Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025538, Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:34:05 -0300

infra-red catastrophes

"The unexpected is the infra-red in the spectrum of art" (V.N)

Rapidily changing tactics, unexpected sceneries, even bungled internet
inputs may at times promote catastrophic feelings - and solutions.
Nevertheless the unforeseen is quite often ridiculous or downright funny,
like those snapshots where an intruder dominates the picture.

After finding one example of such an intrusion today, I realized that such
event carries a particular interest for Nabokov when he experiments with
"narrative conventions" (as indicated by Tim Major, see blog entry below*).
But there is something beyond that, when we consider his slightly earlier
poem "The Snapshot," in which a familiar scene bursts its crust and the
world rushes in expanding it, or (vainly?) breaking down its intended

Photographs are important elements in VN's fiction (as in "Signs and
Symbols", "Transparent Things", "Ada".) and they serve multiple functions in
his writing, but seldom as the record of an "accidental spy" imprisoned in a
future time.

The Snapshot (1927)
Vladimir Nabokov

Upon the beach at violet-blue noon,
in a vacational Elysium
a striped bather took
a picture of his happy family.
That bit of film imprinted
all it could catch,
the stirless child, his radiant mother,

and a toy pail and two beach spades,
and some way off a bank of sand,
and I, the accidental spy,
I in the background have been also taken.
My likeness among strangers,
one of my August days,
my shade they never noticed,
my shade they stole in vain.


*Tim Major (in 2010) writes about the skiing scene in "KQK" (1928): " In
just his second novel Nabokov had begun experimenting with narrative
conventions. While it's maybe not quite as impressive taken out of context,
I love the trick he plays in the extract below. Chapter 8 of King, Queen,
Knave begins in one scenario with Franz and his lover Martha, but as Franz
examines a photo of her husband Dreyer, Nabokov smoothly transitions to the
scene within the image, lingers for a few moments, then hops out again. It's
an effect that's simpler to achieve in film, but in prose it takes you by
surprise. It leaves you feeling hyper-aware of each sentence as you begin to
suspect that any sentence might spring off on an unexpected tangent.

One such blurry morning, a Sunday, when he and Martha in her beige dress
were walking decorously about the snow-powdered garden, she wordlessly
showed him a snapshot she had just received from Davos. It showed a smiling
Dreyer, in a Scandinavian ski suit, clutching his poles; his skis were
beautifully parallel, and all around was bright snow, and on the snow one
could distinguish the photographer's narrow-shouldered shadow.// When the
photographer (a fellow-skier and teacher of English, Mr. Vivian Badlook) had
clicked the shutter and straightened up, Dreyer, still beaming, moved his
left ski forward; however, as he was standing on a slight incline, the ski
went further than he had intended, and with a great flourish of ski poles he
tumbled heavily on his back while both girls shot past shrieking with
laughter. <http://cosycatastrophes.wordpress.com/tag/vladimir-nabokov>
http://cosycatastrophes.wordpress.com/tag/vladimir-nabokov /

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