NABOKV-L post 0015380, Tue, 31 Jul 2007 14:07:30 -0300

Re: THOUGHTS about a VN Sighting: an ABCdarien view.
Anthony Burguess' criterium of dividing writers into "A" & "B" categories was found to be unsatisfactory by Bharat Azad's in "The Guardian" [ BA: "Anthony Burgess argued that novels were engaged either with the world, or with language. A striking claim, but not a very convincing one."]

"A" was applicable to works that followed traditional strategies of plot and stressed language as a form of communication ( "the world"), whereas to "B" belonged authors who worked mainly with the involutionary aspects of language, employed to reflect about itself ( language as a "thing", perhaps, and a substitute of "the world").A.Bouazza observed, following AB's categories, that Azad apparently didn't understand what Burgess meant when he asked "is Ulysses more literary than Lolita?"

In Frank Muir's "The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose" we may indirectly find a third category C ( C: comic, humorous works) and I was astonished that his selection included two-hundred and thirty seven authors while the name of Nabokov was not mentioned even once. Frank Muir informs us that when Thomas Hardy submitted his first novel to "Chapman and Hall" the publisher's reader told Hardy to concentrate more on plot - and advised the firm not to publish Hardy. The reader was George Meredith (who also turned down East Lynne and Butler's Erewhon., the latter with no clear plot but pertaining to the same category of humor as advocated by Meredith himself).

Muir explains that Meredith ( in modern days a probable follower of Richard Dawkins' theory about Meme and the Selfish Gene) adhered to Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory and defended the idea that: "if Darwin was right, then the human beings who would survive would inevitably be those who were more selfish, ruthless, and bent on self-preservation ...but the "awful people could be brought to heel and the balance between the worthy and unworthy citizens maintained by mankind developing the Comic Spirit" for "Meredith loathed the sentimental humor.real humor should engage the mind. and it was vitally important to the human race"...Meredith satirized "in a witty odd novel the fate of a humourless, selfish gentleman who was quite determined to survive, on his own terms." (F.Muir's words) .Needless to add that the anthologist included Meredith's "The Egotist" (chapter on a Minor the Use f the Knife".) among his selected comic flowers. I'm still puzzled about why Muir didn't think about Humbert Humbert or Kinbote as being very literary representatives of a satirical view on supreme humorless egotists, such as Meredith's Sir Willoughby.

Nabokov certainly managed to embrace all three categories, A,B and.C! His wit is also more cerebral than sentimental, as advocated by Meredith. Nabokov, as we all know, valued structure and plot in his Lectures on Literature but he also included "beauty and compassion", although he insisted that good literature was not a vehicle for social messages and the communication of ideas. Among the great literary masterpieces of last Century Nabokov mentioned James Joyces's Ulysses and Bilely's Petersburg ( VN wrote that Bilely's "fantasy" had striking similarities with J.Joyce's Ulysses - plot or landscapewise, I ask?), but it was also VN who said that "James Joyce's mistake in thos otherwise marvelous mental soliloquies of his consists in the he gives too much verbal body to his thoughts" (SO,30).

So, the matter of "what is great literature" ( "fiction"?) might be not only be considered following categories such as (A) a recreation of "the world", (B) exploring "language", nor even by applying a cerebral unsentimental (C) "comic dimension". In my opinion, any given categorization is apt to fall apart when a new, unexpected great work surprises us and transforms us.

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