Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025496, Sun, 29 Jun 2014 20:03:01 -0700

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
This story, despite its brevity and language, doesn't come off, I think, because of N.'s attempt to mix a rather obvious sort of didactic satire that goes past burlesque to sado maoschistic comic strip, with the meta suggestion that the character of Vasiliy Ivanovitch, a "representative" of the narrator, who may not even really be named "Vasiliy Ivanovitch," as we learn on the first page, is merely the dreamy invention of the narrator. At the end of the story, after Vasiliy's been done in by the narrator's moralistic point about the inherent fascism of collectives Vasily begs the narrator to be "let go, insisted that he could not continue, that he had not the strength to belong to mankind any longer. Of course, I let him go." The narrator says that Vasily, "as my representative...was earning enough for the modest life of a refugee Russian." Meaning the narrator "pays" him to exist? Has hired him as a person? The narrator suggests that Vasily begs to be
let go as a person so that he will cease to be alive, in a sense wants to end it all. Suiced-ish and self-reflexive dismissal of the story's reality simultaneously.

Nabokov tries to use his meta tick to divert from the obviousness of the story's rhetoric, the deliberate mystification of the tale's eponymous imagery, which frankly seems a little corny. Nabokov started with an amusing premise here, a nightmare version of those little groups of tourists but he piles it on so thick, makes Vasiliy so passive a receptacle of group violence that one may start to question it or turn against it. It's not enough that the people of the group are all annoying to a number, but also have to be incredibly grotesque and ugly as well. The clerk whom putupon Vasily has to spend the night with at an inn is described in this fashion: "He was a great bully of a man, thorough and obstinate, clad in long cotton drawers, with mother-of-pearl claws on his dirty toes, and bear's fur between fat breasts." And that song they sing! a sinister mixture of great touristy fun with violent lyrics that presage their later sadism--"take a knotted
stick and rise.."Kill the hermit and his trouble...", "where the field mouse screams and dies..." But the last line is the dead giveaway, "With the steel-and-leather guys."

Nabokov doesn't give us any space here so that when he finally brings on the cloud, castle and lake of the title one may be struck by the lameness of this paradise. It's no more than a bit of calendar art trussed up with Nabokov's prosolgical brillance. When he resorts to this kind of thing: "Of course, there are plenty of such views in Central Europe, but just this one--in the inexpressible and unique harmoniousness of its three principal parts, in its smile, in some mysterious innocence it had, my love! my obedient one!--was something so unique, and so familiar, and so long-promised, and it so understoodthe beholder that Vasiliy Ivanovich even pressed his hand to his heart, as if to see whether his heart was there in order to give it away" there seems some obvious malarkey afoot. The words "inexpressible," and "harmoniousness," and worst of all that "mysterious innocence"! made this reader want to heckle the sight.

Because Nabokov's a great artist he doesn't try to beat us over the head as thoroughly as his tourists would, or as most writers would, but by noting that the leader of the unenchanted tourists sits "on a stump, his behind to the lake...having a snack" we know what we're supposed to think. And before that the narrator tells us the other tourists, "settled...around on the grass in poses seen in amateur snapshots..." Clearly we're meant to understand that these are a bunch of total philistines, but are they? Wouldn't in fact these kinds of tourists be simply squealing in delight over that image, each wanting a postcard of it just exactly like everybody else's? Frankly I'd personally rather take up a seat on that stump myself and have a sandwich--two things I'm not too keen on, castles and churches.

And what are we supposed to make of Vasiliy's reaction when he finds the inn right by this perfect little landscape, where he decides upon residing for the rest of his days? Again, Nabokov's narrator resorts to pretty empty rhetoric: "Without reasoning, without considering, only entirely surrendering to an attraction the truth of which consisted in its own strength, a strength which he had never experienced before, Vasiliy Ivanovich in one radiant second realized that here in this little room with that view, beautiful to the verge of tears, life would at last be what he had always wished it to be. What exactly it would be like, what would take place here, that of course he did not know, but all around him were help, promise and consolation--so that there could not be any doubt that he must live here." Really? No doubt at all? To me this sounds like the histrionic hyperbole of one of Emma Bovary's mouldering castle fantasies. That "to the verge of tears"
sounds so false a note I wondered if we were maybe meant to question it. Yet the narrator smiles so fondly upon these vague observations and ideas of the character that it's hard not to feel they are ultimately meant to be taken straight, and they turn the story moist and icky. What makes all this fall apart I think is how doughy and vague the character of Vasiliy is. He just lets himself be sent on a trip, passively eats a cigarette butt when he loses one of the tourist group's stupid games--which has, by the way, an odd perv-y, vaguely swinger-y vibe to it, but who can say for sure? Vasiliy barely fights back once the group has him on the train at the end where they descend on him in a savage horde that seems entirely unmotivated, unless Nabokov's just trying to suggest that these philistines are releasing a kind a jealous rage on him, because he's got depths and sensitivity they don't have, setting him apart from the group. The pointless, in context,
reference to Invitation to a Beheadingseems to suggest as much, that Vasiliy is a poor sweet holder of secret density, gnostical turpitude. There's something always thin and unconvincing when N. gets on a romantic high horse about individuality and turns it to a spiritual conceit--as if tying it to anything real and pragmatic would cheapen it. But then to mix all this together with a lost love element which, through a bit of linguistic vagueness (more of it), hints that the story may be merely a dreamy invention of the narrator's whose own inconsolable loss has caused him to make up this twerp to endure some of it along with him, seems like gilding the lily of his meta-approach to the point the poor loaded down blossom is likely to fall onto the ground. Is it possible to use what we think of as a postmodern framework for an aura of sentimental tragic romance? I would say probably not. And I would say this doesn't seem anything like Kafka, either It's
pure Nabokov.. Excepting in the cases of a few stories like The Penal Colony K.'s stories aren't very clear in making points or dramatizing themes in the way CCL is.

