Anna Aslanyan

Anna Aslanyan is writing a book about translation for Profile.

From The Blog
28 May 2020

The 1909 Cinematograph Act used the term ‘inflammable films’ in a literal sense – cellulose nitrate catches fire easily – but some local authorities interpreted it to mean ‘morally dangerous’, and it led to censorship. Still, the act wasn’t as confusing as the latest flurry of communication from the British government. One of its requirements was that exhibitors provide fire exits, which led to the emergence of purpose-built picture houses. Many of the buildings are still standing, though few of them are still cinemas.

From The Blog
2 April 2020

One of the routine questions asked of detainees at police stations is: ‘Are you fit and well?’ It has acquired new force in recent weeks. A homeless man I interpreted for a few days ago said he was, though he looked exhausted. He had recently been placed in a hotel in central London as part of an initiative reminiscent of O. Henry’s ‘Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen’, a story about the perils of ‘the yearly hunger which, as the philanthropists seem to think, afflicts the poor at such extended intervals’.

From The Blog
27 December 2019

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the maker of Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, was established in 1570. In 2017 it closed its premises on the corner of Whitechapel Road and Plumbers Row, where it had been since the mid-1740s. The site was bought by Raycliff, an American private investment group, whose other assets include a stake in the hotel chain Soho House. Raycliff wants to convert the Whitechapel site – the original Grade II*-listed building and a number of later extensions – into a ‘boutique hotel’ with a roof pool, some shared workspace and a café with a small workshop tucked into a corner.

From The Blog
19 November 2019

The entrance to the White Hotel, decorated with barbed wire, Union Jack bunting and toilet paper, resembled a border checkpoint. To get in you had to fill in a landing card. The guards were dressed in coveralls, anti-pollution masks and flak jackets with Sooty and Sweep puppets peeking out. We were separated into two quarantine pens. (‘It’s just as well,’ one man said as his companion was led away.) After about an hour the pens were opened and we were ushered into another waiting area. At last a whistle blew. A Morrissey lookalike appeared and sang ‘Everyday is like Sunday’.

From The Blog
16 September 2019

Sergei Loznitsa’s film The Trial is composed from the original footage of one the first Stalinist show trials. The only additions are intertitles, which reveal at the end, for anyone who didn’t already know, that the ‘Industrial Party’ never existed. Some of the footage was used in a 1931 propaganda film directed by Yakov Poselsky (and, as Loznitsa joked in his introduction at the ICA, by Joseph Stalin). A team of investigators worked on producing the show trial for more than a year, drafting the script and coaching the actors. It isn’t clear if the public filling the hall are aware of their role: some listen to the proceedings intently, others fall asleep, some take notes, others shield their eyes when the lights are on them.

From The Blog
20 July 2019

‘Why had we come to the moon?’ the narrator of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) asks. ‘The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem.’ The novel features in The Moon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, alongside other books that anticipated the space age: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Lucian of Samosata’s True Story, written in the second century AD. It begins with a ship blown to the moon by a whirlwind; a war between Phaethon and Endymion ensues, enabled by giant spiders. Aubrey Beardsley was one of the illustrators of an 1894 English edition.

From The Blog
3 July 2019

The Tyburn Angling Society purports to have been established by a royal charter issued by King Edgar the Peaceable in 959 AD, though there are no records of its existing before the 21st century. The River Tyburn, culverted in 1750, still flows underground from Hampstead to Westminster. The society claims to want to ‘daylight’ the river, bringing it back up to the surface. It commissioned a map in the early 2000s showing the proposed course, which would cut a swathe through ‘£1 billion worth of property’. The buildings marked for demolition included Buckingham Palace and the offices of Westminster City Council, which promptly rejected the proposal.

From The Blog
19 April 2019

‘Where the fuck is the government?’ posters on Waterloo Bridge said. A road sign at the northern end flashed: ‘Global warming at work.’ 

From The Blog
29 March 2019

La Disparition, a lipogrammatic classic, turns 50 today. You probably know who it’s by; if not, you can look it up to find out why I’m unwilling to say who did it. From its first publication on 29 March 1969, this book built a cult following. It’s primarily famous for what’s missing from it, a basic but important thing that forms a part of words you can’t usually do without. Staying strictly within this tight constraint, it says what it wants to say about its protagonist, Anton Voyl, and his vanishing act – a conundrum for his companions – in a grippingly ludic, rigidly formulaic way.

From The Blog
28 February 2019

The fantasy of a universal language is at least as old as the story of the Tower of Babel.

