Re [NABOKV-L] [Thoughts] Art's higher level
Re: [NABOKV-L] [Thoughts] Art's higher level
Jansy Mello <>
9/24/2013 12:50 PM
Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

Remaining true to what C.Kunin aptly named "Nabokovian specs", I did a google-search after Romanticism soon after I finished watching the so-so movie: The Romantics, a 2010 ..."comedy film based on the novel of the same name by Galt Niederhoffer, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film." . In a wedding dinner speech, Laura mentions that " Our friends got the nickname 'The Romantics'. Because of our incestuous dating history. Umm... We... we were just in love with each other. Because that's what friends do. They fall in love with each other..."
I've never felt great interest in Nabokov's insistence on the sibling incest theme, or in his acerb criticism of Freud's writings about the "Oedipus complex" Not that I took his "explanation" very seriously (I like the BL sound of "siblings"), but the theme seemed to me literarily dated and boring. Now, however, a question became possible: "Did Nabokov employ incest in his novels as a deliberately romantic nuance? (in Lolita, the girl uses the word with alacrity,  then there's the insect/incest theme in Ada and, of course, the pervasive loves bt. Ada and Van and Lucette, evoking other past incestuous loves as well) Was his intention only to parody Romantic poets such as Byron (clever Ada's father) and Shelley?
I found many very interesting articles about Nabokov and Romanticism. I won't bring them up because they can be easily accessed by whomever is interested.
I selected only one article simply because I found something different in it, namely, G.Greene's comparison between a few "redemptive"(?) lines in Lolita and in  Goethe's Faust.   After all, I was following a thread about what, for me, was something ineffable in Nabokov's writings and G.Green seems to have been able to get close to pinpointing it, by his retrospective and encompassing look at an important German author from the past.
The repetition of quotations from VN is often a bother and the fatigue it causes in us may promote a vague numbness to its various possible readings.In my case, having grown up with parents that carried Goethe in their hearts, G.Green's parallel was particularly apt (I believe that, like him, G. de Vries, in the Zembla site, also wrote about the "internationality of art" Nabokov shares with this peculiarly Romantic ideal, so distinct from the "Ars gratia artis" more usual label ).. 

