Re: [Thoughts] Art's higher level correction
What kind of truth are
you after? Delightful question! As a
lawyer I would answer: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth! But then, Nabokov isn’t on the
stand. I think Nabokov was very
respectful of memories, and somewhere said something (I wish I had your
recall!) to the effect that the more one revisits a memory, the weaker it
gets because it becomes associated with later matter. That seems to be supported by psychological
findings as well. So it's quite possible
that Nabokov reserved certain memories for himself, to keep them pristine.
Anyway, my point is
certainly not that Nabokov is a liar.
Quite the opposite. He is a
natural truth teller, I think, in disguise.
I would point to the exact book you did, RLSK, for proof of this assertion. I think the truth teller and the author were
supremely in charge and that Nabokov intentionally revealed more about himself in that
fictional biography than in any other fiction.
I am "after" same truth Nabokov is
after: the kind of truth that the real Goodmans find so hard to deliver! This gets into the book I’m writing, which is more
history and biography than anything else.
Like Nabokov, I am no lover of Freud.
I’m not looking for his unconscious, and will take at face value all the
genuine gems of biography he throws into his fiction. He did this quite a bit,
I think, in his earlier books, but as you noted in one of your responses, by
the time he got to Harlequins, he may have been far more circumspect.
It is a fair question to ask what the heck I meant by an
unreliable author. Maybe Goodman
would be an example. Nabokov’s point
with Goodman was that there are lots of real authors who sound just like him. Those real authors are all
unreliable. But I was actually just
playing with words when I wrote that, to see if anyone might take it up with
some brilliant segway.
I’ve enjoyed this tete-a-tete very much. Maybe we should continue it, if it should be
Date: Fri, 20 Sep 2013 15:42:36 -0300
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] [Thoughts] Art's higher level correction
Frances Assa [to JM]: "I think this whole
issue is supremely important with regard to Nabokov. Memory is
regularly a central subject. When I read literature I am always
wondering about the who the author is in order to feel that I really understand
what the author wrote. You seem to be saying that he, like all of
us, distorts his memories, especially unhappy ones. This leads one to
the conclusion that he was an unreliable author! With so much talk of
Wayne Booth's unreliable narrator, I wonder if anyone has tackled the rhetoric
of the unreliable author. In Nabokov's work, the author seems, generally,
like God, hardly unreliable. And in LATH in particular, if I remember
correctly, even Vadim learns to visualize backward clearly. Also
I'm wondering if your observation of Nabokov's evasions of unhappy
memories is generally shared by students of
Jansy Mello: We depart from different
starting points but yes ... Nabokov frequently invites and taunts
his readers to discover some little detail about himself, as
in a game of hide and seek. Nevertheless for me it's just a game and I
try to abide by his rules. He knows that, like anyone else, he
may inadvertently reveal a few things about himself [ "The crudest curriculum vitae crows and
flaps its wings in a style peculiar to the undersigner. I doubt whether you can
even give your telephone number without giving something of yourself" ] -
but would this help us understand his creation? I believe,
also, that Nabokov often tries to mislead his interviewers, like
the real Sebastian Knight and his fake biographer, Mr.Goodman, and
that, like anyone else's, his memory would play tricks on him. As I see it, this
wouldn't turn him into an "unreliable author" (only into a deceiver,
like Nature or a magician).
Perhaps I didn't understand what you meant by being
an "unreliable author." Nabokov told Alfred Appel Jr (in a
1966 interview) that "the design of my novel is fixed in my
imagination and every character follows the course I imagine for him. I am the
perfect dictator in that private world insofar as I alone am responsible for
its stability and truth. Whether I reproduce it as fully and faithfully as
I would wish, is another question" and it's worth noting
that, further on, he defines "creative imagination" as the result
from a combination of "stored elements". .."with later recollections
and inventions."* Inventions are not lies**. Making mistakes
isn't lying. Being unable to transform a vision into
exact words, either. What kind of truth are you after?
* "I would say that imagination is a form
of memory. Down, Plato, down, good dog. An image depends on the power of
association, and association is supplied and prompted by memory. When we speak
of a vivid individual recollection we are paying a compliment not to our
capacity of retention but to Mnemosyne’s mysterious foresight in having stored
up this or that element which creative imagination may use when combining it
with later recollections and inventions..."
** - Well, sometimes they are! The inventive boy who cried "wolf" would
be called liar by his companions . Cf.
“Literature was not born the day when a
boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big
gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying
"wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.” Lectures on
Literature. Jacques Lacan thinks that a child's ability to lie marks
his conquest of subjectivity (by stopping to believe that he is transparent in
his parent's eyes and gaining control of his
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