Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003484, Sat, 14 Nov 1998 14:23:40 -0800

1998 AATSEEL Nabokov Society Panel (fwd)
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>

Below are the abstracts for the upcoming conference in SF. The panel will
take place on Dec. 29, 1-3; in Renaissance Parc 55 Hotel (55 Cyril Magnin
Street -- Market at Fifth). The planned order of the papers is --

"Abusive Fidelity" or Faithful Abuse? Nabokov's Literal Translation and
Western and Russian Translation Theories

Julia Trubikhina, New York University

The paper singles out translation as a way of talking about literary
history and theory, philosophy and interpretation--an approach on various
occasions assumed by many scholars (de Man, Derrida, Blanchot, Deleuze and
Guattari, to name just a few). Specifically, it will focus on Nabokov's
approach to translation. Using his poem "On Translating 'Eugene
Onegin'"(1955) as a springboard, I will attempt to situate Nabokov's
translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (and, therefore, his theoretical
approach) within the larger context of Russian and Western translation
theories concerning fidelity and freedom.

As Parvis Emad suggests in his discussion of Heidegger and translation,
"from Cicero and Goethe to Walter Benjamin and beyond, conventional
'wisdom' about translation is plagued with the desire to have the words of
one language cover fully those of the other language." (Reading Heidegger.
Ed. by John Sallis.) Hence there are distinct positions with regard to the
possibility of translation and translatability: from the
"traduttore-traditore" approach, Cervantes's well-known metaphor for
translation in Don Quixote as tapestry viewed on the wrong side; to
Goethe's idea of translation in Westustlicher Diwan as existing not
instead of the original but rather in its place; to the post-structuralist
elimination of difference between writing and rewriting best illustrated
by the daunting effort of Borges's Pierre Menard.

Nabokov's theoretical triads concerning translation--in the foreword to
Onegin, he defined three modes of literary translation: paraphrastic,
lexical, and literal--derive both from the romantic tradition of
translation and the lasting influence of his reading of Hegel. The ideas
of the romantic aesthetic as a whole postulated in Hegel's Aesthetics,
come closest to the possiblity of the "absolute solution" or "absolute
identification" in translation. Novalis, in one of his fragments, also
identified three types of translation: grammatical, free (verundernd), and
mythical. Grammatical translations require only minimal discursive
abilities and have no artistic value. Free translation is understood as a
true romantic translation. But the ultimate form of translation for
Novalis is mythical translation that recreates not the work itself but its
ideal. Novalis does not provide examples of mythical translations; its
"helle Spuren," according to him, are found only in some critical
descriptions of works of art. The 19th-century romantic tradition that
nurtured the Russian school of translation suggested the existence of an
absolute, if unattainable, "ideal" translation. In his theoretical
translation principles, V. Zhukovskii, the founding father of Russian
romanticism, was close to the classicist and Karamzinists' positions
insofar as the "existence" of the ideal translation was concerned. The
difference was in the understanding of the nature of the ideal: in
classicism-objective and mimetic; in romanticism-subjective and
unattainable. The methods changed along with the change in this

Nabokov shares with romantics their contempt for the classicist
understanding of fidelity in its narrow, practical sense: only that which
in the original was close to the ideal as seen by the translator deserved
accuracy. Nabokov's anti-utilitarian literalness is profoundly romantic as
far as a romantic rebellion against the classicist "purposefulness" is
concerned, just as is Walter Benjamin's radical "no poem is intended for
the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener."
Nabokov's and Benjamin's preoccupation with the discourse of truth
(Nabokov's obssession with "honest/dishonest" translation) as well as the
superior status both of them attributed to translation as criticism have
the romantic origin. The notion of romantic irony, crucial for Benjamin,
also was instrumental for Nabokov in his fiction and translation (in equal
measure) because of its role in foregrounding ironic play, referentiality,
and intertextuality.

Just as Ezra Pound's "ideogrammatic," "re-energizing" translation method
was an extension of his vortex theory, Nabokov's approach was first an
outgrowth of the romantic tradition and later its countersurge. It is not
difficult to see that Nabokov's translation theory is at odds with the
Poundian influence that largely informed Western and especially
Anglo-American theory and practice in the 20th century. Nabokov's "servile
path" of fidelity in translation stands in sharp contrast to Poundian
defiant license in appropriating the classics for the sake of the
terseness of his own poetic word.

Having traced Benjamin's and Nabokov's theoretical origin to its romantic
roots, one cannot fail to notice, however, the vertiginous gap their
approach opens up between theory and practice. It is this tension that
makes it so hard to situate Nabokov's translation within the Russian and
Western traditions, which becomes especially clear in comparing Nabokov's
translation theory to the poststructuralist/deconstructionist theories of
language of de Man, Foucault, Derrida. The double vision of translation-of
translation that kills the original and still constantly rewrites it (thus
problematizing authorship), that both manifests and conceals, deferring
meaning in the play of intertextuality could easily be Nabokov's vision as
well. However this vision always confronts Nabokov's romantic and
unsatisfiable desire for absolute identification, for the "absolute
solution." It situates Nabokov in the perennial exile status of
"non-citizenship": in-between the Russian and English languages, Russian
and Western traditions, between theory and practice.

