Translation is Diabolical
I have just begun to read Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography Speak, Memory. The author wrote his novelistic memoir in English, and, in the process of translating that English into Russian, reworked the original, necessitating alterations to the initial English.
From Nabokov’s forward:
“This re-Englishing of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place, proved to be a diabolical task, but some consolation was given me by the thought that such multiple metamorphosis, familiar to butterflies, had not been tried by any human before.”
The image of translation as the productive agony of the stages of larval metamorphosis immediately brought to mind Benjamin’s “Task of the Translator.”
“Translation is so far removed from being the sterile equation of two dead languages that of all literary forms it is the one charged with the special mission of watching over the maturing process of the original language and the birth pangs of its own.”
Here is Nabokov, the diabolical lepidopteran linguistic alchemist, presiding over maturation and birth simultaneously, in an incestuous loop. No wonder I like his style.