Transposition: Plot influencing form


Irrespective of the original work’s language, the transformation of the plot as a result of transposition may lead to alterations in form. An example of this unfolds in the transposition of The Nose where a single civil servant in the original turns into two characters in transposition: a doorman, with whom the protagonists briefly converses downstairs in his building, and a neighbor with whom he subsequently speaks upstairs. In the original, the structure of some sentences here assumes the continual presence of a single person in one place close to the protagonist. Below we see this assumption as Kovalev/Bill is thinking to himself when a candle is lit in the original:

Размышления его прерваны были светом, блеснувшим сквозь все скважины дверей, который дал знать, что свеча в передней уже зажжена Иваном. / His thoughts were interrupted by a light shining through the cracks in the doors, which let him know that the candles in the hallway had been lit by Ivan.
The sentence takes for granted that the reader has already been introduced to Ivan (which has indeed occurred) and it is possible to know what is happening on the other side of the door (due to the cracks). In transposition, however, the previous Ivan is a doorman, and doormen do not enter apartments unexpectedly in the twenty-first century (they call from downstairs). Furthermore, a single man without any other people in his place cannot know what is happening on the other side of a solid door (we do not have cracks in doors). His thoughts must be interrupted by some external event not discernible from a sedentary position. This change in plot also prompts a change in form because whatever action is taken by a third person of whom Bill/Kovalev becomes aware, it must involve a new or different third person, and uncertainty in the clause after the inquit phrase (“which let him know”):

But his thoughts were interrupted by the bell that rang at the front door, likely indicating that a neighbor needed to borrow something.
The insertion of the conjunction “but” does not trace the form of the original, yet it is helpful in introducing the unexpected discontinuity which results from the awareness that someone else is unexpectedly near. Even more significant is the formal transposition of “который дал знать”. Beyond banal platitudes[1], it is impossible to know what the bell ringing means in the same way as Kovalev can authoritatively say that the light in the other room is due to Ivan who has lit the candle. The closest formal parallel would be “which suggested” or “which let him know” (as in the translation), but these options involve problems of register (too formal in tone), perspective (greater omniscience) and the need to avoid redundancy (how much can you know from a bell ringing unexpectedly?). The alteration of the form through “but” and “likely indicating” demonstrates that consideration of the reader also shapes the decision. The first facilitates a smooth reading and the second implies respect for the intelligence and time of the reader by excluding a platitude. Accordingly, a change in plot precipitates the aforementioned formal decisions influenced by the author and audience. Particularly when the plot requires formal changes, the author and audience confront each other in the formulation of the segment, while the segment itself becomes the embodiment of further uncertainty in the text.


[1] It would be possible to directly transpose this as “which let him know that somebody was at the door”, but that is obvious. The bell ringing is likely to prompt the transposed Kovalev to guess at a reason for why the bell is ringing, rather than give him knowledge. Discussed further in the body of the essay here.
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