NABOKV-L post 0002287, Mon, 18 Aug 1997 09:41:51 -0700

Hofstadter, VN, & translation
From: Phil Howerton <>

I am not a poet, but I am a pretty good lawyer and it
is puzzling to me why the scholarly community cannot accept and/or
understand the simple point that Nabokov made so clearly in so many
forums: that he accepted as appropriate for the genuine scholar and
lover of art only that translation of Onegin, or any other poem, that
was literally true to the understanding and intentions of the author.
Any other method, whether it be from the fumbling paraphrast or the true
poet of the into language, is not animal A but animal B. For a critic
to call Nabokov's translation nutty or awkward or non-poetic is simply
stupid. It is as if I, as a judge, ask a lawyer to argue for me the
merits of the holding in Case A and he begins instead to criticize the
holding of Case B.
What is so frustrating is that the question only surfaces (for me,
anyway) about once every ten years when everyone has forgotten the
position and arguments settled years before and someone like Hofstadter,
in an off hand comment in The damn New York Times Book Review (which has
the reputation of being the most interest skewed book review around),
trashes Nabokov and his monumental efforts to provide the first real key
to Onegin and now a whole new generation of readers are left with the
idea that Nabokov was an inept nut. It reminds me of scandal
journalism. I have always thought that N.'s Reply to my Critics is the
greatest polemic I've ever read and that it should be taught in every
law school. He set the rules. If Hofstadter wants to play, he must
play according to his own rules, because it's another game altogether.
"Nabokov intended his work to be a teaching tool and, like his lectures,
it is a template for the student's artistic empathy so that such a
student would never have to make the mistake of visualizing, in his
mind, say, a marvelous "cubic" coupe instead of a sleek, blue roadster.
In this sense, then, perhaps the best way for a non-Russian to
appreciate Onegin would be to attend a performance at which a Russian
Richard Burton reads the poem in Russian while above the stage, as at
the Metropolitan Opera, Nabokov's translation is scrolled across a