- Nabokovs Version von Puškins "Evgenij Onegin." Zwischen Version und Fiktion: Eine übersetzungs- und fiktionstheoretische Untersuchung (review)
- Nabokov Studies
- International Vladimir Nabokov Society and Davidson College
- Volume 3, 1996
- pp. 222-225
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222 Nabokov Studies enterprise would have been totally acceptable, considering his perceptive reading of many passages, if he had not tried to bring in this question of the death of the author the way he did, with this probably superfluous distinction between signature and style. His refusal to deal with Look at the Harlequins !, a novel which compels the reader to raise the question of the author's desire, is perhaps an indication of his own doubts. Wood has allowed himself to be hypnotized by the great magician; it is a great pity considering his otherwise great intelligence, sensitivity and culture. Michael Eskin. Nabokovs Version von PuSkins "Evgenij Onegin. " Zwischen Version und Fiktion: Eine Ã¼bersetzungs- und fiktionstheoretische Untersuchung. Slavistische BeitrÃ¤ge, vol. 313. Munich: Otto Sagner, 1994. 151pp; DM38.00. Review by Sven Spieker, University of California, Santa Barbara. In three main parts that neatly integrate practical analysis and theoretical formalization ("Nabokov's Concept of Poetic Translation"; "Nabokov's Practice of Translation"; "The Fictionalization of [Nabokov's] Version"), Eskin examines the second edition of Nabokov's annotated translation of Puskin's Evgenij Onegin (1975). The author takes his theoretical cue from Peircian semiotics, Michel Riffaterre's semiological theory of translation, and narratology. The study represents an original and stimulating (rÃ©Ã©valuation of Nabokov's translation and an astute rebuttal of the often harsh criticisms it has drawn over the last decades. Virtually all these criticisms have one thing in commonÂ—the charge that Nabokov transferred the loftiest creation of 19th-century Russian literature into what is essentially bad English. With Walter Benjamin, one might respond that Nabokov's critics by and large committed the most serious error a translator can commitÂ—they displayed far greater reverence for their own language than for that of the original. Nabokov's translationÂ—while being "literal" to an almost obsessive degreeÂ—is not primarily concerned with the communication of what Benjamin calls inessential "Information," or the semantic content of Puskin's work. Instead, he offers a structural Nachvollzug or simulation of the original that does not reduce it to its semantic content. For example, Nabokov frequently contaminates his English with lexical, morphological, syntactical, etymological, and metrical elements that evoke or recreate the context of the Russian original. This technique results in some of the most infamous examples of Nabokov's alleged pedantry ("mollitude"; "habitude"; Reviews 223 "familial"). While the author's absolute priority for the original context renders his English unusual or archaic, it does allow for great transparency Â—the original literally remains "visible" through its own translation. Eskin points out that Nabokov's theory of translation preempts much more recent developments in translation theory, developments that have reshaped our understanding of the relationship between translation and original. However, Eskin's efforts in this regard are limited to Michel Riffaterre and the occasional (more or less ornamental) gloss on deconstruction. One might have wished for a more comprehensive contextualisation of Nabokov's theory in the context of contemporary translation philosophy. In the study's first part, Eskin gives a systematic description of Nabokov's concept of poetic translation, with his notion of "literalism" at its center. In practical terms, what Nabokov means by "literal" is bis consistent translation of a single Russian word by one (or several) English terms, terms that may thus not be used to refer to any other Russian word throughout the translation. These English words acquire a marking or "signaling" function vis-Ã -vis their Russian target words. Especially in the revised second version of his translation, Nabokov's rigorous practice of "signaling" leads to blatant violations of what generally passes for faithful translation. To give but one example, he consistently translates the Russian verb smuScat' as "to trouble," even though this translation is far from being semantically accurate. As Eskin points out, Nabokov's translation is far less concerned with mimesis than with semiosis. To be sure, bis use of "signal words" does give an idea of the semantic value of the original Russian term. More importantly, however, the English signal words indicate the location and recurrence of that term, its structural position in the context of the Russian original. Especially where more than one English word signals a single...