From The Blog
23 October 2018

Anthony Burgess went to Leningrad in 1961. Reading his stories about the trip, it's hard to tell how good his Russian was. Sometimes he portrays himself as fluent: ‘In my best Russian I said to various Dostoevsky characters: “Where, comrade, is the nearest aptyeka?” They were all evidently healthy people, well-fed on Soviet food, for they did not know.’ At other times he admits that his ‘tiny bit of Russian had burst at the seams’. He gets names wrong, referring to a friend as ‘Sasha Ivanovich Kornilov’ (an unlikely combination) and later calling him ‘Alexei’. His wife's name, Llewela, is a challenge to transliterate into Cyrillic, unlike their surname, which he spells 'Uilson' (his full name was John Anthony Burgess Wilson). The title page of one of his Russian textbooks, kept in the archive of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (IABF), is inscribed in an outdated orthography, not quite consistently: Иван Вiльсон.

From The Blog
17 August 2018

'Will we be safe here?' asked a German man sitting next to me in the front row. We were about to see Leave. To Remain (An Aristophanic Brexit Tale), a Fringe production modelled on Aristophanes’ Acharnians, whose protagonist, Dikaiopolis, makes a private peace treaty with Sparta while the rest of Athens remains at war. My neighbour was worried we'd be expected to take part in the show. It's set in a not too distant, post-Brexit future, where the British equivalent of Athenian direct democracy is interactive TV programmes.

From The Blog
13 June 2018

On 30 May, when the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, reported dead the day before, appeared at a press conference in Kyiv, the Russian-language internet responded with the meme 'Tsoi lives'. The rock star Viktor Tsoi and his new wave band, Kino ('cinema', 'film') – with their simple but powerful lyrics, fresh tunes and the frontman's low, casually drawn-out, artfully accented baritone – were hugely famous in the 1980s. A university friend of mine lost much of his street cred when, on hearing someone say, 'Let's put some Kino on,' he replied: 'What film?' Tsoi died in a car crash in 1990, aged 28. 'Tsoi walls', covered in slogans and lyrics, have since sprung up in several cities, along with a number of sculptures, including one of Tsoi on a motorbike (he never rode one).

From The Blog
27 March 2018

'The past does not enlighten us – but still, it attempts to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us and about history's dirt than we do ourselves.' These lines from Tomas Venclova's poem 'In the Lake Region' often came to my mind as I read Magnetic North, a series of conversations between Ellen Hinsey and Venclova, in which the Lithuanian poet, essayist and scholar remembers his life.

From The Blog
9 February 2018

‘There’s a writer in England called … er, Peter Ackroyd,’ David Bowie said in a short film he made in 2003, ‘who wrote a book called … Hawksmoor I think it was. Wasn't it? Yeah.’ Ackroyd's 1985 novel struck him as 'a very powerful book, and quite scary', and in 2013 Bowie included it on a list of his favourite 100 books, ranging from the Beano to The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. His son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, recently launched #BowieBookClub to discuss 'dad's favs' on Twitter, choosing Hawksmoor as 'an amuse cerveau before we get into the heavy stuff'.

From The Blog
7 December 2017

Colourful banners hang from the balconies of Bowater House: 'Under London, heaven's light, grow life, not loot,' one of the 21 slogans says. Another: 'One day will this shadow fall.' The building is part of the Golden Lane Estate, a Grade II-listed social housing complex designed in the 1950s and built on a bomb site in the City of London. Bernard Morgan House opposite is shrouded in white sheets bearing the logo 'Taylor Wimpey'. The developer is about to demolish the building, which housed key workers between 1960 and 2015, and replace it with a 10-storey luxury block called The Denizen.

From The Blog
20 September 2017

'People are like boats, we head off for a place we've been longing to visit for ages,' says a character in 'Pirate Rum', a short story by Tove Jansson. 'Maybe an island. Finally we get there. And what happens? We go right past, further out.' Having set off in a canoe, the man gets caught in a storm and is sheltered by two women living on a secluded island.

From The Blog
15 August 2017

In the queue for Flying Pig Theatre’s new production of Euripides’Bacchae, I overheard a man talking to his female companions about the prospect of sitting in the front row: ‘What if there’s audience participation?’ I was reminded of Dionysus in 69, Richard Schechner’s adaptation of the play. 

From The Blog
24 April 2017

'I'll interview you in a minute,' a man with a dictaphone said to me at the entrance to the Science Museum on Saturday. A sociologist from Brunel University, he was there to conduct field research, asking people why they were on the March for Science. The crowd – archaeologists and neuroscientists, physicists and psychologists, academics and the 'sci-curious' – was quieter than the average London protest, chanting occasionally: 'What do we want? Evidence-based research. When do we want it? After peer review.'

