Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025477, Tue, 24 Jun 2014 16:30:48 -0700

Re: Life before 'Lolita' . . .
To me what's interesting about the quote you give from The Gift is that in its context, which I can't exactly recall (third or fourth chapter as Fyodor explains his method of composition for the biography he plans to write of Cherneshevski) is what goes unquestioned: why does Fyodor take it on faith that the only way he can write his biography is to do this balancing act? Why does it require parody at all? And why does this element of parody come into Sebastian Knight's method of composition? I think it's as much a practical thing as it is a cosmological one. Both writers seem aware that so many books have been written that the very rhetorical effect of writtenness itself distorts truth to stock intentions. The suggestion is that only by taking this falseness or artiness into account at the level of a work's effect can anything genuine be approached by the medium. Then the artist's serioius truth will not be cheapened by the worn out devices of easy
pathos which short circuits thought. Plus it's fun. Of course Nabokov understood the dangers inherent in the use of parody. I forget where it comes from but it's been quoted a million times, that only genius artists can fool with parody effectively. I think the danger is that parody can reveal a nostalgia for the very cliches it sends up; that it can be used to usher corny pathos back into the equation by means of self-conscious apology as one has seen happen in books like Atonement, Infinite Jest, and other works that turn out to have nice little homilies brewing in them at heart, or like Julian Barnes who uses parody for a kind of respectable buttoned down seriousness. 

SES: are you still going to have us read one of N.'s stories as a group?

On Monday, June 23, 2014 9:15 PM, "NABOKV-L, English" <nabokv-l@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:

Jansy Mello writes:

Sandy Kleinsends:http://on.wsj.com/1xWG4Pq June 14, 2014 12:01Life 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’sdefinition of the “delicate” meeting point torender small and largethings, achieved by the true artist,makes immediate sense, although it can also be interpreted as a resource to deny painful experiences byrecreatinggross 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 relatedtothe matter of keeping “at the brink of parody” in connection to “Lolita.”
While investigating the source of thisreference outsidethe VN-L, Ifound 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 propositioncan befound in “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight”when Knight’s parodiesmove forward from the comic into “serious emotion…  ‘aclown developing wings, an angel mimicking a tumbler pigeon' ”…(91)
Further search in the internetled me to Leona Toker’s indication ofFyodor’s words to Zina, inG,212(“Nabokov:The Mystery of Literary Structures,” p.175/76). UnfortunatelyI was unable to locatethe sentencein “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 inmy material copy of Appel’s “Introduction” the page referencewaschanged (p.200, cf. xxii) – I think it applies to the editionin 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”. (LT,p.175)  
For S.E.Sweeney after Nabokov "deviates from the expected detective-story ending"[inRLSK], 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, RLSKresembles 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 |Volume 12 n°2 NABOKOV : At the Crossroads of Modernism and Postmodernism -|The V-Shaped Paradigm: Nabokov and Pynchon.As we can see,inLolita, inThe Gift, inRLSKwe return, again and again, toabalancing act at the brink of an abyss (with its distinct retake inSpeak,Memory’sinitial chapterwherelife 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 informer List archives) thatis worth mentioning:URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10222/27859ISSN: 1061-1975Leving, 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’ssingular apprehension of the external world: we have Mascodagama’s“reversal of a cataract”(quoting lines about Joyce inLL) in a world turned upside-down, his lessons with King Wing and the jikkersor VN’s play with “gravitas”*.In the Epstein quote (seefirst paragraph) it seems to me that what’s important in not exactly the verbal novel rendering of smallor big things, but themental‘balancing act’ in itself. Perhaps the cinematic insertion ofHumbert’s mother’s ascensionmight 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 hisspecialway 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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