Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

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30.6.11

When the prose turns weird, the weird get going

The blog serves as a locus at which to collect one's thoughts; the chatroom is where one disperses them. Yes, no, it's not that simple; the accommodations overlap (shared bathos), but "extended argument" takes on differing meanings between them. But while blogs regularly provide chatfodder, I find I've reversed the process, my prior post herding chats into something more sustenant (I hope), but which may seem warmed-over to my fellow bookchatterers. Sorry 'bout that, here we go again ...

Giddy-upping my hobby-horse: I've finally finished Nabokov's list of the best of what the 20th century has to offer (when it was only 2/3 thru, and all from the first 1/4) by making it halfway through Proust, and reading John Elsworth's Pushkin Press translation of Andrei Bely's Petersburg: Bely did his own revision-excision of the 1916 (or 1913-14, depending on form) version in 1922, this latter what first Cournos ('59) then Maguire & Malmstad ('78) relied on, while McDuff ('95) and Elsworth ('09) go back to the former version (which explains relative lengths). The earlier one was first serialized in Sirin, which was the nom-de-plume Nabokov stuck with through his early career; but the later one was published in Berlin, where Nabokov was residing at the time. I think there's more cerebral play in the earlier version, and that it's intrinsic to the novel (not to mention explicit), tightening it up as Bely did somewhat akin to, say, Sterne editing Tristram Shandy down to a more manageable length; but there doesn't seem to be an English translation that would permit such an assessment. M&M complain that Cournos made even more cuts, while the rap against M&M is overliteral and unliterary, or something like that. Dunno about McDuff, but Elsworth gets it: I know some of the wordplay had to be left behind, but the spirit of the thing is preserved. And in that spirit, that is, of cerebral play:
In Vladimir Nabokov and The Art of Play, Thomas Karshan has added something to the critical mix by considering play as the unifying theme in his work (I take issue only with the definite article, an indefinite one more appropriate). Karshan himself could have been a bit more playful by bending the rules of the academic monograph (such as "I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true"), but the tracing of play (both rule-based and free: the Russian and German words carry broader connotation) through Kant, Schiller & Nietzsche to more direct influences on Nabokov (Voloshin, Bely, Aikhenvald) is well played. The applicability of the concept to early novels like King Queen Knave and The Luzhin Defense is evident, but suffers some distortion in consideration of later work (not that it isn't operative, and despite which there's food for thought where it isn't). However, the chapter on "Pale Fire and the Genre of the Literary Game" stands out, tracing a different provenance from Erasmus to Pope and Swift and beyond, and providing other fresh insights.
Also, more Nabocommentary, via the listserv, Cycnos | Volume 24 n°1 Vladimir Nabokov, Annotating vs Interpreting Nabokov

Short takes on other highlights:
Michal Ajvaz, The Golden Age (Andrew Oakland) [Dalkey]: Rrosélavian
Wieslaw Mysliwski, Stone Upon Stone (Bill Johnston) [Archipelago]: deftly fit together without mortar
Bernard Share, Inish [Dalkey]: the tale's in the telling, and it's telling what can be made out of an advert placed by an import-export expat
Eric Chevillard, Palafox (Wyatt Mason) [Archipelago]: endeavouring to haruspicate surrealism's exquisite corpse
Arno Schmidt, The Stony Heart / B/Moondocks (John E. Woods) [Dalkey]: the first, collective scholarduggery; the second the best of his I've read yet, and I've read (with pleasure) all of Woods' Dalkey offerings now, and the best yet to come, his rendering of Zettel's Traum (translating Poe the central conceit) to be published within a year
Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun (Humphrey Davies) [Archipelago]: Compounded persevering Palestinean crises of identity, resisting erasure; intertwined stories, families, destinies. Ranks with the best of Roa Bastos, Donoso, Andric, Selimovic
Yasushi Inoue, Tun-huang (Jean Oda Moy) [nyrb]: filling in lost time, hoarded against the hordes ... falls off a bit towards the end, otherwise a well-imagined and well-researched reconstruction, tautly told with subtle overtones (also apt after the Rexroth renderings of Sung poetry)
Fumiko Enchi, The Waiting Years (John Bester) [Kodansha Int'l]: (Onna zaka, the women's slope, separate temple path): Meiji matron thanklessly holding family together; at the same level as Masks (Onna men, which I picked up at the Milwaukee airport of all places), once again exceeding Tanizaki, approaching Kawabata, her models. Enchi deserves to be better known; latest book acquired is A Tale of False Fortunes (Roger K. Thomas)

3 Comments:

Blogger waggish said...

I love the Chevillard description. How was Stone Upon Stone? I have it sitting, looming, looking long.

5/7/11 19:17  
Blogger nnyhav said...

I think Stone Upon Stone is a shoo-in for the BTBA shortlist this year; it's evident that Bill Johnston enjoyed translating it.

(sorry about inordinate moderation delays, turnaround ain't what it used to be)

6/7/11 12:27  
OpenID argumentativeoldgit said...

I enjoyed the M&M translation of Petersburg, and having seen, to my surpise, the Elsworth version in our local bookshop, I was wondering whether to get it - if only as a "thank you" to our local bookshop for being adventurous. Having read your post, I think I will go for it - so thanks for that.

28/9/11 11:02  

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