Jesse Jarnow

bend sinister

Many wonderful passages in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, but this one — about the nature of literary translation, in the midst of a complex Rosetta Stone explaining the language of the novel’s dystopia — stuck out this evening.

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.