NABOKV-L post 0017338, Mon, 17 Nov 2008 17:21:58 +0000

Re: Zemblan Grammar, is, of course, a reference to Vla dimir Nabokov¹s 1962 novel ...

My only objection to this review of “Zemblan Grammar” is the derogatory tone
of “mostly a mash-up of Russian, Germanic/Scandinavian, and Anglo Saxon.”
Since each REAL extant natural language, however much glorified by proud,
sentimental mother-users for its unique elegance and expressiveness, is
indeed the result of many generations of both deliberate and accidental
“mashings” and “borrowings,” it’s unfair to criticize the same qualities in
a putatively “artificial” tongue such as Zemblan. Further comment would be
unfair until I’ve studied the original blog, except to remind you not to
confuse “lexis” with “grammar.” The available Zemblan corpus is certainly
too sparse to construct a plausible grammar. The lexis is disappointingly
Indo-European. One might have hoped for some more exotic, but geographically
feasible, linguistic influences from Kinbote/VN such as the mooted
Uralo-Siberian family (Uralic, Yukaghir, Chukotko-Kamchatkan and

PS: VN (ubiquitous as Jansy notes) gets mentioned in last Saturday’s Times2
review by Leo Robson of Christian Bo:x’s multi-univocal-lipogram prose-poem
EUNOIA. This has five chapters each using only a particular vowel. Thus
Chapter 1 gets by with the vowel ‘a,’ avoiding e/i/o/u, e.g. “A cardsharp,
smart at canasta, has a scam: mark a pack, palm a jack.” Chapter 3 avoids
a/e/o/u: “Writing is inhibiting. Sighing I sit, scribbling in ink, this
pidgin script.”
Clever, or a lo:ad of Bo:lo:x, best left to a co:mputer?

Robson writes:

“There is a vibrant, if marginal, tradition of writers who work within
self-imposed formal or linguistic constraints. It includes Samuel Beckett,
Italo Calvino and Vladimir Nabokov, but its most accomplished figure is
George Perec who wrote La Disparition, a novel without a single use of the
letter ‘e.’ The days of Perec and the experimental coterie Oulipo may seem
distant but Christian Bo:x has revived their spirit ... ”

I see little relevance to VN’s creative word-play. Discuss.

Stan Kelly-Bootle

On 16/11/2008 21:57, "Sandy P. Klein" <spklein52@HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

> Zemblan Grammar <http://zemblan grammar>
> It’s not about grammar.
> ar/
> An Explanation of the Title Zemblan Grammar
> <
> mar/>
> Published by Alfina the Vague
> <> on November 11, 2008 in
> Books <> , Meta-Blogular
> <> and NaBloPoMo
> <> .
> The ridiculous title of this blog, Zemblan Grammar, is, of course, a reference
> to Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 novel, Pale Fire. The novel consists of a poem,
> also entitled “Pale Fire,” by the fictional poet* John Shade and an
> introduction and line-by-line annotation of the poem by the fictional critic**
> Charles Kinbote.
> [*Please allow me to mention how much joy I get from thinking about the phrase
> "fictional poet": a lot. A fictional poet from poetic fiction!]
> [**A fictional critic from critical fiction!]
> As readers of the novel know, Kinbote is an erratic, excentric, probably
> insane character who purports to be the exiled King Charles the Beloved of
> Zembla (heir to King Alfin the Vague
> <
> -1873-1918/> ), now living in hiding in the United States. Both he and Shade
> are professors at the fictional Wordsmith College in the fictional town of New
> Wye, Appalachia. Throughout the novel, the annotations Kinbote makes to
> Shade’s poem quickly become fixated on his own tale of flight and exile, doing
> less to illuminate Shade’s manuscript than to spin a dubious narrative web of
> Kinbote’s own construction.
> The common reading of Kinbote, the land of Zembla, and the Zemblan language is
> that these are all markers of fantasy and untruth — fiction, lies,
> fabrications, funhouse-like constructions of illusion, and even the delusions
> of madness. Thus, to propose a grammar of the Zemblan language would be a
> delusional act of futility, impossibility, and total irrelevance.
> Total irrelevance! I could stop there and likely still offer a reasonable
> description of this blog, but, just for laughs let’s look at a few examples of
> the Zemblan language that have come to us via Kinbote’s annotations:
> First, a Zemblan translation of the opening couplet of Goethe’s “Erlkönig”:
> The original German:
>> Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
>> Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind.
> And the Zemblan:
>> Ret woren ok spoz on natt ut vett?
>> Eto est votchez ut mid ik dett.
> The language is mostly a mash-up of Russian, Germanic/Scandinavian, and Anglo
> Saxon, partly intelligible by cognates and partly just fun wordplay. A few of
> my favorite Zemblan words are: crapula (hangover), muderperlwelk (an
> iridescent cloudlet) and alfear (uncontrollable fear caused by elves).
> Nabokov’s joy in linguistic games and experimentation is one of the things
> that draws me to his writing, but there’s certainly not enough here for me to
> construct a grammar of the stuff. (Perhaps a real linguist could get a start,
> but that’s not really my domain.) The language is, for the purposes of the
> book, merely a fictional construction with no real significance. It’s a
> novelistic illusion.
> The novel itself, though, is about illusion — so perhaps this warrants a
> deeper look. Zembla might easily be conflated with the Russian island of
> Novaya Zemlya. Kinbote, however, clarifies its true origin: “The name Zembla
> is not a corruption of the Russian zemlya, but of Semblerland, a land of
> reflections, of ‘resemblers’.” It is a semblance, then.
> Likewise, the first stanza of Shade’s poem explores the territory of reality
> and semblance:
>> I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
>> By the false azure in the windowpane;
>> I was the smudge of ashen fluff — and I
>> Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.
>> And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
>> Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
>> Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
>> Hang all the furniture above the grass,
>> And how delightful when a fall of snow
>> Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
>> As to make a chair and bed exactly stand
>> Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!
> For the bird outside the window, illusion presents a dangerous temptation —
> the waxwing is slain, after all. Is it also so for the poet-observer inside?
> I’ve always found the realm of illusion in Nabokov to be a powerful dimension
> of artistic generation and regeneration — to return to the excerpt from the
> poem above, it is the place where the waxwing “live[s] on, [flies] on, in the
> reflected sky,” party both to the tableau of illusion being described and to
> the poem’s space of literary production.
> While a Zemblan Grammar is no doubt a grammar of illusion and irrelevance or a
> mapping of the delusions of madness, a more charitable explanation might be
> that the attempt to plot out the movements of the conjurer is at minimum an
> attempt to understand those movements, to learn them, to use them. The former
> explanation comes the closest to what Zemblan Grammar is; the latter is more
> like a momentary trick of the light.

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