Author: Stephen Blackwell
Affiliation: University of Tennessee
Paper Title: A Typology of Homogeneity: Nabokov's Endings

The endings of Nabokov's novels bear striking similarities throughout
his career. In varying degrees and combinations, they all include
several of the following thematic and structural elements: departure,
escape, death; return to the beninning (circle), return to and revise
the beginning (spiral), new beginning, termination. The endings further
subdivide into those which imply an open-ended narrative and those which
imply a closed narrative. Certain endings, such as those of The Gift
and Pale Fire, serve as ironic variations or structural hyperextensions
of these basic forms. Without doubt, this narrative consistency reflects
Nabokov's fascination with the paradox of infinite experience within
finite existence. Starting from the perhaps surprising homogeneity in
the general structure of Nabokovian conclusions, this study explores the
linkages between narrative detail and closure in several novels with the
goal of creating a more nuanced typology of novelistic ends. This
approach bears directly upon the ways such vital topics as ethics, free
will, and metaphysics can be discussed Nabokov's oeuvre. Particular
attention is paid to The Defense, Glory, The Gift, and Pale Fire, with
references to several other novels and stories.
Author: Kirsten Rutsala
Affiliation: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne
Paper Title: Nabokov's Pnin: A Creative "Revision" of
Evgenij Onegin

Numerous critics have noted that <book>Pale Fire</book> in a sense
grew out of Nabokov's commentary on <book>Evgenij Onegin</book>: the
writer's own meticulous scholarly research becomes imaginatively
transformed into Kinbote's wild appropriation of Shade's poem. Less
directly, one may discover intriguing connections between <book>Evgenij
Onegin</book> and <book>Pnin</book>. Nabokov wrote <book>Pnin</book>
during the years 1953-55, or roughly midway through his work on
Pushkin. It is not unreasonable to suggest, therefore, that
Pushkin's novel in verse was never far from Nabokov's thoughts during
the composition of <book>Pnin</book> and may have informed this process to
a significant degree.
The intricate narrative stance in <book>Pnin</book> certainly
echoes that of <book>Evgenij Onegin</book>. In both novels, the narrators
bear more than a passing resemblance to their respective authors. The
narrator of <book>Evgenij Onegin</book> has written Pus+hachekkin's poems,
experienced exile like him, and has the same circle of friends. Similarly,
the narrator of <book>Pnin</book> was born in St. Petersburg in the spring
of 1899, becomes a well-known Anglo-Russian writer, and has a passion for
lepidoptera, all traits shared by Nabokov. The narrators cannot be strictly
identified with their creators, however, since they also function as
fictional characters, both of whom claim close friendships with the novels'
main characters. As one delves further, the narrative structure appears
still more complex and even paradoxical: despite their apparently fictional
status, the narrators at times become standard omnniscient narrators with
access to the inner lives of the other characters. The paradox of this
dual (or triple) position remains implicit in <book>Evgenij Onegin</book>
but becomes explicit in <book>Pnin</book>.
While Pus+hachekkin's narrator appears frequently, pausing the
action to indulge in numerous digressions, the narrator of
<book>Pnin</book> stays off-stage throughout much of the novel. He reveals
himself fully only in the final chapter, a move which causes the reader to
re assess all that has gone before. Of course, we acknowledge the
character Pnin to be a product of Nabokov's imagination. However, he turns
out to be a figure invented by the narrator as well, based on a slight
acquaintance with the "real" Pnin. Nabokov thus forces us to re-examine our
basic assumptions about the literary conventions of narrative. What makes
this particularly intriguing is that <book>Evgenij Onegin</book> is also
concerned with the tension between fiction and the reader's knowledge of an
author behind the text. Nabokov revisits the territory Pus+hachekkin
explores and takes the problem one step further by creating "an unreliable
first person omniscient narrator", to borrow Lucy Maddox's formulation
(<book>Nabokov's Novels in English</book>).
In this paper I will explore <book>Pnin</book> as a creative
revision of <book>Evgenij Onegin</book>; in other words, Nabokov's novel is
a re-examination and extension of some of the same issues found in
Pushkin's novel. In addition to a thorough examination of the role
of the narrator, I will analyze <book>Pnin</book> as, in some sense, an
inversion of <book>Evgenij Onegin</book> with a post-modern sensibility.
Thus, the innocent Pnin who remains faithful to his one true love may be
seen as a version of Tat'jana, while the cynical and thoughtless Liza is a
revision of Onegin (without Onegin's change of heart). Throughout the
paper I employ the technique of close textual analysis. My work is also
informed by critical studies such as Robert Alter's <book>Partial Magic:
The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre</book>.