NABOKV-L post 0005952, Mon, 7 May 2001 10:15:27 -0700

[Fwd: Philip Fisher on VN]

Jay Livingston wrote:

> This message was originally submitted by LivingstonJ@MAIL.MONTCLAIR.EDU to the
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> Philip Fisher, Harvard professor and winner of the 2000 Truman Capote
> Award for Literary Criticism for ⌠Hard Facts,■ interviewed in
> ⌠Colloquy,■ the alumni magazine of the Harvard grad school. The entire
> interview is, allegedly, available at
> Fisher: People were looking to Tolstoy or George Eliot to talk about
> everything of substantial moral weight because they were themselves some
> distance from religious sources. There was going to be a cooperative
> spiritual relationship between philosophers and novelists and so on
> about existential issues. People hadn▓t liberated themselves from
> looking to one master source of wisdom. Now, we▓re a more complexly
> secularized culture. One of the things that separates today▓s novel
> from that of the 19th century is the roles its trying to fill.
> Q: Which accounts for the slimmer books of today.
> Fisher: Or the element of play. It▓s one of the things most
> incompatible with that [Victorian] high seriousness. For me, one of the
> absolutely great careers stretching into the second half of the 20th
> century is Nabokov▓s, which is based on toying with language and a
> remarkably intellectual relation to moral life. Nabokov▓s central
> emphasis on cruelty as a moral vice demonstrates that you don▓t have to
> sacrifice the moral domain when you engage in lightness and gamelike
> behavior. . . . .
> Q: You have written that no work can become a classic in its own time.
> That said, would you hazard any recent contenders?
> Fisher: I think I wouldn▓t. The last thing you can feel confident about
> is ⌠Lolita,■ an American classic and a classic of language and
> observation. . . . . The embarrassment of premature classic status is
> clear when you consider ⌠Dr. Zhivago.■ When it was published it was
> immediately taught, and every course went from Homer to Tolstoy to ⌠Dr.
> Zhivago.■ The same was true in recent years of ⌠One Hundred Years of
> Solitude.■ . . . . .At this point there▓s a temptation to think it▓s
> going to be a big book because at the beginning of the 20th century we
> had ⌠Ulysses.■ The instance of ⌠Lolita,■ a sly and tiny classic, is a
> sign that it doesn▓t happen where you think it will.