NABOKV-L post 0022777, Wed, 2 May 2012 20:41:46 -0400

Appendix to Bunny, Judy, & Volodya?
Carolyn Kunin "In today's L.A. Times...Charles McNulty ...actually
quotes Edmund Wilson...I have felt something important is missing in our
knowledge of the VN biography - yes, there is the traumatic loss of
homeland and father, but these occurred in adulthood - early adulthood,
but adulthood nonetheless. Do they really explain the dark side of
Nabokov's works?"

Jansy Mello: Sometimes Edmund Wilson, independently of his Freudian
leanings, referred to Nabokov's blindness to a character's cruel streak
with more insight than other critics or philosophers in relation to
Nabokov and his злой types, like Van Veen or Humbert Humbert (such as
Wood, Appel, Trilling, Rorty)
Here is a small selection of E.Wilson's invectives concerning Nabokov's
translation of Eugene Oneguin, and other examples, to present to the
VN-L, as a part of the "Recycle" program....
It's clear that, in line with Carolyn's inquiry, inspite of all
scholarly and critical efforts, there's still a wide field of research
open into a deeper understanding about those characters whom Nabokov
ousted from the inside of his temple, like evil gargoyles snarling from
its external façade (but which remain an integral part of the

Edmund Wilson: "The Nabokov who bores and fatigues by overaccumulation
contrasts with the authentic Nabokov and with the poet he is trying to
illuminate. It has always seemed to me that Vladimir Nabokov was one of
the Russian writers who, in technique, had most in common with
Pushkin...Nabokov...short stories and novels are masterpieces of
swiftness and wit and beautifully concealed calculation. Every detail is
both piquant and relevant, and everything fits together. Why, then,
should this not be true of his commentary and his two appendices...It is
as if this sure hand at belles lettres, once resolved to distinguish
himself as a scholar, has fallen under an oppressive compulsion to prove
himself by piling things up...Mr. Nabokov's most serious failure, one of interpretation. He has missed a fundamental point in
the central situation. He finds himself unable to account for Evgeni
Onegin's behavior in first giving offense to Lensky by flirting with
Olga at the ball and then, when Lensky challenges him to a duel, instead
of managing a reconciliation, not merely accepting the challenge, but
deliberately shooting first and to kill. Nabokov says that the latter
act is "quite out of character." He does not seem to be aware that
Onegin, among his other qualities, is, in his translator's favorite
one-syllable adjective, decidedly злой—that is, nasty, méchant. This
note is sharply struck in the opening stanza, when Onegin complains
about the slowness in dying of the uncle from whom he is to inherit.
This is quite in Evgeni's character, and so is his provoking Lensky by
making advances to his fiancée. You are told, just before this happens,
that Evgeni is "secretly laughing." that he is "approaching the moment
of revenge." What revenge? His revenge on Lensky for being capable of
idealism, devoted love, when he himself is so sterile and empty... He
thinks Lensky a fool yet he envies him. He cannot stand it that
Lensky—fed on German romantic literature—should be fired by ecstatic
emotion. So, taking a mean advantage—raising slowly, we are told, his
pistol, in malignant cold blood—he aims to put out that fire. There are
no out-of-character actions in Evgeni Onegin. Nabokov has simply not
seen the point....Nabokov has also studied exhaustively Pushkin's
relations with his Russian predecessors and contemporaries, and there is
a good deal of excellent literary criticism. I except from this the
literary obiter dicta which are partly the result of Nabokov's
compulsion to give unnecessary information: he cannot mention a book,
however obscure, which has influenced or been mentioned by Pushkin or
which contains something similar to something in Onegin without
inserting his opinion of it; and partly the result of his instinct to
take digs at great reputations" Cf.July 15, 1965 The Strange Case of
Pushkin and Nabokov - Edmund Wilson

Others: In an article written in 1988, The Barber of Kasbeam: Nabokov on
Cruelty, Rorty takes pains to describe Nabokov as a liberal malgré
lui-même, who provides a responsible perspective for looking out on
society, and a doorway into "participative emotion", like the one which
"moved liberal statesmen such as his own father." According to Rorty,
the "sinister aestheticism" that leads Nabokov to value style and
aesthetic rapture instead of ethics, is a cover-up for the author's
conflict with his own humanist dimension. This same fact is also
acknowledged by Peter Quenell (in his preface to one of the editions of
Lolita), who sees Nabokov as a benevolent humanist, in the European
tradition of Rabelais and Montaigne. A. Appel Jr., likewise, described
him as "an author whose deeply humanistic art affirms man's ability to
confront and order chaos". Terence Rattigan, who sees Lolita as
genuinely shocking, as only works of an elevated moral purpose can be,
agrees with Lionel Trilling, who states that "Lolita is not a book about
sex, it is a book about love." Could it be that Nabokov, as suggested by
Rorty, was aware of the link between art and torture? Was he describing
his own dilemmas between the nurturing of esthetical pleasure and a
certain practice of cruelty? Rorty's answer is based on the three
features he sees as most characteristic of Nabokov: his perversely
insistent aestheticism, the fear of being led to cruelty by this same
aestheticism and his concern with immortality. According to Rorty,
Nabokov was desperately trying to believe that "artistic gifts" were
"sufficient for moral virtue", even though he knew that there is no
possible synthesis between ecstasy and solidarity. In Richard Rorty's
opinion, the aestheticism in Nabokov, "one of the most powerful
imaginations of the 20th century," nevertheless leads us along a journey
of personal growth, since, in reading his books, we are forced to
recognize in ourselves forbidden fantasies and emotions, contradictory
facets that acquire dialectic expression as they are worked through.
According to Rorty, Nabokov did not intend to imitate reality, but
rather to modify it, and the reader as well. Rorty manages to find,
among the statements of an already mature Nabokov, one that serves to
justify his bet. In it, Nabokov defines art as the result of "beauty
plus pity"*

According to James Wood, "in his biography of Nikolai Gogol, Nabokov
writes that, when a very elevated level is reached, as in Gogol,
'literature is no longer interested in taking pity on the poor devil, or
cursing the rich fellow. It aims at that secret depth in the human soul,
where the shadows of other worlds pass as the shadows of anonymous and
unfathomable ships.' Nabokov believed that "the capacity to wonder at
trifles - no matter the imminent peril - these asides of the spirit,
these footnotes in the volume of life, are the highest forms of
consciousness, and it is this childish speculative state of mind, so
different from common sense and its logic that we know the world to be
good", since he maintained "an irrational belief in the goodness of
man..." that "becomes something much more than the wobbly basis of
idealistic philosophy. It becomes a solid and iridescent truth" Yet, of
the pitiable handful of verbs referring to emotion in the book, one is
expended in the sentence 'Not that I particularly liked Lenski' (a
tutor). And when he fears that his father may have engaged in a duel, he
avows dustily that there was 'a tender friendship underlying my respect
for my father." When his childhood best friend is killed while fighting
with General Deniken against the Bolsheviks, he can only nod toward
"richer words than I can muster here." Worst, perhaps, is the suave
paragraph he devotes to his brother Sergey's demise in a Nazi
concentration camp.
Like Proust's Marcel, Vladimir lies miserable in his darkened bedroom,
but there are none that you find in Proust--the crippling separation anxiety of Maman
closing the door and padding downstairs. Instead we get--wonderfully,
wonderfully--the quality of light coming from his nanny's door 'some 20
heartbeats' distance' from his bed". Cf. .Delicious Pedantry By James
Wood (Monday, April 26, 1999)

* - Cf. Jansy B. S. Mello: "Lolita: from book to film: Freudians, Keep
Out Please"

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