Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024560, Sat, 7 Sep 2013 13:29:38 -0300

RLSK, LATH and a double monster
Jansy Mello: There's such an amount of information in every Nabokov sentence that, to digest it (not necessarily savoring it), one has to follow unequal steps in one's re-readings. By eliminating the overall context we may blunder into a surprising word, now isolated from the mainstream, which had escaped attention.
This time, after the recently posted quote from LATH [ Spying had been my clystère de Tchékhov even before I married Iris Black whose later passion for working on an interminable detective tale had been sparked by this or that hint I must have dropped, like a passing bird's lustrous feather" ] I had to stop at "clystère" (and why Tchékhov's, I wonder), set down in French, carrying a similar meaning as it has in Portuguese. The "genital" imagery of a wound in a tree's cortex ["...The tree, a blue-flowering ash, whose cortical wound I caught the two "diplomats," Tornikovski and Kalikakov, using for their correspondence, still stands, hardly scarred, on its hilltop above San Bernardino.] into which love/spy messages are inserted, felt dislocated from the more obvious "vagina" by its association to anal penetration (clystère=enema)*

The haphazard approximation of themes in the VN-L "dropped" me from LATH onto "Scenes of the life of a Double Monster," after I realized that Nabokov regularly refers to "double spies." and that, in SM, he confessed to spying his homosexual brother's diaries, a theme explored by SE Sweeney in her essay about that short-story ** and the sometimes unsuccessful transmuttion of conflictual memories into fiction.

However, DBJ's associations* to " 'violin d'Ingres'; the (real) life behind the imagined one" and the unexpected reference to spies, was too sophisticated for me to follow. LATH remains for me a fragmentary "autobiographical fiction" connected to the theme of "doubles".***

* In a past VN-L possting from 30 Mar 2002 we get: 'Cassel's French-English Dictionary__ gives 'enema' as a translation for 'clystere'. Surely the association of that word with anal penetration would be another suggestion of 'the nature of the relationship' between the two spies.
and a reply by DB Johnson to Sergey B. Il'in: "...You may well be right in your "literary" explication but the more I look at the passage, the stranger it seems. Incidentally, is that "clystere de Tchekhov" a set phrase in Russian or VN's "translation of the French "violin d'Ingres"? i.e., a secondary skill that is itself of great brilliance? And why is the "spy" motif introduced here? It thematically echoes, I suppose, the (real) life behind the imagined one as in Sogliadatai and in LATH itself. The introduction of the ash tree is bizarre--very weakly motivated by the spy reference. As well as the Pushkinian love letter "drop," holes in trees for secret messages are still used in spycraft. [ ] VN does have a couple of cases of dunderhead Soviet agents (PF for one). The "blueflowering ash" is the Olea europaea (common olive) but I can't see that that leads anywhere--apart from the tree names of the two agents." https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=nabokv-l;4e582feb.0203

** - S.E. Sweeney: "The Small Furious Devil: Memory in 'Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster,'" in A Small Alpine Form: Studies in Nabokov's Short Fiction, ed. Charles Nicol and Gene Barabtarlo (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 193-216).

*** - from wiki's incxomplete data; Doppelgänger vs. Parody:
Literary criticism has weighed in on both sides of this debate, some even claiming that Vadim is both a parody and a double (or Doppelgänger) of Nabokov. For example, Nabokov'sLolita is acted out by the narrator of Look at the Harlequins! through his fondling of the nymphet Dolly VonBorg. The attribution of a string of wives to the narrator must be understood in the context of Nabokov's life: After the publication of Lolita the wider public and many critics thought that its author must be some "sexual daredevil". With the serial polygamy related in Look At The Harlequins!, Nabokov can be seen to be poking fun at these perceptions. V.V.'s final wife is simply addressed as "You", which parallels Nabokov's addressing his wife, Véra, simply as "you" in his autobiography Speak, Memory. The fact that V.V.'s final love is a spitting image of her predecessor "Bel" must be understood in the light of Humbert Humbert, the main character of Lolita, searching a nymphet just like his first love "Annabel", his first love when he himself was aged 12.

If V.V. is afflicted by feelings of being the double of another Nabokovian persona, this is because he bears in fact significant resemblances to the main character of the novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight from 1941.

Herbert Grabes is among the critics who believe that Vadim is Nabokov's "parodic double"[citation needed] (151). Pekka Tammi agrees: "any fictive [narrator] can be, even at best, only a 'parody' of the artist who is responsible for the ultimate fiction"[citation needed] (289). Lucy Maddox calls Look at the Harlequins! "an oblique, satiric self-portrait"[citation needed](144). In Speak, Memory, Nabokov had written that much of his own life had appeared in his fictional works in the past, and that he felt as though he had lost these memories as they were crystallized into text, abstracted into fictions. His thoughts on the inevitably autobiographical nature of fiction seem to manifest, playfully, here.[citation needed]

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