While I was looking for where had Georg Steiner mentioned Nabokov's poem,
dedicated to Pushkin (No Passion Spent, p.201) I noticed how often Nabokov
appeared in three indexes - & there might be more in Steiner's "After
Babel" and in his book on Dostoevsky!
I informed the Nab-L of some of these quotes or references.
I decided to bring them up again now, hoping that some of them are new
to the participants.
Language and Silence, 1967.
p.94/95/96 (Pelican Book)
"The development in Dostoyevsky, Proust and Mann of the correlations
between nervous infirmity, the psychopathology of the organism, and a special
erotic vulnerability, is probably new. Sade and Sacher-Masoch codified, found a
dramatic syntax for, areas of arousal previously diffuse or less explicitly
realized. In Lolita there is a genuine enrichment of our
common stock of temptations. It is as if Vladimir Nabokov had brought into our
field of vision what lay at the far edge ( in Balzac's La Rabouilleuse,
for example) or what had been kept carefully implausible through disproportion
(Alice in Wonderland). But such annexations of insight are
rare. // The plain truth is that in literary erotica as well as in the
great mass of 'dirty books,' the same stimuli, the same contortions and
fantasies, occur over and over with unutterable monotony... Mr. Maurice
Girodias would riposte that this in not the issue, that the interminable
succession of fornications, flagellations, onanisms, masochistic fantasies and
homosexual punch-ups which fill his Olympia Reader are
inseparable from its literary excellence...precisely because the writer has had
to complete the campaign of liberation initiated by Freud, because he has to
overcome the verbal taboos, the hypocrisies of imagination in which former
generations laboured when alluding to the most vital, complex part of man's
being.// Moreover, two novels on his list are classics, books whose
genius he recognized and with which his own name will remain
proudly linked: Lolita and The Ginger Man. It is a piece
of bleak irony - beautifully appropriate to the entire 'dirty book' industry -
that a subsequent disagreement with Vladimir Nabokov now prevents Girodias from
including anything of Lolita in his anthology.To all
who fitst met Humbert Humbert in The Traveller's Companion series, a
green cover and the Olympia Press's somewhat mannered typography will remain a
part of one of the high moments of contemporary literature.
Real Presences, 1989.
Faber and Faber,p.195
"It takes uncanny strength and abstention from re-cognition, from imiplicit
re-ference, to read the world and not the text of the world as it has been
previously encoded for us (the sciences know of this bind). The exceptional
artist or thinker reads being anews. We Sunday-walkers come in the wake of
Rousseau. There are nymphets at our street corners since
Nabokov's Lolita. Nor is this scripting and pre-figuration by
the imaginary a dominant fact on only those civilizations we regard as
technically literate. The hold of oral narrative, of inherited fiction
over so-called 'primitive' or illiterate societies is even stronger. Sucho
societies can almost be defined as communities of authorized remembrance of
ritual pre-scription. Because we are language and image animals, and because the
inception and transmission of the fictive (the mythical) is organic to language,
much, perhaps the major portion, of our personal and social existence is already
bespoken. And those who speak us are the poet.// 'It is the singer' ,
antrhopologists would say. Amd we know of no cultures where the poet and the
singer are not, at the outset, the same. Intuitively, the son is held to
have come first..."
No Passion Spent, 1996.
Faber and Faber
p.97: " Most thought-provoking, however, is the ample footnote on the lines
immediately following. How, asks Pope, is one to excuse 'the extravagant Fiction
of a Horse speaking? (Shades of Swift). Pope invokes "Fable, Tradition and
History' , the latter in the person of Livy...Then comes Pope's trump card:
Balaam's eloquent ass. With this biblical validation, the foot-note opens on
universality: Homer inhabited an 'Age of Wonders' in which good taste and
sensibility were receptive of the miraculous. In voice and pedantry,
this note is Nabokovian. But the issue is capital. The tensed
energies of Pope's Homer result from a constant conflict between the archaic
matter of the epic, fable and the new criteria of Cartesian-Newtonian
rationality, between the semantics of myth and language, whose ideals are those
of logic in the Enlightenment."
p.152: "Who read, who could read what and when? What excerpts, reviews,
citations and translations of the German idealists were actually available to
Coleridge? How much did Dostoevsky actually know of Dickens or Balzac? How
long - the question busied Nabokov in his magisterial, querulous edition
of Eugene Onegin - did it take for French
translations-imitations of Byron to reach the Caucasus? Had Shakespeare any
acquaintance with the opening books of Chapman's Homer when he composed
Troilus and Cressida?
p.201: "But this effect can occur also when the original is lamed by the
mere fact that the translator is too high a master in his own right, that his
version is too sovereign ( I have called this paradoxical betrayal
'transfiguration')... / In the great majority of cases, of course, tha damage
done is that of diminution....One thinks of the long, lamentable history of
successive 'translations' into English and American English of Dante or Goethe.
Nabokov's jingle is a mordant summation:
What is translation? On a platter
The poet's pale and glaring
A parrot's screech, a monkey's
And profanation of the
p.222 "Equally, if not more significant, are the elements
which Nabokov cites in his leviathan commentary; the formal parallels
to Pushkin's Rusland and Ludmilla, the analogy between the frail baridge and the
small weave of birch withes which were place under a maiden's pillow as an
instrument of divination..."