NABOKV-L post 0018146, Tue, 7 Apr 2009 10:43:30 -0700

Re: THOUGHTS: Alexandrov and Ethics

--- On Mon, 4/6/09, NABOKV-L <NABOKV-L@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:

Subject: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: Alexandrov and Ethics
Date: Monday, April 6, 2009, 5:35 PM

In reply to Jansy's statements, below, I note that there are many 
exceptions: Mary, Glory, The Gift, Pnin, The Real Sebastian Knight, 
The Return of Chorb spring to mind.  The compassion is readily 
accessible in all of these--sometimes overflowing.  No one can read 
Glory, I believe, without being struck by the tremendous warmth the 
author feels for its protagonist.  Critics, however, seem most 
fascinated by the "crueler" works, so we hear much more about them.
The "fatidic webs," I must admit, do seem to enmesh these works--save, 
perhaps, for Mary and The Gift.
J.A. says: I think I would agree, with exceptions to the protagonists of the Gift and Mary. Fyodor, while positive, seems priggish and prissily put off by everybody but Zina and his own family; even those whom he calls his friends, like Alexandra Chernishevski, he is rather cooly condescending and caustic about on the very first page of the book. Ganin too seems superior and unpleasant, not mention a liar who can only think of life in totally self-centered terms. Martin, of Glory, has been romantically conceived by his maker but because he wants him to also comes across as a sensible lad to those whom he knows the whole effect of the character is vague and muddied. Nabokov seems find what Martin does quite fascinating and admirable, while to this reader he just seemed nutty and pathetic. Pnin, however, truly is a sympathetic character, complex and sensitive. But I thought Jansy had a good point, especially about the near voicelessness of the
heroines, who so often in N.'s novels seem like lost ideals or remote figures the reader has to carefully decode from the text--almost everything about Zina in the Gift, completely unnecessarily in my opinion, has to be deducted from rare and precious clues. I also think Jansy's got something about the difference between N.'s view that art=tenderness and the subjects of much of his work. I've always found strange reading N's afterward to Lolita where he makes this famous statement, "For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, shomewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm." It seems like a bunch of things have been put together here that don't necessarily follow from one another and don't at all seem related to Lolita, the work of art under question----while the book does connect us
to another state of being (though whether or not this is a functional definition of aesthetic bliss remains a question), that other being in context of the novel's story would seem to be precisely the opposite of the positive elements folded into the parenthetical: Humbert is disinterested in people and the world, not to mention his girl, cruel, mean and tortured. So where is the bliss? Has N. slyly moved from talking about the themes and subjects of the novel to the process of reading that novel? It's seems like he's left a crucial operation out of his stated formula which the reader must intuit for themselves, or else the sentiment is just fancy footwork to dismiss questions about why he should want to write about such a perverted and morbid subject, that is find a different way to say that he wrote it because it was such a wonderfully horrible story and it was great fun evoking characters whose lives explode in such a sordid way,
which would be the answer I would give.  

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