Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024510, Thu, 22 Aug 2013 12:05:28 -0300

Re: [SIGHTING] Enkrypted words and transparencies
[JM: I don't think that most listlers will find that Keats's ode to a nightingale is an inspiring source for John Shade...// Keats: "Away! away! for I will fly to thee, /Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, /But on the viewless wings of Poesy..."]

Jansy Mello: Several recent postings mention Pushkin's prophetic talents [AS: "PUSHKIN is an extraordinary phenomenon, and, perhaps, the unique phenomenon of the Russian spirit, said Gogol. I will add, ‘and a prophetic phenomenon.’ Yes, in his appearing there is contained for all us Russians, something incontestably prophetic. Pushkin arrives exactly at the beginning of our true selfconsciousness, which had only just begun to exist a whole century after Peter’s reforms, and Pushkin’s coming mightily aids us in our dark way by a new guiding light..."]
and a reference in LATH to a stone monument [AS: cannot be sure it was not again my fellow traveler, the black-hatted man, whom I saw hurrying away as I parted with Dora and our National Poet, leaving the latter to worry forever about all that wasted water (compare the Tsarskoselski Statue of a rock-dwelling maiden who mourns her broken but still brimming jar in one of his own poems)... (5.3) ]
inspired me to widen my search in connection to an artist's dream of life ever after. Was Shade aspiring towards personal immortality? Did he, like other poets, despair of it? And what about Nabokov, specially in "Pale Fire"?

I remembred one of Priscilla Meyer's thesis. She writes in Find What the Sailor Has Hidden, Weleyan University Press, on p.42:
""Regicide, murder, and revenge are recurring themes in Scandinavian lore; in the Eddas they are shown to be transcended through poetry. In Pale Fire too, mortal tragedy is transcended by its metamorphosis into immortal literary art./ Pale Fire is constructed of multiple mirrorings [ ] Nabokov selects particular historical cases of regicide so that the Anglo-American and Russian cultural traditions reflect each other, as well as echo the assassination of his father. Nabokov structures Pale Fire as an annotation of history from his personal viewpoint, weaving a hidden tale into a vast public tapestry."
(this hidden history, examined from a distinct perspective, is part of Andrea Pitzer's recent "The Secreet History of Vladimir Nabokov")
In fact, there are lines from Pushkin, translated by V.Nabokov, that represent both the certainty of survival through art and of its widespreading influence conquering time and space ( such as it is brought forth by AS's note on Pushkin's prophetic powers).*

When I approached Keat's nightingale to John Shade's waxwing, though, I wasn't thinking about stone monuments, but of the singular force of words that are firm enough to recreate a stone monument and everlasting music. Keats and fictional Shade were working on the assurance of spiritual survival over the material world (the ashen fluff) and they were attunded to the mysteries of "representation." ( like HH's confidence (Lolita) in cave-painted aurochs and angels?) .

Vladimir Nabokov made two translations of Pushkin's Exegi Monumentum. I selected these verses, in particular:

I -.
"Not all of me is dust. Within my song,
safe from the worm, my spirit will survive,
and my sublunar fame will dwell as long
as there is one last bard alive. (1941-43)

II -
No. I'll not wholly die. My soul in the sacred lyre
is to survive my dust and flee decay;
and I'll be famed while there remains alive
in the sublunar world at least one poet. (1951-57 1966-67)

My nest step was to figure out why did Pushknin mention a "monument" if he praises "the sacred lyre" superior power over his individual "dust" and "decay"
The internet, again, helped me with extremely rich information that I thought was worth sharing with non academic listlers, like me ( I'd otherwise never have read those articles with that question in mind!).
So, according to VN, Pushkin has written a "brilliant parody" of Dershavin in "Exegi Monumentum"! But what about the historical past? And the blithe spirit world?

1. In America, Nabokov undertook two major translation projects involving the canon of Russian poetry. (The canon of modern Russian poetry, that is: he also made a translation of the medieval Russian epic The Song of Igor’s Campaign.) The first, Three Russian Poets, made for James Laughlin at New Directions and published in 1944, contained translations from Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tyutchev. The second was his four-volume edition of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (including two volumes of commentary), eventually published by Bollingen in 1964.
The present book, Verses and Versions, seems to radically enlarge this corpus of translations—offering selections from eighteen poets, from Mihail Lomonosov, born in 1711, to Bulat Okudzhava, born in 1924. In fact, although the book does print crucial unpublished archive material, it is still based heavily on Nabokov’s two published books. Most significantly, poems by various classic poets first translated in the notes to Eugene Oneginare here reprinted in isolation. It’s therefore not certain—especially of poets who lived prior to Pushkin—whether the poems represent the selections Nabokov would have made had he been creating an anthology of Russian poetry.In the commentary toOnegin, for instance, he stated that the “greatest Russian poems of the eighteenth century are Derzhavin’s majestic odes to his queen and his God.” Neither of these poems was translated by Nabokov. Instead, the book offers one poem by Derzhavin, “Monument,” a conventional version of Horace’s “Exegi monumentum,” which Nabokov translated in the notes to Onegin when explaining the minute and brilliant parody to which it was subjected by Pushkin..http://javous308.blogspot.com.br/2011/05/poets-head-on-platter.html

2. Horace:

Exegi Monumentum.

