Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026776, Fri, 8 Jan 2016 15:06:14 -0200

ophiological chill, ghosts... differences in translation
PS to: “A.Sklyarenko’s highlights brought up the Russian reference to “ophiology” (the study of serpents) that is absent in the English translation and, indirectly, another word based on zoology (“elytra” found in beetles and scarabs) came up, too: while describing the yellow automobile, V.Nabokov borrows images that suggest flight (like the mythological Icarus and insects like beetles) intermingled with stationary eggs and writhing reptiles. Why did he blend such forms, bringing together the vertebrate and invertebrate worlds? I tried to reach a composite image to accompany the narrator’s mood and, voilà, I fantasized a flying dragon, a winged snake and a host of hybrids but settled on the wings of an Atlas moth with its scary serpent heads on the tip of its wings (a playful allusion in the midst of tragedy?).

Jansy Mello: I wondered about the importance of the Atlas Moth for Nabokov and my search reminded me that it already appears in his early “Christmas” . The tortuous way to reach the moth (moving from flying invertebrates to the vertebrates) might be a misconstruction of mine - but it could offer a pertinent hidden image. In the text I found in the internet [Cf. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/03/nabokovs-supernatural-secret], the suggestion of “life after death” or of “resurrection” reinforces the possibility of VN’s intentional allusion to this gigantic, mouthless and short-lived moth in connection to his mystical love for … “loving Nina”:

“Nabokov was quite adamant in rejecting the suggestion that his lepidoptery was anything but a purely scientific passion; it was, as far as he was concerned, wholly uncorrupted by the pathetic need to see butterflies as symbols of the spiritual within nature, or as trite metaphors for the immortal soul. But I only half-believe him. For instance, an Atlas moth breaking from its cocoon at the end of his early short story “Christmas” serves as a fairly straightforward image of life beyond death. As stridently as Nabokov the artist proclaimed his repugnance for facile symbolisms, the butterflies that throng his fictions often appear to be more than incidentally associated with moments where the partition between worlds seems particularly thin. And certainly he could not have been insensible to what is so deeply evocative about a holometabolous species whose transfiguration from a humbly earthbound larva into a winged and gloriously lovely imago is achieved by way of a kind of death, entombment, and resurrection.”

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