Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026796, Tue, 12 Jan 2016 03:56:48 +0000

David Bowie and Nabokov
With David Bowie's passing, I want to reflect on his reflections of Nabokov for a moment. Bowie's song "I'd Rather Be High" immortalized the 'Naa-bah-kahv' pronunciation in its opening lines:
Nabokov is sun-licked nowUpon the beach at GrunewaldBrilliant and naked justThe way that authors look
In a scene towards the end of Nabokov's novel The Gift, the main character, Fyodor, goes bathing in the nude in a Grunewald forest: “The sun bore down. The sun licked me all over with its big smooth tongue.” Bowie's application of Nabokov's imagery demonstrates an interest in Nabokov that extends beyond a mere reading of Lolita. In fact, the line that emphasizes "the way that authors look" reveals a possible attentive reading of the The Gift, since Nabokov's text implies the nude bather Fyodor's self-authorship.

However, it is more likely, as Chris O'Leary points out, that he never read The Gift, but rather knew the description from Otto Friedrich's Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s. This book, which quotes Nabokov's scene, is included in Bowie's list of "must-read books", which also includes Nabokov's Lolita and other books that show an interest in Russian culture more generally (Orlando Figes's A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1890-1924, Peter Sadecky's Octobriana and the Russian Underground, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange)

I'm uncertain whether Nabokov was aware of Bowie's homage or not.
Joseph SchlegelPhD CandidateUniversity of TorontoDepartment of Slavic Languages and Literatures

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