NABOKV-L post 0007144, Sat, 23 Nov 2002 19:30:16 -0800

Fw: nabokov reference in rushdie essay
----- Original Message -----
From: "Nicholas Laughlin" <>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, November 23, 2002 11:22 AM
Subject: nabokov reference in rushdie essay

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> The UK Guardian publishes an extract today from Salman
> Rushdie's new book of essays, Step Across This Line,
> under the headline "Divided Selves":
> In discussing "the crossing of borders, of language,
> geography and culture", Rushdie makes this substantial
> reference to Nabokov:
> 'The greatest writer ever to make a successful journey
> across the language frontier, Vladimir Nabokov,
> enumerated, in his "Note on Translation", the "three
> grades of evil [that] can be discerned in the strange
> world of verbal transmigration". He was talking about
> the translation of books and poems, but when as a
> young writer I was thinking about how to "translate"
> the great subject of India into English, how to allow
> India itself to perform the act of "verbal
> transmigration", the Nabokovian "grades of evil"
> seemed to apply.
> '"The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors
> due to ignorance or misguided knowledge," Nabokov
> wrote. "This is mere human frailty and thus
> excusable." Western works of art that dealt with India
> were riddled with such mistakes. To name just two: the
> scene in David Lean's film of A Passage to India in
> which he makes Dr Aziz leap on to Fielding's bed and
> cross his legs while keeping his shoes on, a solecism
> that would make any Indian wince; and the even more
> unintentionally hilarious scene in which Alec
> Guinness, as Godbole, sits by the edge of the sacred
> tank in a Hindu temple and dangles his feet in the
> water.
> '"The next step to Hell," Nabokov says, "is taken by
> the translator who skips words or passages that he
> does not bother to understand or that might seem
> obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers." For a
> long time, or so I felt, almost the whole of the
> multifarious Indian reality was "skipped' in this way
> by writers who were uninterested in anything except
> western experiences of India - English girls falling
> for maharajas, or being assaulted, or not being
> assaulted, by non-maharajas, in nocturnal gardens, or
> mysteriously echoing caves - written up in a coolly
> classical western manner. But of course most
> experiences of India are Indian experiences of it, and
> if there is one thing India is not, it is cool and
> classical. India is hot and vulgar, I thought, and it
> needed a literary "translation" in keeping with its
> true nature.
> 'The third and worst crime of translation, in
> Nabokov's opinion, was that of the translator who
> sought to improve on the original, "vilely
> beautifying" it "in such a fashion as to conform to
> the notions and prejudices of a given public". The
> exoticisation of India, its "vile beautification", is
> what Indians have disliked most. Now, at last, this
> kind of fake glamourising is coming to an end, and the
> India of elephants, tigers, peacocks, emeralds and
> dancing girls is being laid to rest. A generation of
> gifted Indian writers in English is bringing into
> English their many different versions of the Indian
> reality, and these many versions, taken together, are
> beginning to add up to something that one might call
> the truth.'
> Nicholas Laughlin
> Diego Martin, Trinidad
> __________________________________________________
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