And now 'tis done: more durable than brass
My monument shall be, and raise its head
O'er royal pyramids: it shall not dread
Corroding rain or angry Boreas,
Nor the long lapse of immemorial time.
I shall not wholly die: large residue
Shall 'scape the queen of funerals. Ever new
My after fame shall grow, while pontiffs climb
With silent maids the Capitolian height.
"Born," men will say, "where Aufidus is loud,
Where Daunus, scant of streams, beneath him bow'd
The rustic tribes, from dimness he wax'd bright,
First of his race to wed the Aeolian lay
To notes of Italy." Put glory on,
My own Melpomene, by genius won,
And crown me of thy grace with Delphic bay.

Exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo inpotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum. 5
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
uitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita uirgine pontifex.
Dicar, qua uiolens obstrepit Aufidus 10
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnauit populorum, ex humili potens
princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. Sume superbiam
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphica 15
lauro cinge uolens, Melpomene, comam.

3. Article about Horace, Derzhavin and Pushkin, their "Monuments" ("pamiatnik") in relation to the past, international influence and - personal immortality

[ ] Whether put forward to be doggedly imitated or confidently surpassed, antique sculpture and its interpretations provided a model for engaging with the past and in fact gave form to one of the central metaphors for shaping history, both national and personal. In Russia, where sculpture was hurriedly appropriated as a form of the new, secularized culture, the very word “pamiatnik” (“monument”) acquired its dominant sculptural meaning only in the course of the eighteenth century. As we shall see, when Derzhavin erected a verbal monument to himself, he was not only echoing the Classicist topos or placing authorship on a pedestal traditionally reserved for Russian czars and military leaders. Quite significantly, he was also elaborating the latest model of historical memory, which greatly relied upon sculptural and architectural imagery.
Only some half a century before the appearance of Derzhavin’s “Pamiatnik,” Lomonosov in his first-ever Russian translation of Horace’s text (“Я знак бессмертия себе воздвигнул…,” “I have erected a sign of immortality to Myself,” 1747) could not yet render monumentum as pamiatnik even though the Russian pamiatnik comes closest to the Latin term since both have their origin in the terminology of memory (“monere”—to remind, warn, advise; “pamiat’”—memory).[6] Pamiatnik had not yet acquired its sculptural connotation, and Lomonosov translated the Latin word with the less literal and more abstract “znak bessmertiia” (“sign of immortality”). As a result of this abstraction, Lomonosov’s translation elides Horace’s central opposition between sculpture and writing; in fact, it is unclear why it is so important that the sign of immortality be higher than the pyramids, for the reader has no definite image of this elusive sign. Horace’s monumentum stages within itself the rivalry of the written and the sculptural memorial, in which sculpture takes a subordinate position because of its very materiality—its fixed location and capacity for physical decay. Lomonosov’s “znak bessmertiia,” by contrast, contains no double meaning and lacks this internal polemic.
Pamiatnik: A History of the Term and the Terminology of History In The Dictionary of the Russian Language of the 11th-17th Centuries, the word pamiatnik still carries only one meaning, of a “commemorative note or inscription; a testimony.”[7] From the examples cited in the dictionary, it follows that before the eighteenth century, pamiatnik referred primarily to a written historical document. Although the word has preserved this meaning until the present (e.g. in such collocations as “pamiatnik epokhi,” “literaturnyi pamiatnik,” “pamiatnik kul’tury,” etc.[8]), during the eighteenth century pamiatnik slowly moved away from the semantic field of specifically narrative history where it had belonged together with the chronicle, into the realm of art history and particularly sculpture. There it assumed its place next to such previously distant semantic units as “istukan,” “kumir,” “izvaian,” and “idol,”[9] and to the Latinate borrowings, such as “statue” (“статуя”) and “monument” (“монумент”). In Russia, the evolution of pamiatnik’s new meaning required first a recognition and assimilation of European secular sculpture as a valid and valuable art form. Russian Orthodoxy, unlike Catholicism, was essentially against three-dimensional images, which it associated directly with idolatry and paganism.[10] It is not by accident that the terms used as late as the end of the eighteenth century to describe statuary are the same words that a hundred years earlier had unequivocally designated pagan idols: «истукан», «кумир», «изваян», «болван» and «идол». As these words slowly shed some of their derogatory associations with unorthodox religious practices, they could still not be used neutrally though some attempts were made (“истукан” as “bust” or “кумир души моей” as a calque from the French “l’idole de mon âme,” etc.). While secularization of terminology followed a more significant secularization of both the practices and the uses of art, sculptural vocabulary of paganism came to be employed in depicting sculpture in an ironic light. As we shall see, the commemorated figure in Derzhavin’s “Moi Istukan” provokes a much more ambiguous and potentially ironic reaction than does the lyrical persona of “Pamiatnik.” With its initial association with documentary textual history, the latter term more comfortably invoked the newly appropriated artifacts of secular sculpture.
