NABOKV-L post 0026735, Thu, 24 Dec 2015 11:42:45 +0100

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] retranslating
I must thank you, Joseph Aisenberg, for reacting, if not responding, to
my mails about “Pnin”. Perhaps you didn’t read them all. Here is the
opening of the previous one:

“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.”

For instance, I had in mind his frequent use of adjectives like “mild,
dull, dim, neutral, melancholy” and so on and so forth. Joseph, please
try to translate a few passages from the opening chapters in a language
of your choice, I think you’ll eventually come to agree with me.

As for Nabokov’s brand of sadism against the protagonists and various
subjects (the evocation of psychoanalysis in my mails may have
infuriated you), I don’t think I invented it. Of course, I totally agree
with you when you say that Pnin is “a noble heroic being who has kept
his humanity”, and Nabokov clearly meant us to understand that; and the
comparison with Lolita is appropriate in this respect. But I still think
that Nabokov describes Pnin’s many misadventures with a certain
complacency, though I don’t blame him for doing that; it makes the story
all the more poignant. I had not felt that, I must say, until I started
translating this novel which I have been reading and rereading for over
forty years.

Nabokov wasn’t a saint, contrary to what you (and others) seem to think,
he was a monumental artist and a genius endowed with a tremendous
intelligence, a strong aesthetic cum moral sense, a resourceful
imagination, an encyclopedic knowledge, and above average desires,
sexual and otherwise, with which he fueled his novels. He was acutely
aware of it and acknowledged it on a few occasions, as for instance when
he gave the following answer to an interviewer who had asked him if
there was not a “strain of perversity amounting to cruelty” in a novel
like “Laughter in the Dark”: “I don’t know. Maybe. Some of my characters
are, no doubt, pretty beastly, but I really don’t care, they are outside
my inner self like the mournful monsters of a cathedral façade – demons
placed there merely to show that they have been booted out. Actually,
I’m a mild old gentleman who loathes cruelty.” No one ever accused him
of committing such cruel acts, of course; he only performed heartless
gestures occasionally (who does not?), like denouncing his brother’s
homosexuality or scornfully snubbing people he didn’t like. His
uncompromising attitude, usually phrased in grating terms, towards every
possible subject, from politics to regional literature or this or that
writer, gives evidence of an inner violence that needed to be expressed,
expelled. Great literature like his is made neither of “general ideas,”
which, as he said, are “dans la gazette d’hier,” nor of “bons
sentiments,” but of passion, of internal conflicts, and, above all, of a
sublime poetic language.

