To me what's interesting about the quote you give from The Gift is that in its context, which I can't exactly recall (third or fourth chapter as Fyodor explains his method of composition for the biography he plans to write of Cherneshevski) is what goes unquestioned: why does Fyodor take it on faith that the only way he can write his biography is to do this balancing act? Why does it require parody at all? And why does this element of parody come into Sebastian Knight's method of composition? I think it's as much a practical thing as it is a cosmological one. Both writers seem aware that so many books have been written that the very rhetorical effect of writtenness itself distorts truth to stock intentions. The suggestion is that only by taking this falseness or artiness into account at the level of a work's effect can anything genuine be approached by the medium. Then the artist's serioius truth will not be cheapened by the worn out devices of easy pathos which short circuits thought. Plus it's fun. Of course Nabokov understood the dangers inherent in the use of parody. I forget where it comes from but it's been quoted a million times, that only genius artists can fool with parody effectively. I think the danger is that parody can reveal a nostalgia for the very cliches it sends up; that it can be used to usher corny pathos back into the equation by means of self-conscious apology as one has seen happen in books like Atonement, Infinite Jest, and other works that turn out to have nice little homilies brewing in them at heart, or like Julian Barnes who uses parody for a kind of respectable buttoned down seriousness. 

SES: are you still going to have us read one of N.'s stories as a group?

On Monday, June 23, 2014 9:15 PM, "NABOKV-L, English" <nabokv-l@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:

Jansy Mello writes:

