Forbidden Themes in Nabokov’s Prose ...
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“Unquenchable Russia”, or Forbidden Themes in Nabokov’s Prose
February 19, 2010
“…What I feel to be the real modern world is the world the artist creates, his own mirage, which becomes a new mir (“world” in Russian) by the very act of his shedding, as it were, the age he lives in” . Such an answer Nabokov once gave to an interviewer who was interested in his opinion regarding the modern world and contemporary politics. The book which contains this interview as well as many others, is entitled Strong Opinions, and, indeed, Nabokov is well-known not only for his brilliant fiction but for his original, independent and uncompromising views on creativity, art and the place of artist in the world. Whenever interviewed, he avoided discussion of “general ideas” such as social, political and moral issues and asserted that such global concerns lay outside the realm of art: “A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual, and only the individual reader is important to me. I don’t give a damn for the group, the community, the masses, and so forth… There can be no question that what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art . A work of art, for Nabokov, is a world in itself, brought to life by one’s creative imagination. It leads its own independent existence, unrelated to its historical surroundings and realities. In the introduction to his Lectures on Literature Nabokov explains once again: “…The real writer, the fellow who sends planets spinning and models a man asleep and eagerly tampers with the sleeper’s rib, that kind of author has no given values at his disposal: he must create them himself. The art of writing is a futile business if it does not imply first of all the art of seeing the world as the potentiality of fiction” . In this statement, visions of cosmic grandeur and an obvious reference to the story of Adam and Eve reflect a parallel between creator-artist and creator-God. In one of his interviews Nabokov explicitly brings out this comparison: “A creative writer must study carefully the works of his rivals, including the Almighty. He must possess the inborn capacity not only of recombining but of re-creating the given world” .
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All of Nabokov’s carefully hidden private world that, he insists, “cannot, indeed should not, be anybody’s concern”, is suddenly revealed in these poignant lines: long nights, loneliness, the feeling of guilt over abandoning one’s language and nostalgia for inaccessible, unforgettable, “unquenchable Russia”.
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