Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000071, Fri, 13 Aug 1993 19:38:23 -0700

MARY (Reply to John Foster. Part II). (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 1993 18:54:08 -0700 (PDT)
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>
To: vladimir nabokov <nabokv-l%ucsbvm.BITNET@uwavm.u.washington.edu>
Subject: MARY (Reply to John Foster. Part II).

I am going to go on a limb here and make a generalization of the kind one
regrets later, but, as far as I am concerned, Nabokov is one of the most
un-Futuristic and un-Constructivist (which often amounts to the same
thing) writers of that generation both in Russia and Europe. There are
strong "constructivist" and "futuristic" echoes in many writers of the
period whom we do not usually associate with the movement -- in Platonov,
in Olesha, to name just a few -- but Nabokov is, if anything,
anti-futuristic. His tastes ran counter to theirs; he did not care either
for Mayakovsky, or for Khlebnikov. He detested early Pasternak and, I
suspect, even Mandelstam was at times too "futuristic" for him (Mandelstam
does have his "futuristic" moments). I do not know how he felt about
Italian futurists but I would be surprised if his feeling for them was
different from his feelings for their Russian counterparts.
Podtyagin's reference to futurism appears to be in tune with Nabokov's own
feelings -- black sky even though it is daytime; a man taking aim at his
head -- and then a rather revealing lament: "whenever we dream about
Russia we never dream of it as beautiful, as we know it was in reality,
but as something monstrous -- the sort of dreams where the sky is falling
and you feel the world's coming to an end" (81). I do agree with Jeff
Edmunds that this futuristic image is a) vastly different from the sunlit
sky at the end of the novel, which may be Nabokov's antithetic response
to what he perceived the futurist vision to be and b) is very close to
German Expressionism, which Nabokov loathed even more than Russian Futurism.

Two more points to support some of the things I mentioned in the earlier
message. That Ganin is an Artist, in Nabokov's view, is best supported by
the following quote from MARY: "He was a god, re-creating a world that had
perished" (33). To Nabokov, as to Joyce, only artists and gods could
create or re-create worlds. That Podtyagin is "internalized" by Ganin and
thus "immortalized" becomes evident, it seems to me, from the following
lines: "It occurred to him that Podtyagin nevertheless had bequeathed
something, even if nothing more than the two pallid verses which had
blossomed into such warm, undying life for him, Ganin..." (110). "Warm" is
predictable, "undying" is not. By affecting Ganin and penetrating his
inner life Podtyagin gains HIS entrance to immortality (Ganin's is a given).

Finally, cultural framework. Being a comparativist myself, I am in total
sympathy with your attempts to link Nabokov's modernism with that of the
other Europeans. I think more work of that sort needs to be done because
Nabokov's "split" bi-tri-cultural and linguistic personality deserves
nothing less. And yet, I still am not clear why, if Nabokov was not
"influenced" (in his "art of memory") by Joyce or Proust, it is important
to use them as relevant "modernist landmarks" (in THIS particular case; in
other cases I agree they are more than relevant).