In Memoriam Gennady Barabtarlo by Stephen Blackwell

Submitted by stephen_blackwell on Wed, 02/27/2019 - 16:21

In Memorian Gennady Barabtarlo. 

From the looks of things, I must have met Gene in 1995, at a typically over-endowed conference hotel in Washington, DC.  I don't know when or where our first words of greeting were spoken, but I do know that among the earliest were some that immediately highlighted his wry, understated sense of humor: my talk was a naive thing on mirrors in Nabokov's works, and Gene gently teased me, as we rode a specular elevator together at some point, "Look, there are so many mirrors around here!"  Such ribbing, or his quiet joy at the pranks unfolding in life around us, was a steady refrain through all the intervening years whenever we would meet, reaching a pinnacle, of a sort, in 2012, when he posted a photo to the conference archive of my stocking feet, atop a desk at the back of the auditorium, their owner comfortably yet intensely engaged in one of those wonderfully "вверх ногами" (upside-down) presentations. (Or maybe he just sent it to me?) 

     Meetings with Gene at any occasion were always a special treat to be savored, and he was wonderfully playful on so many levels--I remember, at one not-so-distant encounter, he tossed out mid-sentence, Nabokov-style, an impossibly obscure word (I wish I could remember it!); luckily, it was one I vaguely knew, having only just recently sought it or found it randomly in the dictionary.  But his use of it was such that you could tell that he too had found it, perhaps by chance just recently, in the dictionary, and just couldn't resist putting it into live action--I suggested this to him, and he admitted that I was right, and we both laughed--perhaps not quite as hard as Pushkin laughed at his own English, but it was a lovely moment.
    Reading Gene's work, finding his most felicitous phrases and his quiet jokes, was and will remain one of the great joys of this life in the world of Nabokovians. His comparative analysis of Pnin's birthday juxtaposed with his own should be required reading--the first on a long, long list from his prolific career. He always offered keen critique and feedback, filled with kindness and forbearance, of any draft I asked him to read for me.  His role in the development of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society and its scholarly traditions has been immense, filling me and many others with both awe and gratitude. The next ongoing task and pleasure in this life will be working to keep Gene's generous, loving spirit ever-present among us, and within us.

Stephen Blackwell
University of Tennesse, Knoxville