NABOKV-L post 0017308, Wed, 12 Nov 2008 22:02:20 -0800

Re: Poetry: Language and Love ...
I agree one hundred percent, but I think the critic was merely echoing that old idea that Nabokov's novel was a record of his love affair with the English languange which Nabokov himself deemed a correct reading at the end of his "On A book entitled Lolita" essay. The critic took this idea somewhat literally and a certain absurdity obtains, but a not uninstructive one, because it seems like the idea of linguistic proxy, while not being exactly the heart of the book, represents a certain Quixotic something that constantly dogs Humbert. Why else should he have bothered trying to arrange assignations on beaches with Lolita, with the usual disappointing results, if a fatal mix up between what he sees as his poetic Love and his matter of fact desire hadn't flawed his perspective in rather rhetorically self-serving ways? After all, as he tells us at novel's end, if he can't have Lolita in life he can at least have her linked to him forever through his
literary depiction of their relationships's ugly failure! His brilliant success at this poses all sorts of strange problems, not the least of which reminds me of the end of Proust's search for lost time. That book slowly dramatized how the narrator grew up and lost his innocence, becoming disillusioned with friendship, romance, glamour, everything, until at the end he decided he could redeem it all by rewriting the whole thing as a kind of dreamy repetition of motifs and cross-references. He doesn't transform the meaning of the material so that things turn out happy though. No he just tells it all over again, the loss, and corruption, and falseness until his fictional self confronts the facts of the passage of time once more and he goes home to start writing again, and so on so forth into a vertiginous implied eternal spiral of hope and inevitable decay. Where then does the redemtion come from? In the same vein, I always wondered, is
artistic perfection really much of a palliative for Humbert? Because if it is, then Humbert doesn't really believe, as he says, that he has only words to play with. 

--- On Wed, 11/12/08, Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ> wrote:

From: Stan Kelly-Bootle <skb@BOOTLE.BIZ>
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Poetry: Language and Love ...
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 1:35 PM

On 12/11/2008 00:58, "Sandy P. Klein" <spklein52@HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

Poetry: Language and Love
by Alexander Nazaryan
Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd, Stanislav Shvabrin, eds., Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry

(Harcourt, 2008)

Love for Vladimir Nabokov was hardly a matter of the heart. He once suggested that a writer should work with “the imagination of a scientist,” and even his finest prose—probably Lolita and Speak, Memory—is more distinguished for a lapidary concern with the nuance of language than the humanistic and religious grappling of the great Russian novelists who proceeded him. Lolita may be a coquette, but it is the boundless possibility of English that is the true object of Humbert Humbert’s lust. An exemplary polymath, Nabokov found himself enthralled more by the near-infinite cornucopia afforded by words; the lives drawn by them sometimes seem secondary.

In the interests of the Nabokovian linguistic precision being touted by reviewer Alexander Nazaryan, a key notion in modern linguistics is that the “cornucopia afforded by words” is not “near-infinite” but truly infinite. Indeed, we can state quite precisely that the number of finite sentences over a finite alphabet is aleph-0 (Cantor’s countable infinity). There’s literally “no end” to the list of possible sentences; and we can arrange them all lexicographically and assign each a unique positive integer 1, 2, 3, ... This is what we mean by a “countable” (or “denumerable”) infinity: any set whose members can be put into a 1-1 correspondence with the infinite set 1, 2, 3, ... This is not way-out arcane stuff, but first-year collegiate bread’n’butter maths from the late 19th century.  What is arcane and enthralling is that, given an arbitrary mapping of integers to letters/words/sentences, the entire Nabokovian published corpus
can be found embedded in sequences of the digits of (Greek) PI!

Moving quickly to Nazaryan’s conjecture that HH’s real lust was for words rather than for nymphets. Really? That would lead to a drastic re-reading of “Lolita” the novel! We would now seem to have HH inventing his carnal adventures; are Lo and his other victims merely figments of a frustrated but highly literate imagination?  If so, surely Nabokov (the onlie begetter!) would have provided clues for such a hypothesis? As presented, VN offers the coherent narrative of a real luster after young, physical flesh. True, HH is not your average paedo. He relishes flowery, literary thoughts about his nymphets, but these are not substitutes for the real thing: the exploits he describes with equal relish (and accuracy?)

Stan Kelly-Bootle

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