Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002279, Sun, 10 Aug 1997 12:46:54 -0700

Hofstadter in VN's shade (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. Peter Kartsev <petr@glas.apc.org>, a professional
Russian-English translator living in Moscow, below questions the value of
airing Hofstadter's (anti-Nabokovian) views on translation. Mary Krimmel's
survey of the VN-related portions of Hofstadter's book performs a useful
service for those of us who are interested in translation practice and
theory. Most readers of VN do not know Russian and, unlike Peter Kartsev,
have little knowledge of translation issues. If nothing else,
Hofstadter's book serves to raise general awareness of the problems. I
thank both MAry Krimmel and Peter Kartsev for their contributions.

From: Peter Kartsev:

I wonder if Hofstadter's numerous mentions of VN and his work are really
worth that much attention? It is quite obvious even from Mary Krimmel's
abridged quotations that while he is probably not unfamiliar with the
theory of translation, he knows very little about its practice. I say this
as a person who has had to grope for various linguistic equivalents almost
every day for the last fifteen years or so on a professional basis. An
exact translation is a myth; every choice a translator makes is a
compromise, and in the case of poetry the compromise is simply too great
if one wishes to preserve such niceties as rhyme and metre. Exceptions are
rare, and require genius of VN's magnitude to spot them (see, for
instance, Pushkin's poem translated in the foreword to "Despair" - it took
not only a conjunction of the stars but a conjunction of the minds as
well, between the author and the translator).

It is even more obvious that Hofstadter has not bothered to understand
VN's purpose in translating "Onegin" in that particular way. In other
words, quite plainly, he does not know what he is talking about, and I am
posting this only for fear that somebody might actually take his
pronouncements seriously. Anyone interested in the arguments contra
Hofstadter, should only consult what VN himself wrote on the subject of
translation. I would have summarized his points but I'm afraid I can't do
it better than he did and wouldn't want to waste anybody's time by trying.

Peter Kartsev