Geoffrey Green in "Beyond Modernism and Postmodernism: Vladimir Nabokov’s Fiction of Transcendent Perspective" is found in Cycnos, Volume 12 n°2, published on line in 25, june 2008, URL :, writes:
 " ... Nabokov’s goal of transcending time and history...(b)y conceiving of himself as a unique author who included within him Russian, French, English, German, and American influences and intellectual traditions, he was able to reflect a multitude of perspectives within his writings...I propose that we view Nabokov’s artistry as a unique and highly individual fusing of what he had learned and observed from romanticism and modernism with his own esthetic inclinations and innovative imaginative genius.[   ] I should like to consider one of the concluding passages from Lolita in order to illustrate my point. Nabokov described the image of “the tinkling sounds of the valley town coming up the mountain trail” as one of the “nerves of the novel,” one of the “secret points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the book is plotted […]” (On a Book Entitled Lolita, in The Annotated Lolita, 318). Humbert ...“evoke[s] a last mirage of wonder and hopelessness”: he conjures a memory of a “melodious unity of sounds rising like vapor from a small mining town that lay at my feet, in a fold of the valley.” He speaks of a “vapory vibration of accumulated sounds” and “all these sounds were of one nature” (The Annotated Lolita, 309). Humbert realizes that he is perceiving the “melody of children at play,” and “this vapor of blended voices [is] majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic.” He stands “listening to that musical vibration” and he realizes “that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord” (The Annotated Lolita, 310). In this moment of concord — that is, the agreeable harmony of musical tones — Humbert realizes that he has deprived Lolita of her participation in that concord: he has robbed her of her childhood.[   ] Now here I shall introduce Goethe, fully cognizant of the limitations of Nabokov’s German, and mindfully aware of Nabokov’s wry remarks that “there is a dreadful streak of poshlust running through Goethe’s Faust ” (Nikolai Gogol, 64). Nevertheless, Nabokov lived a significant part of his life in Germany, he had translated in 1932 the opening prologue of Faust (Field, Nabokov: His Life in Art, 372), and his knowledge of the nature of romanticism was deep and profound. Goethe would recognize sympathetically the image created in Nabokov’s passage. In his 1797 dedication to Faust, Goethe speaks of being “seized by an unaccustomed longing/ For that still, earnest, kingdom of spirits,/ It is suspended only in indefinite tones/ My whispered song, like an aeolian harp,/ A shudder seizes me, tears follow tears,/ The strong heart, it feels mild and tender” (Faust, 66, my translation). Goethe is here evoking the image of a harmony of voices that was central to his notion of “Geist”: spirits, souls, essences, minds. Goethe’s “unbestimmten Tönen” (indefinite tones), his indeterminate song from an aeolian harp, is in harmony with Nabokov’s “concord” composed of a “vapor of blended voices.” Goethe’s dedication concludes with: “What I possess, I see as far away,/ And what is vanished to me is reality” (Faust, 66, my translation). Compare this to Nabokov’s refrain in Speak, Memory: “I see again […] A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present” (76-77). For both writers, what is preserved through memory creates a connection, a passageway, to the community of “blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near.” This concord is both elusive and perceptible, lost and yet attainable.[   ] It is important not to compartmentalize what either author may have meant with these pictures of concord and harmony. Goethe insisted that he did not write Faust to convey an “idea” and he did not “strive for the embodiment of something abstract. I received impressions — impressions that were sensuous, vital, lovely, motley, hundredfold — whatever a lively power of imagination offered me; and as a poet I did not have to do anything but round out and form such visions and impressions artistically […].” (conversations with Eckermann, translated and quoted in Walter Kaufmann’s introduction to Faust, 10). Nabokov, too, maintained: “I don’t think in any language. I think in images” (Strong Opinions, 14); “this writer’s task?” he remarked, “is the purely subjective one of reproducing as clearly as possible the image of the book he has in his mind” (Strong Opinions, 122). For both writers, an image or impression is transcribed accurately through art: thus, no abstract idea or creed is being conveyed. Rather, specific images create the sensation that what is vanished in the past is — through art — more real than the tenuous “reality” of the present. The artist’s creation of art redeems him from all that is ethereal, far away, and insubstantial in life. [   ] Nabokov, whose knowledge of romanticism was profound, chose to bestow upon Humbert an image of a concord of sounds that were of one nature; he did not do this because the image was romanticistic, but rather, because the image conveyed his picture: Humbert’s realization that he loves the “hopelessly worn” Mrs. Richard Schiller “more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else” (The Annotated Lolita, 279) makes of him a Faust — despite the depravity and evil of his life, he is able to reach for a transcendent, redemptive vision. In Faust’s case, he calls out to the evanescent moment: “Remain, you are so beautifull!” (Faust, 468) — and he is saved. In Humbert’s case, he determines that the woman before him is Lolita and, despite everything, he loves her — when he is unable to have this Lolita, he immortalizes her in the best and only mode remaining to him: through art.... But where Goethe dramatized the opposition between Faust and Mephistopheles, Nabokov melds them together into one oppositional being: Humbert Humbert. Nabokov’s image hurtles back in time to Goethe; and in so doing, it “provide[s] informative links with earlier or later patches of the past” (Strong Opinions, 143). Nabokov’s artistic perspective escapes modernism and postmodernism: by circling back to the past, he underlines art as a continuity and a process — and points our way to the future."
The funny thing is that I believe in G.Green's vision of HH's "redemptive" moment - but not in HH's retelling it. or, say, endowing it with verbal substance "..Art's higher level is as fleeting as W.Blake's "joy" ("Eternity")?

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sun rise.

William Blake

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