to the growing recognition of his work in Russia, he was seen in the New York art world by the early 2000s as “Russia’s biggest export,” as proclaimed on the cover of the February-March 2002 issue of the glossy magazine Index.

            Mogutin’s project of self-fashioning involved creating a striking, easily recognizable visual persona, and an increasing shift from verbal to visual arts over the past decade. Yet recently he returned to the literary side of his creative self, bringing out a volume of selected writings in English translation, Food Chain (2014). The work of multiple translators, albeit often extensively revised by the author himself, the book comes across as a sui generis autobiographical statement. Mogutin readily acknowledges in interviews that the darkest pages of his writing are often a form of self-therapy, a product of exorcising his personal traumas and demons. All his major texts are, as it were, framed fragments of “life writing” whose composition was triggered by particular tragic events; this volume includes a story stemming from the news of the death of an old acquaintance in Moscow, “The Death of Misha Beautiful,” as well as by far the darkest of his prose texts, “Bloody Mess,” recounting a chilling sexual encounter with a sadomasochistically inclined psychoanalyst.

            Over the course of the late 1990s—early 2000s, the tone of Mogutin’s writing grew much darker, and the emotionality heightened. His texts from this period evidence an increasing debt to surrealist “automatic writing” and the influence of the spontaneous long phrases of Ginsberg’s Howl. In these works Mogutin continues his journey of exploring his self and the world. His texts introduce ever-new themes and locales into Russian writing, in a tireless project involving the cognitive mapping of sexuality and postmodern subjectivity. While written in Russian, his poetry and fiction reference the world far beyond the established domain of Russian literature. Still, Mogutin returns to interrogations of Russianness and masculinity in both life and art, sometimes first and foremost to shock, but more often for a reckoning, a working through of the traumas of identification. Increasingly, though, the poet-rebel morphs into a poet-philosopher. Having followed in his project of artistic practice the transgressive paths of Marlowe and Rimbaud, Mogutin, beginning in the early 2000s, increasingly sounds like a younger colleague of Walt Whitman, his later writing becoming a latter-day incarnation of Whitman’s “I heard it was charged against me that I sought to destroy institutions, / But really I am neither for nor against institutions / (What indeed have I in common with them? or what with the destruction of them?),” complete with the establishment of “the dear love of comrades.”[7] One of the clearest examples of this mode can be found the title poem of Mogutin’s 2004 collection Deklaratsiia nezavisimosti [A Declaration of Independence] (Mogutin 2004, 41–42), whose imagery and rhetoric in its complex dialogue with the American poetic tradition reaches back to Whitman’s foundational texts.[8]

            In discussing translating Mogutin into English and the challenges it presents, I would like to highlight two examples. One is the “signature” text of his early period, “The Army Elegy” (“Armeiskaia elegiia,” originally written in 1990), which was translated by me in collaboration with Mogutin himself. The poem was famous for having provoked outrage and even walkouts among “respectable” Russian audiences at group poetic readings by its very first line, “Zapakh soldatskogo khuia ni s chem ne sravnitsia…” As no word for penis in contemporary English carries a transgressive charge comparable to the Russian “khui,” we settled in our translation on a more matter-of-fact “The scent of a soldier’s cock is beyond comparison…”—a much less shocking statement given the history of modern English-language writing. What we sought as the paramount task in producing our English translation, however, was to retain and represent the paradoxical mix of lyrical sentiment and in-your-face language. Thus in the process of our work on the text, we chose on several occasions to include English words that could be perceived as shocking or transgressive; for instance, in the fifth stanza of the poem we replaced, in the final version of our translation, the word “queers” with “faggots” as a rendition of the word “pidory” in the original Russian. In this way, while one instance of transgressive vocabulary use was sacrificed, the overall transgressive intent was still present in the resulting English text, which otherwise remained close to the original Russian, including in reproducing the meter.[9]

            The other example comes from the poem “If I Were an American,” co-translated by Mogutin and Dmitry Gelfand. Here, the translators opts to alter the text considerably while preserving the rhyme scheme and, of course, the in-your-face tone:

Ia by emu govoril: “Ei, Rashin,                       I’d tell him: HEY, RUSKY,

Pochemu ty vnutri dereviashin?!”                   WHY ARE YOU SO HUSKY?

