Self-translation as a Ghost Story: Vladimir Nabokov’s The Eye

Irena Księżopolska

Abstrakt

Nabokov’s novella The Eye is usually read as a story in which the narrator tries to use his failed suicide attempt to announce his own death and assume the role of an observer, who, as it turns out in the end, is merely watching over his own (alienated) figure. The ending seems to project a reintegration of the self. In this essay, the process of Nabokov’s translation of the novella into English is seen as connected with the spectral elements of the story, resulting in a new reading embedded into the framework of liminality: the narrating hero keeps on dying, without, however, being able to escape his private inferno, because his obsessive memory continues to reproduce the same murky world, merely transferring the hero deeper and deeper into its narrowing circles. Each of these circles is an attempt to translate the text of (un)reality to the new language of consciousness, and each of these attempts reduces the hero to the status of a still more spectral voice, while still confining him to the boundaries of self. It seems quite fitting in this context that Nabokov, speaking of self-translation, described it as an unremitting torment of the body being transfigured into spirit. The essay also compares Nabokov’s translation practice to his own views on translation expressed in essays and interviews, pointing out the fundamental differences: self-translation demands the death of the original text, out of which the phantom of existence in another language may be born – a ghost, each movement of which is always double, divided into the observer and the observed. 

* Originally published in Polish in Przekładaniec vol. 39/2019, this article appears in English thanks to the financial support of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education (grant no. 643/P-DUN/2018). 

Słowa kluczowe: Nabokov, The Eye, spectrality, identity, self-translation
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