31 May 2010

TSR: Nabokov

Nabokov's contribution is a note about his attempt to create a translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (though even the spelling of that is moot). Nabokov brings a poet's ear to the task initially, examining the different ways in which Russian and English use stress, consonants etc. And this contributes to his final view that it is impossible to translate Onegin into English verse. His concept of translation, then, is overwhelmingly concerned with meaning, and he's quite happy to separate meaning and form. So, he has to sacrifice the music of Pushkin's original, and settle for a series of footnotes which describe "the modulations and rhymes of the text as well as its associations and other special features". Which is contrary: explaining the effect of rhyme etc is like explaining a joke. In practice, it's the kind of translation I'd like, because I don't have a particularly high regard for the music of poetry; but a lot of people do.

As Venuti's introduction points out, Nabokov has in mind as a reader of his translation himself, or someone very much like him. To the extent that early in the piece, reflecting on the alternative versions and deleted stanzas, he says:
All this matter, as well as Pushkin's own commentaries, the variants, epigraphs, dedications, and so forth, must be of course translated too, in appendices and notes.
Of course.

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