Ia by krichal emu: “Ei, russkii!                       I’d yell at him: HEY, RUSSIAN,

Pochemy ty takoi v zhope uzkii?!”                  SHOW ME YOUR PINKO COMMIE FAG FASHION[10]


           In the process of translation, the vocabulary of ironic insults was changed radically, but both the text’s overall aesthetics and the specific communicative message are successfully conveyed to a new audience.

            Overall, Mogutin’s translation projects, whether from English into Russian or from Russian into English, evidence consistency and continuity over the course of his now quarter-century long literary career. His paramount goal is to make the text a hard-hitting challenge to his audience’s preconceived notions and sensibilities—literature as an instrument of freedom—yet this challenge is combined with the challenge of reintroducing the tender and the lyrical, the Mayakovskian “babochka poetinogo serdtsa” [the butterfly of a poet’s heart], hoping to enact a paradigm shift in the many different cultural milieux in which he operates. As is common in the practice of self-translation, Mogutin gives himself a freer hand in translating his own Russian-language works into English in order to generate maximum functional equivalence with the Russian originals; however, it would be a mistake to view these efforts simply as a loose rewriting in another language. As Aurelia Klimkiewicz notes, “self-translation [is] a two-directional circulation: first, from inner to external speech (from the self to the other); and then, from one language into another inside the divided consciousness (from the self to the self).”

           This is a particularly fraught process for bilingual displaced/exile authors like Mogutin: “a powerful means of inscribing the self in a new language and environment […]. self-translation tells the story of becoming the other as a painful, ongoing and fully resistant process.”(Klimkiewicz 2013, 192, 193).

           However, most of Mogutin’s self-translations are produced in collaboration with others. This additional dimension results in a productive tension that can be viewed as an instance of Lacayo’s vision of queer translation as an embodied practice that both separates and communicates, as the encounter of texts that is “a porous embrace [and] a call and response of attraction.”[11] Somewhat paradoxically, this very individualist writer has become a major contributor, especially through his translation efforts, to building a Russian gay community through a more multifaceted image of Russia in the global gay community, and thereby answering the call of Keith Harvey’s essay “Gay Community, Gay Identity, and the Translated Text”:

Translated literature occupies a special place within the space of literature for gay readers in that translated texts can suggest models of otherness that can be used in processes of internal identity formation and imagined community projection. Translations can achieve this through their subject matter itself, if this presents the reader with explicit accounts of homosexual experience and struggle. But perhaps just as important is the way in which the presence of translatedness in a target culture provides readers who are working at a skew with dominant culture norms the space in which their difference can be worked out as a positive cultural attribute (Harvey 2000, 159).

           As a result, Mogutin’s translation practices can be viewed as a thoughtful and productive project of resisting assimilation and building a stronger, more resilient self as a representative of a community that has been struggling with discrimination for far too long. It becomes, ultimately, an act of healing: “translation works as an anchor able to ground the self in the middle of instability. This does not imply a reconstituted totality or a reconquered center, but rather the possibility of making sense of experience according to the precise living moment” (Klimkiewicz 2013, 194).



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

Belina, Alexandra. 2012. “Homosexuality in the Russian Translation of The Hours,” Sexuality & Culture 16 (4): 449–466.

Casanova, Jean-Yves. 2004. “Un autre dans le miroir (Traduction et auto-traduction),” in Traduction & Poésie, ed. by Inês Oseki-Dépré, 51–59. Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose.

