Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025259, Sun, 6 Apr 2014 11:35:54 -0300

[SIGHTINGs] Past Nabokov-Joyce links
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Martin Amis talks Nabokov and Joyce in Moscow




Beckett, Joyce, Nabokov: In the Evening of the Enchanters

The scene is Paris, 1937, and James Joyce is dining with Samuel Beckett and
Vladimir Nabokov. Although history did not deem to place all three writers
at the same table (Nabokov denies meeting Beckett,) we do know that Joyce
spent time with the other two singly in this place and time, raising the
question of whether some cross-pollination of influence might have occurred.
Perhaps it's significant that, following their encounters with Joyce in this
period, both Beckett and Nabokov turned to writing in non-native languages.
(Beckett switched to French in December, 1937, while Nabokov started his
first novel in English the following year.) Thus, we will examine briefly
the texts produced by all three writers during this momentary conjunction
and seek to find common motifs.

[ ] Starting with Nabokov's claim that "James Joyce has not influenced me
in any manner whatsoever," one senses both a defensive maneuver as well as a
bit of outrageousness for its own sake, especially given that Nabokov was
never one to allow facts to stand in the way of an aesthetically interesting
instant (Gold 12.) [ ] But despite Nabokov's denial of any direct Joycean
influence in terms of style, at the very least we can say that Joyce seems
to have provided an example of what a Major English Language Author might be
like. This conceptual archetype appears to have inspired at least in part
the work Nabokov produced in the wake of his encounters with Joyce: The
Real Life of Sebastian Knight, written in Paris in 1938-39.[ ] Indeed,
given Nabokov's fondness for mirror images, we might see Knight's entire
oeuvre as an inversion of Joyce's [ ] Meeting Joyce in 1937, however,
Nabokov would have encountered the author deeply immersed, one imagines, in
the monumental task of completing Finnegans Wake. Thus, we might look for
specifically Wakean moments in Sebastian Knight [ ] Knight's rough drafts,
for example, has an intriguingly Wakean quality:

“As he a heavy A heavy sleeper, Roger Rogerson, old Rogerson bought old
Rogers bought, so afraid Being a heavy sleeper, old Rogers was so afraid of
missing tomorrows. He was a heavy sleeper. He was mortally afraid of missing
tomorrow's event glory early train glory so what he did was to buy and bring
home in a to buy [...] nine alarm clocks as a cat has nine which he placed
which made his bedroom look rather like a ” (Knight 39.) Not only is the
style of this fragment as mangled as the Wake's (as well as the
stream-of-consciousness moments in Ulysses,) but ends also like the Wake on
an article and without a full stop.[ ] Too, we might wonder if there exists
a possible relation between the cited passage and the Wake's "Deductive
Almayne Rogers," considering both The Prismatic Bezel as "a rollicking
parody of the setting of a detective tale," as well as the larger literary
detective story of Knight as a whole which frames it (Joyce, Wake 363;
Nabokov,Knight 92.) [ ]
If Nabokov reworks the lesson of "Night Lessons" to revise the guilt of
family memories, Samuel Beckett uses it to work through his relation to his
literary father, Joyce. In his first attempts to compose directly in French
and thus perhaps escape Joyce's aesthetic influence, Beckett wrote "Les Deux
Besoins” [ ] Yet in bridging the schism between science and theology, the
artist here appears to fulfill the function formerly reserved for the
magician, a point Joyce makes in "Night Lessons" with the pronouncement,
"Nothung up my sleeve," combining Stephen's climactic Wagnerian scene
inUlysses with an illusionist's stage patter (Wake 295.) Again, Joyce
suggests that the "lapis" depicted in "Night Lessons" is the philosopher's
stone of the alchemists, the supernatural fusion of opposites and promise of
eternal life in the perpetuum mobile of cyclical time. Nabokov, too,
expressed an interest in "conjuror's magic," telling an interviewer: "I
used to be a little conjuror when I was a boy. I loved doing simple
tricks--turning water into wine, that kind of thing; but I think I'm in good
company because all art is deception and so is nature; [...] from the insect
that mimics a leaf to the popular enticements of procreation" (Strong
Opinions 11.) We note in this connection the title of Nabokov's 1939
novella which would lay the groundwork for Lolita: The Enchanter./ Beckett,
too, follows the others in flirting with the occult dimensions of
aestheticism, with the text becoming a set of incantations without any
necessarily logical connection, but uttered to produce an effect [ ]
Following the Nazi arrest of his friend, Paul Léon, Beckett turned away from
literature and joined the French Resistance, having concluded that something
more than magical turns of phrase would be required to counter the demons
then loosed upon the world.


of-art-20131003-2uxcj.html> article from the Sydney Morning Herald on the
writer/illustrator <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Spiegelman> Art
Spiegelman. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Ware> Chris Ware, another
graphic novelist, discusses how graphic novels approximate human thought in
a way that few pure novelists can manage, though he singles out Nabokov as
an exception:

Ware says Spiegelman, through Maus, ushered in a visual language of
expression that was both mature and exciting. “He actually knows what his
wordplay, visual puns and aesthetic rhymes will provoke in the reader’s
mind, and he builds on them very carefully. There are only a handful of
prose writers who can manage that; Nabokov comes to mind.” In the great
debate of highbrow versus lowbrow, with comics often unfairly dumped into
the latter category, Ware notes that Nabokov himself criticised Joyce for
relying too much on language for his simulacra of streams of consciousness
in Ulysses, pointing out that humans think in pictures as well as words.

Readers interested in a fuller discussion of this topic should check out
Brian Boyd’s American Scholar
<http://theamericanscholar.org/the-psychologist/#.Uk7LbtL_mSo> article, in
which he too mentions Nabokov’s thoughts on Joyce:

He revered Joyce’s verbal accuracy, his precision and nuance, but he also
considered that his stream-of-consciousness technique gave “too much verbal
body to thoughts.” The medium of thought for Nabokov was not primarily
linguistic: “We think not in words but in shadows of words,” he wrote.
Thought was for him also multisensory, and at its best, multilevel. As
cognitive psychologists would now say, using a computing analogy foreign to
Nabokov, consciousness is parallel (indeed, “massively parallel”), rather
than serial, and therefore cannot translate readily into the emphatically
serial mode that a single channel of purely verbal stream of consciousness
can provide.


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