Did I really fail to get “into the spirit” of this novel, Joseph? I

Le 2015-12-22 16:26, joseph Aisenberg a écrit :
> I don't think Couturier has gotten into the spirit of this novel,
> quite. Nabokov has taken the unreliable narrator used in Lolita and
> tried to alter this device so that the effects are not as acutely
> grotesque and obvious as that obtained with a maniac telling the tale.
> Still, we're meant to question the Nabokov narrator of Pnin, to
> quibble with him, find our own more sympathetic version of Pnin behind
> the back of the author, whose veracity and ethics are questioned at
> every turn--and for similar reasons to that of Lolita. Just as Lolita
> comes to seem a brave, witty and amazingly together woman when you
> understand her against what Humbert records about her, we find that
> Pnin, seen through the gags and the humiliations Nabokov inflicts on
> the poor man is in fact a noble heroic being who's kept his humanity,
> his standards and his compassion through all the terrible losses he's
> suffered. But Nabokov the actual author of the book wishes us to
> experience this pathos in a special way. He doesn't just lay it all
> out for us, but forces us to do a lot of the work of feeling for
> ourselves, correctly eschewing cheaply had emotions which so often
> turn insipid and self-congratulatory in mediocre works. Meaning what
> we, through our imaginative participation, contribute to the novel,
> has been deliberately conceived to give our feelings a depth and
> artistic satisfaction one does not experience when reading about the,
> say, sickeningly sentimentalized suicide of Sybil Vane in The Picture
> of Dorian Gray. It's the fear of easy sentimentality that motors
> Nabokov's technique, because in life we're not usually spoon fed how
> to feel for others--Nabokov the artist knows that to really feel
> something you have to be curious, observant and have the imagination
> to put yourself in someone else's shoes, even if they don't fit the
> stereotype of a worthy person. This is why Edmund Wilson thought that
> the novel turned sentimental at the end, believing Nabokov had merely
> tried to cheat his way to an "unearned" pathos through the feint of
> having himself insult his own hero. (Though Wilson also saw in this a
> form of Sadism, which I think is ridiculous. I see no connection
> between a specific pathological condition such as Sadism and the
> devices of a crafty narrator. Pathologizing the elements of story
> telling has always seemed strange and meaningless to me.)
> In addition, Couturier is wrong, there are in fact several sympathetic
> characters in the novel. Joan, the wife of the professor with whom
> Pnin lives for awhile in the early chapters is a very sensitive person
> who shows genuine concern and kindness to Pnin, trying to help him
> weather the pain of having lost his awful faithless wife. And of
> course poor Victor Wind, the child abandoned by both mother and
> father, who loves Pnin so much he gives him the precious crystal bowl,
> which, as Boyd has pointed out, survives a near extinction in a
> kitchen sink to give Pnin pleasure. And finally, Nabokov claimed in an
> interview that he admired Pnin as a person more than any of his other
> characters, seconded only by Lolita. Why would he say this if he
> didn't want us to like the character. I think this is very obvious in
> the book. What's odd is his appearance in Pale Fire described as a
> martinet.
> On Monday, December 21, 2015 10:14 PM, Maurice Couturier
> <Maurice.COUTURIER@UNICE.FR> wrote:
> That Nabokov “reacted with outrage to Don Quixote’s cruelty” and
> conceived Pnin as “a reply to Cervantes” as Brian Boyd explains is
> undeniable, yet there is a clear difference between Cervantes’s
> cruelty
> and his own. Don Quixote is an intensely metafictional novel as all
> the
> thresholds, the paratexts of the original edition, the narrative
> asides,
> testify. Not only is it a parody of the novels of chivalry like Amadis
> de Gaul, it is a found text which was allegedly written in Arabic and
> translated afterwards, in which a confused man deliberately assumes a
> role for which he is totally unfit. Despite his many blunders and
> mishaps, he isn’t suffering from an inferiority complex, contrary to
> Pnin: he thinks his approach to the world is the right one, and none
> of
> the disasters will teach him a lesson. He is above all a distorting
> mirror reflecting the world he lives in. The cruelty of which he seems
> to be the target is mild in comparison with the one Pnin is suffering
> from. The plight of Nabokov’s protagonist is closer to that of
> Gregor
> Samsa. Pnin, like Gregor, is acutely aware of his inadequacy and