On Sunday, June 29, 2014 12:38 PM, Jansy Mello <jansy.mello@OUTLOOK.COM> wrote:

RES: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
 I wanted to compare the dates of CCL’s writing and “Invitation to a Beheading”’s. As usual, wiki provides a wonderful shortcut:Invitation to a Beheading (Russian:Приглашениенаказнь, Priglasheniye na kazn') is a novel by Russian Americanauthor Vladimir Nabokov. It was originally published in Russian in 1935-1936 as a serial in Contemporary Notes(Sovremennye zapiski), a highly respected Russian émigré magazine. In 1938 the work was published in Paris, with anEnglish translation following in 1959. The English version was translated by Nabokov's son, Dmitri Nabokov, under the author's supervision.
The novel is often described as "Kafkaesque," but Nabokov claimed that at the time he wrote the book, he was unfamiliar with German and "completely ignorant" of Kafka's work.Nabokov interrupted his work on The Gift in order to write Invitation, describing the creation of the first draft as "one fortnight of wonderful excitement and sustained inspiration." Some scholars have argued that the central plot of Invitation has its roots in Chernyshevski, a character from The Gift.
While Nabokov stated in an interview that of all his novels he held the greatest affection for Lolita, it was Invitation to a Beheading that he held in the greatest esteem.
What prompted me, in relation to CCL, werethe sentences:"You are taking a pleasure trip with us. Tomorrow, according to the appointed itinerary―look at your ticket―we are all returning to Berlin. There can be no question of anyone―in this case you―refusing to continue this communal journey[   ] // "I shall complain," wailed Vasiliy Ivanovich. "Give me back my bag. I have the right to remain where I want. Oh, but this is nothing less than an invitation to a beheading"―he told me he cried when they seized him by the arms."
Atthis point L.Hochard'sprecise rendering of the relation betweenthe narrator andwho I’d incorrectly taken to be “anemployee” of hisgains an added significance. He wrote: “Vasili Ivanovitch is a very efficientrepresentativeof theanonymous narrator.”  Narrator and character are often blended together, but also distinct as in“he told me he cried when…”However, further on, in the midst of an idyllic scenery that has been stopped in time, both are againunited by a certain “you”whoemergesas “my love! My obedient one!”:
“…after another hour of marching, that very happiness of which he had once half dreamt was suddenly discovered.//It was a pure, blue lake, with an unusual expression of its water. In the middle, a large cloud was reflected in its entirety. On the other side, on a hill thickly covered with verdure (and the darker the verdure, the more poetic it is), towered, arising from dactyl to dactyl, an ancient black castle. Of course, there are plenty of such views in Central Europe, but just this one―in the inexpressible and unique harmoniousness of its three principal parts, in its smile, in some mysterious innocence it had, my love! my obedient one!―was something so unique, and so familiar, and so long-promised, and it so understood the beholder that Vasiliy Ivanovich even pressed his hand to his heart, as if to see whether his heart was there in order to give it away.”
Afew paragraphs before the narratorhadnarrated: “Vasiliy Ivanovich, as the least burdened, was given an enormous round loaf of bread to carry under his arm. How I hate you, our daily! But still his precious, experienced eyes noted what was necessary.” Stating that he hated their“daily”, he acknowledges that Vasiliy’s “precious, experienced eyes noted…”It is as if, in truth, narrator and character were one in one level (a single person)whereas, when isolated, it wasVasilyi’s functiontooperate as thenarrator’s perceptual apparatus, sustaining his splendid dreamswithhis alwayscompliant body(or personality).The two, in another level, as partial representatives of the Authorwho, in the end, intervenes more effectively and lets Vasiliy “go.”Nevertheless, I haven’t yet found the correct focus
to “see” the crystallized landscape’s smile, the shape and extension of that magic central cloud,or to situate the “voice.”The more I read and travel from paragraph to paragraph the lessI know what the novel means,the meaning of every sentence gets blurred and clears up like another cloudy and windy skype, with the exception ofits pervasive Arcadian dream.

De: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] Em nome de laurence hochard
Enviada em: sábado, 28 de junho de 2014 17:00
Assunto: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
To me, the title, because of its rythm and the similarity of rythm with King, Queen, Knave suggests a hand of cards, the miraculous hand of cards Vasili is waiting for. The next short story in the anthology is Signs and Symbols  which features a hand of 3 (ominous) cards.
(And why not "Lake, Castle, Cloud"?) asks SES. I wonder if the order of the words is the same in Russian?
When reading the first paragraph, one can't help but think of Kafka's The Trial (which was published in Berlin 12 years before CCL). Like Josef K, Vasili Ivanovitch is caught in a bureaucratic maze; however,  the resemblance is superficial; the bureacracy is far less systematic and implacable than in The Trial. We are told that selling the ticket would would involve cutting through all sorts of red tape but nowhere are we told that he has to go. He could simply forego the trip,  So, why did he go?
We learn in the very first sentence that Vasili Ivanovitch is a very efficient representative of the anonymous narrator but the last paragraph reveals that the position he wants to resign is not an ordinary one, he wants to resign his position as a member of mankind.; But we may wonder what his "efficiency" consists in ...
Laurence Hochard

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