RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] retranslating Pnin
Maurice Couturier: “I must thank you, Joseph Aisenberg, for reacting, if not responding, to my mails about “Pnin”. Perhaps you didn’t read them all [ ] For instance, I had in mind his frequent use of adjectives like “mild, dull, dim, neutral, melancholy” and so on and so forth. Joseph, please try to translate a few passages from the opening chapters in a language of your choice, I think you’ll eventually come to agree with me. As for Nabokov’s brand of sadism against the protagonists and various subjects (the evocation of psychoanalysis in my mails may have infuriated you), I don’t think I invented it. [ ] he only performed heartless gestures occasionally (who does not?), like denouncing his brother’s homosexuality or scornfully snubbing people he didn’t like. His uncompromising attitude, usually phrased in grating terms, towards every possible subject, from politics to regional literature or this or that writer, gives evidence of an inner violence that needed to be expressed, expelled. [ ]
Did I really fail to get “into the spirit” of this novel, Joseph? I wonder.”
Jansy Mello: In a former posting, Maurice Couturier equally invited me to try my hand in translating Pnin:
“the vicious narrator does little to make us sympathize with him or with anybody in fact. His treatment of the Winds or of many subjects like modern education, modern painting and psychology of one kind or another is on a par with that of Pnin. This narrator, who obliquely reflects Nabokov’s sneering figure at that particular moment in his life (and for which I have no explanation), seems to be using his protagonist to vent his own discontent and sadism./ Jansy, just look carefully at the opening chapter or at the opening of part 5 of Chapter 4 and try to translate them, and you’ll see what I mean. Thank you, anyway, for pursuing this discussion.”
He also wrote about “the clear difference between Cervantes’s cruelty and his own. Don Quixote is an intensely metafictional novel as all the thresholds, the paratexts of the original edition, the narrative asides, testify.”
Well…I followed Maurice’s recommendation in connection to Chapter One and the opening part 5 of Ch.4. I found no Nabokovian sadism in them: portraying the misadventures of a character and the cruelties of life in a comic way is almost always the subject favored by agile comedians and how their actions affect us depends, mostly, of the perspective one adopts and of one’s involuntary identifications with one or another character. Tragicomedy toned up by his “inner violence” in need of expression? Why not? Once I brought up an hypothesis of my own concerning VN’s indignation towards Cervantes. As I see it, what offended VN was the Spanish author’s definite intention to debunk chivalric novels and ideals – not the way he abused a befuddled, well-intentioned chevalier.
The difficulties to translate are enormous: what one reads and understands fluently in one language is very hard to render equally fluently in another (by mistake I started with part 4, not 5, that carries the detailed ornateness of Chateau’s Castle and, while searching for the most exact words in my language, I often needed a dictionary to reach a sufficient wealth of synonyms if I wanted to achieve the right mood or the critical commentary about an architectural detail. Ch. 5’s colors and distorted reflections was somehow easier!), but I don’t see this as a Nabokovian intention to inflict suffering on me: I tortured myself because I found such a rift between my two more familiar languages that my impotence in transforming one into the other tore me in two.
Is heartlessness a form of sadism? Arrogance, stinginess, blind envy and jealousy?
PS to M. Couturier: "Jansy, just look carefully at the opening chapter or at the opening of part 5 of Chapter 4 and try to translate them, and you’ll see what I mean. Thank you, anyway, for pursuing this discussion."
Although I’m unable to produce any competent literary translation, I enjoy to follow the different attempts made by distinct VN translators because their choices reveal insights and versions which I failed to grasp or reject in full (I dare affirm that Nabokov’s was well aware that his writings take a long time to bloom and unfold into an open flower blossom.)
During a conversation with my grandkids the subject of “favorite book,favorite author” popped up. I was surprised to discover, while answering to their queries, that V.Nabokov is by far my favorite author but that none of his novels, stories and poems are my favorite texts. I tried to explain the mystery only to have it grow bigger: VN is my favorite writer because of all that escapes from his writings, namely, all that which he presents without words and more, of all that remains with me after I finish reading one of his novels or stories.
Thinking about his very quotable sentence in his recent Letters to Véra, I confess that I’m after the polen of feelings that words indicating, representing or even inducing them, squash.
I googled for help and couldn’t reach a promising article. I copied parts of its opening paragraph because the idea of a “comedy of narrative” and the distinction between “the readable” and the “scriptable” might offer a way out to me in future musings about why I can cite the name of my favorite VN novels or other writings (namely, Lolita, Pale,Fire and Speak,Memory) but not one of them is, how can I say, a fundamental overall experience in my life… Here are the excerpts and the link:
"Much has been written about the problematic nature of recent experimental fiction. The canonical view seems to be that of Roland Barthes - his distinction, for instance, between the lisible and the scriptable, his assertion that the texte-limite is a text we have yet to learn to read. [ ] In this context, it is important to note the element of comedy in the texte-limite [ ] a comedy of a specific kind - a comedy of narrative itself." Comparative Literature Vol. 37, No. 2, Spring, 1985 Comedy of Narrative: Nabokov, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, by Andrew Gibson
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