NABOKV-L post 0000072, Mon, 16 Aug 1993 09:43:18 -0700

---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1993 13:32:13 +0100
From: leona toker <>

1. I share Galya's objection to John Foster's statement
that Ganin decides to "reject the past." This
formulation is ambiguous, potentially misleading, and
(in current contexts) rather too loaded. As Gene reminds us, it
is a possible present state of affairs that Ganin "rejects" (which
is, however, no extenuating circumstance for his actual brutality to Mr.
Alfyorov or for his virtual brutality to Mrs. Alfyorov), but
what is actually meant in John's text is that Ganin decides to
move on, and with this one hardly has any quarrel.
2. Time to put on record at least some of the things in John's essay
that vastly compensate for one infelicitous sentence.
The reading of "Mary" is enriched by the literary contexts into
which John places this novel, by his discussion of the echoes
that may be heard in the passage about the unfinished
house at the end (there is a culturally overdetermined image
there, with perhaps even more ramifications--but the
ones mentioned are very much to the point), and by his
suggestion of a paradigmatic construct based on the
concepts of memory and anticipation. Textual evidence is
very well used to establish that "Mary" was
written before Nabokov read much of Proust. A question to
John: Perhaps the same can be said about Bergson's
"Matter and Memory"? Can "Mary" can be regarded
as testing the Bergsonian distinction between spontaneous
and the step-by-step memory (and finding that distinction
not all that clear-cut), or did the very issue of drawing
this Bergsonian distinction arise only later?
3. I disagree with Galya concerning Nabokov's alleged lenience
to people with artistic sensibilities: the most that such people are
justified in is the breaking of social conventions. Causing suffering to
another, or remaining insensitive to the suffering of
another, is not redeemed by the finest of artistic tastes or by
the loftiest of pursuits (see esp., Nabokov's poem "The Mother"). Many
episodes in "Speak, Memory" are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly,
devoted to the author's remorse for having hurt others or been
inattentive to their pain. Ganin, who, incidentally, can "sell anything,"
is one of the Nabokovian characters who can sometimes almost make us
forget this, but Nabokov does place reminders in the text (and there
are big issues behind trivial acts like stuffing cigarette butts into
mailboxes, esp. if presented as characterizing a person).
4. Concerning the echo of the Nietzschean fantasy of eternal return
in the novel: the idea of cyclic repetitions at giant
intervals is, of course, one way towards concluding that nothing
is really transient, that the riches of one's consciousness,
including memory, are not lost with one's death, that they will
return sometime. This return is in no way dependent on the artist:
creative consciousness can affect the quality of what will return
but not the recurrence itself. Yet from this one can also derive
the idea of one's immense responsibility for any most evanescent
action--because it remains (will recur), and the suffering that
it causes will remain for eternity as well. It would be safe to
say that Nabokov did not accept this Nietzschean cosmogony
(as he did not accept many of his other ideas), yet he must have
lived in its vicinity for quite a while.
Leona Toker