Literary theorist and historian Miroslav Zelinský (1961) is not only an expert but also a translator and promoter of Slovak literature in the Czech Republic. He studied Czech Language and History, and worked at the Institute for Czech Literature AVČR in Prague. He teaches 20th-century Czech literature, Slovak literature and Literary Criticism, and he collaborates with literary magazines and broadcasting.
Thanks to him, many Slovak books were published in Czech translation, e.g. Pes na ceste / Dog on the Road and Príbeh ozajského človeka / The Story of a True Man by Pavel Vilikovský, Holá veta o láske / A Simple Sentence on Love by Dušan Dušek, Ivana Gibová's novel Barbora, boch a katarzia / Barbora, God and Catharsis, and selected fiction by Víťo Staviarsky titled Loli paradička. During his stay at the TROJICA AIR residency, he is translating Peter Šulej's novel fytopaleontológia / phytopaleontology. During his residency, Zelinsky, together with Ivana Gibová talked at an event organized by the Cap à l’Est literary festival about the relationship between the translator and the translated writer. His video diary from last year is availabale on our YouTube channel. We now offer a short interview with him about his current residency.
In what way can the book phytopaleontology be interesting for Czech readers?
Peter Šulej's phytopaleontology is a unique text, both thematically and linguistucally. It enters the context of dystopian writing, which has its readership within Czech literature. Even though it presents the third installment of a loosely tied trilogy, it can stand on its own, too, and perhaps it could bring Czech readers to look for what preceded phytopaleontology.
What poses the biggest challenge within this particular translation?
When it comes to language, the biggest translational challenge is the way the artificial intelligence -- one of the novel's main characters -- talks. Peter is also an important poet. Years ago, I prepared a show for Radio Vltava that featured his poetry. And even though he uses exact, technical language, it is still poetry, and each word requires special attention while at the sime time the whole context needs to be kept in mind. It is the same thing with his fiction. His conscious, complex thinking about the text as a whole does not allow any easy reliefs in translation.
Do you communicate with the authors whose books you are translating? What is your relationship to Peter Šulej in particular?
An author always has certain expectations about how his book is supposed to be even in a foreign language. Czech is a language that is very close to Slovak. I try not to need the author, and to approach him only when it comes to specific terminology and context. Aside from that, Peter and I are friendly with each other and we enjoy each opportunity to meet.
How do you find the residency? Does it suit your work?
The Štiavnica residency is absolutely great. Being undisturbed and in the inspiring setting of the historical town makes me concentrate and work hard. It's every translator's dream.
What else are you working on these days?
I have mostly been busy with phytopaleontology, but since Anton Hykisch arrived, we were able to talk about his most recent novel and I made some preparations for the translation, too. I am very grateful for this opportunity.
(The first two photographs are from the Cap à l’Est festival; the third is author's own, "from an Old castle shot by an unknown Japanese tourist.")