Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014328, Sun, 10 Dec 2006 10:25:23 -0000

Re: Danish stilettto
Well, yes, as far as W.S goes. I really meant that Nabokov is making an
allusion (just as Thomas Nashe used to do to great effect: ('hast never
heard of Will Monox. and his great dagger?')) by conflating ideas from a
Shakespeare play, to give us a clue. But even your 'surely', to point to
what you think is obvious, is doubtful: Andrew Hadfield has suggested that
'take arms against a sea of troubles/ And by opposing, end them' might well
argue that Hamlet is here considering killing Claudius (?with a dagger?)
which would pretty quickly entail his own death. It's a very plausible
reading, in the context - 'whether . . in the mind to suffer/ Or . . .'.
'Bare' might mean 'mere'; or it might not.



From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf
Of Stan Kelly-Bootle
Sent: 09 December 2006 13:32
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Danish stilettto

On 1/12/06 17:25, "Penny McCarthy" <penmc@BTCONNECT.COM> wrote:

Charles, But a bodkin is a Danish stiletto. Hamlet's 'bare bodkin' - a
dagger held by a Danish prince. Penny.

Penny/Charles: hard to determine exacly what range of implements WS and/or
his audience would have had in mind. The idea that our 'quietus' (death**)
can be achieved with a stiletto or dagger is surely a tad too obvious
(that's what daggers are for!), compared with the frightening notion that a
noble life can be ended with a mere (bare for alliteration!) domestic needle
or hairpin? We are back (again) to the problem of semantic spread and the
dangers of dogma.

** Irony: Hamlet's dad hardly enjoyed a quiet life after death!

Jansy wrote:

Someone in the know might express something like: One must read Nabokov both
sincronically and diacronically, like a person listening to myths recited by
Homeric followers. And more...read him as poet and scientist, geographer
and historian, like someone ennamoured with Vermeer and Picasso. Like a
teacher in Physics....

I prefer to read & relish VN's novels as the great, uniquely anti-didactic
novels they are. Full stop! I suppose the analogy with Homer's bards has
some weight, BUT prends garde a toi. Homer's audiences KNEW the characters &
endings and BELIEVED the stories; the Gods and Goddesses, mortals and semis
were REAL not mythic. This was HISTORY in the original sense of
ENTERTAINMENT. VN's novels also entertain (does this expose me as pre-modern
old-fashioned? Even catsarses [JJ's catharsis] can be diverting) after many
re-readings - so, like Homer's original listeners, we are familiar with the
plot-twists yet delight in the re-telling - and in a modern way the
characters become as real as our neighbours. For 27 UK sterling pounds, I
recently downloaded the audio-Lollita from Apple's iTunes (a real golden
trashery - I've found many of my own early vinyl, now digitised,
performances [under my nom-de-folk, Stan Kelly]) . LO is now instantly
accessible on my iPod (next to my heart-shirt-pocket) with J Irons playing
the monster. Unlike the movies, DN, this Lolita is UNabridged,
UNbowdlerised. And I hope the VN estate benefits from this downloading
technology where PIRACY prevails beyond any reasonable control. ASCAP have
not yet forwarded any rewards for my own iTunes material!

Reading VN the entomologist, physicist, theologian, logician, historian,
autobiographer, self-commentator, literary-critic, translator,
teasing-interviewee, or mathematician* is, as they say, rather OTHER.
Needless to say, the sublime style, wit and mischief shine through,
defining the eponymous, undivided monistic 'Nabokovian.'

* In Speak Memory [pp 36-7], VN recalls losing his early "abnormal
aptitude for mathematics, which I completely lost in my singularly
talentless youth. This gift played a horrible part in tussles with quinsy or
scarlet fever, when I felt enormous spheres and huge numbers swell
relentlessly in my aching brain. A foolish tutor had explained logarithms to
me much too early, and I had read (in a British publication, the Boy's Own
Paper, I believe) about a certain Hindu calculator who in exactly two
seconds could find the seventeenth root of, say,

3529471145760275132301897342055866171392 (I am not sure if I have got this
right; anyway the root was 212)"

WELL NOW: a quick check (log [212^17] ~= 17 x 2.3 ~= 39) indicates that VN
either remembered the plausible 40-digit number and its plausible 17th root
OR the whole sequence is a Nabokovian trick. Stay tooned as we fire up

Jansy also wrote:

*It is soooo amazing, there is no precise word in English for "Sehnsucht" or
"Saudades" . Later I'll find a comment on the latter by Nabokov, while
lecturing on Cervantes.

I respond, pulling out the polished pulpit:

WHAT's a WORD? Harder still: What's a PRECISE WORD? Even harder: What's a
precise ENGLISH word? "The English have no precise word for a semi-spherical
domed abode built from snow-blocks!" Of course we do! We BORROWED 'igloo'
from the Inuktitut noun 'iglu' meaning 'house.' And we'll NEVER GIVE IT
BACK! One might as well say that the Germans had no precise WORD for
'pining' untill they COMBINED two older roots (sehen + suchen). And so it
goes. Building and borrowing. Different languages build and invent words in
different ways. When does a PHRASE become a WORD? (Recall the polysynthetic
languages discussed here way back such as Cherokee and Inuktitut where a
'word' can run into a 'sentence?') Who defines all those IDIOMS? Who defines

Stan Kelly-Bootle

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