NABOKV-L post 0017923, Fri, 13 Mar 2009 22:17:39 -0300

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Re: THOUGHTS: re: Rorty
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J.Aisenberg: Richard Rorty's thoughts about Humbert were brought in because he, the journalist, suggested that Rorty's interpretation was apposite to the government's agenda: Rorty thought Humbert's way of talking about Lolita often made the audience complicit with his abuse[...] It reminded me of that interview I read with Dimitri Nabokov [...] I think it was in the first issue of the Nabokov Online Journal. As for your description of the racial line up [...] it's no wonder you have no idea what it all means, since I believe in Brazil there is legally no distinction between ethnic groups; it's against the law, isn't it?

JM: David Powelstock mentioned Rorty's arguments in Leona Toker's article, which I hope I'll soon read in a different context*.
I cannot remember how in one of his forewords to VN Rorty had considered the consequences of "making an audience complicit with his abuse", wasn't it to repent about it later and be shamed into compassion?
Thank you for going to the trouble to read the article and present a clear summary to all of us. You realize, of course, that in Brazil it is against the law is to make abusive distinctions between ethnic groups and not, to discriminate (in its original sense), ie, to notice distinguishing or relevant details in objects, landscapes, cultures and peoples.
Indeed, I "have no idea what it all means" - and not only concerning a glib journalistic reference to HH in relation to torture, or statistics that ignore what "white" means. Kinbote (CK and his real or invented Shade) knew better! (cf. note to line 470:
[...] Assistant Professor Misha Gordon[...] remarked that "of course, God might choose His people but man should choose his expressions." Shade said that more than anything on earth he loathed Vulgarity and Brutality, and that one found these two ideally united in racial prejudice[...]As a dealer in old and new words (observed Shade) he strongly objected to that epithet [colored] not only because it was artistically misleading, but also because its sense depended too much upon application and applier [...] Figures in the first scientific works on flowers, birds, butterflies and so forth were hand-painted by diligent aquarellists. In defective or premature publications the figures on some plates remained blank. The juxtaposition of the phrases "a white" and "a colored man" always reminded my poet, so imperiously as to dispel their accepted sense [...] "And moreover [he said] we, whites, are not white at all, we are mauve at birth, then tea-rose, and later all kinds of repulsive colors."

C.Kunin: Doesn't Gradus carry an umbrella?
JM: And a trilby, you once mentioned in connection to hypnotism. Or a bowler hat? There are some mentions to umbrellas but, in most cases ( like the wonderful description in RLSK of Mr. Siller's "a duck in deep mourning", VN enjoys their shape to enhance typically Russian gestures, like Pnin's waving it up and down while he walks. I must have hallucinated a reference to Bernheim's experimental umbrella...
Thank you for your collaboration. There are a few remaining novels to check ( Hugh's father's fumblings with one, in TT?) Or, perhaps in "Natasha"...

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*- In his 1988 article "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', such as the one which moved liberal statesmen such as his own father". According to him, the "sinister aestheticism" that leads VN 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".
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.
I confess that I'm not aware of the link ( art and torture). And I always keep in mind the difference between one's fantasy life and what one "acts out" in one's daily life in conformity with these fantasies ( this is true perversion in contrast to writing novels about pervert characters) .


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