Chukovskii, Kornei. 1969. Moi Uitmen: Ocherki o zhizni i tvorchestve; izbrannye perevody iz “List’ev travy,” 2nd expanded ed. Moscow: Progress.

Cordingley, Anthony (ed.). 2013. Self-translation: Brokering Originality in Hybrid Culture. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Cruz-Malavé, Arnaldo, and Martin F. Manalansan IV (eds.). 2002. Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism. New York: New York University Press.

Eco, Umberto. 1989. The Open Work, trans. Anna Cancogni. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ginsberg, Allen. 1998. “Sladkii mal'chik i drugie stikhotvoreniia,” trans. Yaroslav Mogutin. Mitin Zhurnal 56: 193–97.

------. 2006. Collected Poems 1947–1997. New York: HarperCollins.

Harvey, Keith. 2000. “Gay Community, Gay Identity and the Translated Text,” TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction 13 (1): 137–65.

------. 2004. “Translating Camp Talk: Gay Identities and Cultural Transfer,” in The Translation Studies Reader, 2nd ed., ed. by Lawrence Venuti, 402-22. New York: Routledge.

Hokenson, Jan Walsh and Marcella Munson. 2007. The Bilingual Text: History and Theory of Literary Self-Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Klimkiewicz, Aurelia. 2013. “Self-translation as Broken Narrativity: Towards an Understanding of the Self’s Multilingual Dialogue,” in Self-translation: Brokering Originality in Hybrid Culture, ed. by Anthony Cordingley, 189–201. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Kozlovskii, Vladimir. 1986. Argo russkoi gomoseksual'noi subkul'tury. Benson, VT: Chalidze Publications.

Kuz'min, Dmitrii. 1997. “Sluchai poeta Mogutina,” in Uprazhneniia dlia iazyka by Yaroslav Mogutin, 157–60. New York: s.n.

Lacayo, Aarón. 2014. “A Queer and Embodied Translation: Ethics of Difference and Erotics of Distance,” Comparative Literature Studies 51 (2): 215–30.

Larkosh, Cristopher. 2007. “The Translator’s Closet: Editing Sexualities in Argentine Literary Culture,” TTR: traduction, terminologie, rédaction 20 (2): 63–88.

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------. 2004. Deklaratsiia nezavisimosti. Tver': Kolonna.

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[1] Cruz-Malavé and Manalansan, “Introduction: Dissident Sexualities/Alternative Globalisms,” in Cruz-Malavé and Manalansan 2002: 1–2.

[2]The worsening trend began in the early 2000s and has especially accelerated since the passing of the law banning “propaganda of homosexuality” in 2013. See, for instance, the annual reports by ILGA-Europe ( and License to Harm: Violence and Harassment against LGBT People and Activists in Russia (2014) by Human Rights Watch (

[3] See Mogutin 1995.

[4] See Witkowski 2005 (released 2004), 2006, 2007, and 2011. For a classic study of Soviet-era Russian gay slang, see Kozlovskii 1986.

[5] Ginsberg 2006: 621, 645–46; Ginsberg 1998.

[6] Available online at [accessed November 30, 2015]. For a close reading of the evolution of Chukovskii’s approaches to Whitman that, along with other topics, highlights the problem of rendering Whitman’s sensuality in Russian, see Scherr 2009.

[7] Whitman 1954: 123.

[8] English trans. by Vitaly Chernetsky in Mogutin 2014, 113–114.

[9]“Armeiskaia elegiia,” Mogutin 1997: 70–71; “Army Elegy,” trans. Vitaly Chernetsky and the author, in Moss 1997: 400.

[10] “Esli by ia byl amerikantsem,” Mogutin 1997: 33; “If I Were an American,” trans. Dmitry Gelfand and the author, in Mogutin 2014: 35.

[11] See Lacayo 2014: 228. For recent studies of self-translation, see esp. Hokenson and Munson 2007 and Cordingley 2013; specifically in relation to poetry, see Casanova 2004

© Vitaly Chernetsky