Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024788, Sun, 10 Nov 2013 09:47:00 -0200

The literary ineffables and the untranslatables
It's popularly said among Portuguese speakers that there's an untranslatable word in our language for sufferings related to an unspecified absence: "saudades."
However, as it's the case of poets of genius (like Dante and Shakespeare), who have the ability to add "something that goes deeper" to a word, I read that the particular emotional glow of "saudades" was engendered by Luís Vaz de Camões (who wrote about sea explorers, like Vasco da Gama, in his epic "Os Lusíadas") after reading an entry at the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1968)" :

"So profound was the anguish he experienced because of his exile from home and the trials he underwent, that it became an integral part of his being, enabling him to give to saudade-soledad ("yearning fraught with loneliness") a new and convincing undertone unique in Portuguese literature."

If V.Nabokov didn't indicate one such "untranslatable" word created by Pushkin (and perhaps he did?), he certainly pointed at an entire poem. Would these considerations fit into Nivat's interpretation of V.Nabokov's vision of "Art is God without the word God" [ "L'art, c'est Dieu sans le mot Dieu" ]*.

V.Nabokov himself refers to "saudades," but not from having read the "Os Lusíadas" in Portuguese. He was coping with Miguel de Cervantes and "Don Quixote" [Lectures on Quixote (69)]:
"The wretched sense of poverty mingles with his general dejection and he finally goes to bed, moody and heavy-hearted. Is it only Sancho´s absence and the burst threads of his stockings that induce this sadness, this Spanish soledad, this Portuguese saudades, this French angoisse, this German Sensucht, this Russian toska? We wonder - we wonder if it does not go deeper".

As we can see, V.Nabokov has initially offered various words that could serve a translator (they'd express "equivalent feelings" related to loneliness, longing and loss) but, next, he referred to something else that "goes deeper.", an ineffable kernel that could be allied to inspiration.**

* - Jeff Edmunds: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/vncrit8.htm
** - Maria Popova and VN quotes: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/06/17/nabokov-inspiration-1972/
"He then affirms the notion that creativity is subtraction, echoing legendary French polymath Henri Poincare's famous credo that 'to invent is to choose and speaking to the essential role of editing, or filtering, inspiration': "This is, of course, where inspiration comes in. The words which on various occasions, during some fifty years of composing prose, I have put together and then canceled may have formed by now in the Realm of Rejection (a foggy but not quite unlikely land north of nowhere) a huge library of scrapped phrases, characterized and concorded only by their wanting the benison of inspiration." This, he argues, is closely related to why great literature sings to us:"No wonder, then, that a writer who is not afraid to confess that he has known inspiration and can readily distinguish it from the froth of a fit, as well as from the humdrum comfort of the 'right word,' should seek the bright trace of that thrill in the work of fellow authors. The bolt of inspiration strikes invariably: you observe the flash in this or that piece of great writing, be it a stretch of fine verse, or a passage in Joyce or Tolstoy, or a phrase in a short story, or a spurt of genius in the paper of a naturalist, of a scholar, or even in a book reviewer's article. I have in view, naturally, not the hopeless hacks we all know - but people who are creative artists in their own right, such as, say, Trilling (with his critical opinions I am not concerned), or Thurber (e.g. in Voices of Revolution: 'Art does not rush to the barricades')."

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