Lisa Wakamiya Lecture: "Philology and Mimicry: Vladimir Nabokov’s The Song of Igor’s Campaign"

March 30, 2017 - 4:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center 

602 Cathedral of Learning


Speaker: Lisa Wakamiya (Florida State University)


Drawing on new 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 NYPL, it 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 twelfth-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. 


Professor Wakamiya's appearance was organized by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, with support from the Program in Cultural Studies, the Department of English, the Humanities Center, the Program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Center for Russian and East European Studies.


This presentation by Lisa Wakamiya (Florida State University) treats the “philologization” of Nabokov’s practice of translation.