Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024608, Fri, 20 Sep 2013 15:42:36 -0300

Re: [Thoughts] Art's higher level correction
Frances Assa [to JM]: "I think this whole issue is supremely important with regard to Nabokov. Memory is regularly a central subject. When I read literature I am always wondering about the who the author is in order to feel that I really understand what the author wrote. You seem to be saying that he, like all of us, distorts his memories, especially unhappy ones. This leads one to the conclusion that he was an unreliable author! With so much talk of Wayne Booth's unreliable narrator, I wonder if anyone has tackled the rhetoric of the unreliable author. In Nabokov's work, the author seems, generally, like God, hardly unreliable. And in LATH in particular, if I remember correctly, even Vadim learns to visualize backward clearly. Also I'm wondering if your observation of Nabokov's evasions of unhappy memories is generally shared by students of Nabokov.".

Jansy Mello: We depart from different starting points but yes ... Nabokov frequently invites and taunts his readers to discover some little detail about himself, as in a game of hide and seek. Nevertheless for me it's just a game and I try to abide by his rules. He knows that, like anyone else, he may inadvertently reveal a few things about himself [ "The crudest curriculum vitae crows and flaps its wings in a style peculiar to the undersigner. I doubt whether you can even give your telephone number without giving something of yourself" ] - but would this help us understand his creation? I believe, also, that Nabokov often tries to mislead his interviewers, like the real Sebastian Knight and his fake biographer, Mr.Goodman, and that, like anyone else's, his memory would play tricks on him. As I see it, this wouldn't turn him into an "unreliable author" (only into a deceiver, like Nature or a magician).

Perhaps I didn't understand what you meant by being an "unreliable author." Nabokov told Alfred Appel Jr (in a 1966 interview) that "the design of my novel is fixed in my imagination and every character follows the course I imagine for him. I am the perfect dictator in that private world insofar as I alone am responsible for its stability and truth. Whether I reproduce it as fully and faithfully as I would wish, is another question" and it's worth noting that, further on, he defines "creative imagination" as the result from a combination of "stored elements". .."with later recollections and inventions."* Inventions are not lies**. Making mistakes isn't lying. Being unable to transform a vision into exact words, either. What kind of truth are you after?

* "I would say that imagination is a form of memory. Down, Plato, down, good dog. An image depends on the power of association, and association is supplied and prompted by memory. When we speak of a vivid individual recollection we are paying a compliment not to our capacity of retention but to Mnemosyne’s mysterious foresight in having stored up this or that element which creative imagination may use when combining it with later recollections and inventions..."

** - Well, sometimes they are! The inventive boy who cried "wolf" would be called liar by his companions . Cf. “Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.” Lectures on Literature. Jacques Lacan thinks that a child's ability to lie marks his conquest of subjectivity (by stopping to believe that he is transparent in his parent's eyes and gaining control of his speech).

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