The Bilingual Muse

Paper Text – $39.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4123-0

E-book – $39.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-4125-4

Cloth Text – $120.00

ISBN 978-0-8101-4124-7
Publication Date
June 2020
Page Count
248 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Bilingual Muse

Self-Translation among Russian Poets
Adrian Wanner

The Bilingual Muse analyzes the work of seven Russian poets who translated their own poems into English, French, German, or Italian. Investigating the parallel versions of self-translated poetic texts by Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Brodsky, Andrey Gritsman, Katia Kapovich, Marina Tsvetaeva, Wassily Kandinsky, and Elizaveta Kul’man, Adrian Wanner considers how verbal creativity functions in different languages, the conundrum of translation, and the vagaries of bilingual identities.
Wanner argues that the perceived marginality of self-translation stems from a romantic privileging of the mother tongue and the original text. The unprecedented recent dispersion of Russian speakers over three continents has led to the emergence of a new generation of diasporic Russians who provide a more receptive milieu for multilingual creativity. The book will be of interest to scholars in Russian literature, comparative literature, applied linguistics, translation studies, and  the rapidly developing field of self-translation studies.

About the Author

ADRIAN WANNER is the Liberal Arts Professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Penn State University. He is the author of Russian Minimalism: From the Prose Poem to the Anti-Story and Out of Russia: Fictions of a New Translingual Diaspora, both published by Northwestern University Press.


The Bilingual Muse confirms Adrian Wanner as the leading scholar of Russian literary translingualism. His scintillating study of self-translation by seven disparate poets is attentive to the nuances of prosody as well as issues of cultural and personal identity. Especially luminescent are Wanner’s discussion of the short-lived polyglot prodigy Elizaveta Kul’man, his recuperation of the painter Wassily Kandinsky as a formidable trilingual poet, and his account of why Vladimir Nabokov regarded autotranslation as ‘self-torture.’”—Steven G. Kellman, author of The Translingual Imagination

“The Bilingual Muse is illuminating and useful. It is rare and unusual to see the kind of thorough treatment of all levels of language and prosody that Wanner provides.” —Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour, author of Alien Tongues: Bilingual Russian Writers of the “First” Emigration

"Wanner . . . lays out a detailed history of scholarly and artistic attitudes toward the practice of self-translation that will engage both specialists and neophytes." —D. C. Maus, State University of New York at Potsdam, CHOICE


". . . a welcome addition to the burgeoning field of translingualism studies . . . Wanner applies his language skills, erudition, and, what’s equally significant, his love for poetry to investigate the parallel versions of self-translated poems. This is important, because style is often marginalized in favor of theme and biography in discussions of exophonic authors. At the same time, his curiosity about why poets translate themselves or write original works in an acquired language leads him to consider issues of identity and belonging . . ." —Piotr Florczyk, Explorations: A Journal of Language and Literature

"Translation scholars and recent approaches provide context, often around persistent beliefs that something gets 'lost' in the process. Much hinges on how language itself is conceptualized: the traditional Romantic essentialist notion that each person has only one core national language identity rejects even self-translation. Wanner is further interested in how translation affects prosody and versification, most clearly seen in the chapter on Nabokov. Fascinating passages detail how each poet handles the crucible of (self-)translation . . ." —Françoise Rosset, Russian Review