Russian Language Journal


study, translator, artist, writer, technique


An ambitious study, Between Rhyme and Reason endeavors to synthesize two lines of inquiry concerning Nabokov’s long and prodigious career as translator. First, how can we best characterize Nabokov’s method of translation, especially since most of his translations do not follow the same “literalist” approach with which the author and his notorious Eugene Onegin (1964) are so closely associated? Second, how did the act of translating other writers contribute to Nabokov’s own creative work? Stanislav Shvabrin locates the nexus of these concerns in Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism. Against the performative author’s posturing as an absolutely independent creative consciousness free of all influence, Shvabrin contends that Nabokov knowingly practiced a “collaborative, participatory, [and] mutually beneficial exchange” of utterances and ideas with other literary artists (17-18). It was this productive exchange that helped shape the writer’s creative voice, provided him with the material for his profoundly allusive style, and informed his technique of translation—a technique, Shvabrin maintains, always and essentially was grounded in the Bakhtinian ideal of fully “empathizing into” the inner life of one’s interlocutor.