Translation as Alienation: Reflections of Pirandello's "Theater of Mirrors" in the Works of Zinovij Zinik

Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya, University of Arizona

The Nobel laureate and self-willed exile Luigi Pirandello described his dramatic works as a "theater of mirrors" in which audience members perceive the drama unfolding on the stage as a reflection of their own lives. Eschewing mimetic approaches to the theater and self-consciously identifying the stage as an arena for the simulation of life, Pirandello called attention to the rupture between self-identity and the roles the individual adopts in response to social conventions. When Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author" assert their status as real individuals by demanding that their stories be acted out, audience members are challenged to consider the distance between their own perceptions of self and the social roles they assume.

Pirandello's method finds expression in Zinovij Zinik's approach to depicting the alienated condition of his émigré protagonists. Zinik's characters continually engage in acts of impersonation: the Russian émigré impersonates an Englishman in hopes of assimilating the social conventions of his adopted culture, and Westerners in Russia impersonate Russians to unleash their "true" cultural identity. When the characters doubt their own perceptions of themselves, their extended performances give way to crises of self-perception that extend to the audience and the authorial self-portrait Zinik inscribes into his works. By exposing the theatrical conventions of life and exploding the notion of a fixed personal identity, Zinik's works provide catharsis while acknowledging the creative process of constructing self-identity may be the only logical response to the condition of alienation.

The presentation will treat Zinik's novel Lord i Eger, which incorporates explicitly Pirandellian themes and types, and selected short stories to explore translation as a metaphor for alienation and the potential for its resolution. In accordance with modernist views of translation as not only a betrayal of authorial intention, but the emergence of an autonomous voice that appears when the original text enters "the forest of language" (Benjamin), modern theater defined performance as a form of translation which displaces the author and allows the text to perform itself (Brecht). Zinik's impersonators strive and fail to fulfill the translator's ideal of remaining truthful to the original in all regards, but the reflection of their performances beyond the threshold of the text allow the authorial persona and audience to explore alternative patterns by which performance and translation can assist the act of self-creation.