Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0017996, Fri, 20 Mar 2009 10:23:08 -0400

Re: more Martin Gardner]
Dear Stan,

The interview I did with Gardner was focused on things other than Nabokov
(which is why there was so little to offer about Nabokov from it). But I did
ask Gardner about his metaphysics. He was a debunker of unscientific
thinking but as of 2008 still very much a champion of God-in-the-Universe
(my own name for it), which seemed to me a sort of science revealing the
divine, but which also seem somewhat separate from Intelligent Design.

I fished several times for *Pale Fire* material from Gardner. He enjoyed the
book, he liked the book, but he didn't have any special interpretations to
offer as of last year--which in no way rules out his having had those
interpretations several decades ago. He was convinced (as Johnson noted) and
mentioned in a revised version of *The Ambidextrous Universe* that *Look at
the Harlequins!* was influenced by the first version of his book.

In addition to Johnson's piece, another interesting one on this topic is
"Ambivalence: Symmetry, Assymetry, and the Physics of Time Reversal in
Nabokov's *Ada*," from *The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary
Strategies in the 20th century*, by N. Katherine Hayles.

And you are right about Gardner's modesty. He still sees himself as a lucky


On Fri, Mar 20, 2009 at 9:37 AM, Nabokv-L <nabokv-l@utk.edu> wrote:

> -------- Original Message -------- Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] more Martin
> Gardner Date: Fri, 20 Mar 2009 02:12:37 +0000 From: skb@bootle.biz To: Vladimir
> <CCAD54B9-D496-45BC-80D0-5876F1D88FCD@earthlink.net><CCAD54B9-D496-45BC-80D0-5876F1D88FCD@earthlink.net>
> Carolyn/ED: indeed, Martin Gardner is a _household_ name to all
> mathematicians, although he always modestly rules himself out of the
> category of "real" mathematician, being content to be justly famed for
> his prolific deeds in the branch of math known as "recreational." It's
> not easy for "outsiders" to appreciate the shifting gap, since many a
> playful notion, such as removing your waistcoat without first removing
> your jacket (ditto, no offense, shedding your knickers if your
> shoelaces are tied together) turns out to have deep topological
> implications!
> The mutual admiration 'twixt VN and MG is hardly surprising given
> their love of puzzles, word-play; after-life speculation (MG has a
> strange chapter in one of
> his memoirs, I recall, claiming a belief in life-after-death that was
> not incompatible with his agnosticism-bordering-on-atheism); Lewis
> Carroll (as well as annotating Alice, MG also wrote a wonderfully
> annotated Hunting of the Snark). Where VN might diverge from MG
> mathematically is in the oft-debated "dichotomy" between the
> "particular" and the "general." MG was more aware than VN that "real"
> mathematics _starts_ when all those amusing tricks with Pascal
> Triangles and Fibonacci Series turn out to be particular cases of much
> more magical "higher" abstractions.
> MG doesn't appear in the index of "VN Selected Letters, 1940-1977" but
> I _have_ found a rare error in that index! The entry 'Pale Fire p 322'
> sends you to a page 322 that has no such mention of PF! Was a ghostly
> Kinbote at work while Dmitri was pre-occupied? I would love to see any
> extant mail between VN and MG, and will explore the refs. given. As
> you'll see anon, MG gets a direct mention in Ada! There's added
> immortality!
> Dare I mention that I once wrote to MG pointing out an error in his
> description of the Turing Machine? Shortly after that article in
> American Scientist, he was
> replaced by the Hoffstadter (sp?) of Bach/Go:del/GoldenBraid fame, who
> proved a poor substitute. Not until my former colleague Ian Stewart
> FRS took over, did AmSci find a genuine "real" mathematician-columnist
> with MG's "recreational" prowess.
> The email below is a tad ambiguous, CK. Was your located tidbit the
> following
> para starting "EDNOTE ..." or is that a current EDNOTE commenting on your
> finds?
> The exchanges between VN and MG, recounted in Brian Boyd's VN-TAY,
> page 465 (and presumably explored further in the refs. below) is most
> amusing.
> "This increasingly depressing ritual [a spate of mis-ascribing quotes
> to VN, e.g., some said Mary McCarthy was really a VN pseudonym!] was
> redeemed only by Nabokov fan Martin Gardner, who in his 'Ambidextrous
> Universe' attributed the poem 'Pale Fire' solely to John Shade, as if
> Nabokov never existed. In 'Ada,' Nabokov returned the compliment:
> 'Space is swarming in the eyes, and Time a singing in the eyes,' says
> John Shade, a modern poet, as quoted by an invented philosopher
> ('Martin Gardner') the 'Ambidextrous Universe,' page 165."
> (Ada, p 542)
> There no sign in these snippets that MG's playful ref. to John Shade
> as the sole living author of the Cantos can be construed as MG
> supporting a Shade-as-Kinbote author of the Commentaries. Perhaps
> elsewhere MG advanced such claims?
> Again: pardons begged from those over-familiar with the above.
> skb
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