NABOKV-L post 0018349, Tue, 26 May 2009 18:06:55 -0300

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Re: THOUGHTS: Brown review and Russian Lolita
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Fran Assa: I'm rather surprised now to see that Brown seems to be claiming that Translated Lolita resembles the Russian story (which I have never read) moreso than the English one we all know and love. Am I understanding this correctly? [EDNOTE. Just for clarification -- Brown was referring to the "Volshebnik," which Dmitri Nabokov later translated into English and published as "The Enchanter."]

JM: I went over Brown's text again and, along the way, I encountered another interesting testimonial of his: "With my own unfinished, never-to-be-finished approximation of the language lobe in a Russian brain I read Humbert's casual hymning of illicit love (bezzakonnaja Ijubov'!) with a shock never occasioned by his English."

Since, as Brown indicates, we may be touched, shocked or enchanted, in different ways, by frequenting distinct cultural and liguistic codes, it might be interesting to examine language shifts in VN's writings: Humbert Humbert often resorts to French with humoristic effects when transposed into English. Van Veen employs Russian, but he also muses quoting from other languages.
I also wonder how "colors" (particular letters, their visual-sound images, their meaning) would come out in translation. For example, Ada's spectrum is different from Nabokov's own.*

Another comment by C.Brown ("Humbert Humbert and Charlotte Haze, by a long-standing tradition of transposition, are Gumbert Gumbert and Shariotta Gejz, though one can virtually see Nabokov culling all the dark roots of Russian umbrage before deciding to leave them in possession of their names") led me to Gogol, and to the occurrence of the double "G" in his name. According to B.Boyd, Gogol was who "first saw yellow and violet" in literature, since he "saw much more than the conventional labels" (Cf. Jean Holabird's "Vladimir Nabokov Alphabet in Color"). Gogol, as also Gumbert Gumbert, could belong to Nabokov's Russian "black group", which includes a hard G, like "vulcanized rubber," and a soft G, placed in the brown group but retaining a rich "rubbery" tone.

Nevertheless, things are not so simple.
There is another word, one that starts with a "G" and is directly related to rubber, namely, "gutta-percha", which is differently described.
When Nabokov mentions it during a discussion about synesthaesia and Rimbaud's "audition colorée", the "g" is left out when he notes: "If I had some paints handy I would mix burnt-sienna and sepia for you so as to match the colour of a gutta-percha "ch" sound..." (The Gift, (CCC,p.340).
So, inspite of the persistence of black and rubber in VN's letter "G", "gutta-percha" comes up for its dropping "ch" sound.

It seems that his particular word was first heard by young VN from his drawing master, Mr.Cummings:

"I was captivated by his use of the special eraser...he...flicked off, with the back of his fingers, the "gutticles of the percha" (as he said)"
( Speak Memory pg 91).

There is another curious comment by VN concerning Mr.Cummings. It takes us from 'g' and a rubber-eraser onto chronophobia (not chromophobia) when, on SM p.93, VN adds: "A quarter of a century later, I learned... that my humble drawing master, whose age I used to synchronize with that of granduncles and old faily servants, had married a young Estonian girl about the time I myself married. When I learned these later developments, I experienced a queer shock; it was as if life had impinged upon my creative rights by wriggling on beyond the subjective limits so elegantly and economically set by childhood memories that I thought I had signed and sealed." Cp. with SM's opening chapter, describing "a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged - the same house, the same people - and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence."



.......................................................................................................

* The typist and the editor of Van and Ada's manuscript (Violet Knox and Ronald Oranger) have the first and last letters of their names "form the beginning and end of Ada's acrostic spelling of the spectrum: vibgyor" whereas "Nabokov's own word for rainbow, in his private language, is "KZSPYGV" (quoting Brian Boyd).



** - More on "gutta-percha" is to be found in the archives (VN-L, january 2007)
Btw: thanks for your kind words, Fran!





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