Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024787, Sat, 9 Nov 2013 09:44:57 -0800

Re: [QUERY] Pushkin in LRL
Dear Jansy,

I can't explain Nabokov's explanations since I don't have access to "The Art of Translation" - the wickedness of wikipedia is something you'll have to look up for yourself. I have been looking through Eric Naiman's book on "Nabokov, Perversely" and I should re-name it "Nabokov, Smuttily." I can't quite bring myself to write such things myself to the list. Wikipedia on Pushkin's poem is easily qoogleable - myself can't write it - same reason.


p.s. the John Bailey whose book on Pushkin I crave, is more famous for his memoirs of his wife Iris Murdoch (somewhat perverse herself) in her dotage. I have often wondered why Bailey hasn't written on Nabokov - I don't think he thinks very highly of him. There have been a few mentions, I believe, but nothing serious. Too bad - with his great knowledge of European, and more specifically Russian, literature, he should understand VN better than most.

This reminds me that I have found Nabokov's lectures on literature sub-par on the whole. Useful for understanding him sometimes, but not particularly wonderful in and of themselves. The English is particularly shoddy at times. Don't all jump on me at once, I'm coming down with a sore throat.

From: Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>
Sent: Friday, November 8, 2013 8:03 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] [QUERY] Pushkin in LRL

Carolyn Kunin [to
JM] Brian Boyd is quite right, the poem is completely untranslatable.
Where exactly the magic lies is hard to say, but surely it is partly in the
simplicity and beauty of the structure, and the structure is based on Russian
idioms which are by definition not translatable. The same is true of the
marvelous examples of onomatopoeia. The subject is not Anna Kern, nor even love,
but the effect of age and loss of memory, which is in the end overcome by the
return of the vision which accompanies the poet's re-awakening [to youthful
feeling? to life?]. Actually it is more than a bit ambiguous*.[*By the
way the article on the poem in Wikipedia has something particularly wicked to
say about it!]
Jansy Mello: I'm certain
that B.Boyd must be right about the untranslatability of Pushkin's magic in his
poem "to K***,  just as I trust your opinion about the poem's
structure and its reliance on Russian idioms in a relation to that effect.
What puzzles me are VN's explanations
about this magic in "The Art of Translation," when he treats
what his sensibility to the verbal domain reveals ( i.e his
subjective reactions) as if they were objectively verifiable by everyone
else. He even questiones the
expression "literal translation," describing it as something
that's "more or less nonsense" (when  magic
and perfection come together through words, of course).*  while
he introduces the conception of the non-corresponding series of
words in Russian and in English.  I'm also interested in hearing
about other "perfect" poems, by Nabokov or another poet
besides Pushkin.
You didn't explain what lies
in wikipedia's "wicked" information about the poem. Its subject might have been Anna Kern, love and the
poet's need to recover the sensations related to her  presence to find
life worth living...Why are you are so categorical about its being merely
related to "the effect of age and loss of memory,etc.,"  when we
know that he died in his late thirties?
What a curious coincidence. You mentioned
John Bailey in your reply to the posting where I quoted John
Keats' letter to someone who's also named Bailey (Benjamin Bailey,
Nov. 22, 1817) Perhaps one of them is a Bayley.
* - In his article in
French about "truth and the semblance of
truth" he is equally suggestive about the ineffables that, in LRL, he
associates to "magic". Nevertheless, as in its title, instead of "magic" he
chose the word "truth" and he dared to offer a non-literal translation of one of
Pushkin's poems.  
Cf. the bibliographical reference
for  " Le Vrai et le Vraisemblable" in La Nouvelle revue
française, 1937, was obtained at http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/vncrit8.htm 
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