Sam Tanenhaus: You’ll Like Our Translation Pick Or Else!

Languagehat unearths a hilarious online expose involving Sam Tanenhaus’s failure to dictate to the masses. It seems that Tanenhaus attempted to strong-arm his readership into loving the Richard Peevar and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace and his readers, begging to differ, express their preference for other translations. Peevar then shows up, defends his translation, is then humiliated, and then comes back again with a whiny defensive rejoinder. And Sammy Boy just can’t stand it! How dare the readers think for themselves? How dare they fail to recognize the Grand Importance of the New York Times Book Review?

Needless to say, I don’t have to analyze this week’s issue or dig up the Brownie Watch to tell you that this kind of hubris from Tanenhaus, his inability to listen to readers and his colossal misunderstanding of dissent among the blogosphere, deserves no brownies.

No brownies for you, Sam! Not this week, or for the next four weeks! Maybe if you considered that the people who read the New York Times actually have brains inside their heads, you might do better.

(Thanks, Kári!)

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5 Comments

  1. > It seems that Tanenhaus attempted to strong-arm his readership into loving the Richard Peevar and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace

    Here’s Tanenhaus, from the post you’re referring to:

    > I’m curious to know what others think, and to know what passages have impressed them — for ill as well as good. Does anyone in the group dislike this new translation — or find others superior?

    Yeah, that’s a real “strong-arming.”

    > And Sammy Boy just can’t stand it! How dare the readers think for themselves? How dare they fail to recognize the Grand Importance of the New York Times Book Review?

    Here’s how he opened the post you’re now referring to:

    > O.K, gang. No more Mr. Nice Guy Moderator. Today, the gloves come off, which is to say: In re this translation, many of you are — how to put this? — off your rockers.

    I would think even the most tone-deaf of readers could see that there’s some winking hyperbole going on here. And here’s how he closed the post:

    > O.K., end of sermon. I’m prepared now to be hammered at length.

    Sounds to me like he can “stand it.”

    Oh, and this is from Tanenhaus’s wrapup post:

    > Meanwhile, readers keen to re-experience “War and Peace” may be interested in another new translation — in fact an altogether different version of the novel — just released by Ecco Press. The translator is Andrew Bromfield.

    Yup, he sure sounds peeved that the masses aren’t dutifully running out and buying the translation he likes.

    As so often when reading this site, I come away wondering what planet you live on. Here’s some free advice: give up the pathological Tanenhaus hatred. It’s not doing your credibility any good.

  2. To Derek Weiler, the man with an overinflated opinion of himself: “Strong arm his readership” occurs to the whole of the exchange, not just the opening gambit. You conveniently omit the following from Tanenhaus’s “No more Mr. Nice Guy Moderator” post:

    > The translators don’t need me to defend them — and, as it happens, Richard Pevear has posted his own response. But here’s the opinion (from the November 22 issue of The New York Review of Books) of Orlando Figes, the eminent historian of Russia:

    In other words, Tanenhaus is trying to suggest, “To hell with you readers. You see the Russian historians and the New York Review of Books don’t agree with you.” I agree with you that this is a misplaced effort on Tanenhaus’s part to be humorous, but it comes — just as you misconstrue my own playfulness with this post, which ultimately rejects the idea that readers of the NYTBR or any other publication are yokels who should be talked down to — with a deeper revelation of Tanenhaus’s elitist character, as Languagehat summarized far more adeptly than I did.

    And who said I hated Tanenhaus? Where have I said on these pages that I despise the man? I have quibbled with his work, using very specific examples. And surely the evocation of brownies — some of which have indeed been sent to the NYTBR’s office over the years — should be a not so subtle clue that this is all in good fun.

    Why do I think Tanenhaus cannot stand it? Because he has repeatedly run away before the Q&A parts of his panels (see last year’s BEA) and cannot be a big boy and respond to those who quibble with his points. I have made several efforts to contact his office to conduct an interview with him in good faith to get his side of the story, but he has refused interview requests.

    If you find all this pathological (as opposed to playfully iconoclastic), then I must ask why you bother to read this site.

    My free advice: Go back to editing the bland nonsense you regularly publish in Quill & Quire. I cannot believe that such dull and remarkably obvious observations as:

    “Perhaps Klein’s best quality is her timeliness. No Logo helped define the anti-globalization movement that had its heyday with the Battle for Seattle but was largely forgotten after 9/11. Now, The Shock Doctrine plainly explains our current circumstances and how we got here.”

    or

    “In his latest novel, M.G. Vassanji tackles difficult and potentially explosive questions about the spiritual and the divine in India and North America. Fortunately, Vassanji’s book is multifaceted and subtle enough to do justice to the religious journey undergone by its main character.”

    are permitted to run in your pages. Unless this is all a calculated effort to get the Quill & Quire office some brownies. In which case, well played, sir. But take a dance hall card and wait in line.

  3. Sigh.

    > “Strong arm his readership” occurs to the whole of the exchange, not just the opening gambit.

    Here’s what you said:

    > It seems that Tanenhaus attempted to strong-arm his readership into loving the Richard Peevar and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace and his readers, begging to differ, express their preference for other translations. Peevar then shows up, defends his translation, is then humiliated, and then comes back again with a whiny defensive rejoinder. And Sammy Boy just can’t stand it!

    Sure sounds to me like “strong-arm” refers to that first post, since you set out a whole chronology and all. But then, I live on Planet Earth.

    And yes, he did call on some other authorities to bolster his argument. My God, you’d think he was, like, debating or something.

    But anyway, readers can decide whether your representation of the overall thread is accurate. Just as they can determine whether “playful” or “pathological” is the accurate descriptor.

    > If you find all this pathological (as opposed to playfully iconoclastic), then I must ask why you bother to read this site.

    For perverse entertainment value. But I think I’m finally done.

    Dude, do you ever ask yourself why so many exchanges on this site so quickly degenerate into childish name-calling?

    One explanation might be that your perceptions, judgments, and writings are thoroughly distorted by an apparent emotional immaturity. But again, that’s for each individual reader to decide. Peace out.

  4. Oh, Derek, Holier Than Thou! Don’t deign to call me emotionally immature when your own ponderous sentiments show all the wisdom of a braying skeletal cow about to be shot by a gaunt farmer desperately plowing dry land. I made an effort to engage you on your “points” and you set the bar low from the onset by declaring me “pathological” — and this at 12:41 AM. I can only presume that you prefer to jerk off to your dull and vitiated solipsism rather than something suitably pornographic — the way that most people living on the planet I inhabit do. I merely dust the floor with your crusty husk.

    We disagree here, and that’s fine. You hate my writing, and I couldn’t care less. I think you’re trolling. And it sure as hell ain’t civil. Let’s get a room, baby! Don’t worry. I’ll be gentle.

    None of this explains why you continue to produce one of the dullest literary publications in Canada. Forget the Tanenhaus debate. Let’s consider the more important questions. How do you defend these remarkably inept paragraphs that appeared in your publication?

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