Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021038, Tue, 7 Dec 2010 17:22:56 -0200

The 'Lolita' clutch, ants and other items
Sandy Klein sends:" Natalie Portman showed up at the New York premiere of "Black Swan" with a long black Dior gown, immaculate Dior makeup, and a purse made out of a copy of 'Lolita' by Vladimir Nabokov.The purse is by French designer Olympia Le-Tan. Her book bags feature a hand-stitched version of the books' covers, usually of titles or editions from the mid-20th century."
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/12/natalie-portmans-lolita-clutch.html and http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/galleries/TMG8175857/Bags-get-bookish-intellectual-clutch-bags-by-Olympia-Le-Tan.html
JM: Interesting coincidence. the bookish bag by Olympia Le-Tan reproduces the Olympia Press 'Lolita' cover...

Sandy P. Klein: Butterflies Made a Darwin Doubter of Vladimir Nabokov - December 5, 2010 by Monika Maeckle
"The celebrated Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov embodies the best of right and left brain thinking. Known for his great novels (Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin), he was also a passionate student of butterflies...That a great mind like Nabokov's doubted Darwin and challenged evolution makes us take pause. Surely it's a testament to the infinite intrigue of butterflies."
JM: I wish our Nab-list experts (biologists, engineers, savants) would deign to opine on this "darwinian" issue, as it has reached us poor lay-people, because new questions are always possible, independently of their source. There must be more to Darwin than the theory about the "survival of the fittest" and some other, equally important, tenets of his evolutionary theory. Sweeping statements, as those about "a great mind...makes us pause, etc etc," are only journalistic stuff but...OK, let's pause. Did Nabokov in fact "challenge evolution" (whatever M.Maeckle means by that)?
Take the new form of life that's just been announced, ie, bacteria thriving on arsenium and not constituted by phosphorus. Doesn't this illustrate how transient all classificatory systems must be, for we need to keep on adapting and altering the "limits" we've set to nature, and to our conscious minds?
Would Nabokov's intuitions about a "divine design" accept that identifiable patterns evolve, together with our ability to detect them, not only in our apprehension of the natural world but, also, in relation to Art (ie, his finished novels will continue to develop, thanks to their readers)?

G.S. Lipon: I assume that VN(Shade) has inverted the sense of the original when he writes: Lafontaine was wrong:/ Dead is the mandible, alive the song. - but I've never been able to track down the original. Does anybody know anything about this?
JM: This item has often been discussed in the Nab-List (the ravenous ant and its mandibular claws. The ever-living song of the cicada, like the waxwing's flying and dancing reflection on a window pane...) Lafontaine ( La Fontaine, the fountain, written both ways by Shade/Kinbote) inspired his verses in one of Aesop's fables.
In Shade's poem (lines 238/240) the couple finds "An empty emerald case, squat and frog-eyed,/Hugging the trunk; and its companion piece,/ A gum-logged ant."
indicating that a living cicada is out of its case, but that the ant (its companion piece, somehow) has perished... Here is what I found in the internet: at www.bewilderingstories.com/issue209/cigale.html -
La Cigale et la fourmi
by Jean de La Fontaine

La cigale ayant chanté
Tout l'été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue :
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu'à la saison nouvelle.
« Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l'août, foi d'animal,
Intérêt et principal. »
La fourmi n'est pas prêteuse :
C'est là son moindre défaut.
« Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud ?
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
- Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
- Vous chantiez ? J'en suis fort aise :
Eh bien ! Dansez maintenant. »
The Cricket and the Ant
translation by Don Webb

The cricket had sung her song
all summer long
but found her victuals too few
when the north wind blew.
Nowhere could she espy
a single morsel of worm or fly.

Her neighbor, the ant, might,
she thought, help her in her plight,
and she begged her for a little grain
till summer would come back again.

"By next August I'll repay both
Interest and principal; animal's oath."

Now, the ant may have a fault or two
But lending is not something she will do.
She asked what the cricket did in summer.

"By night and day, to any comer
I sang whenever I had the chance."

"You sang, did you? That's nice. Now dance."

La Fontaine (1621-1695) put La Cigale et la fourmi first in the first book of his Fables precisely because it was his personal favorite. It and others in his twelve books of fables are a cultural treasure and have been memorized by generations upon generations of school children. And well they ought to be: two hundred years would pass till lyric poetry met the standard he set.

The cigale is, strictly speaking, a cicada. I use "cricket" by poetic license because the figure is more familiar to English-speaking readers.

La Fontaine's fable is unique in that it does not end with the traditional moral, which would sum up the meaning of the poem lest an inattentive listener miss it. Rather, La Fontaine forces the readers to choose their own interpretation: is the cricket an artist or a profligate wastrel? Is the ant economical and prudent or a bourgeois philistine?

Walt Disney took his film sketch from Æsop's dreary Fables, where the self-styled thrifty and provident have no shred of mercy for their neighbor, the singer. La Fontaine's untraditional silence at the end of the poem speaks volumes: things are not always as simple as we're told or as we might like to think.

La Cigale et la fourmi sets the style and tone for the rest of La Fontaine's fables. Sweet little poems about animals? No, they are tales of terror about people living in the ancien régime - and today.

Copyright © 2006 by Don Webb

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com

Manage subscription options: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/