Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025475, Mon, 23 Jun 2014 22:11:50 -0400

Life before 'Lolita' . . .
Jansy Mello writes:

*Sandy Klein* sends: http://on.wsj.com/1xWG4Pq June 14, 2014 12:01 *Life
Before 'Lolita'* *By JOSEPH EPSTEIN* *“To write superior autobiography one
requires not only literary gifts, which are obtainable with effort, but an
intrinsically interesting life, which is less frequently available. Those
who possess the one are frequently devoid of the other, and vice versa.
Only a fortunate few are able to reimagine their lives, to find themes and
patterns that explain a life, in the way successful autobiography
requires.* *Vladimir
Nabokov was among them.* *. Late in "Speak, Memory: An Autobiography
Revisited" (1966), he writes that* *"the spiral is a spiritualized circle**,"
and "**a colored spiral in a small ball of glass is how I see my own life*
*.**"* *…[ ]* *As an autobiographer—and as a novelist, too—Nabokov worked
micro- rather than telescopically. The miniature was his entrée into the
grander scene. "There is, it would seem," he writes, "in the dimensional
scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and
knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging
small ones that is intrinsically artistic." Such was his own method as an
artist, and such was the art it produced on which his own international
reputation rests.”*

*Jansy Mello*: How very odd. V.Nabokov’s definition of the “delicate”
meeting point to render small and large things, achieved by the true
artist, makes
immediate sense, although it can also be interpreted as a resource to deny
painful experiences by recreating gross reality. Four years ago (January,
2010) I posted a quotation about a different sort of balance while standing
at the ridge of an abyss and I retrieved it to bring it up in the present
context. The point was related to the matter of keeping “at the brink of
parody” in connection to “Lolita.”

While investigating the source of this reference outside the VN-L, I found
it quoted in VN’s NYT obituary: "While I keep everything on the brink of
parody,"…"there must be on the other hand an abyss of seriousness, and I
must make my way along this narrow ridge between my own truth and the
caricature of it." [
http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/02/lifetimes/nab-v-obit.html], but no
source was cited.
Another related proposition can be found in “The Real Life of Sebastian
Knight” when Knight’s parodies move forward from the comic into “serious
emotion… ‘a clown developing wings, an angel mimicking a tumbler pigeon'

Further search in the internet led me to Leona Toker’s indication of
Fyodor’s words to Zina, in *G,* *212* (“Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary
Structures,” p.175/76). Unfortunately I was unable to locate the sentence in
“The Gift” (I have only the Penguin editions, with different page
indicators). I had the same problem with Roger B. Salomon’s quote in “The
Desperate Storytelling: Post-Romantic Elaborations of the Mock-Heroic Mode”
and even Alfred Appel’s, in his introduction to “The Annotated
Lolita.” Although
in my material copy of Appel’s “Introduction” the page reference was changed
(p.200, cf. xxii) – I think it applies to the edition in Russian (The Gift,
New York, 1963).

Leona Toker writes (for “The Gift”): “The technique of balancing between
truth and parody, between the infinite and the incomplete, reflects the
tentativeness of the novel’s metaphysics. The excursus into the subject of
doors and drafts is supposed to reflect the thoughts of the dying Alexander
Yakovlevich and therefore ends on a note of tired resignation: “But this is
only symbols –symbols which become a burden to the mind as soon as it takes
a close look at them”(G,322). The novel itself seems to be likewise unsure
about the metaphysical position suggested by its imagery. However, it
deflects its skepticism from the existence of the hereafter toward human
ability to solve the Mystery. In words that Fyodor attributes to Koncheev, “the
attempt to comprehend the world is reduced to an attempt to comprehend that
which we ourselves have deliberately made incomprehensible. The absurdity
at which searching thought arrives is only a natural, generic sign of its
belonging to man, and striving to obtain an answer is the same as demanding
of chicken broth that it begin to cluck.” (*G, 354*). Thus within but a few
lines even the seriousness of skepticism yields to a parody on itself”.

For S.E.Sweeney after Nabokov "deviates from the expected detective-story
ending" [in *RLSK*], his novel "ends with a return to the beginning - to
the very death that prompted the investigation - but without resolving it"
and she concludes that, in that sense, *RLSK* resembles the "metaphysical
detective stories.". Sweeney reminds us of V’s belief “that Sebastian’s
life and art will reveal to him the very meaning of existence, the ‘absolute
solution’ (180), a faith the reader cannot easily share for, while one of
its storylines express "the modernist tenets of completion, wholeness, and
artistic unity", the other "fosters a self-reflexive awareness that that
sense of unity is unstable, unreliable, and subjective."[Cycnos
<http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/index.html> | Volume 12 n°2 NABOKOV : At the
Crossroads of Modernism and Postmodernism -
<http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/sommaire.html?id=1441> | The V-Shaped
Paradigm: Nabokov and Pynchon
<http://revel.unice.fr/cycnos/document.html?id=1475>. As we can see, in*
Lolita*, in *The Gift*, in *RLSK* we return, again and again, to a balancing
act at the brink of an abyss (with its distinct retake in *Speak,Memory’s*
initial chapter where life becomes the arena for its exercise), and to a
circle that doesn’t rise as a spiral.

I offered the names of various scholars and critics who wrote about Nabokov
and the cinema. I forgot to add various other important names, but there’s
one (also mentioned in former List archives) that is worth mentioning:
*URI:* http://hdl.handle.net/10222/27859 *ISSN:* 1061-1975 Leving, Yuri.
2004. "Filming Nabokov: On the Visual Poetics of the Text." Russian Studies
in Literature: A Journal of Translations 40(3): 6-31. "...what, exactly,
makes Nabokov’s texts so attractive to the writers of screen adaptations,
and how relevant are those adaptations to an understanding of the artist’s
original intent? Our assumption is that not only the power of the author’s
imagination but also certain narrative mechanisms render the Nabokovian
discourse suitable for translation into the cinema idiom. In Nabokov’s
case, moreover, the text itself may be viewed as having been structured
according to certain cinematic laws. The first part of this article is
devoted to a reconstruction of Nabokov’s unique method of cinematic vision
and presents an analysis of the literary text as a model that is implicitly
invested with cinematic techniques. The second part offers a brief overview
of screen adaptations of Nabokov’s works in the modern American and
European cinema and defines the level of correspondence between them and
the author’s original.”

All these reports arose in connection to my curiosity about
V.Nabokov’s singular
apprehension of the external world: we have Mascodagama’s “reversal of a
cataract” *(*quoting lines about Joyce in* LL*) in a world turned
upside-down, his lessons with King Wing and the jikkers or VN’s play with “
*gravitas*”*. In the Epstein quote (see first paragraph) it seems to me
that what’s important in not exactly the verbal novel rendering of small or
big things, but the mental ‘balancing act’ in itself. Perhaps the cinematic
insertion of Humbert’s mother’s ascension might have resulted from a
momentary loss of equilibrium… My query, however, must rest. It’s not
really about adaptation and the cinema - but I’m unable to express it right
now (i.e: as related to the fun of seeing “things as if they were new”* and
VN’s particular employ of personifications and animation derived from his
special way of looking at things and handling emotions.)

*- Additional examples from the NYT obtituary quoted above: "The writer
creates his own kind of life. Seeing things in a singular, unique,
extraordinary way sounds funny to the average person” [ ] "Seeing things
as if they were new is funny in itself. The unusual is funny in itself. A
man slips and falls down. It is the contrary of gravity in both senses.
That is a great pun, by the way.

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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