Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000078, Tue, 17 Aug 1993 19:37:50 -0700

MARY (Reply to Galya Diment) (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 93 20:19 EST
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm
Subject: MARY (Reply to Galya Diment)

Subject: MARY (Response to Galya Diment)

Dear Galya,

Here is my response to five points in your Friday, August 13
contribution to our on-going discussion.

1. The stronger language in the Russian version of the
"exhausted-sated" sentence goes along with the stronger
language I noted ("konchilsia navsegda") in the previous
sentence in my August 12 response to Jeff Edmunds. This
leads to a question we must all face when working with
Nabokov's bilingual works -- which one is the definitive
edition, the earlier Russian version or the later English
one, approved and edited by Nabokov himself? Given my
emphasis on where Nabokov was in the 1920s, I tried to stick
with the Russian text; but critics with other interpretive
projects might legitimately prefer the 1970 Glenny/Nabokov

2. I can't, at least as yet, go along with your proposal
that Ganin "never rejects or denies his past." It seems
more likely to me that there will be an interval of
forgetfulness. In addition to the textual evidence that
I've already cited in previous responses, I have two other
reasons for thinking this way. First, if Ganin has managed
to forget Mary during "many years of humdrum oblivion"
(27E/45R) before the novel begins, what ensures that he will
continue to remember her now? Second, I see in Ganin an
undercurrent of what I would call an "anxiety of memory."
Long-term memory, after all, is also a vivid reminder that
time passes and that one is mortal; and this is something
that Ganin, in his youthful pride, resists acknowledging.
Thus his memories of Mary lead him to reflect, in a passage
I analyze in NABOKOV'S ART OF MEMORY: "Let me see --there's
something I don't grasp--yes, this: surely it won't all die
when I do?" (55R/34E). He then represses this thought.
Since this passage comes after the triumphant "He was a god"
passage that both you and Jeff Edmunds point to, I would
suggest the earlier point is being ironized.

3. On the Chorb/Ganin comparison, we continue to have
differing perspectives, for I would rank Chorb higher than
Ganin as a Nabokovian hero. If Hermann is a 0 and Humbert a
1, and if Nabokov's autobiographical persona is a 10 and
Fyodor is a 9, then Ganin is a 5 and Chorb a 6 or even a 7.
Why? Because in addition to experiencing love (as Ganin
does) he must confront death in a much more immediate way,
and also because I see Ganin as only potentially an artist.
It is possible that he is just a misguided dilettante who
adopts various literary attitudes but will never write -- in
contrast to both Fyodor and Nabokov.

4. I agree that Nabokov becomes an anti-futurist (John
Shade calling himself a "preterist" is a witty way of saying
the same thing), and I discuss this issue at several points
in my book. I am only suggesting that in his youth he
briefly flirted with an idiosyncratic form of futurism.
Here I am relying on the really important (and to my mind
still valid) contribution of Renato Poggioli's THEORY OF THE
AVANT-GARDE -- the contention that the semantic force of all
the avant-grade movement names cannot be confined to the
groups that adopted them. Thus there is an imagism abroad
in the early 20th-century that is larger than Anglo-American
imagism, a surrealism abroad that is larger than the French
surrealists, and so on. It is in this sense that what I
call "anticipatory memory" in MARY is "futurist": as a form
of time consciousness, it attempts to finesse the apparent
"passeisme" of memory (to use a derisive term then current
in avant-garde circles) by implanting a future-directed
element within the activity of remembering.
In this connection let me cite a telling passage from
Marinetti's BIRTH OF FUTURIST AESTHETIC: "To a finished
house we prefer the framework of a house in construction
. . . The frame of a house in construction symbolizes our
burning passion for the coming-into-being of things" (cited
in Marjorie Perloff's THE FUTURIST MOMENT, p. 102). This
passage, it seems to me, is worth considering alongside
Ganin's sudden decision not to meet Mary at the station at
the precise moment when he sees "a house being built; he
could see the yellow framework of beams--the skeleton of the
roof" (113E/167R).

5. On the cultural framework issue, I'm not sure I know
what you're referring to when you say "in THIS particular
case." If you mean MARY, I don't contend that Nabokov was
much involved with either Proust or Joyce in this novel. If
you mean his "art of memory" in general, then I would say
that there were aspects of both writers with which Nabokov
felt a strong affinity (along with the disagreements I
mentioned last week). For example, I would say he
identified quite strongly with Joyce as a parodist (memory
in the sense of textual reminiscences) and with Proust as a
writer who self-consciously plays with the reader's own
memory of what has come before in a narrative. But these
"identifications" are not the same as an acknowledgement of
influence, though they may be that. What they do accomplish
is provide Nabokov with a self-created cultural context for
his own initiatives as a writer, and this seems to be
something he felt he needed. Perhaps it was a way of
keeping control over a many-sided cultural situation which
was, moreover, in considerable flux, particularly in the
late 1930s.

6. Given the length of this response, I'd like to
postpone Nietzsche for the message I'm sending to Jeff
Edmunds, since he first raised this question.

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