Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025502, Tue, 1 Jul 2014 13:04:27 -0700

Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
I specifically did not look at the story in its Nazi historical context since, as Jansy noted, Nabokov would have said that his story wasn't about that. What I meant about N.'s high horse concerning his manner of turning individualism to a conceit is that in so many stories he often never quite gives us the why of his positive characters; won't put anything basic behind they decisions they make: either he only hints around at it (as with the lost love element, done in stories like The Return of Chorb or Torpid Smoke too) or he deliberately makes things abstractly unmotivated, like the main character of Glory deciding to go back to Russia/Zoorlandia and disappearing (with a bit of the pining lost love theme as well), not for any specific reason but just to do it, which is supposed to be dizzyingly romantic and uncanny and to prove that people aren't driven by Darwinian determinism--the problem, in CCL, to my mind is that these tendencies rob the
otherworliness that the reader is supposed to feel in the presence of the landscape, making feel like an arbitrarily willed awe and by means of a rather tired tired imagery at that. What would happen to the story's rhetoric if it was called: Shack, Road, Dump? 

By the way, Maxim Shrayer noted he'd written about this story in his book The World of Nabokov's stories. I went and read it and would recommend it. He discusses the context of the story's composition, has a fun digression about trying to find the real life inspiration of the landscape in the story and even provides a close metrical analysis of the prose in order to show the subtlest ways in which N. tries to signal the presence of the otherworld in the story. He's also good on the self-reflexive nature of the story's structure. We're pretty close in our readings except to me the story is rather hollow and for him it works entirely. 

I'd like to point out I think that the last line of the story doesn't merely suggest the character has quit his job or has been dismissed as a character but suggests suicide, reminiscent of the way in which a character's self-destruction was conflated with his very fictionality in a story like "That in Aleppo Once" where the narrator, who's story is in the form of a confessional letter to Nabokov or a fictional author, hints that should the word Aleppo be placed by the author in the title of the story he's telling he'll probably do himself in--but it's only hinted at, as it is here (it has a lost love/wife aspect very similar to the earlier Return of Chorb). Shrayer says many read CCL happily, thinking Vasiliy would just go back to the landscape now that he's free, but that Nabokov thought differently, saying in an interview, quoted by Shrayer, that Vasiliy will never get back there, ever. Meaning my interpretation is as wispy as any other, like so much
in the story.

On Tuesday, July 1, 2014 7:19 AM, Jansy Mello <jansy.mello@OUTLOOK.COM> wrote:

RES: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] CCL: Title, Kafkaian undertones and efficiency
Joseph Aisenberg:  “… despite its brevity and language [CCL] doesn't come off [  ] 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 [  ] 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 [  ] 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.[  ]  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 Beheading seems 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 [  ]
Jansy Mello:CCL is one of VN’s short-stories that I enjoymost, particularly its “afterglow”andthedelirioussmiling landscapewith its (vain) promise.However,when it is analyzed bit after bit, its ghostly pattern is undoneand “it doesn’t come off,”as in J.A’scomment.I suppose thatitsclumsymixture ofconcrete(pragmatic) physicalreality and flesh, asembodied by the narrator’s representative,and the metaphoric vertex(anartist’sindividuality, mindorsoul)may be responsible forthe story’slack of proportion.After allthecaricature of thephilistine touristsand their governmental instigatorsmayalsobe read as part of an all-embracingabstract scenery aboutthehostilityof the massestowards those that don’t fit into the group andinvoluntarilydenounce its basic “herd-behavior” premises.Perhaps this is what J.A means when he writes about “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.”(I underlined the point in question here).
As in the recently quoted lines from VN’s preface to Bend Sinister, the authorindicates that:“…the influence of my epoch on my present book is as negligible as the influence of my books, or at least of this book, on my epoch. There can be distinguished, no doubt, certain reflections in the glass directly caused by the idiotic and despicable regimes that we all know and that have brushed against me.”He may be wrongin relation towhat comes out inCCLforthe epoch he lived inin factpressed and distorted the minds of those who participated it, directly or indirectly.Asit happens with the waxwings, somethingisshattered againstthereflected skyin a glass.
Here, as I discern itnow, V.Nabokov’suncanny ability to travel in and out of madness and, like Dante, describe what he saw, wasshattered.Therefore, the entire setting of CCLbecomes, actually, as paranoidasthe epoch he wrote itwas– and, surprisingly,this timehe could notadequately resetthisperspective,its inconsistencies,anguish,idealizations, persecutions, delirious stancesand “inhumanity,”ashe usually did on his way out ofanightmare.Berlin, in the thirties,is an example of an epoch that ishostile to metaphors,while metaphors themselves areinsufficienttools for thinking and actingthroughthe horror. 

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