NABOKV-L post 0006896, Wed, 9 Oct 2002 17:02:32 -0700

Fw: More VN in the news. pARAnABOKOVIANA
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Tudor" <>
To: "'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

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> From: Paul Tudor, Auckland, NZ
> Following is an excerpt from an article in Saturday's Australian Financial
> Review called "The Europeans" about the art of translation:
> It is only a matter of time in a Russian novel before a sturgeon arrives
> a plate, a "fine sturgeon" or a "large sturgeon". It is like the
> of bicycles in Irish novels, or the dog wagging its tail in every other
> Roberts painting. The sturgeon makes its entrance on a plate held by an
> footman in a greasy shirt. Other times the landlord of an inn brings the
> fish half-cold to a filthy table. At a rundown estate a traveller is
> into the presence of the impoverished landowner, tucking into a local
> sturgeon (Gogol). Russian characters have healthy appetites. They've been
> travelling on bad roads, in badly sprung carriages. In the 1950s, in
> Adelaide, reading about "black bread" sounded not tasty at all, but
> peasant-poor, positively wretched; in a Russian novel it coloured the
> domestic scene - made it extra foreign.
> Where else in literature do you find a languid landowner pondering a
> pleasantly wasted life, while at the same time reaching out, as if for
> another slice of sturgeon, for some essential, life-saving truth?
> In Roman times a slave would have his head shaved, then tattooed with an
> important message, and as the hair began growing, would make his way as
> instructed through enemy lines and indifferent countries, across water and
> inhospitable terrain, sleet and snow, mountain ranges etc, finally
> the reader who would immediately have the head shaved, and eagerly scan
> message.
> The acclaimed translators of the new Anna Karenin are appropriately a
> married couple, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. In his
> Pevear draws attention to an early scene at the railway station, when the
> watchman is killed: "... several men with frightened faces suddenly ran
> past. The station master, in a peaked cap of an extraordinary colour, also
> ran past. Evidently something extraordinary had happened." The repetition
> "extraordinary" didn't bother Nabokov. On the contrary. Such looking-twice
> repetition contributes to the vivid confusion of the scene.
> But early translators had a horror of repetition, and set about reducing
> eliminating it entirely. In this way they resemble present-day editors,
> sit with the pencil poised, except the translator can go ahead and do it
> without the author knowing.
> In the introduction to their translation of The Brothers Karamazov Pevear
> makes the case for the novel being "essentially comic", conceding that
> readers may find this "an intolerably whimsical statement". Earlier
> translations "smoothed over" Dostoevsky's idiosyncratic prose, "removing
> much of the humour and distinctive voicing of the novel".
> The distinctive voice is at the heart of all worthwhile art; to iron out
> stray bumps, awkwardnesses, idiosyncrasies is to reduce the greatest
> down to the ordinary, everyday. And for why? Here the impulse may have
> something to do with the sensible, ordered lives of the translators.
> Another attraction of European - including Russian - writers: they are not
> afraid of the bold assertion. So bold and distinctive are these assertions
> that it's enough to send timid and ordinary minds rushing for the exits.
> "Oh, that's a generalisation." Or, "You can't generalise." Etc.
> What then is to be said of the first sentence of Anna Karenin? Surely it's
> little more than a "generalisation". Timid readers, timid thinkers are
> comfortable when bold and distinctive minds are lowered to more digestible
> levels - via the refuge of relativism. A certain sort of clotted academic
> can do this. It may feel judicious; that is all.
> It's a relief to turn to Balzac and Stendhal: fearless "generalisers";
> Canetti, another one. "There is nothing that man fears more than the touch
> of the unknown" is how Canetti begins a subject he had spent many years
> considering.
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