Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000077, Tue, 17 Aug 1993 19:36:22 -0700

MARY (Reply to Jeff Edmonds) (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 93 20:18 EST
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm
Subject: MARY (Reply to Jeff Edmonds)

Subject: MARY (Reply to Jeff Edmunds)

Dear Jeff Edmunds,

I know exactly what you mean by that over energetic ball-
server. Our dialogue has been further complicated by the
fact that I sent off my Friday response before getting your
Thursday comment. So this response will address issues
raised by both of your last *two* contributions.

1. On what happens when Mary arrives at the train station,
we should not forget that the Alfyorovs make a cameo
appearance in THE DEFENSE, where Mary is clearly shown to be
reunited with her husband (E203/R182-83).

2. I like your discussion of the double sense of "roman,"
but doesn't the strong denial of "konchilsia navsegda" apply
especially to the imaginative re-creation (the four days of
memory) even more strongly than to the original love affair?

3. Whether or not you agree with the term "open ending"
(which I believe was developed in a British context to
distinguish modernist novels from realistic ones), would you
agree that the ending is surprising in the sense that
readers are encouraged to think that Ganin will meet Mary
until he suddenly decides to leave Berlin without seeing
her? This abrupt turn coincides with the futurist allusion
that I am stressing, thereby giving it special force.

4. On the issue of futurist allusions and Podtyagin, all
that interested me was his actually using the term
"futurist" to describe his nightmare. What painter he had
in mind I don't know (I thought vaguely of Chagall, but have
no idea whether that makes sense; I assumed in any case
that it was a Russian, not an Italian). For my purposes
what counted was (1) that futurism is named in a narrative
situation that involves forgetting (but Podtyagin's loss of
his passport is far from the creative, life-furthering
forgetting of futurist manifestoes!) and (2) that it meshes
with the motifs of house and sky that will eventually
trigger Ganin's decision not to see Mary.

5. The Nietzsche issue is extremely complicated for
me, not least because I wrote a book on Nietzsche and modern
literature over a decade ago (long-term memories of my
own!). Let me try to encapsulate matters this way. Arthur
Danto once characterized Nietzsche's philosophy as a subtle
system of thought which had been illustrated with Ally Oop
cartoons. The subtle philosophy led to one current of
influence which I shall call esoteric Nietzscheanism, while
the Ally Oop cartoons resulted in vulgar Nietzscheanism.
Both the "Ubermensch" and "eternal return" are doctrines
that appear in THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA, but the first (though
susceptible of esoteric meanings) was one great source of
vulgar Nietzscheanism (along with the notorious "blond
beast" of THE GENEALOGY OF MORALS). "Eternal return," on
the other hand, required a much more complex response (not
least within ZARATHUSTRA itself, where the "Ubermensch" is a
rather blatant early doctrine but "eternal return" is the
enigmatic initiation into Nietzsche's "philosophy of the
future"). I would therefore argue that Ganin becomes more
interesting when he reacts to the latter doctrine (which in
any case appears explicitly in the text). I would further
argue that he fails this challenge, and that if you and
Galya are right in seeing many signs of what I would call
vulgar Nietzcheanism in him, from my perspective that
strengthens the case for seeing him as a flawed Nabokovian
hero. After all, there is some vulgar Nietzscheanism (fused
with Dostoevsky) in Nabokov's "zero" character Hermann, whom
as we know "Hell shall never parole" (preface to DESPAIR, p.

John Foster ["jfoster@gmuvax.gmu.edu"]