NABOKV-L post 0018639, Wed, 7 Oct 2009 01:29:11 -0300

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Re: [QUERY: SPEAK MEMORY]
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Suellen Stringer-Hye: This article was published several years ago. http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/05/17/nabokov/

JM: After James Twiggs acquainted me with Lev Grossman's 2000 article on "The Gay Nabokov," my original query ( an attempt to understand the words S.Karlinski quoted from "Speak Memory" as a "tribute" to Sergey) was substituted by a different one.
Lev Grossman's article is remarkable!

Phyllis A.Roth ("Toward the Man behind the Mystification) took "Speak Memory" as a point of departure for her investigation about "the concept of absolute artistic control," before she advances towards "the specific sources of the satisfaction gained by the artistic transformation of personal experiences." She introduces, at this point, "the transformative and cathartic functions of Nabokov's writing about homosexuals" which "clearly find their imperatives in Nabokov's memories of his brother Sergey and Unkle Ruka." Roth notes that "Nabokov never uses the term "homosexual" when describing them" (Sergey and Uncle Ruka), although she mentions that Andrew Field "corroborates its accuracy."
She also quotes the entire paragraph that ends with "the mere recognition of such a want can neither replace nor redeem."*

J.Aisenberg [in relation to the information about B.Boyd's approximation bt Lucette and Sergey, in "Ada"]: "...with both Lucette and Ada, Nabokov seems to have been parodying a set of complex readerly expectations. The two sisters are slyly described in terms of types...Nabokov's playing with one of the structuring principles of so many melodramatic works: the principal of oppositional characters: good girl/ bad girl... [he] turns everything upside down...My point is that when a book like this plays so intricately and sophisticatedly with literary genres it's probably dangerous to think the characters bear much of a relationship to people in the author's real life."

JM: It's the first time that I hear about this fascinating idea about Ada and Lucette as having been "slyly described in terms of types." It clarifies various issues without simplifying them. And yet, Van's avoidance of Lucette still remains a puzzle since Lucette was the only "tabbo" he could respect in his overall dissolute life**.








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* Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement" is a startling example of successful authorial control over plot and reader. He turns one of his characters (Briony) into an unreliable narrator and, thorugh her, he adds a double twist to the process of redemption. Briony deceives the reader into accepting the veracity of a happy ending in her story only to reveal, in the end, that she'd been lying about the events related to her sister and the man both loved. At the same time, she brings herself to confess her deceit without giving up her project of "atonement" which, actually, the confession about her second lie destroys.
As I see it, Vladimir Nabokov avoided similar pitfalls when he recognized, in his Memoir, that redemption, in relation to his obliteration of Sergey, was impossible.

**Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated by vice: repeated numbers, events, irrational actions; uncanny (or trivial) coincidences; intimations of immortality and of the transcendent - as these are encountered in life's "vicious circles." And, once again, James Twiggs acquainted me with an instigating essay on Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw" [ David S. Miall, "Designed Horror: James's Vision of Evil in The Turn of the Screw," in Nineteenth Century Fiction, vol. 39, No.3, 1984, pp 305-27], in which the essayist compares reports about apparitions, obtained from the Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, particularly the Morton Case, with the jamesian governess. Miall's arguments offer valuable insights into the artistic choice of "ghostly presences," as an aesthetic resource to deal with "Evil" - as we may also discern in Nabokov's "Pale Fire."
For him Henry James's attempt to express Evil without "the comparative vulgarity" as encountered in scientific "ghost-reportings", engenders the feeling of the "uncanny" as an expression of emotional and aesthetic values in James's novel. Although Miall dismisses the freudian theory about "sexual repression," most of his arguments stem from Freud's articles about "the uncanny" (Unheimlich) and the "death drive" and his instigating interpretation was also helpful when I envisioned Lolita's "abduction from normal childhood" and the overall sense of "evil isolation" I always experience when I read this novel.


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