The mechanism of memory, central to both meanings of pamiatnik, facilitated this semantic shift. Both narrative and sculptural monuments were intended to memorialize the past, to serve as concrete metonyms of a greater history. Pamiatnik was a fortunate native term that not only could adequately render and indeed bring to the fore the memorial function of monuments, but also altogether overwrote and dispensed with the religious uneasiness surrounding lifelike corporeal representations. Formerly a term attached to documentary testimony, pamiatnik as a sculptural object could now indeed stand as a disembodied and less morally dubious sign or “znak bessmertiia.”
In the sudden elation at the recognition of his own worth, Derzhavin’s ambitious imagination transfers his bust to the Cameron Gallery (“чтобы на ней меня вместить, завистников моих к досаде, в её [Екатерины] прекрасной колоннаде”[47]). Even this vision, however, is soon shattered as Derzhavin projects a less than indulgent reassessment of his contributions by some future generation.[48] Envisioning his own formerly dignified image as a silly, bald monkey exposed to the derision of children, or tumbling off the colonnade and trampled in obscurity, Derzhavin removes his bust from the public sphere of great men on exhibit in the royal gardens. The bust, significantly, is not a pamiatnik, a deserving form of commemoration, but anistukan and even bolvan, an idolatrous graven image that turns the man Derzhavin into a monkey, a ludicrous ape of the real being. A conventional figure of demure self-effacement in Derzhavin’s poem, the image of the monkey also appeared in contemporary Russian discourse in connection to the mindless imitators of the West; the satirical thrust, for instance, of Karamzin’s nickname “Popugai Obezyaninov” (“Parrot Monkeyson”) is well known. Commonly dubbed as monkeys or apes of the Enlightenment, the pretentious Russian elite plays at casting their own images in bronze, but these representations only betray their clumsy westernizing mimicry and are doomed to posterity’s derision.
A sensitive observer of the ancient monuments’ vulnerability to destruction, fragmentation, and misinterpretation, Derzhavin projects a similar fate for his own bust and concludes that sculpture needs necessarily to be accompanied by text in order to provide adequate representation in the public sphere. Meanwhile, poetry escapes this fate and can stand on its own. And herein lies Derzhavin’s contribution to Lessing’s project of establishing and defining the distinctive spheres for the arts. If for Lessing the difference between verbal and visual art gives rise to distinctive modes of imaginative reception as the former unfolds in time and the latter in space, for Derzhavin sculpture and poetry reveal their true significance only in the retrospective evaluation of posterity. In this rivalry, statuary comes out as opaque in the absence of text.
It is precisely in this context that two years after “Moi Istukan,” a rendition of the Horatian Exegi Monumentum is striking in its definitiveness. In “Pamiatnik” (1796), where sculpture’s commemorative might is again placed below that of poetry, Derzhavin does not even attempt to smuggle in a fragment of his domestic, private space. Grandiloquent in its formulations, the poem displays a vast Russian terrain for public view. Derzhavin’s fame resonates through all this space, heedless of any obstacle or disclaimer:

Слух пройдет обо мне от Белых вод до Черных,

Где Волга, Дон, Нева, с Рифея льет Урал.

It is important to note that the critique of sculpture in “Moi Istukan” is couched in terms that had only recently belonged to the lexicon of paganism: “istukan,” “kumir,” “bolvan,” all objects of misplaced adoration and victims of violent demolition. Meanwhile, the discursive monument, one that is ultimately capable of fashioning a satisfactory historical narrative of the self, is termed pamiatnik. It is the only term that can boast sufficient semantic capacities for transcending sculpture and adequately accommodating representation. For ultimately, at stake in the revamped eighteenth-century contest of sculpture and poetry as repositories of history was the vexed question of the transparency of representation, which so concerned Enlightenment thinkers from Rousseau to Diderot. Which medium is capable of conveying more accurately and effectively personal and national history: the image, which leaves an immediate but unspoken and therefore unexplained impression on the viewer, or the word, which strives to fix and define meaning but is itself intangible? More significantly, will any medium successfully prevail over what Diderot called “the ravages of time”?


* - In particular, these lines obtained from VN's translation of Pushkin's Exegi Monumentum:
"Tidings of me will cross the whole great Rus,/ and name me will each tribe existing there:/ proud scion of Slavs, and Finn, and the now savage/ Tungus, and - friend of steppes - the Kalmuch" (V&V, p.216, see also p.215)

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