Nabokov on the translator’s art

One of my favorite passages from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Bend Sinister, about the near impossibility of translating metaphor and experience across languages, cultures, and time—and the mindboggling wonder that it sometimes can be done.

It was as if someone, having seen a certain oak tree (further called Individual T) growing in a certain land casting its own unique shadow on the green and brown ground, had proceeded to erect in his garden a prodigiously intricate piece of machinery which in itself was as unlike that or any other tree as the translator’s inspiration and language were unlike those of the original author, but which, by means of ingenious combinations of parts, light effects, breeze-engendering engines, would, when completed, cast a show exactly similar to that of Individual T—the same outline, changing in the same manner, with the same double and single spots of sun rippling in the same position, at the same hour of the day.

from Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov, 1947 :: via The excitement of verbal adventure

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