Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000224, Wed, 6 Apr 1994 09:29:21 -0700

Unlikely Nabokov citations (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 4 Apr 1994 11:09 EDT
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@BRANDEIS.BITNET>
To: nabokv-l@ucsbvm.bitnet
Subject: Unlikely Nabokov citations

Readers of other lists (or even of paper publications) may have seen
some discussion of a recent article on computerized library catalogues:
``Discards'' by Nicholson Baker, in the New Yorker for April 4. Its
peroration includes an extended reference to our man:

even non-Cornellians may remember one especially eminent, especially
studied user of the Cornell catalogue during its glory days:
Vladimir Nabokov. He and his fictive friend Timofey Pnin would
regularly withdraw the heavy Slavic Literature card trays from the
``comprehensive bosom of a card cabinet'' back in the forties and
fifties, and, on the wings of a hundred typewritten,
time-and-space-spanning cross-references, would overleap the
irrelevant ocean and return for an hour or two to green, mythic,
pre-Revolutionary Russia, inhabited by lost leading lights like
``Kostromskoy'' and ``Zhukovski,'' and Aleksandr Pushkin. The very
cards that Nabokov turned and pondered while he worked on his
translation of *Eugene Onegin* are, as far as I have been able to
determine, still in place in Cornell's shabby-genteel catalogue. The
library would be well advised to keep them in situ.

The full description of Pnin's squirrel-like activities in Chapter Three
of the novel doesn't dwell on the wonders of these cross-references as
you might imagine from this: here and elsewhere, Nabokov's interest
seems to have been in the books available, not in the cataloguing. I
agree with Baker that it would be good to preserve card catalogues as
historical documents after their conversion to electronic form, but
can't say that their utility as research tools seems to have been the
point Nabokov was trying to make.

An even more maladroit use of Nabokov's words may be found in an article
on serial killers by Joyce Carol Oates in the March 24 issue of the New
York Review of Books. She caps her discussion of verse by serial killers
with the comment:

As Nabokov's Humbert Humbert dryly observed in *Lolita*, ``You can
always count on a murderer for a fancy...style.''

Readers of this list can no doubt fill in the word that has been omitted

John Lavagnino, Brandeis University