Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026076, Fri, 13 Mar 2015 19:27:42 -0300

Van Bock's "artist's studio" and redemption?


[ ] In an interview published in 1973, Nabokov was asked how a reader
should experience the end of one of his novels. His answer shows that the
tableau-vivant idea from thirty-five years before had, at the very least,
tapped a deep root in Nabokov's conception of novelistic structure.

I think what I would welcome at the close of a book of mine is a sensation
of its world receding in the distance and stopping somewhere there,
suspended afar like a picture in a picture: The Artist's Studio by Van Bock.

Subsequent scholarship has it that Nabokov's imaginary painter calls to mind
Jan Van Eyck, whose Arnolfini Portrait contains a tiny reflection on a
concave mirror of two wedding witnesses where the artist must have been
standing with his easel––and just so, "Van Bock" is a scrambled, slightly
cracked reflection of the artist (a la Vivian Darkbloom, Adam Von Librakov,
Baron Klim Avidov, and other ringers). Let us note, however, that the
Arnolfini Portrait was part of the Spanish Royal collection when Diego
Velázquez was appointed curator by Philip lV (the King of Spain being also
the acquisitive soveriegn of the Hapsurg Netherlands.) And it is the
off-kilter reflexivity of Velasquez's masterpiece even more than Van Eyck's
seminal antecedent that Nabokov's "a picture in a picture" particularly
describes: "Velázquez," his paint brush poised, sizes us up as if we 10 were
the royal couple reflected dimly in the mirror behind him which he is in the
process of painting onto the very canvas we are looking at. To wonder at
this topology is indeed to become "suspended." If Las Meninas, with its
credo of authorial intrusion into a hall of mirrors, is an undeniable
template for Nabokov's Van Bock assertion (perhaps via Van Eyck), then we
are returned to the tableau-vivant of 89 Seconds at Alcazar, our starting
point. And this in turn reminds us that one particular book of Nabokov's
might indeed be described as closing with "a picture in a picture." Could
Nabokov in 1973 have been pointing to the overlooked final pose of Laughter
in the Dark?––revisiting, as it were, the scene of the crime? Might he have
been confessing, as with the Steinberg and Soglow cartoons, something
crucial about the painter of Albinus's vengeful Dutch Landscape? (the
excerpts I selected are insufficient, I recommend reading the entire article
by David Brodie)

In the quote that led me to the present one that is related to Van Bock’s
studio, we read: “I don’t write consecutively from the beginning to the
next chapter and so on to the end. I just fill in the gaps in the picture,
of this jigsaw puzzle which is quite clear in my mind, picking out a piece
here and a piece there and filling out part of the sky and part of the
landscape and part of the – I don’t know, the carousing hunters.” (SO,
16-17),1962. Here, my association led me to Brueghel and to his painting
“Hunters in Winter,” and this reference could indicate a distance between
this quote (1962) and the later one (1966, following an editor’s note in
SO), the one with a connection to Van Eyck, to another painting by Brueghel
and to the one of Velazquez in his studio. Nevertheless, I don’t believe
that this pictorial distance belies my approach between VN’s various
assertions leading, in my eyes, to the idea that a finished book is, for
him, like a finished painting: distant, visually complete, glowing,
atemporal and “redemptive”(endorsing Sebald’s words).

Brueghel, Hunters in winter

The 1966 Van Bock quote, though, adds another element. The finished book is
“distant” for its author but his “studio and style” of composing it are as
much a part of the image than the content of the picture inside the picture.

Velazquez, Las Meninas.

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