> vainly
> tries to adapt himself to the world he lives in, suffering countless
> humiliations as he fails to do so. And the vicious narrator does
> little
> to make us sympathize with him or with anybody in fact. His treatment
> of
> the Winds or of many subjects like modern education, modern painting
> and
> psychology of one kind or another is on a par with that of Pnin. This
> narrator, who obliquely reflects Nabokov’s sneering figure at that
> particular moment in his life (and for which I have no explanation),
> seems to be using his protagonist to vent his own discontent and
> sadism.
> Jansy, just look carefully at the opening chapter or at the opening of
> part 5 of Chapter 4 and try to translate them, and you’ll see what I
> mean. Thank you, anyway, for pursuing this discussion.
> Maurice Couturier
>> PS to wiki’s: "According to Boyd, _Pnin_ is Nabokov's response to_
>> __Don Quixote_ which he had read a year earlier. Nabokov lambasted
>> Cervantes for his cruelty to Quixote, seeming to encourage the
> reader
>> to be amused by the eponymous character's pain and humiliation. The
>> title of the book, Boyd claims, lends even more credence to this
>> theory, as it sounds like and nearly spells "pain.” (Boyd, AY,
>> 1991,p.271-72). To my non-native English speaking eyes (and ears)
> the
>> wiki redaction cited above is disconcertingly ambiguous since it
> seems
>> to suggest that, for B. Boyd, it was Nabokov’s intention “to
>> encourage the reader to be amused by…,” when it’s exactly the
>> opposite that he observes (“_ __But if the opening of Pnin__
>> __appears__ __to ask us to hoot at the novel’s hero,__ __ Nabokov
>> suddenly turns the story about [ ] He has a complex inner existence
>> Don Quixote is never allowed, and his pain suddenly matters.
>> Mistake-prone Pnin comes to sum up all human mishaps and
> misfortunes,
>> the strange blend of comedy and tragedy in all human life._”).
> This
>> kind of false shock has never happened with me while reading_
> __Pnin_:
>> my confusions were always Pnin’s confusions and I always thought
>> that they’d been deliberately planted in the novel by the author
>> JANSY MELLO: A query about the narrator in_ Pnin … _was he not
>> Pnin’s fellow countryman and coeval? If so, why isn’t he as
>> afflicted as Pnin was when expressing his thoughts in English and
>> dominating the pace of the novel with the same agility as those
> other
>> “foreigners,” like HH and Kinbote? Pnin was more familiar with
>> the French, while living in Europe, than with the English, right?
>> (I’ve forgotten too much…)
>> Recently, I sent a quiz to the VN-L where readers were invited to
>> recognize Nabokov’s lines in _Lolita, _among others that were
>> written by Ed Sheran in “Thinking out loud”*. I tried to make my
>> choices and made one shameful mistake on item 7 (“don't cry, I'm
>> sorry to have deceived you so much, but that's how life is”). It
>> occurred to me later on that these lines are one of the few that
>> were not written by HH - since they report Lolita’s words to him.
>> “My” _Lolita_ is exclusively HH’s - I mean, V. Nabokov’s.
> …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
>> *;bab69023.1512
> [1]
>> [1]
>> Google Search [2]
>> the archive [2] Contact
>> the Editors NOJ [3]
>> Zembla [4]
>> Nabokv-L [5]
>> Policies [5] Subscription options [6]
>> AdaOnline [7]
>> NSJ Ada Annotations [8]
>> L-Soft Search the archive [9]
>> VN Bibliography Blog [10]
>> All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.
>> Links:
>> ------
>> [1]
>;bab69023.1512 [1]
>> [2]
> [2]
>> [3] [3]
>> [4] [4]
>> [5] [5]
>> [6] [6]
>> [7] [7]
>> [8] [8]
>> [9] [9]
>> [10] [10]
> Search archive with Google:
> [11]
> Contact the Editors:,
> Zembla: [4]
> Nabokv-L policies: [12]
> Nabokov Online Journal:" [3]
> AdaOnline: " [7]
> The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada:
> [8]
> The VN Bibliography Blog: [10]
> Search the archive with L-Soft:
> [9]
> Manage subscription options
> : [6]
> Google Search [13]
> the archive [13] Contact
> the Editors NOJ [14]
> Zembla [4]
> Nabokv-L [5]
> Policies [5] Subscription options [6]
> AdaOnline [7]
> NSJ Ada Annotations [8]
> L-Soft Search the archive [9]
> VN Bibliography Blog [10]
> All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.
> Links:
> ------
> [1];bab69023.1512
> [2]
> [3]
> [4]
> [5]
> [6]
> [7]
> [8]
> [9]
> [10]
> [11]
> [12]
> [13]
> [14]

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Nabokv-L policies:
Nabokov Online Journal:"
AdaOnline: "
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada:
The VN Bibliography Blog:
Search the archive with L-Soft:

Manage subscription options :