Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000080, Tue, 17 Aug 1993 19:41:41 -0700

MARY (Reply to Leona Toker) (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 93 21:15 EST
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm
Subject: MARY (Reply to Leona Toker)

Subject: MARY (Reply to Leona Toker)

Dear Leona,

Here are some reactions to your first contribution to the
discussion of MARY in NABOKV-L.

1. I was grateful for your summary of what you thought my
analysis of "anticipatory memory" added to our understanding
of MARY. Let me also say that I subscribe wholeheartedly to
your notion of "cultural overdetermination"; that is one
key reason why Nabokov can be so hard to place in cultural
perspective. A given motif can stand in meaningful relation
to several different contexts at once, and European
modernism is just one of those contexts. (By the way, some
of my American literature colleagues would prefer an all-out
emphasis on postmodernism.)

2. On whether MARY involves a dialogue with Bergson, I am
uncertain. James Curtis has a good article on the spread of
Bergson's influence in Russia, and of course Bergson was
initially better known in France than Proust. So Nabokov
could certainly have been engaged with Bergson at this
point; but in NABOKOV'S ART OF MEMORY I stress his attempt
to combine Bergson and Proust in the 1930s, following the
cue given in LECTURES IN LITERATURE (though as you no doubt
know the issue of whether Bergson and Proust are consistent
with each other has been batted around a great deal).
For me, the key issue with questions of this kind is
our relative lack of documentation on Nabokov until the
1940s. I got into this project as a result of being
enthralled with Simon Karlinsky's NABOKOV-WILSON LETTERS,
but there is nothing comparable in depth and detail for the
twenties and thirties, at least until the Nabokov Archive
opens in New York. Galya's project of working with the Marc
Szeftel archive, recently announced in NABOKV-L, should also
possess a documentary fullness that at the time simply did
not obtain with the earlier Nabokov. In this situation, an
approach by way of Nabokov's "signposting" had the advantage
of using readily available evidence that in some sense,
moreover, was privileged -- the cultural context established
within the fiction and autobiography themselves.
Using this method, I didn't find any Bergsonian
"signposts" until KAMERA OBSKURA, but I'll have to admit
that I wasn't looking for Bergson in isolation. In the last
few years, there's been a lot of work on Bergson and Anglo-
American modernism, and bringing this discussion to bear on
the early Nabokov might well lead somewhere.

3. I agree with your discussion of suffering in Nabokov.
Perhaps I prefer Chorb to Ganin because the story confronts
this issue of suffering more forcefully and directly.

4. On the Nietzsche-Nabokov relation, I endorse your final
formula, "must have lived in its vicinity." In general, in
fact, I think this phrase usefully captures the spirit of
Nabokov's dealings with modernism. I have difficulties with
influence, which need not mean simple imitation but often
suggests it. What really interests me is intertextual
"give-and-take," and this is what happens when you live in
someone's artistic or intellectual "vicinity."

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