NABOKV-L post 0018739, Tue, 3 Nov 2009 23:20:26 -0200

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Re: ANNC: Reader's Guide to Nabokov's Lolita
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ANNC: A Reader’s Guide to Nabokov’s “Lolita” by Julian Connolly , (Ph.D. Harvard, 1977), Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Nabokov’s Early Fiction: Patterns of Self and Other (1992) and editor of Nabokov and His Fiction: New Perspectives (1999) and The Cambridge Companion to Nabokov (2005). He has published over sixty articles on Russian literature.

JM: In a recent posting (Oct. 9, 2009) Julian W. Connolly answered a query on ADA: "Tolstoy wrote three works with the titles "Detstvo," "Otrochestvo," and "Iunost'", which translate as "Childhood," "Boyhood," and "Youth." Nabokov deliberately mistranslates the word "otrochestvo" [boyhood] as "fatherland," which, in Russian, is "otechestvo" a word that is phonetically close to "otrochestvo."

The word-play discerned by Connolly serves to connect childhood and fatherland to Nabokov's "other shore memoirs" ("ex Ponto"). His detailed explanation proved to be most inspiring to me, when I was inquiring into the relation bt. "Ponto" and "Pontius," although for him, as for B.Boyd, Nabokov might be "getting in a subtle dig at poor translators."
In fact, the common agreement is that Nabokov was referring to incompetent translators, mainly due to Vivian Darkbloom's note to page 9 in "Ada" ["All happy families etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening sentence of Tolstoy’s novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna’s patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is added to her surname. ‘Mount Tabor’ and ‘Pontius’ allude to the transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner’s term, I believe) and betrayals to which great texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists. "] ( the italics are mine).

On the matter of Mr. G.Steiner, I found out that, with only one exception qua "monism" and "perfection" (After Babel, page 264, Oxford University Press, paperback), he was always very appreciative of Nabokov's achievements. Close to his second reference to Nabokov's jingle ("What is translation? On a platter/ A poet's pale and glaring head..."), I encountered Steiner's term "transfiguration", and its opposite, "diminution" (Cf.No Passion Spent, 1996, Faber and Faber Ltd,p.201). For him these are the two major problems that arise during translations and, in the first instance, "the translator is too high a master in his own right...his version is too sovereign." Steiner then adds: "I have called this paradoxical betrayal 'transfiguration'."

Nabokov's choice to explain the two kinds of betrayals thru Steiner classified the translations, for which "the translator is too high a master," as "Mount Tabor". He reserved "Pontius" to its opposite when "the translator has...been inadequate to his chosen task"(G.S,p.201). Nevertheless Darkbloom's note is slightly ambiguous because he distinguishes between transfigurations and betrayals, whereas for Steiner both are a kind of betrayal Darkbloom disparaged the results of "pretentious and ignorant versionists" by lumping together these two mishaps, as if in both cases the versionists were incompetent and ridiculous.

In the spirit of Steiner's arguments, which maintain that nobody escapes the need to "translate," (even monoglots, intralingually), I consider that it's still possible to suppose that by "Pontius" Nabokov, self-critically, bore in mind his particular version of his childhood in Russia, deformed and betrayed along his various "memoirs," - but hopefully arising as "transfigurations", unlike all those other poor versionist's efforts, as it had happened with Tolstoy's.


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