Sandy Klein sends: June 14, 2014 12:01 Life Before 'Lolita' By JOSEPH EPSTEIN To write superior autobiography one requires not only literary gifts, which are obtainable with effort, but an intrinsically interesting life, which is less frequently available. Those who possess the one are frequently devoid of the other, and vice versa. Only a fortunate few are able to reimagine their lives, to find themes and patterns that explain a life, in the way successful autobiography requires. Vladimir Nabokov was among them. . Late in "Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited" (1966), he writes that "the spiral is a spiritualized circle," and "a colored spiral in a small ball of glass is how I see my own life." …[  ] As an autobiographer—and as a novelist, too—Nabokov worked micro- rather than telescopically. The miniature was his entrée into the grander scene. "There is, it would seem," he writes, "in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones that is intrinsically artistic." Such was his own method as an artist, and such was the art it produced on which his own international reputation rests.”
Jansy Mello: How very odd. V.Nabokov’s definition of the “delicate” meeting point to render small and large things, achieved by the true artist, makes immediate sense, although it can also be interpreted as a resource to deny painful experiences by recreating gross reality. Four years ago (January, 2010) I posted a quotation about a different sort of balance while standing at the ridge of an abyss and I retrieved it to bring it up in the present context. The point was related to the matter of keeping “at the brink of parody” in connection to “Lolita.”
While investigating the source of this reference outside the VN-L, I found it quoted in VN’s NYT obituary: "While I keep everything on the brink of parody,""there must be on the other hand an abyss of seriousness, and I must make my way along this narrow ridge between my own truth and the caricature of it." [], but no source was cited.
Another related proposition can be found in “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight” when Knight’s parodies move forward from the comic into “serious emotion…  ‘a clown developing wings, an angel mimicking a tumbler pigeon' ”…(91)
Further search in the internet led me to Leona Toker’s indication of Fyodor’s words to Zina, in G, 212 (Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary Structures,” p.175/76). Unfortunately I was unable to locate the sentence in “The Gift” (I have only the Penguin editions, with different page indicators). I had the same problem with Roger B. Salomon’s quote in “The Desperate Storytelling: Post-Romantic Elaborations of the Mock-Heroic Mode” and even Alfred Appel’s, in his introduction to “The Annotated Lolita.”  Although in my material copy of Appel’s “Introduction” the page reference was changed (p.200, cf. xxii) – I think it applies to the edition in Russian (The Gift, New York, 1963).  
Leona Toker writes (for “The Gift”): “The technique of balancing between truth and parody, between the infinite and the incomplete, reflects the tentativeness of the novel’s metaphysics. The excursus into the subject of doors and drafts is supposed to reflect the thoughts of the dying Alexander Yakovlevich and therefore ends on a note of tired resignation: “But this is only symbols –symbols which become a burden to the mind as soon as it takes a close look at them”(G,322). The novel itself seems to be likewise unsure about the metaphysical position suggested by its imagery. However, it deflects its skepticism from the existence of the hereafter toward human ability to solve the Mystery. In words that Fyodor attributes to Koncheev, “the attempt to comprehend the world is reduced to an attempt to comprehend that which we ourselves have deliberately made incomprehensible. The absurdity at which searching thought arrives is only a natural, generic sign of its belonging to man, and striving to obtain an answer is the same as demanding of chicken broth that it begin to cluck.” (G, 354). Thus within but a few lines even the seriousness of skepticism yields to a parody on itself”. (LT,p.175)  
For S.E.Sweeney after Nabokov "deviates from the expected detective-story ending" [in RLSK], his novel "ends with a return to the beginning - to the very death that prompted the investigation - but without resolving it" and she concludes that, in that sense,  RLSK resembles the "metaphysical detective stories.".  Sweeney reminds us of V’s belief “that Sebastian’s life and art will reveal to him the very meaning of existence, the ‘absolute solution’ (180), a faith the reader cannot easily share for, while one of its storylines express "the modernist tenets of completion, wholeness, and artistic unity", the other "fosters a self-reflexive awareness that that sense of unity is unstable, unreliable, and subjective."[Cycnos | Volume 12 n°2 NABOKOV : At the Crossroads of Modernism and Postmodernism - | The V-Shaped Paradigm: Nabokov and Pynchon. As we can see, in Lolita, in The Gift, in RLSK we return, again and again, to a balancing act at the brink of an abyss (with its distinct retake in Speak,Memory’s initial chapter where life becomes the arena for its exercise), and to a circle that doesn’t rise as a spiral.
I offered the names of various scholars and critics who wrote about Nabokov and the cinema. I forgot to add various other important names, but there’s one (also mentioned in former List archives) that is worth mentioning: URI: ISSN: 1061-1975 Leving, Yuri. 2004. "Filming Nabokov: On the Visual Poetics of the Text." Russian Studies in Literature: A Journal of Translations 40(3): 6-31. "...what, exactly, makes Nabokov’s texts so attractive to the writers of screen adaptations, and how relevant are those adaptations to an understanding of the artist’s original intent? Our assumption is that not only the power of the author’s imagination but also certain narrative mechanisms render the Nabokovian discourse suitable for translation into the cinema idiom. In Nabokov’s case, moreover, the text itself may be viewed as having been structured according to certain cinematic laws. The first part of this article is devoted to a reconstruction of Nabokov’s unique method of cinematic vision and presents an analysis of the literary text as a model that is implicitly invested with cinematic techniques. The second part offers a brief overview of screen adaptations of Nabokov’s works in the modern American and European cinema and defines the level of correspondence between them and the author’s original. 
All these reports arose in connection to my curiosity about V.Nabokov’s singular apprehension of the external world: we have Mascodagama’s reversal of a cataract (quoting lines about Joyce in LL) in a world turned upside-down, his lessons with King Wing and the jikkers or VN’s play with “gravitas”*. In the Epstein quote (see first paragraph) it seems to me that what’s important in not exactly the verbal novel rendering of small or big things, but the mental balancing act in itself. Perhaps the cinematic insertion of Humbert’s mother’s ascension might have resulted from a momentary loss of equilibrium… My query, however, must rest. It’s not really about adaptation and the cinema - but I’m unable to express it right now (i.e: as related to the fun of seeing “things as if they were new* and VN’s particular employ of personifications and animation derived from his special way of looking at things and handling emotions.)
*- Additional examples from the NYT obtituary quoted above: "The writer creates his own kind of life. Seeing things in a singular, unique, extraordinary way sounds funny to the average person” [  ] "Seeing things as if they were new is funny in itself. The unusual is funny in itself. A man slips and falls down. It is the contrary of gravity in both senses. That is a great pun, by the way.

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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