Sunday, October 17, 2010

Simon Karlinsky

On Saturday, I went to a symposium at Durant Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, organized in honor of the late Simon Karlinsky, whose translation and notes on the letters of Chekhov I read several years ago. I met his surviving partner Peter Carleton at a Friends of University Press Books event last May, and he told me about the symposium. I left shortly after a speaker told a joke in Russian and everybody else laughed, but the introductory tribute to Professor Karlinsky and a talk on Nabokov were both excellent. I wish I'd had the time to stay for all of it. Born in Harbin in 1938, Karlinsky was celebrated as the scholar of Russian literature who drew attention to its gay subtext and authors. His notes on Chekhov (the only book of his I've read, but there are many more) bring the man alive with evident sympathy. Chekhov wasn't gay, but he was definitely an outsider. Karlinsky makes clear the challenges he faced as a writer, dealing with critics who were often looking for something else - and with theatrical producers and directors who failed to understand his intent. The symposium was yet another reminder of the cultural riches in our backyard. Peter Carleton, the family of Simon Karlinsky, and the department in which he taught funded it. Musical Offering provided dinner, which I had to miss. I'm sure it was every bit as good as the rest.

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