Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0012038, Thu, 10 Nov 2005 19:26:57 -0800

Merriam-Webster Nov. 10, 2005 Word of the Day: "carceral"
EDnote. Thanks to Nikita Danilov for locating the "carceral" passage . I
reproduce both the Russian and English below. The phrase in question is an
interesting example of VN (and DN) in the translation process. The Russian
тюремного контрапункта (tyuremnyi kontrapunkt) adjoins the ordinary
"tyuremnyi" (adj. "prison" to the imported "kontrapunkt"). The English
"carceral counterpoint" adjoins a very exotic "carceral" with the relatively
common "counterpoint." [Also note the shared stress pattern /... /... ]
(DN did the translation which was revised by VN. The MS is at the Berg
collection.) I have not compared the two on this point but I suspect that
the exotic "carceral" (from the Latin and French) was chosen in part due to
the common Russian word "kartser" (cell) so as to preserve assonance with
"counterpoint" (kontrapunkt).

I append the OED entry on "Carceral" which Nabokovian Abdellah Buazza
pointed out in The Nabokovian some years ago. Interestingly, the OED used
the sentence from Invitation to a Beheading as one of its examples as
remarked by Matt Evans.

"Of or belonging to a prison.
1563-87 FOXE A. & M. (1596) I. 605/2 Released from his carceral indurance.
1656 in BLOUNT. 1678-96 in PHILLIPS. 1909 Westm. Gaz. 5 Jan. 2/1 Any
punishment, carceral or otherwise. 1960 V. NABOKOV Invit. to Beheading xix.
191 The [prison] door opened, whining, rattling and groaning in keeping with
all the rules of carceral counterpoint.

I suppose the moral of all this is that VN's knowledge of the French term
and its Russian derivative lead him to the "carceral", a very rare word in
English.[ad. L. carcerlis, f. carcer prison.] It is perhaps, inter alia,
this sort of "linguistic cross contamination" that led VN to so many rare
words in his English usage --a feature that led to one of Edmund Wilson
complaints about VN's Eugene Onegin translation.

----- Forwarded message from nikita@clusterfs.com -----
> Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2005 00:26:22 +0300
> From: Nikita Danilov <nikita@clusterfs.com>
> Reply-To: Nikita Danilov <nikita@clusterfs.com>
> Subject: Re: Fwd: Merriam-Webster Nov. 10, 2005 Word of the Day:
> "carceral"
> To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

> > EDNOTE. Can someone find "carceral counterpoint" in Invitation to a
> > Beheading? I'm curious about the original Russian.
> Chapter XIX:
> ----[koi8 encoding start]----собирался опять сесть за стол, как вдруг
> заскрежетал ключ в замке и, визжа, гремя и скрипя по всем правилам
> тюремного контрапункта, отворилась дверь.

"...he was about to sit down at the table again when the key scraped in the
lock and the door opened whining, rattling and groaning in keeping with all
the rules of carceral counterpoint."

> ----[koi8 encoding stop ]----
> "carceral counterpoint" is literally "tyuremnyi kontrapunkt".
> > -------------------------------------------
> >
> > ----- Forwarded message from mevans@fiber.net -----
> > Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2005 08:45:05 -0700
> > From: Matt Evans <mevans@fiber.net>
> > Reply-To: Matt Evans <mevans@fiber.net>
> > Subject: Merriam-Webster Nov. 10, 2005 Word of the Day
> > To:
> >
> > Don, This VN name-check might be of passing interest to Nabokovians.
> >
> > Did you know?
> > Describing a painting of John Howard visiting a prison in 1787, writer
> > Robert Hughes reminds us that Howard was "the pioneer of English
> > carceral reform" (Time Magazine, November 11, 1985). Hughes might have
> > said "prison reform," but what about Vladimir Nabokov, when, in his
> > inimitable prose, he describes a prison scene in Invitation to a
> > Beheading: "The door opened, whining, rattling and groaning in keeping
> > with all the rules of carceral counterpoint." Here we find "carceral"
> > not only practical but practically. Quotation is garbled: the quoted
> > text does not start the sentence in the
text, and, hence, is not started with the capital letter.

> > poetical. An adjective borrowed directly from Late Latin, "carceral"
> > appeared shortly after "incarcerate" ("to imprison"), which first showed
> > up in English around the mid-1500s; they're both ultimately from
> > "carcer," Latin for "prison."
> >
> > *Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence

> Nikita.