Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027079, Tue, 28 Jun 2016 12:42:44 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Moving Lips... Misquoting Nabokov?
Former posting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/people/jeff-guo [ ] I rarely
read a book straight through from start to finish. I take detours, I
backtrack, and I always scan the plot summary on Wikipedia to learn what's
coming next. Psychologists at the University of California, San Diego have
found that people enjoy a story more if the ending has already been spoiled.
Suspense, it seems, is overrated.// The Russian-American novelist Vladimir
Nabokov believed that re-reading was the only way to truly enjoy a novel.
Not until the second or third go-around can we perceive a novel's grand
schemes and secrets. Of the initial encounter he once said: "When we read a
book for the first time, the very process of laboriously moving our eyes
from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated
physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space
and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic
appreciation." Would VN be in favor of Jeff Guo's argumentation?

Jansy Mello: Certain sentences by Nabokov hover in my horizon in a
permanent way, even though I don't have them ready in my memory to quote
them and must resort to books or digitalized citations. I just retrieved one
of them.
"There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he
may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A
major writer combines these three - storyteller, teacher, enchanter - but it
is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer...The
three facets of the great writer - magic, story, lesson - are prone to blend
in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may
be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of
thought...Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual we
shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of
cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass." (Lectures on
Literature). Here is the main idea that led me to question Jeff Guo's
argumentation about speeding up the process of reading and watching movies
and TV and illustrating his point with V.Nabokov's words, before I
remembered that VN also favored prolepsis (Lucette's death and Lolita's are
announced in advance. The novel "Lolita" itself is considered a peculiar
kind of "detective novel" because the reader knows from the start who the
murderer is). There's also a clear example of how VN presented a "plot
summary" announcing the events that are going to be narrated, eliminating
the importance of a"suspense," as argued by Jeff Guo. However, the entire
paragraph must be quoted if we want to make VN's position about narration,
detail and enjoyment while reading a novel to intuit that there's something
more complex at play when suspense is elimintated.

Here are the first lines from the English version of Camera Obscura:
"Laughter in the Dark":

" Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He
was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of
a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in
disaster. This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that
had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling; and although there is
plenty of space on a gravestone to contain, bound in moss, the abridged
version of a man's life, detail is always welcome."

Another sentence from "Strong Opinions" is pertinent here (copied from Lara
Delage-Toriel at: <https://transatlantica.revues.org/760>
https://transatlantica.revues.org/760, citing Strong Opinions, p.32)

"[t]here comes a moment when I am informed from within that the entire
structure is finished. All I have to do now is take it down in pencil or
pen. Since this entire structure, dimly illumined in one's mind, can be
compared to a painting, and since you do not have to work gradually from
left to right for its proper perception, I may direct my flashlight at any
part or particle of the picture when setting it down in writing. "Playboy
Interview, 1964

In this example VN is describing part of the creative process as it is
experienced by the writer, not the reader. To express the structure of the
novel that arises in his mind, in a vision that he compares to looking at a
"painting", the writer must transport himself from vision to sound and from
a particular "stable" space to time, rushing with pen or pencil to set down
the tumbling words in a particular disorder (he can reorganize his written
cards later on).

Lara Delage-Toriel adds: "If we bear in mind the quotations on Nabokov's
initial vision of his work and his reader's final vision, we realize that
the apparently facetious allusion to The Artist's Studio by Van Bock is in
fact a very pertinent articulation of his ideas on the relationship between
reader and writer, who both tend towards the same founding perception, yet
are defeated by time, as displayed by Van Eyck's preterite form (Johannes de
eyck fuit hic). The diachronic split between Nabokov and his reader is such
that the latter's relation to the initial creative vision can only be
asymptotic, reaching towards the suspended miniature of conception but never
grasping it in full. In an essay entitled 'Good Readers and Good Writers,'
Nabokov does nevertheless envisage a possible meeting point between author
and reader, at the top of a mountain that significantly emerges from the
mist and that must be conquered by both author and reader." (Brushing
through < veiled values and translucent undertones > Nabokov's pictorial
approach to women)

