NABOKV-L post 0017434, Mon, 8 Dec 2008 14:09:16 -0200

THOUGHTS/ BIB: On VN and Borges
Nina Kressova: In summer of 2007 I defended the PhD Thesis “Under the sign of Proteos:A comparative study of the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov” at the University of Granada, Spain [URL:].[...] Borges always denied reading Nabokov; however I have my doubts about this [...] I like a lot the parallel between "The Secret Miracle" and "Invitation to a Beheading", I never thought about it, but I told about the concept of eternity in this Borges' story and in "The Defense" (tick-tack of the Luzhin's clock)
[...]According to my initial hypothesis, the similarities that exist between Borges and Nabokov’s texts lies in the affinity of their thoughts and in their way of perceiving the world [...] To my mind, the origin of the coincidences that can be observed between both narratives must be searched in the upbringing, their reading interests and finally in the socio-cultural insertion.
JM: Nina Kressova's thesis compares Borges and Nabokov and her initial authority comes from the fact that Russian is her native language and she speaks Spanish fluently.Therefore I was particularly happy that she enjoyed the parallel between "The Secret Miracle" and "Invitation to a Beheading". VN not only considered it his "dreamiest and most poetical novel" (SO p.76), the most "esteemed one" (p.92) - but he wrote it in a special rythm as if equally blessed by eternity: "Generally speaking, I am a slow writer[...] ( one spectacular exception was the Russian original of Invitation to a Beheading, the first draft of which I wrote in one fortnight of wonderful excitament and sustained inspiration)." (SO,p 68).
It's curious how several authors deny their familiarity with several other writer's works, but gleefully acknowledge their opinions about others. Borges equally denied any cognizance of Italo Calvino, even while a special guest at IC's Norton Lectures. Nabokov, though, didn't spare any of his positive and negative assessments of Borges. I'll return to Kressova's thesis because I'm certain that the points of affinity btw Nabokov and Borges shall serve to ellucidate items concerning words, images and their interpretation or translation!

The Argentine-born Alberto Manguel whom I mentioned yesterday wrote: Nabokov apparently believed (though I find it hard to imagine that the master craftsman meant this) that languages are "equivalent" in both sense and sound, and that what is imagined in one language can be reimagined in another..." Manguel based his assumption on what VN wrote in S.O, on the translator's business to give the reader ignorant of o ne language a text recomposed in all the equivalent words of another. I didn't find the pages from where in SO he extracted his informations about the equivalence of languages, but I'm still going over VN's book ( p.38:..."My translation is, of course, a literal one, a crib, a pony. And to the fidelity of transposal I have sacrificed everything: elegance, euphony, clarity, good taste, modern usage, and even grammar."(p.38); "I demanded of my students the passion of science and the patience of poetry" (p.7) was part of his reply concerning how he would describe his EO translation, perhaps closer to a "wild fruit" and certainly away from any "synthyetic jam".
VN also stated that his translation of EO was so exciting because he enjoyed going after "the right way of doing things and a certain approach to reality, to the reality of Pushkin, through my translation." (p.11) Even if VN had said that he didn't think in words but in images and, also, that he preferred images to ideas he added that he prefers "the specific detail to the generalization." To be able to discern specific details a blend of image and words is fundamental.VN's ten years of work on EO illustrates, for me, how he didn't believe that "what is imagined in one language can be reimagined in another". The proof: Bollingen Foundation's "four handsome volumes of more than five hundred pages each" needed to "translate Pushkin's "reality" into English.

To V.Fet: In SO I found (again) VN's notes on alpine heights and landscapes ( p.91) while discussing Solus Rex ( Ultima Thule) and PF:
"My Solus Rex might have disappointed Kinbote less than Shade's poem. The two countries, that of the Lone King and the Zembla land, belong to the same biologicl zone. Their subarctic bogs have much the same butterflies and berries [...] it is not associated to my personal past. Unlike Northern Russia, both Zembla and Ultima Thule are mountainous [...]" A blindfolded kidnapped Kinbote taken to Ultima Thule "would not know[...]by the sap smells and birdcalls that he was not back in Zembla, but he would be tolerably sure that he was not on the banks of the Neva." A blindfolded Victor would equally be able to discern by smells, the play of light and shadow, if he'd been landed in Virgínia, US or in Ulthima Thule, what kind of scorpions would grow in the latter...

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