Of all the sports Nabokov could have chosen to focus on, he took in boxing the one that concentrates as no other the pain and violence he always saw in play. But “Breitensträter–Paolino” is a very literary and verbal account of boxing – the author’s red ink seeping across a skein of metaphor into the blood on the referee’s vest – and is punctuated according to the varying rhythms and geometries of the sport: its quick flurries, its wary circlings, its duelling antitheses. In our translation we have tried to do justice to Nabokov’s dashes, staccato or metaphysical, his commas, apprehensive or explosive, and his inversions, abstract or gutsy, all so important in a piece devoted to testing how far art can go in formalizing even those parts of life that might seem most resistant – even boxing, even blood and pain. We have also tried to catch those moments, so far from the oracular pronouncements of the opening, in which Nabokov mimics the brusque street-talk of the boxing fan or commentator, mixing his voice with the voices of the crowd – a democratic ventriloquism unique in his work.
more from Thomas Karshan and Nabokov at the TLS here.