Tag Archives: Nabokov

The Art of Translation, by Vladimir Nabokov

The Art of Translation, by Vladimir Nabokov

The New Republic reprints this 1941 article by my favorite genius of letters.

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vintage: Ada, or Ardor

[first published July 7, 2011 at http://lizthegrad.blogspot.com/]

ada or ardor, nabokov, books

Vladimir Nabokov, ADA, OR ARDOR.  New York: Vintage International, 1969.

Acquired at a Borders somewhere.  New.

True Confession(z):  I bought, and started, this book over a year and a half ago.  What can I say?  Nabokov has really florid, dense prose; this book is really long; I’ve been busy with grad schoolish activities; I have no tenacity.  I’ll say all of those things.

Continuation of Confession:  I am still not done.  I am on page 353.  There are 589 pages.  I am ashamed.

Let it be known, here and now (shame acknowledged; moving on), that Vladimir Nabokov is without any doubt My Favorite Author.  I have read two of his novels (Pnin and Lolita), and his very long collection of short stories (The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, natch), and, well, roughly 59.9% of Ada or Ardor.  I can honestly say that I have never encountered such beautiful, spellbinding prose anywhere else.  I love the John Updike quote that appears on the backs of his Vintage editions: “Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.” (emphasis mine.)  I think that is very apt.

Speaking about Nabokov with my boyfriend, we argued over whether his novels and stories really meant anything, or more broadly, whether novels and stories need to mean anything, which, of course, never got settled.  Speaking about him with another friend, we noted the way he privileges aesthetics and wordplay over content and narrative, how he saw the book as a work of art rather than a didactic device, a painting more than a folk tale.  I can see how that would bother some people, and seriously, I am all for content and narrative.

But there are passages in Nabokov where, as I am reading, I have actually vocalized– you know, like gone, “oh!” or “hah!” to myself- because I found what he wrote so affecting, so brilliant.  (Note: I’m quiet.  I don’t vocalize unless it’s necessary.)  It’s gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.  It can be confounding and demanding of the intellect- as in, I read this paragraph five times before I understood it because in the middle my eyes kept crossing.  But it can also be impressionistic and extremely intuitive- where it seems like he just flipped his pen and out spilled a few words that didn’t so much read themselves to you as burn an imprint of an image onto your brain.

Ada, or Ardor is basically Nabokov to the nth degree.  It’s longer, it’s more confounding, it’s more demanding, it’s chock-full of the trilingualism and entomological sciences and parenthetical literary criticisms and, yes, sexual deviancy that is only passing in most of his other works.  He makes up fantastic words like “brachiambulist.”  He creates “a love story, an erotic masterpiece, a philosophical investigation into the nature of time.”  (See this contemporary NYT review.  I had no idea they had these online, and am amazed.)  He evokes wonder and thrill and frustration in equal measure.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I like it.  I really do.  But now I just have to finish the damn thing.  Oh, and thanks for letting me geek out over Vladimir Nabokov.

“‘That’s not the point,’ cried Van, ‘the point, the point, the point is- will you be faithful, will you be faithful to me?’

‘You spit, love,’ said wan-smiling Ada, wiping off the P’s and the F’s.  ‘I don’t know.  I adore you.  I shall never love anybody in my life as I adore you, never and nowhere, neither in eternity, nor in terrenity, neither in Ladore, nor on Terra, where they say our souls go.'” (158)