A special consideration concerning VN's "non Platonic" stance and his
antevision of a completed future novel, suggested by the words just quoted,
also led me to two articles ( the conjunction of my excerpts is rather bumpy
since all the authors follow distinct lines of inquiry into painting and
literature). I selected two parapraphs from "Ekphrasis and the Other" by
W.J.T. Mitchell (cutting short his discussion - to which I must refer you at
https://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/shelley/medusa/mitchell.html ) to illustrate
some of the processes in which the order of VN's ordeal with painting and
scripture is reversed (1), or how related to poetry his "verbal 'conjuring'"
would be (2):

(1)"Ekphrasis may be even further generalized, as it is by Murray Krieger,
into a general "principle" exemplifying the aestheticizing of language in
what he calls the "still moment." For Krieger, the visual arts are a
metaphor, not just for verbal representation of visual experience, but for
the shaping of language into formal patterns that "still" the movement of
linguistic temporality into a spatial, formal array. Not just vision, but
stasis, shape, closure, and silent presence ("still" in the other sense) are
the aims of this more general form of ekphrasis. Once the desire to overcome
the "impossibility" of ekphrasis is put into play, the possibilities and the
hopes for verbal representation of visual representation become practically
endless. "The ear and the eye lie / down together in the same bed," lulled
by "undying accents." The estrangement of the image/text division is
overcome, and a sutured, synthetic form, a verbal icon or imagetext, arises
in its place."

(2) "Unlike the encounters of verbal and visual representation in "mixed
arts" such as illustrated books, slide lectures, theatrical presentations,
film, and shaped poetry, the ekphrastic encounter in language is purely
figurative. The image, the space of reference, projection, or formal
patterning, cannot literally come into view. If it did, we would have left
the genre of ekphrasis for concrete or shaped poetry, and the written
signifiers would themselves take on iconic characteristics. This figurative
requirement puts a special sort of pressure on the genre of ekphrasis, for
it means that the textual other must remain completely alien; it can never
be present, but must be conjured up as a potent absence or a fictive,
figural present. These acts of verbal "conjuring" are what would seem to be
specific to the genre of ekphrastic poetry, and specific to literary art in
general, insofar as it obeys what Murray Krieger calls "the ekphrastic
principle." Something special and magical is required of language. "The
poem," as Krieger puts it, "must convert the transparency of its verbal
medium into the physical solidity of the medium of the spatial arts." This
"solidity" is exemplified in such features as descriptive vividness and
particularity, attention to the "corporeality" of words, and the patterning
of verbal artifacts. The ekphrastic image acts, in other words, like a sort
of unapproachable and unpresentable "black hole" in the verbal structure,
entirely absent from it, but shaping and affecting it in fundamental ways."

And here the second paper, David Brody, "A Beautiful idea? Nabokov's
animating painting and its retributions" (it also refers to "Laughter in the
Dark" but discusses "the nature of painting" and the creation of a
"compressed data file" - in images, nb...)
"Nabokov cited the French philosopher Henri Bergson as an enthusiasm of his,
and intriguingly, when you invert Nabokov's warning against setting
paintings in motion you arrive right at the heart of Bergson's metaphysics
with its repeated admonitions about picturing time. Bergson's great insight,
his leitmotif, was that in order to measure time we spatialize it, and that
this fallacy which is built into our language and conceptual apparatus leads
inevitably to seeing life as 15 an unspooling destiny, "as if time were only
a machine to unwind a film reel which has been there all along, with its
entire story." Once we give time equal topological status with the three
axes of space, in other words, we become deterministic, consciously or not,
and cut ourselves off from the genuine experience of "the universe [as] a
creative process, whereby something new and unpredictable appears at every
moment." Something new and unpredictable at every moment--precisely what Las
Meninas somehow manages to condense into a refracting diamond of gestalt.
The artistic chimera of the animated painting, in which its infinitely
compacted, autonomous time sense would simply be expanded out again with all
implicit proportion preserved, like Stuffit Expander recreating a compressed
data file, is, to use Bergson's formulation, a deepseated delusion which
misleads us about the nature of painting, and indeed misconstrues the nature
of our existence. <http://david-brody.com/writings/Nabokov.pdf>

In my experience it's David Brody, citing VN and Bergson, who expresses more
clearly VN's vision of a novel, its transposition into non-compressed words
(his attitude towards allegories and symbols?) and the atemporal aim he
strived for.

And sorry for the "collage"!

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