NABOKV-L post 0026708, Fri, 18 Dec 2015 08:40:30 +0100

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] retranslating Pnin
I am not sure I made myself clear in my earlier posting about the
arduous task of translating "Pnin". I wasn't referring only to Nabokov's
attitude towards his protagonist (though it is hard to bear it when you
are spending long hours, days, months on the text) but also to the
torture I was experiencing while trying to make sense of his convolute
language, namely his floating syntax and the lack of overdetermination
in his use of verbs and adjectives at times. Polysemy is the rule in
human language, I know, but I am talking about something else here,
namely a certain lack of control on the part of the author.
Shocking!!!.... Translating "Lolita" and the other works, I never had
this impression. I am fully aware that part of the problem comes from
the difference between the two languages, English and French, but there
is more to it than that. The translator develops an idiosyncratic
relationship with the text that the ordinary reader and the critic will
never have. A better understanding? It all depends on his quality or
lack of as a linguist, a reader and a critic. Being such a great admirer
of Nabokov, I am venting here something of a disappointment.

Maurice Couturier

> Correction: in my last posting I mentioned a “crystal tureen” ( a
> “terrine” is originally crafted from “earth”) when I wanted to
> introduce the ringing transparency of an aquamarine bowl.
> The entire paragraph must be quoted in full because its meticulous
> information constructs the pattern of an unspeakable plodding pain.
> Contrary to M.Couturier’s vision of “sadism” what I encounter in
> “Pnin” is a rare exposition of Nabokov’s crude pain,  rendered
> in a way that I found in no other novel of his. The prolonged
> suspense, with its alternation of sound and ominous silence while the
> reader follows the destiny of Victor’s present to his “water
> father”*, is as cruel to us as it must have been to the poor
> bungling professor (and, in _B.S_., to poor Krug while we hear a moth
> beating against the window pane).
> “In the kitchen, Pnin prepared to wash up the dishes. He removed his
> silk coat, his tie, and his dentures. To protect his shirt front and
> tuxedo trousers, he donned a soubrette's dappled apron. He scraped
> various titbits off the plates into a brown paper bag, to be given
> eventually to a mangy little white dog, with pink patches on its back,
> that visited him sometimes in the afternoon — there was no reason a
> human's misfortune should interfere with a canine's pleasure.
>              He.prepared a bubble bath in the sink for the
> crockery, glass, and silverware, and with infinite care lowered the
> aquamarine bowl into the tepid foam. Its resonant flint glass emitted
> a sound full of muffled mellowness as it settled down to soak. He
> rinsed the amber goblets and the silverware under the tap, and
> submerged them in the same foam. Then he fished out the knives, forks,
> and spoons, rinsed them, and began to wipe them. He worked very
> slowly, with a certain vagueness of manner that might have been taken
> for a mist of abstraction in a less methodical man. He gathered the
> wiped spoons into a posy, placed them in a pitcher which he had washed
> but not dried, and then took them out one by one and wiped them all
> over again. He groped under the bubbles, around the goblets, and under
> the melodious bowl, for any piece of forgotten silver — and
> retrieved a nutcracker. Fastidious Pnin rinsed it, and was wiping it,
> when the leggy thing somehow slipped out of the towel and fell like a
> man from a roof. He almost caught it — his fingertips actually came
> into contact with it in mid-air, but this only helped to propel it
> into the treasure-concealing foam of the sink, where an excruciating
> crack of broken glass followed upon the plunge.
> Pnin hurled the towel into a comer and, turning away stood for a
> moment staring at the blackness beyond the threshold of the open back
> door. A quiet, lacy-winged little green insect circled in the glare of
> a strong naked lamp above Pnin's glossy bald head. He looked very old,
> with his toothless mouth half open and a film of tears dimming his
> blank, unblinking eyes.”
> ………………………………………………………………..
> *here our acquaintance with “aquamarine” and “water” begins in
> “Pnin” (its importance may be related to the blues in Ada, or
> Ardor)
> “There are some beloved women whose eyes, by a chance blend of
> brilliancy and shape, affect us not directly, not at the moment of shy
> perception, but in a delayed and cumulative burst of light when the
> heartless person is absent, and the magic agony abides, and its lenses
> and lamps are installed in the dark. Whatever eyes Liza Pnin, now
> Wind, had, they seemed to reveal their essence, their precious-stone
> water, only when you evoked them in thought, and then a blank, blind,
> moist aquamarine blaze shivered and stared as if a spatter of sun and
> sea had got between your own eyelids.”
> Here we are introduced to the “water father”: “…'but I must
> tell you I don't love Eric any more. Our relations have disintegrated.
> Incidentally, Eric dislikes his child. He says he is the land father
> and you, Timofey, are the water father.'
> Pnin started to laugh: he rolled with laughter, the rather juvenile
> rocker fairly cracking under him. His eyes were like stars and quite
> wet.”
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