NABOKV-L post 0000088, Fri, 20 Aug 1993 09:10:25 -0700

MARY (Reply to Galya Diment) (fwd)
---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 93 23:07 EST
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm
Subject: MARY (Reply to Galya Diment)

Subject: MARY (Reply to Galya Diment)

Dear Galya,

I agree that we should stop focusing on the end of MARY,
though I think we have turned up some interesting
ambiguities and nuances in Nabokov's language and in his
handling of time. As a final thought, I wonder if our
disagreement turns finally on issues of segmentation -- that
is to say, I find a sharp break as MARY moves to a close,
while you argue for a more continuous development; then
again, I find a sharp break between this close and what
Nabokov does in THE DEFENSE and GLORY. On the other hand,
you want to dissociate SPEAK, MEMORY from Nabokov in the
1930s while I see important connections.

On the "futurism/houses under construction" issue, I don't
see how the various interpretations of that image which you
advance disprove the striking parallel with Marinetti. The
image can make sense on the level of character and action,
or even of Nabokov's personal biography, as you propose,
while at the same time including a cultural reference, as I
suggest. He envisions the poet, after all, as possessing
"the capacity of thinking of several things at a time"
(SPEAK, MEMORY 218). And Marinetti would by no means be a
remote or recherche reference point, for he had been a
tireless promoter of futurism all over Europe.
Incidentally, Perloff's THE FUTURIST MOMENT has some
striking material on the train as a futurist emblem as well,
but given the extraordinary resonance of the train image
through Nabokov's career, I decided that argument would be
too complicated to pursue. After all, I see MARY as a
preliminary to the main focus of my discussion, which
involves Nabokov in the thirties and forties.

Given your comment on "cultural determinism," I should make
it clear that I do not consider my cultural approach to
Nabokov to be deterministic. What interests me is the
growth and shifting emphases of Nabokov's cultural self-
consciousness, as that self-consciousness is registered in
the cultural links (and certain key refusals) that Nabokov
himself proposes for his art of memory. I don't connect him
with Proust or Joyce: Nabokov does so himself through the
kind of "passing allusion" that PNIN tells us can be an
"adventurous sail descried on the horizon" (p. 41). And
Nabokov had very wide horizons indeed.

On "arts of memory" outside the modern period, I might cite
Frances Yates's THE ART OF MEMORY (on the classics and the
Renaissance) which was a real eye-opener for me in terms of
showing radical differences. As for the English romantics,
I argue in my book that there is a key distinction between
Nabokov and Coleridge. I would agree that there are
analogies between Wordsworth and Nabokov on issues of
memory, but would add that Nabokov eventually signposts them
in PALE FIRE, as one implication of the Wordsmith/Goldsworth
name-game. By this point in his career Nabokov is inviting
the English-speaking reader to domesticate him in this older
Anglo-American literary context, but in a rather tongue-in-
cheek way; he himself has told us that he considers the
complex dialogues with Eliot and Proust that occur in this
novel to be particularly important.

A larger issue that I see posed by your question about the
distinctive modernity of Nabokov's art of memory is whether
modernism can really be separated from romanticism, at least
when it comes to questions of memory. There are three
points that I can make here. First, Baudelaire is a crucial
figure in evaluating this transition, especially in his art
criticism, which moves from stressing "L'Art Romantique" to
focusing on the meaning of "modernite." Nabokov links him-
self with the "modern" side of the discussion in "Mademoi-
selle O," especially with the intense resurgence of memory
that Baudelaire juxtaposes with a heightened awareness of
modernity. Second, when Nabokov isolates what he thinks is
the most striking moment of memory in EUGENE ONEGIN (EO,
Vol. 3, pp. 227-228), he takes pains to insist that it
transcends the formulas of the time (and elsewhere the
ONEGIN COMMENTARY displays extensive research into both
neoclassicism and romanticism).

Third, we have gone through a period in literary study when,
in the wake of Eliot's sharp distinction between romanticism
and modernism, all sorts of continuities have been stressed,
with Bloom, de Man, and Ernst Behler representing different
positions in the debate. They all have a point, though I am
sometimes left doubtful as to whether they are romanticizing
modernism or modernizing romanticism. In any case, as far
as memory is concerned, I would guess that there is a
sharper tension between past and present, a greater
awareness of temporal complexity, and a stronger emphasis on
quasi-hallucinatory memory fragments in the early twentieth
century, though this is an issue that requires a careful
essay rather than an e-mail message. One added point --
there is, of course, a "second" European Nabokov who lived
in Switzerland in the sixties and seventies and got very
interested in Chateaubriand. But this involves a very
different context and situation from the thirties and

On "vulgar Nietzscheanism" in MARY, let me simply repeat
that I am more interested in Ganin's encounter with
"esoteric Nietzscheanism." When working with Nietzsche in
the seventies, I never thrilled to the "Ubermensch" (the
"good European" was another story), though I realize that
historically many of his readers did. As I write, I find
myself wondering if Nabokov knew Bely's essay on Nietzsche,
which has some pointed criticisms of vulgar Nietzscheanism.

In any case Nietzsche's "Ubermensch" does not connect with
memory in useful ways, but in DRUGIE BEREGA Nabokov reverts
to eternal return ("vechnoe vozvrashchenie," the same term
as in MARY; SPEAK, MEMORY uses "ceaseless return") in a key
passage describing his "supreme experience of memory." In
this passage, however, all Nietzschean implications have
evaporated from the phrase, which suggests a deliberate
memory technique that is (apparently) Nabokov's own.

John Foster [""]