Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021092, Sat, 25 Dec 2010 12:24:39 -0200

[NABOKOV-L] MERRY CHRISTMAS: Why translations matter...
Dear List,

On offer, for Xmas-season shoppings, there's a new translation of "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" in Portuguese, as disgraceful as the former one: "O Original de Laura" & by the same versionist. There's been a little publicity about it on line*. It's a shame that those who are going to read Nabokov for the first time in Brazil will now reach him by such careless, insensitive works, in contrast with the excellent translations by European-Portuguese artists (Telma Costa, ed. Teorema, for example). In RLSK we read "My first impression of him is always a breathless one of suddenly soaring up from the floor, one half of my toy train still dangling from my hand and the crystal pendants of the chandelier dangerously near my head." In Brazilian-Portuguese, breathless is presented as "out of breath" ( "Minha primeira impressão dele é sempre de uma subida súbita e sem fôlego do chão, metade do trem de brinquedo ainda pendurada de minha mão e os pingentes do lustre de cristal perigosamente próximos de minha cabeça.") The fun, for me, derives from the realization that there are various kinds of breathlessness in English ( a surprised gasp, to be out of breath, a breathtaking scenery, etc) and that, in Portuguese, there's not a one-word option for the kind of "intake of air,"applied by Nabokov in RLSK. Nabokov's style loses its shimmering varicolors and his music becomes mainly a "massig" or a "staccato."

There is a very good review of "Why Translation Matters" by Edith Grossman, in The New York Times (April 11, 2010) with the title "Duet for Two Pens," by Richard Howard, which I recommend for those who are interested in this subject. Curiously, the name of Vladimir Nabokov is absent when translations of the Russians is mentioned by R.Howard.

Excerpts: Does translation matter? Edith Grossman's new book argues that it does, right in the title, and she ought to know....one of the first texts in Yale's energetic new series, Why X Matters, each volume of which is to present a "concise argument for the continuing relevance of an important person or idea." Certainly when X equals translation, I can imagine no defender more qualified - or, as it turns out, more querulous - than Grossman, whose version of "Don Quixote" a few years back caused a sensation in the shadowy realm of newly translated classics, and whose ulterior dealings with Hispanic splendors, ancient and modern, have stirred even so mild-mannered an assessor of cultural accomplishments as Harold Bloom to proclaim her, ominously enough, the Glenn Gould of translators.
Once she (Grossman) blows the froth of professional courtesy off her brew, is the drastic inadequacy of the treatment generally offered to translated literature in this country. ..translators are fated to imbibe is the redeeming awareness that despite all the insults and impositions translation sustains in our culture, it is crucial to our sense of ourselves as human. Grossman is at her eloquent best... when she reveals her joy in her work and her true inspiration: "Where literature exists, translation exists. Joined at the hip, they are absolutely inseparable, and, in the long run, what happens to one happens to the other. Despite all the difficulties the two have faced, sometimes separately, usually together, they need and nurture each other, and their long-term relationship, often problematic but always illuminating, will surely continue for as long as they both shall live." ...Translation's fate must be determined in those ears and minds, not in the offices of various foundations and publishers; hence her essay...Her clues, seeded throughout this essay, as to how to go about creating, completing and correcting a translation as an authentic work in another language (she writhes at the metaphor of "the target language") are exactly what a reader, especially a nontranslating reader, requires. Meanwhile, in spite of the cruel and unusual punishment that translation faces in the culture at large, Grossman and others like her continue to offer us enlightenment. Gradually and laboriously, a genuine contemporary achievement in the teaching and consequent production of translations of classical European literature, particularly poetry, has flourished, or at least sprouted, in the last decade. The Greek translations of Guy Davenport and Anne Carson; half a dozen versions of "The Divine Comedy," including translations from W. S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky and Mary Jo Bang; Rika Lesser's inspired versions of the Swedish poets Ekelof and Sonnevi; translations of virtually the entire corpus of the great 19th-century Russians by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which smoothly correct the odd imbalance of Constance Garnett's peculiar effort to make all Russian authors sound alike; and quite recently the surprising restoration of Thomas Mann by John Woods (who captures Mann's endemic humor, transforming every great tome into an ironic treasury). Against the odds, all these gifts have come our way in recent years. We have also been vouchsafed an enormous and quite unsuspected library of Portuguese and Spanish poetry (from Richard Zenith's Pessoa to John Felstiner's Neruda), which returns me to Edith Grossman's poetry of the Golden Age; her last chapter is called, without the shadow of an apology, "Translating Poetry." Here Grossman triumphs over her resentments of our culture's scandalous abuse of translation. Her account of what she calls "the endless quandary of writing and of writing as a translator" is passionately explored and patiently explained... translation matters because it is an expression and an extension of our humanity, the secret metaphor of all literary communication; and because the creation of any literary translation is (or at least must be) an original writing, not a pathetic shadow or tracing of the inaccessible "original" but the creation, indeed, of a second - and as we have seen, a third and a ninth - but always a new work, in another language.

* Links
www.objetiva.com.br/livro_ficha.php?id=892 -
www.travessa.com.br/...SEBASTIAN_KNIGHT/.../cc8aa63a-7765-4ce4-a5c1 -f18e3e6acbaf -
Nabokov satiriza ficções policiais em "A Verdadeira Vida de Sebastian Knight" 24/10/2010 www.Folha.com

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