NABOKV-L post 0014521, Thu, 28 Dec 2006 12:26:43 -0500

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Translation of recently posted article on VN and Boyd's VNAY
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I don't claim any precise rendering since I don't speak Spanish and am not fully conversant with English. Please make an allowance for my crude, hasty, attempt at translation. Jansy

THE BOOK OF THE WEEK
Caustic, arrogant, amusing and vital
JOSE MARIA GUELBENZU
BABELIA - 23-12-2006

"Master of auto-reflexive fiction" is how Vladimir Nabokov (St.Petersburg, 1899 - Montreux, Switzerland, 1977) has been described. In truth this writer of genius, convinced as he was of his genius, managed to create a style that remains unique in spite of, paradoxically, extensively impregnating modern North-American narrative, the kind that is not exclusively dependent on realism.

Nabokov is an accomplished "detailist"; he employs an amazing wealth of gesture, postural quirks and things extracted from reality; but he is at his most fascinating when he transmutes these traits into literature. After he selects a description of what he is perceiving, he is equally as careful with details as he is when he transposes them into the realm of imagination.

The incessant fluency of images in his prose arises as a result of his powerful reflections on the expressive qualities of language. As his biographer correctly indicates, "only when the mind tries to reach beyond generalizations and common-place views do things truly begin to become real, individualistic, detailed and differentiated one from another" [NB: I have not at hand Boyd's original text in English, so I had to retranslate it somehow. -- JM].

Realism at its best must select reality by imitating what is then considered as significant; Nabokov gives us the feeling that he works in the opposite direction: he only accepts the reality that his imagination has previously illuminated; his magic - he appreciated magicians and sleights of hand - derives from his ability to present mental images as something real.

The American Years is the edition that completes and closes the biography started as The Russian Years ("Los años rusos", Anagrama,1992). It comprises the years 1940 to 1977 and it is divided in two: the American stage and his return to Europe. The first thing that one must signal here is that the biographer, Brian Boyd ( Belfast, 1952), on the question of detail leaves nothing to be desired in relation to Nabokov, since the minute description of Nabokov's life leads him to extreme density and repetition regarding certain subjects, once his surrender to VN is complete; perhaps this is the necessary tribute to a genius from a devoted fan.

In exchange for that, and this is what makes reading his book such a fascinating experience, is this biographer's capacity to integrate life and work, not because he belongs to the school of those who explain a work by the psychology and circumstances of an author's life, but because he adequately describes their creative relationship. For example: In 1948 a friend finds a home for the Nabokov couple. Nabokov informs him how totally incompetent he is with home heating and appliances. It will be here, in this same house, that Nabokov finishes his celebrated "Lolita"; Boyd points out a paragraph in the novel's afterword: " Every serious writer, I dare say, is aware of this or that published book of his as of a constant comforting presence. Its pilot light is steadily burning somewhere in the basement and a mere touch applied to one's private thermostat instantly results in a quiet little explosion of familiar warmth". The reader must be aware that in these lines the image results from the convergence and inspiring force of three elements (authorship, heating, and gratitude to his family) and that Boyd himself uses this example to illustrate how imagination fecundates VN's contact with an object before the creation of its image. Life and work, yes, but nothing about any personal trauma taken as a driving force for literary scenery: we get a very precise demonstration of how, beginning with a mental attitude and a special perspective, Nabokov could
transform the action of an artifact into a creative action.

Well, this is how Bn his book and how he can seduce any demanding Nabokov reader into his narrative.

Nabokov's character is expressed through his texts and Boyd attempts successfuly to analyse not the soul but the artistic conscience of his character. Then this same conscience starts to tread along the places he walks, like a lepidopterist hunting butterflies - and life and art come together. For the rest we find how Nabokov appears as a caustic, arrogant, amusing and vital person, disdainful towards those who he thought deserved his dismissal and affected by a strong sense of the past and its relationship with destiny (again the person and his work come together). Concerning the past, we must still add that he doesn't throw himself in the arms of nostalgia, but he relies in memory, a more valiant and intelligent force. Nabokov lacks objectivity ( not talent) as a critic and there we again come across his conviction to be a genius, but as Arthur Mizener says of him: "The innocence that accompanied this extraordinary mind became more obvious through his extreme and inoffe!
nsive vanity" ("La inocencia que acompañaba a esa mente extraordinaria era más obvia en su vanidad, considerable y totalmente inofensiva".)

Literary work and an itinerary through reality, intimately bound together, constitute the kernel of this excellent and exhaustive biography, one that demands a similar surrender on the part of its reader. And yet, Nabokov was still more demanding because he chose to risk entrusting the intelligent and sensible reader as the sole destined recipient of his work.

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