Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002390, Fri, 26 Sep 1997 15:42:50 -0700

Edmund White on VN (fwd)
------------------ A book catalog blurb for Edmund White's THE BURNING
LIBRARY: ESSAYS ("...spanning topics from the joys of gay life to the
writings of Nabokov...") sent me after the book to take a look at the
Nabokov essay. Turns out it was the "Beyond Parody" essay that appeared
in the Gibian-Parker ACHIEVEMENT'S volume (and a shorter version in the
"New York Review of Books," 29 March 1984). I won't comment on the essay
itself (though it's a fine one, in my opinion), since it's probably
already familar, or easily available in the Achievements volume, to most
list subscribers, but I thought it might be of interest to cite the other,
fairly numerous, comments on VN in the collection. I will follow the
example of Mary Krimmel's recent series of submissions on Nabokov mentions
in Douglas Hofstadter's *Le Ton Beau de Marot*, and quote 2-3 mentions in
each posting. If anyone is interested in acquiring the White book, it is
listed in Edward R. Hamilton's July 25 catalog at $3.95 (paper). Address:
Edward R. Hamilton, Falls Village CT 06031-5000; Web address

First, the editor David Bergman's "Introduction" twice mentions VN's
influence on White: "Isherwood, with Vladimir Nabokov, was one of the
greatest influences on White's development." (xv) "In many ways Isherwood
is the extreme opposite of White's other great influence, Vladimir Nabokov.
Where Isherwood is direct, Nabokov is labyrinthine; where Isherwood is
colloquial, Nabokov is rhetorical; where Isherwood is plainly sincere,
Nabokov is floridly parodistic; where Isherwood's fiction is a thin cover
for the autobiographical, Nabokov's autobiographical allusions lead to
wildly proliferating fictions; where one is quietly gay, the other is
triumphantly hetero. A reader has the sense that Isherwood would like to
strip off all masks (if one could) whereas Nabokov can't seem to find
enough masks to put on. It is hard to imagine how a writer could be
influenced by two such extremely different sensibilities. Yet,in White they
come together. Isherwood's austerity is a way toward the carnivalesque
cornucopia of Hindu beliefs and Nabokov's Baroque fantasies the winding
road toward some blinding field of light. Both find in the erotic the key
to imaginative energy and the most alluring obstacle to understanding.
Finally, they both serve as a bridge between American culture and European
culture - a transatlantic sensibility that seems to be White's destiny."

2) From White's 1979 essay, "On James Merrill": "The suave art of Merrill's
earlier work...lies in his ability to unearth the casual correspondences
that link seemingly disparate things..." "...we watch, heart in mouth, as
Merrill swings airily from one distant point to another, his only net the
wonderfully pliable and resilient interconnections of words.... Never do
these verbal games stop or stump us; were we to ignore them the flow of
thought and sentiment would still devolve with the same fine momentum. Take
these bravura lines:
Jung says - or if he doesn't, all but does -
That God and the Unconscious are one. Hm.
The lapse that tides us over, hither, yon,
Tide that laps us home away from home.
Every syllable is melting under us but never gives way until we, like
little Eva, have crossed the ice. In this way, as in so many others,
Merrill recalls Vladimir Nabokov. He, too, knew everything and never
resisted a joke, but his wit was not even visible to the careless or
uninformed eye. The sense rushes us along, but should we pause we would
notice the nine-tenths of the submerged myth, the frosty arabesques of
detail, the glistening, blinding, shifting perspectives." (51-53)

Earl Sampson (esampson@cu.campus.mci.net)
Boulder, CO