"Philology, Translation and Mimicry: Vladimir Nabokov’s 'The Song of Igor’s Campaign'": Talk by Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya (Florida State University)

November 7, 2018 - 5:00 pm
Center for Russian Culture, 202 Webster Hall

Drawing on manuscript collations and findings in the Roman Jakobson Papers at MIT, the Vladimir Nabokov Papers at the Library of Congress and the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, this talk examines the early variant manuscripts of Nabokov’s translation of The Song of Igor’s Campaign, the anonymous Old Rus epic whose antiquity remains the subject of scholarly debate. Nabokov’s decade-long collaboration with Roman Jakobson was intended to produce a scholarly edition of the “Song.” Instead, it resulted in an acrimonious ideologized rift: Nabokov went on to publish his translation of the “Song” with his own commentary; Jakobson’s book was never finished.

Where Jakobson sought to eliminate all doubts concerning the “Song” and its 12th-century provenance, Nabokov sidestepped the authenticity debate to define the epic (whatever its origin) as a work of Great Art. Despite these fundamental differences, Nabokov’s published translation of the “Song” advances a text and a model of scholarly activity that owes much to Jakobson. If Nabokov’s earliest drafts adapt translation to philology in a performance that is at once “reverent” and “ironic,” terms that might also metatextually describe Nabokov’s relationship to his then mentor, his published edition reveals not the displacement of Jakobson’s work by his own, but a condensation of the two in which philological discourse cannot be distinguished from a performance of it.

Lisa Ryoko Wakamiya (Ph.D., Slavic languages and literatures, University of California, Los Angeles) is associate professor of Slavic in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics and Courtesy Associate Professor of English at Florida State University. She is the author of Locating Exiled Writers in Contemporary Russian Literature and co-editor with Mark Lipovetsky of Late and Post-Soviet Russian Literature: A Reader. Her current book project, Collecting Objects, Materializing Ethics, investigates the relationship between collections of material objects and narrative in the work of writer-collectors.

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