Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026487, Thu, 1 Oct 2015 08:37:43 -0300

Re: [THOUGHTS] Associations related to a TV series: compassion
and pity?
* Frances Assa: Right you should ask, Jansy*. VN's books are very
much about pity, and yet it seems confined to the books, and not shared by
the writer, who keeps an authorial distance. Who are we to judge a man who
kept his private life very private. He was an obsessive--it was all about
his work. The best authors are like that. There was much to make him
saddened, but he avoided that assiduously.

Jansy Mello: In the first place, thanks for sharing the photos of
St.Petersburg, Nabokov's childhood house and yourself with Tatyana

Indeed, VN's books are "about pity. confined to the books," or, as I see it,
the kind of pity that results from a character's conscious, almost
artificial effort to pay attention to the people around him. However, on the
whole, what predominates is the resigned pity that overwhelms characters and
author when they experience wanton cruelty, destruction - and the
transience of beauty or of an individual's life as it is expressed or
transformed into art: pity caused by mortality and decay.

Curiously, VN not only pairs beauty and pity in his Lecture on Kafka(
"Beauty plus pity-that is the closest we can get to a definition of art."),
but also in his words about Cervantes' Don Quixote: "His blazon is pity, his
banner is beauty. He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure,
unselfish, and gallant."# Here, the pity VN has attributed to Don Quixote
is of a different sort than the one he expressed in Lolita's afterword. It's
not "selfish" ( a lamentation caused by the realization that ourselves and
our art are condemned to death and destruction) but it arises as an
expression of what's best in humanity.

In many articles on VN's ethics and underlying philosophy both kinds of pity
are blended into one (the "humanistic" type) and, as I see it, it's a
mistake. After all, VN allows himself to feel "virtual" pity towards most of
his characters ( with the very strange exception of Herman Herman), but he
can be rather cruel with his readers.As Fran Assa has pointed out we know
very little about how pity affected him in his personal life ("he kept his
private life very private"), there are occasional hints of kindness and
stinginess in his letters and, indirectly, there's proof of his overwhelming
"human" pity in "Pnin," when he cringes over Mira's and her people's
destiny - as it has been amply demonstrated by his scholars.

I searched for an instructive bibliography and found an article on "cruelty"
by Leland de la Durantaye which I mention here even before I've read it**
for VN's dealings with cruelty are far easier to spot than his "stated and
practiced views on art" or his "disguised pattern". I must confess that I'm
trying to read V.Nabokov not simply as a "great XXth Century author" but as
a harbinger of "new surprises," both in literature as in life.***


*JM:When Lito (episode 5, "Art [is like] Religion" in "Sense8", a Netflix
series) forgetting his role as a rude character in a Mexican movie began to
shed tears, he explained to the director that his grief was caused by the
realization that "all beauty is temporary.". Why was I reminded of Nabokov
just then? " The lines that I had in mind, from his Lecture on Kafka, are:
"Beauty plus pity-that is the closest we can get to a definition of art." ."
Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must
die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies
with the individual." VN was not indicating "human compassion", was he?
[snip] In VN's afterword to Lolita we find: "For me a work of fiction
exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic
bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other
states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the
norm" . Tenderness, kindness, pity? Towards whom?

**The Pattern of Cruelty and the Cruelty of Pattern in Vladimir Nabokov
tspec=date&submit=Submit> Leland de la Durantaye

Abstract: Few of Nabokov's readers have begrudged him their admiration, but
many their affection. A remarkable number of them - from Calvino to Rorty,
Michael Wood, Joyce Carol Oates, Martin Amis and others - have cited his
'cruelty' as a reason. This essay traces this charge of cruelty not only to
the thematic presence of cruelty in many of his works, but also to Nabokov's
stated and practiced views on art. Central here is his stated indifference
to the concerns of 'average' readers and his practice of including signs and
symbols in his work that point to a disguised pattern difficult both to make
out and to interpret. This essay endeavours to clarify Nabokov's conception
and use of pattern in his works and to suggest that it may help clarify the
response of many of his readers.

#-Quoted by G.Davenport in the foreword to "Lectures on Don Quixote" p.xix

*** -and I don't mean death as in ""Life is a great surprise. I do not see
why death should not be an even greater one."

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