In Memoriam: D. Barton Johnson (1933-2020)

Submitted by dana_dragunoiu on Sat, 08/29/2020 - 16:26

by Maurice Couturier

The news of Don’s passing away fills me with sadness. When Brian writes at the end of his touching tribute: “Nabokovians who knew and loved Don felt troubled, as the 2010s wore on, by the increasingly prolonged silences of a voice that had animated and amused us all for so long,” he expresses better than I could what I have frequently told myself these past few years. The last time I heard of Don was when (around 2013) he asked me if I could send him a digital copy of Nabokov’s Eros and the Poetics of Desire, which I was happy to do of course. Rightly or wrongly, I interpreted his silence as proof that he didn’t like my book but was too kind-hearted to tell me. He had attended all three of the Nabokov conferences I organized in Nice, the latest in June 2006, but, sadly, he was absent from the 2016 Biarritz conference masterminded by Marie Bouchet, Julie-Loison Charles and Isabelle Poulin. Don was a wonderful scholar and a loving man who had a nearly mystical view of Nabokov. Here is a little anecdote that says a lot about him: during a morning break at the first Nice conference, we opened a window to let in some fresh air and a butterfly flew briefly into the conference room. “That was Nabokov, no?” sweetly commented Don.

Zoran is right when he writes at the end of his moving tribute: “Quite simply, Don’s work and the dissemination pattern of that work teach us to seek in Nabokov’s work more of Nabokov and less of ourselves.” Yet, somehow, I believe that Don was seeking in Nabokov something about himself that he never allowed us to discover.