Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026782, Sat, 9 Jan 2016 13:45:12 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] ophiological chill,
ghosts... differences in translation
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 , or so I suppose. However, V. Nabokov’s own rigor as a scientist usually weighs on the way his sentences should be read: did Nina’s “postcard and egg” which were sent during the Easter holidays in the Russian original allow the reader to imagine a serpent’s, not a chicken’s, egg? 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 indicates a scarab 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 (besides, insects also lay eggs).

Am I right to follow the present associative trend to 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 proceed fantasizing, trusting V.N’s acumen and rigor, until the actual image of a “natural mixture” comes up, like the “Atlas Moth” with its two yellow serpent heads figured in its wings?

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 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 the later translation to English, could he not be indicating then the Atlas Moth that figures so prominently in “Christmas”? However, this construction would elude readers that are not familiar with the Russian original…

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