Designed to deceive some readers, such as the censor, while inviting others to read “between the lines,” Aesopian texts task their translator with added interpretive complexity. Does a given translation reflect both text and subtext, target audience and hurdle audience? Is the target audience of the translated text even mappable onto an original text’s schema of hurdle and target audiences? The writings of Varlam Shalamov further complicate the translation of Aesopian texts. Whereas Leona Toker and others identify Aesopian moments in Shalamov’s prose, Svetlana Boym argues that in his writings the deceptive device of mimicry resists totalitarianism precisely when it goes beyond any Aesopian or other useful purpose. Shalamov’s 1963 essay “The National Borders of Poetry and Free Verse” (“Natsial’nye granitsy poezii i svobodnyi stikh”) invites engagement as an exemplary Aesopian text—one whose “deceptive means,” however, call for a more capacious understanding of Aesopian language. Nineteenth-century satirist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin first used the term “Aesopian” to indicate the “trembling” littérateur’s unique style of writing, whose “deceptive means” showed “a remarkable resourcefulness in their invention.” The Aesopian mimicry of Shalamov’s essay on free verse exceeds both predator’s and trembling prey’s powers of appreciation, calling for equally artful mimicry on the part of the translator.

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