Modern understanding of translation as mediation between cultures is coeval with nation-state politics. The Soviet Union, however, never conceived of itself as a nation-state, which led to interesting peculiarities in the practice of literary translation.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Romantics, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, introduced the concept of das Fremde into translation theory. For them, translation was no longer a matter of accurately conveying a presumably universal meaning, but rather a mediation between essentially diverse cultures. This theoretical shift reflected the new political reality, in which nation-states were establishing relations to one another while advocating their respective political and cultural autonomy. The Soviet Union, by contrast, never conceived of itself as a nation-state, but rather as a universally significant enterprise concerning the whole of humanity. To this peculiarity of the political self-image corresponded the peculiarity of the way literary texts were translated not only in the Soviet Union but also in satellite countries. Focusing on the post-war East and West German translations of the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, the presentation will discuss how the influence of political imagination is manifest in instances of non/translation of specific poetical images.