More excerpts from going on
Jerry Katsell ( to CK) If you can't recognize
a knife job by a reviewer, Nemser, intent upon heaping dung and snide innuendo
upon Nabokov to make his own name, then your finding that the review is
"flawless" is itself fatally flawed.By the way, Vladimir Markov was my beloved
teacher also, and in the year I was his research assistant he never claimed to
have found Derzhavin's acrostic (Ruina chti). It surely had been noticed by many
in the last couple of centuries.
J.Katsell): If I can't agree with you then I am fatally flawed?
[...]I did use the word "flawless" as hyperbole, by the way.I studied with
Professor Markov from 1970 to 1974 [...] he mentioned the Derzhavin acrostic
once - - I would assume in a course on eighteenth century literature [...] He
really did claim he deserved to win a Nobel Prize - - I didn't make that
J.Aisenberg: Nabokov's concept of
translation[...] is an issue for debate, one that questions the ultimate value
of any kind of translation whatsoever, though I suppose that this is just mere
rhetoric since nobody's going to give up on it. Also, in terms of Nemser, he
compared and contrasted a couple e.g.'s of other author's translated verses
against N.'s, preferring the other author's attempts. Neither were exactly great
shakes to this English reader's ear, but Nabokov's at least had the virtue of
being sharper, more economical, and more rhythmic. Well not the ones from
Onegin. To Nemser's credit[...]he actually demonstrated a little style and wit
without falling into that typical kind of debilitating cuteness that mars so
Friedman: If I may go off on a tangent--"O God, Our Help" is
by Isaac Watts[...]the imagery is from Psalm 90 (89 in the Vulgate).
The image of time like a river is from verse 5, and I imagine Derzhavin got it
from the same source.
Sergei Soloviev: I should notice
(for all our "amateurs" of acrostichs etc) that in this case the acrostich is
not perfect from the point of view of a russian reader - it looks doubtful even
that Derzhavin was conscious that it is there[...][ eight lines is very short
poem, and an approximative acrostich with doubtful meaning may very well be
A.Sklyarenko (to CK) I know about
the acrostic. I doubt that it was intended by Derzhavin (although it is true
that Derzhavin liked acrostics and had composed one or two of them in the past).
Khodasevich's theory, according to which Derzhavin's eight lines are a beginning
of an unfinished poem, is very convincing. By the way, the poem's imagery was
influenced by the picture "The River of Time, ot the Emblematic Representation
of the World History" that hung on the wall of Derzhavin's room.[...] If it is
an acrostic after all, I suggest it is an unfinished..
M.Roth: I'm not sure how much it matters, but Sergei
Davydov says the acrostic (insomuch as it exists) was "discovered by Morris
Halle." See here:
JM: After exagerations and
hyperboles (Katsell's "...noticed by many in the last couple of
centuries"; CK's "flawless," for example) I learned that,
from the point of view of the Russian reader, Derzhavin's acrostic might be
considered "not perfect", "accidental", "unfinished." So,
either V.Markov's comment in class was a joke
or another exageration: Kunin's testimony is valid anyway!
SKB's pointing out the similarity bt. Psalm 90 ( "O God
our help") and Derzhavin's last lines is
as important as it was for me to learn that D. might have been
influenced by a picture hanging on the wall in his room. Somewhere else in
the Old Testament ( Ecclesiastes?) we hear that "there's nothing new under the
sun" and, even so, repetition and kryptomnesia may be often
enlightening to an observer, to distinguish it from dated experiences inspired
by a vast common source.
Nemser mentions VN's "sadism" towards the reader when
he quotes Edmund Wilson who "goes on to assault Nabokov ...;
accuses him of harboring 'sado-masochistic Dostoevskian tendencies' with which
he 'seeks to torture both the reader and himself by flattening Pushkin out and
denying to his own powers the scope for their full play' [...] The piece was so
hostile and far-fetched that one reader wrote in proposing that the review had
been crafted by Nabokov himself, as an appendix to Pale Fire. Like Wilson's review, Nabokov's rejoinder was wildly
sharp..." From my relatively modest position I consider Nemser's
reference very apt ( we may attribute the excess to E.W).
Nabokov's main characters are often cruel and sadistic
("Laughter in the Dark", "Lolita", etc). Nevertheless he keeps them
under control as his "galley-slaves," and this project
is sometimes be extended to the reader. If this
"control" becomes a fundamental element in a novel, part of
a dialectic and level for the interaction bt. novel, author, reader, this
is not equally applicable to translations. In the latter, too many
objective and factual informations engulf the more delicate subjective reaction
to what words always convey ( form, sound, texture,
rythm) concerning what exceeds their own ( the word's) power to
VN's French article about Pushkin, and his
non-literal translation of one of his poems, brings out a different Nabokov
who, perhaps, trusts more his reader's ability to access the
"otherwordly" verbal dimension that permeates his work.
What would have caused such a radical change in Nabokov?