From The Blog
6 February 2017

According to the most recent census, English is not the main language of 4.2 million people in England and Wales (7.7 per cent of the population); 726,000 people cannot speak it well and 138,000 speak no English at all. Many of us non-native speakers will at some point have to deal with the justice system, in one capacity or another (my first exposure was as a juror). The right to be tried in a language you understand is guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

From The Blog
18 May 2016

One of the earliest movies on which Alfred Hitchcock is known to have worked is the 1922 British silent Three Live Ghosts. The original is gone, together with Hitchcock’s intertitles, but last year a copy was found in Moscow. When the organisers of the British Silent Film Festival asked me to translate the Russian intertitles back into English, I wondered how to go about trying to recreate Hitchcock’s style, but I needn’t have worried: the Russian intertitles have little in common with the lost originals. ‘The film treats of the consequences of the World War in a positively dangerous and unacceptable manner, promotes friendship between socially antagonistic classes, and should therefore be banned,’ the Soviet censor concluded in 1925. But it wasn’t banned; it was re-edited instead.

From The Blog
2 January 2016

On 20 July 1942, Time magazine led with a story on ‘Fireman Shostakovich’. ‘Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory,’ the caption on the cover said, under a picture based on a Soviet propaganda photo taken on the roof of the Leningrad Conservatoire in September 1941.

From The Blog
27 November 2015

‘It's by invitation only,’ a guard at the entrance to the House of Commons told me on Wednesday morning. I was trying to join the people from Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) who had just gone in, uninvited, for a 'warm-up'. The activists had chosen the day of the chancellor’s autumn statement to ask MPs about measures being taken to ensure people can afford to heat their homes. When I got to the lobby, I saw the group surrounded by police. Five minutes later, they were on their way out, chanting: 'No more deaths from fuel poverty.' 'Cold homes kill,' one of their banners said. Winter excess deaths in England and Wales in 2014-15 – the number of people who died between December and March minus the average over the rest of the year – have been estimated by the Office for National Statistics at 43,900, the highest for 15 years. According to the World Health Organisation, at least one third of those deaths are likely to have been caused by fuel poverty.

From The Blog
14 September 2015

‘Some people are going to have a problem with that flag,’ a man said to me as we marched down Piccadilly on Saturday. He was talking about the flag of the Syrian National Coalition: green, white and black, with three red stars. A Syrian refugee recently arrived in Britain, he said the flag didn't represent Christians or Kurds, and that he hoped the protesters 'support all civilians'.

From The Blog
13 August 2015

‘One does not have to look for distress. It is screaming at you even in the taxis of London,’ Beckett once said. His plays are almost absent from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – strange, as he is usually given a lot of attention here – but his influence is everywhere.

From The Blog
22 June 2015

‘Does it look big?’ an elderly woman asked me, craning her neck to see down the street. ‘I’m afraid so,’ I replied, thinking she might be worried about getting to the Tube. ‘Good,’ she said. Like thousands of others, she was in London on Saturday for the national anti-austerity demonstration organised by the People’s Assembly. As we marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square, the crowd kept growing.

From The Blog
26 May 2015

Joseph Brodsky would have turned 75 on Sunday. In March, the Moscow publisher Corpus released Бродский среди нас (‘Brodsky among Us’), a memoir by Ellendea Proffer Teasley, who met the poet in 1969 in Leningrad and remained friends with him until his death in 1996. She was a graduate student at Indiana University when she went to the Soviet Union with her husband, Carl Proffer, who taught Russian at Michigan. In 1971 they set up the Ardis press in Ann Arbor, to publish the work of writers banned in the USSR, including Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Bely, Nabokov, Sokolov and Aksenov.

From The Blog
11 December 2014

It looked like the last day of term outside Hong Kong's Admiralty station this morning as dozens of youngsters carried their rucksacks, boxes and blankets to the entrance. Across the road it looked like the last day of Glastonbury, people packing up their tents or sitting around. The main site of Occupy Central, a movement demanding ‘genuine universal suffrage’ for the 2017 Hong Kong election, was being cleared after 74 days of civil disobedience.

From The Blog
10 November 2014

‘Art is never finished, only altered,’ @therealbanksy tweeted to 130,000 followers last October. Tom Wainwright’s comedy Banksy: The Room in the Elephant opened at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week. Wainwright wrote the play in response to the story of Tachowa Covington, who lost his home in a disused water tank in LA after Banksy sprayed ‘This looks a bit like an elephant’ on it two years ago.

From The Blog
30 October 2014

‘If it rains could you pop into ours to switch that thing on?’ my neighbour said before going away for the weekend. ‘And while you're at it, make yourself a cup of tea; you can also do your washing.’ Their flat was recently flooded, and the company responsible for the leaking roof gave them a dehumidifier and offered to pay their electricity bills until the problem is resolved. On Monday I went to the launch of the Energy Bill of Rights at the House of Commons.

