Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027000, Sun, 15 May 2016 17:16:46 -0300

Vladimir Nabokov on Europe in a Spectator Blog
Vladimir Nabokov wades into the Brexit debate from the grave

<http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/author/steerpike/> Steerpike


<http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/author/steerpike/> Steerpike

13 May 2016

1:02 PM


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So far in the Brexit debate, a range of figures — from David Cameron to
David Icke — have chipped in to offer their two cents’ worth. However,
no-one was expecting the latest literary figure to enter the discussion.

In this week’s TLS, a talk by the late Vladimir Nabokov — given in 1926 —
has been <http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/on-generalities/>
translated into English for the first time. In the talk — titled ‘On
Generalities — the Lolita novelist discusses Europe. Nabokov appears to
struggle with the concept of Europe — concluding that when people utter the
word ‘Europe’ with ‘metaphorical, generalizing intonation’, he sees
‘precisely nothing’:

‘That is how history is treated. But I repeat, it is a hundred times more
terrifying when the demon of generalities worms his way into our judgments
about our own era. And what exactly is our era? When did it begin, in which
year, which month?

When people use the word “Europe”, what exactly do they have in mind, which
countries; only those at the “centre”, or are Portugal, Sweden, and Iceland
also central? When newspapers with their particular love for shoddy
metaphors head an article “Locarno”4, I see only mountains, sun shining on
the water, and an avenue of plane trees.

When people pronounce the word “Europe” with the same metaphorical,
generalizing intonation, I see precisely nothing, since I cannot imagine
simutaneously the landscape and history of Sweden, Romania and, say, Spain.
And when in connection with this non-existent Europe people talk about some
era, then I am at a loss to understand when this era even began – and how
exactly it could have the same bearing on me, and Ivanov, and Mr. Brown, and
Monsieur Dupont. I digress. I am forced to conclude that my interlocutor is
speaking about the last two or three years, that the action is taking place
in the same town where he himself lives – say, Berlin – and that the
barbarism under discussion dates only to the appearance of the dance halls
on the Kurfürstendamm.’

Hats off to Rupert Murdoch for managing to get his Brexit agenda into even
the most niche of his publications.

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