NABOKV-L post 0014644, Mon, 15 Jan 2007 10:49:01 +0100

Re: Theory, American etc

As to Martin Amis himself, when asked in a recent television interview about "the cruelty of Russian politics," he replied that it had to do with the fact that Russians are half-Europeans and half-Asians and that their Asian origin accounts for that streak of cruelty.

A. Bouazza.
-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU]On Behalf Of Sergey Karpukhin
Sent: 13 January 2007 07:40
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Theory, American etc

To Charles:

Americans are dead set on claiming VN for America, based on the 19 years he spent in America, and disregarding the 60 years he spent elsewhere.

It just so happened that VN became internationally known as an “American” writer. I put the “American” in quotes because the word when applied to VN does not, clearly, mean the same thing as when applied to Poe, or Hemingway, or Melville. It should always be qualified by various circumlocutions, the best of which is perhaps “a writer of English prose at present holding American citizenship” (John Updike). And Americans are the first to admit that “American” “seems like an odd adjective to describe his career” (Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, p. 66). I do not deny the European element in VN’s cultural identity; and, as a Russian, cannot but see the Russian element. But what I do find “objectionable” (if I may) is an attempt to forgo the “American” altogether, to try and make do without the adjective, to exclude this experience from his life as irrelevant superficies. I’m not the one to judge whether VN was more European than American, or vice versa, but I cannot agree that he was “essentially un-American.” Probably, it’s a matter of phraseology. “Essentially un-American” sounds too categorical to me, as if the ocean between Europe and America were unsailable and as if to be European were somehow more commendable. It is the exclusiveness that I find “objectionable.” It’s almost like Kingsley Amis speaking to his son, in 1984: “I’ve finally figured out why I don’t like Americans.” – [Martin] waited. – “Because everyone there is either a Jew or a hick.” So much for the civilized debate from Sir Kingsley.


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