I had the privilige of translating Speak, Memory into Turkish in 2011.
 My translation for "a brief crack of light" was "kısa bir ışık çakması". 
"Çakma" or "çakış" have several meanings in our language. For example,
we say "çivi çakmak" which means "driving a nail". But when we say
"şimşek çaktı", it means there is a lightning bolt in the air! 

2014-07-12 19:27 GMT+03:00 Jansy Mello <jansy.mello@outlook.com>:

quinta-feira, 10 de julho de 2014 14:30 – Sending again old posting...

JM: Today I came across a most curious translation of a line from S,M: “… our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”/ “Nossa existência não é mais que um curto circuito de luz entre duas eternidades de escuridão.”  Literally: “our existence in nothing more than a short circuit of light between two eternities of darkness.”

Mary H. Efremov  "crack of dawn, crack of light suggests an onset, a beginning"

JM: One of the meanings of “crack” seems to be an ancient onomatopoeic choice for  “sharp noise”* and, when the sentence is by Nabokov, I always consider sound together with image, meaning and other stuff. About the latter, although the comforting crack of light in “S,M” (“Mademoiselle”) isn’t horizontal like the horizon, I always associate VN’s famous opening sentence to this other one:  I had nothing - save a door left slightly ajar into Mademoiselle's room. Its vertical line of meek light was something I could cling to, since in absolute darkness my head would swim, just as the soul dissolves in the blackness of sleep.”

Thanks, Mary. It’s always fascinating to find how many different interpretations and readings we get for a simple VN sentence - and most of them remain as possibilities, we cannot ever be certain that we reached the definite own.

The “short circuit” option led me to imagine split darkness engendering light and existence.**


*- crack (v.)  Old English cracian "make a sharp noise," from Proto-Germanic *krakojan (cognates: Middle Dutch craken, Dutch kraken, German krachen), probably imitative. Related: Cracked; cracking. From early 14c. as "to utter, say, speak, talk," especially "speak loudly or boastingly" (late 14c.). To crack a smile is from 1835, American English; to crack the whip in the figurative sense is from 1886.

crack (n.) "a split, an opening," mid-15c., earlier "a splitting sound; a fart; the sound of a trumpet" (late 14c.), probably from crack (v.). Meaning "rock cocaine" is first attested 1985. The superstition that it is bad luck to step on sidewalk cracks has been traced to c.1890. Meaning "try, attempt" first attested 1830, nautical, probably a hunting metaphor, from slang sense of "fire a gun."(etc) Etymology Online Dictionary


** - After the List was re-established I read Barrie Akin’s message:  My guess is simply that the translator must have had in mind the intensity of the flash (and the noise) that you often get from a short circuit. If the translator thought that VN's "crack" was intended to convey the idea both of light and of sound, the use of "short circuit" would perhaps convey both meanings.

Jansy Mello: We seem to agree in relation to the flash and noise from a short circuit. The original sentence acquired a new possible meaning, though.

Yiğit Yavuz
Google Search
the archive
the Editors
NOJ Zembla Nabokv-L
Subscription options AdaOnline NSJ Ada Annotations L-Soft Search the archive VN Bibliography Blog

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.