Interview with the researcher and the Russian poet Slava Zaitsev

juin 9th, 2012

By Rachid Filali

*Mr. Slava Zaitsev
You researcher in molecular biology, and write poetry How do you explain this attention between two things contradictory?

-No. I find it complementary. In general, all divisions/ categories are inventions of a human mind and the borders are smooth – to some extent. Nature (God/Creator) doesn’t know anything about these divisions. ‘Technologies’, tools, etc… to approach fundamental questions are different, of course. Poetry is trying to answer the questions by expressing the personality, using metaphors, images, symbols, rhythm & rhyme;   less logic in here – more imagination and fantasies. Science: formulas, logic, research into depth, laws…

Beauty could hardly be described using ‘scientific tools’, I think.

However , there was an attempt by the roman philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus in his poem ‘De Rerum Natura’ (On the Nature of Things)

*Russian literature is characterized by a great humanitarian spirit, how you look at the literary movement now Russian,
And what is the name of the greatest Russian writer at the moment?

-Good question. In the past, 20th century, obviously – the late Pasternak, Mandelshtam and Brodsky. Contemporary? - I couldn’t  give you one name at the top, but could name several interesting authors,  like… Limonov, Akunin, Pelevin (prose) and Kupriyanov (poetry). Also – Dmitry Glukhovsky

( the author of ‘Metro 2034’), Tatiana Garmash-Roffe, Alexandra Marinina, Darya Dontsova, Leonid Kaganov, Anna & Sergey Litvinovs – these authors are now very popular in Russia.

The russian mind is currently  greatly influenced and even obsessed by the mass-media +

worries and right-left jumps of the russian mind (due to the economical situation) should be taken into account…

I was educated and grown up under the influence of the great russian literature – Lermontov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Gogol, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Platonov,  and - sorry – I couldn’t  find anything comparable in the modern russian  literature…

However, we could find out who is Gogol or Dostoevsky of the 21st century only in the 22nd century -J

*You have recently published an English translation of a number of your poems, titled “Primordial Mystery ” ..Can you tell us about the essence of the poetic texts?

-These are meditations (rhythmical), sometimes nostalgic

recollections of a russian soul in a somewhat foreign (scottish) environment, also inspired by a rigorous scottish landscape and nature at the North Sea ( St Andrews area, where I live with my family).

*Do not you think that poetry is impossible to translate, and are you satisfied with this translation?

-I think, the translation poetry into different language could never be perfect, as every language has its own ‘collection’ of metaphors, idioms, slang, jargon, sounds, vibrations and there are of course differences in the music/melody of the speech. But there could be good ‘approximations’… I think , the general idea is to try to keep an ‘aura’ of the original verse intact in the translation, doesn’t really matter, which words you are using…

My translator, David Anderson was quite successful in the majority of cases; sometimes he had to write his own verse J

*Why not write poetry in English directly as long as you know this language?

-My English is not 100% perfect. I could write in English, but I’m better with the documents & scientific stuff; for (good) poetry you need better knowledge of the language

*What do you think of contemporary Arabic literature,
Is there an Arab writer you prefer and why?

-I would love to learn more about the contemporary Arabic literature. I don’t know arabic. Which authors could you recommend in translation (into russian or english) ?

*Is it true that scientific research is better than writing poetry?

-See above… In addition: if you address these two as ‘tasks’,

the scientific research is easier than writing poetry, as in science you always have goals ( set up by youself or by a demand), while in poetry you need an inspiration to come (unless you are writing about the absence of goals J). Science is closer to job; poetry could not be done properly, if you think – “it is my job, do it”…

*And it is also true that writing poetry is a luxury, while science is necessary to sustain life?

-I don’t think so. Both – are very obsessive. There are challenges in a scientific research and you could work day and night, whithout thinking of salaries,etc… it is like hunting for something… Writing poetry is a luxury of a free mind, perhaps… It is individual for every writer. I can’t write poetry during alignement of the X-ray machine or during computing as my mind is not free at that moment…Hope, I’ve answered this question

*Do you write poetry in your spare time or in moments of vital and distinctive? And Why write poetry, not the novel, for example?

-It is a good question. I write, when it comes, sometimes quite ‘all of the sudden’; very often - during traveling. Writing a novel needs better organization and more free time. I have some interesting ideas and will possibly try to write them down in the nearest future

*Are you published other books in the literature?

-Yes, I’ve self-published four books of poetry in Russian
* What are the most important scientific research carried out by you so far in the field of molecular biology?

-This is a research in the area of protein crystallography & drug design.

Lots of proteins are involved and responsible for the diseases and the behavior of proteins or their genetically modified forms could be corrected  and improved using small compounds and inhibitors ( drugs). In order to do that you need to know the 3-dimentional atomic structure of the protein and the architecture of its active centre, where a tested compound effectively binds.  We are using the X-ray crystallographic analysis machinery ( including synchrotrons) to study the 3d structures of the crystallized proteins. This is – in brief – what we do at the Universities: fundamental research into the enzymatic mechanisms and the 3d-modeling of the proteins catalysis - in collaboration with the pharmacological industry.


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