Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication
Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication

Interview with
Dmitri Costygin
by Karen Minto

Biographical note


Q: Where did you grow up and what kind of ideas influenced your early and later thinking?

Costygin: I grew up in a small city (Arzamas) which is about 250 miles from Moscow towards the center of Russia. I finished secondary school ten years ago, and like everybody else during their first years in the school system, I was influenced by Communist Party propaganda. But I was never totally devoted to the idea of working without payment, and I tried to disappear every time we were forced to work in the collective farms. In my later school years, I started to read Classic philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Kant. In 1987, barely a year after "Perestroika" had been initiated, more books became available. So I dived into the "new wave" of philosophers (at least for Russians at the time): Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Stirner, Sartre, Camus, etc. As well, more Russian authors began to appear on the shelves, including Bakhunin, Kropotkin, Berdyaev. I was still sure that socialism (not to mention communism) was a fairly good systemóthe best on this planet, at least. Everything I knew about capitalism came from censored TV. But, I thought, even the best system needs information from time to time. So in 1989 (my last year in secondary school) as the editor of my school newspaper (along with four other upper class pupils), I organized an evaluation of the school teachers. I was almost expelled from the school three months before graduation.

Q: How were you first introduced to the novels and ideas of Ayn Rand?

Costygin: After secondary school, I entered the Medical-Military Academy in St. Petersburg to get more a more solid base for my philosophical research. That is where I started to read novels by Gabriel Markes, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Umberto Ecco, Herman Hesse, Robert Heinlein and others. So I was ready to start some project in philosophy or literature when, during the summer of 1991 in St. Petersburg, I met Ken Schoolland, a professor of economics from Hawaii and a libertarian. There were lots of disputes between the two of us about economics (capitalism vs. socialism), politics and philosophy, but after three days I was converted into a free market and free mind supporter. He arranged to send Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and several other books to me a couple months later. In fact, he was not the first one who had mentioned Ayn Randís books to me. I had heard Ayn Rand mentioned by someone else a few months before, during the spring. The personís name was Renée Giere, and she told me that I should definitely read Ayn Rand. But that did not make much sense for me at the timeóI didnít even realize that "Ayn Rand" was an authorís name. So I almost forgot about it. But I remembered the name immediately after I got the books from Ken.

Q: How did you get involved in translating Ayn Randís novels?

Costygin: I was shocked by Atlas Shrugged but even more shocked by We the Living when I realized that the writer was born and lived in St. Petersburg. I started to ask whether Randís books were available in Russian, and found out that nobodyónot even professors of American literatureóhad ever heard of the name. So I had no choice but to start translating her writings on my own.

Q: So We the Living was your first attempt to translate Rand back into Russian?

Costygin: We the Living was the simplest. The We the Living translation took about a year to complete, and then it took me almost one more year to publish it. 50, 000 copies had been printed by the end of 1993. Two years later, I got a call from one man from Moscow who had done the same thing at the same time and also without really knowing who would be interested in publishing it. Recently, I was informed that the same thing at the same time had been done by a small magazine in Voronezh. So there were at least three translations of We the Living into Russian! Two of them were published, the first appearing in the magazine and then mine, but neither got much attention. In the meantime I started to translate The Fountainhead which was finished in two years, by the end of 1994, and it took six more months to publish it. There were 5,000 copies printed by the end of 1995.

Q: How well did they sell?

Costygin: The worst and hardest experience was after We the Living was published. The market had changed and I was able to sell only 15,000 of the 50,000 copies. After sitting in storage in the printing house for a year, the rest of the copies were cut into raw material because I had no money to pay for the warehouse. I had given several hundred copies to the school libraries for free, and so nobody was interested in paying money for books that had been distributed to the libraries for free. So, to the present date, Ayn Randís name is unknown in Russia. In two years, only half of The Fountainhead press run had been sold.

Q: How long did it take you to translate Atlas Shrugged and what kinds of problems did you run into?

Costygin: Atlas Shrugged was next in line. The translation took two and a half years, and by October 1997, 1,000 copies were published. It was very interesting to translate Rand into Russian for a number of reasons. Firstly, I just love her ideas and heroes. Second, she was not only thinking in Russian but also has a Russian mentality, so it was easy to translate her ideas back into Russian. Third, her harmony of style and content defines the rhythm of the novel, and it was a challenge to preserve that in Russian.

Q: Did you do all the translating yourself or did you have help?

Costygin: What I would do is a rough translation. Then after reviewing it, and after I liked the overall melody, rhythm and characters in Russian, a real professional editor and proofreader would fix all the detailsóthe grammar, geography, etc. Then I would review it all over again, working mostly on small details to tighten the harmony of the narrative, and the editor and proofreader would pick it up again. Normally, a book makes three such cycles through the editing process.

Q: Did you get permission from the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) to translate Atlas Shrugged? If so, can you tell us what were the terms of the agreement?

Costygin: Iíve got a contract for the rights to the Russian-language publication for all three Rand books. The conditions were friendlyĖsome prepayment and 6% of the sales.

Q: In 1993, ARI and Igra-Tekhnika published The Morality of Individualism, a Russian-language collection of Randís key writings. ARI claims that they sold out of all 5,000 copies printed in Russian in two days. Arenít Russian intellectuals starved for good ideas?

Costygin: In 1995, The Ayn Rand Institute asked me to reprint The Morality of Individualism because Igra-Tekhnika was no longer interested. I edited the book and changed the title to The Concept of Egoism. This editionóagain 5,000 copiesówas sponsored by ARI. I still have 2,000 of them available in my warehouse.

from Full Context, Vol. 10, No. 7
(March 1998)

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