Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024777, Thu, 7 Nov 2013 03:29:30 -0200

Re: [QUERY] Pushkin in LRL
...[The first thing I discovered was that the expression "a literal translation" is more or less nonsense. "Yah pom- new" is a deeper and smoother plunge into the past than "I remember," which falls flat on its belly like an inexperienced diver; "chewed-no-yay" has a lovely Russian "monster" [ ] It belongs phonetically and mentally to a certain series of words, and this Russian series does not correspond to the English series in which "I remember" is found. And inversely, "remember, "though it clashes with the corresponding "pom-new" series, is connected with an English series of its own whenever real poets do use it [ ]This interrelation of words and non-correspondence of verbal series in different tongues suggests yet another rule, namely, that the three main words of the line draw one another out, and add something which none of them would have had separately or in any other combination. What makes this exchange of secret values possible is not only the mere contact between the words, but their exact position in regard both to the rhythm of the line and to one another. This must be taken into account by the translator." V.N ]

Brian Boyd: "The fact that you can’t find the poem in Verses and Versions, that Nabokov didn’t dare offer a version, makes his point: it’s a poem whose magic is particularly impossible to render in another language. The translation at the link you provide is reasonably accurate, or only meekly inaccurate, but of course it falls woefully short."

Jansy Mello: You mention an instance of Pushkin's verbal magic, one that cannot be rendered in another language. This implies that only those who are fluent in Russsian can grasp it. Fair enough. What poem in English, from Nabokov's work, would fall into this category? (considering what VN stated, somewhere in SO, a special sample of his prose could also fit the magic bill).

Anyway, I went to sleep pondering about V.Nabokov's Russian and English corresponding or not-corresponding series of words. Then I had the strangest dream. I was construing an addition, planning to register the total number of those household items I had before my eyes, but my results went astray whenever I plucked the wrong series of 3s, 5s or 7s from an infinite web, to represent them in my counting. The objects changed in shape and color or shifted monstruously, mocking my totals. Not only words, but also numbers were "polisemic" (if I may express myself in that way for, at least, that's how I finally managed to explain to myself what happened while I was dreaming..).

Actually, my hypnagogic wonderings about V.Nabokov refers to a supposition of mine, namely, that his synesthetic and multilingual abilities were responsible for the concept of a "Russian and an English series of words"and that, for most common readers, not only Pushkin's opening line, so full of Pushkin, so individual and harmonious was "individual" (intransmissible and ineffable) but also, that V.Nabokov's own particular evaluation could only be applicable to him or to very few other similarly endowed individual geniuses. Only those could grasp "perfection." Perhaps I'm wrong in my assumption that VN invented that thing about the different series of words, and any linguist can correct me here with a perfect quote. What do I know?

V.N himself shunned generalizations (what does "Russian ear" or "any artist", or "understand" mean in "is to the Russian ear most exciting and soothing — a paradoxical combination that any artist will understand.").
"O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts!" the poet John Keats once exclaimed. VN must have managed to live both lives - and to write about them, too. (in sum, his was a "complex Mind"...)

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