From The Blog
28 August 2014

Whenever I go to the Edinburgh Fringe, I wish it was 1966 so I could watch the premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. I've been going for over a decade, and although there have been some good shows, I haven't yet seen anything that made anyone instantly famous. This year I watched a less renowned Stoppard play, The Real Inspector Hound, a farce revolving around a dead body under a sofa. When he started writing it in 1960, Stoppard didn't know whose body it was; coming back to it in 1967, he made his main characters, Moon and Birdboot, theatre critics and immediately resolved the problem. In the production by the English College in Prague, Birdboot, a reviewer with 'some small name for the making of reputations', tries to kiss Moon (played by a woman); otherwise there are no surprises.

From The Blog
16 June 2014

'Housing is a right, tax-dodging is wrong,' read a banner outside the Oxford Street branch of Vodafone on Saturday. UK Uncut had organised a day of action in cities around the UK. Vodafone recently reported a post-tax profit of £59.4 billion for the year to March. For the third year in a row the company has paid no corporation tax; in 2010 HMRC wrote off a £6 billion tax bill. Meanwhile, the government says it can't afford not to make cuts to social housing. The protest took the form of a housewarming party. There were balloons, music and fizzy drinks outside the shop; inside, a few people behind a half-lowered shutter. Three women, a toddler and a man in a wheelchair had managed to get in there early. The protesters at the door had a minor scrap with the staff, then chatted to the police. An activist in a Gary Barlow mask explained the amount allegedly owed by Vodafone. One of the officers asked him: 'Yeah, but have you done your own investigation?'

From The Blog
20 February 2014

‘We have come to assess you,’ the crowd in Triton Square chanted, outside Atos’s London headquarters. The French IT company is under contract to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out Work Capability Assessments on everyone applying for Employment and Support Allowance. A ‘disability analyst’ asks a ‘claimant’ a series of questions and enters the answers into a computer: if you score fewer than 15 points you are considered fit for work. There have been more than 1.2 million appeals against Atos’s assessments, 38 per cent of which have been successful. Atos’s blunders include the cases of Linda Wootton, who had a heart and lung transplant and died nine days after her allowance was withdrawn, and Mark Evans, a brain-damaged amputee who lost most of his benefits. Protests were held yesterday outside the company’s offices across Britain. The slogans in Triton Square included ‘Atos don't give a toss’ and ‘Atos £500m contract killer’: that’s the estimated cost of the appeals; the company's government contracts are worth a total of £3.1 billion.

From The Blog
11 December 2013

When Trenton Oldfield disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race last year, he knew his protest against ‘unjust inequalities in British society’ was illegal, but couldn't have foreseen the full extent of its fallout. He was initially charged with disorderly behaviour, but the Crown Prosecution Service – eager to deter protesters in the run-up to the Olympics – upgraded the charge to public nuisance. Sentencing Oldfield to six months in prison, the judge called his actions 'disproportionate', a word that could be applied to the decision itself.

From The Blog
24 June 2013

Two members of the Pussy Riot collective were in London last week to meet their supporters and discuss future plans. They had to keep a low profile for security reasons – the meeting I went to was in a room at the back of a nondescript café. The activists, who introduced themselves as Serafima and Schumacher, spoke about the difficulties they face in Russia. Four of their videos have been placed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials; though not officially banned, the group is a de facto underground movement; and of course two of its members remain in prison. There are currently eight people in the collective, flanked by a support group, which has been infiltrated by government spies.

From The Blog
26 April 2013

‘What is “experimental” art,’ the late Christine Brooke-Rose once asked, ‘or an “experimental” novel? Is it a genre?’ The question was the theme of a symposium on her life and work at the Royal College of Art last week, organised by Natalie Ferris. Tom McCarthy, like Brooke-Rose mistrustful of the label, suggested that the question had to be: ‘Experimental compared to what?’

From The Blog
7 February 2013

The Freedom Press bookshop in Whitechapel was firebombed in the early hours of last Friday morning. The ground floor of the premises of the anarchist publisher, founded in 1886 by Charlotte Wilson and Peter Kropotkin, appeared to be in for a long, costly refurbishment. There was an emergency meeting in a nearby pub, and a clean-up scheduled for the next day.

From The Blog
10 September 2012

In 2009 John Berger donated his archive to the British Library. Some of the drawings, manuscripts, correspondence and other papers can be seen at Somerset House until 10 November. The title of the exhibition, Art and Property Now, is taken from an essay Berger wrote for New Society in 1967. The show is one of several events taking place in London this autumn to mark the 40th anniversary of both Berger’s TV series Ways of Seeing and his novel G.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences