NABOKV-L post 0019012, Tue, 29 Dec 2009 22:03:59 -0200

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[NABOKOV-L] "a compound effect"
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I came across one example of James Joyce's use of "literally" and I remembered a heated debate about the same occurrence in VN* .
James Joyce ( The first sentence of "The Dead"): " Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet."

Hugh Kenner, in "Joyce's Voices" observed: "Whaterver Lily was literally (Lily?) she was not literally run off her feet. She was (surely?) figuratively run off her feet, but according to a banal figure. And the figure is hers, the idiom: "literally" reflects not what the narrator would say (who is he?) but what Lily would say (...)Joyce is at his subtle game of specifying what pretensions to elegance are afoot on this occasion, and he does so with great economy...(...) So that first sentence was written, as it were, from Lily's point of view..."
For Kenner, "one of the reason the quiet little stories in Dubliners continue to fascinate is that the narrative point of view unobtrusively fluctuates...The grammar (...) is that of third-person narrative, imparting a deceptive look of impersonal truth. The diction frequently tells a different tale." (Quantum books, page 16)

Although I don't think Nabokov's sentence in Invitation to a Beheading could be interpreted as containing any special tactics to shift the narrative point of view, by applying the word "literally", I think that Kenner's interpretation may be helpful to find other instances in which VN did, indeed, employ a similar procedure ( I got no special examples but certain moments in Ada or Ardor came to my mind at once), when he intended to present an apparently objective view of an event being distorted by its participants's very particular vocabulary. Does anyone remember an example of this kind of thing taking place in a novel by VN?

When Nabokov criticizes Lermontov's reiterated use of stale expressions (to be lost in thought, to assume an air, etc or code sentences as "she grew pale" or "pulling him by the sleeve") his interesting arguments lead him to conclude that " It is the agglomeration of othervise insignificant words that come to life. When we start to break the sentence or the verse line into its quantitative elements, the banalities we perceive are often shocking... but, in the long run, it is the compount effect that counts, and this final effect can be traced down to Lermontov to the beautiful timing of all the parts and particles of the novel" (Mihail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, a foreword).

I wish a "compound effect" of a similar nature had not been spoiled in TOoL because of its fragmentary state. There are paragraphs with terrible puns and puerile wordplay and images (potent potentate, erect a fountain, etc) which, perhaps, in a proper context would come out quite differently.
JM

(PS: I still cannot get over the Brazilian translator's choice for "tickly-looking holes" as indicating "like ticks in their little houses" - but VN did write "tickly", not "ticklish".)
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* NABOKV-L Archives -- April 2006 (#7)
On March 26, the Boston Globe's regular Sunday column, "The Word," was devoted to "adverbial hyperbole" featuring the word "literally," and
included this tantalizing reference: "Thoreau, Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, and Vladimir Nabokov have also been fingered as _literally_ abusers." Curious, I asked the columnist, Jan Freeman, for evidence of VN's guilt. She cited this example from Invitation to a Beheading, as quoted in both the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage: "And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell." Below is a link to Freeman's column:
http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2006/03/26/a_literal_obsession/
Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

NABOKV-L Archives -- April 2006 (#11)
Jan Freeman objects to the cliche'd use of 'literally' used as hyperbole. In the context of the surreal atmosphere of the novel, I think there is ...
NABOKV-L Archives -- April 2006 (#21)
First, from Sam Schuman: This seems to me literally a tempest in a teapot...
NABOKV-L Archives -- December 2007 (#18)
R S Gwynn said "If a poet's metaphors are taken literally, no end of damage can be done to what he or she intends. This has been done, in an especially ...
NABOKV-L Archives -- December 2007 (#38)

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