NABOKV-L post 0026779, Sat, 9 Jan 2016 16:26:27 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] ophiological chill,
ghosts... differences in translation - correction
Elaborating on:

A . Sklyarenko writes: “In Vesna v Fialte (1936), the Russian original of VN’s story “Spring in Fialta,” the narrator mentions ofiologicheskiy kholodok (an ophiological chill) that he experienced when Ferdinand’s new book touched his hand [ ] Ophiology is the branch of herpetology dealing with snakes. [ ]… actually the automobile was still standing quite motionless, smooth and whole like an egg[ ]” The narrator compares Segur’s automobile to an egg. Like birds, snakes hatch out of the eggs [ ]
Jansy Mello: A.Sklyarenko’s highlights brought up the Russian reference to “ophiology” (the study of serpents) that is absent in the English translation[ ]… while describing the yellow automobile, V.Nabokov borrows images that suggest flight (like the mythological Icarus and insects like beetles) intermingled with stationary eggs and writhing reptiles. Why did he blend such forms, bringing together the vertebrate and invertebrate worlds? I tried to reach a composite image…settled on the wings of an Atlas moth with its scary serpent heads on the tip of its wings …

Jansy Mello: Scientific discipline doesn’t usually determine how readers should interpret a literary text. However, V. Nabokov’s own rigor as a scientist usually weighs on the way his sentences should be understood: did Nina’s “postcard and egg,” which were sent during the Easter holidays (in the Russian original) and were here considered in association to Segur’s yellow Icarus, allow the reader to imagine a serpent’s, not a chicken’s, egg (besides, insects also lay eggs)? In the story the yellow automobile figuratively hatches two reptiles (Ferdinand and Segur), justifying A. Sklyarenko’s interpretation as quoted above (together with the initial introduction of “ophiology” related to Ferdinand’s new book). And yet, the initial description of the car only indicates a scarab contour and the egg in the sentence is mainly used to create the image of “ smooth wholeness” and it doesn’t necessarily imply any reference to a living thing.

Am I right to follow the present associative trend to endorse and then question VN’s mixed metaphors (Jorge Borges would describe them as a consequence of “a nod in a metaphor” or a “nodding metaphor”…), “inadequately” joining vertebrates (reptiles and birds) and invertebrates (insects)? Is it correct to go on fantasizing, trusting V.N’s acumen and rigor, until the actual image of a “natural mixture” can be obtained, like the “Atlas Moth” with its two yellow serpent heads figured in its wings? (I mean, I’m forcing an interpretation onto actual facts until I reach one that I consider to be satisfactory for my needs, instead of simply accepting that neither serpents nor incorrect natural images are used in Nabokov’s short story?

The representations of “reincarnation” and afterlife that are associated to the moth and are reinforced in V. Nabokov’s other story (“Christmas”), compared with V. Nabokov’s feelings about death and the transitoriness of terrestrial life as they were conveyed by the narrator, do they confirm my reader’s fantasy or not?

Today it occurred to me that I have another literary fact in my favor. When V. Nabokov substituted the easter egg for a Christmas card with snow and stars in his translation to English, could he not be indicating, then, the Atlas Moth that figures so prominently in “Christmas” by choosing to substitute one Christian festivity for the other? However, this construction would elude readers that are not familiar with the Russian original.

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