Joseph Aisenberg: “To me what's interesting about the quote you give from The Gift is that in its context…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…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. 


Jansy Mello: A challenging and complex argumentation! 

In my opinion both fictional writers, Fyodor and Sebastian, must take on faith Nabokov’s unavoidable (constitutional) way of dealing with what he sees around him and their effects on his sensibility (usually colored by cartoonish humor). His perceptual peculiarities force him to practice (mostly very successful) balancing acts in writing (style) and in life (self-apprehension). It seems to me that parody was a fundamental tool for achieving this balance. Why do you think that Fyodor or Sebastian should have kept parody at bay? (I liked you separation of parody per se and self-parody that keeps evolutions from evolving upwards, tied by gravity like circling satellites around a sun).


In connection to falseness and artiness I selected various references to Nabokov made by critics who were writing about Martin Amis’s “The Pregnant Widow.” It is an indirect way of looking at Nabokov, by the Amis distortive prisms and his critic’s. It fits in as a “Sighting” (albeit a belated one).

You made a good point when you bring p the disadvantages of self-conscious apology and self-parody, sometimes also indulged in by V.Nabokov.* Here is my selection (I hope I copied the corresponding URL correctly):


1. "There are still problems, of course. Such as the excessive influence of Nabokov, which sees Amis impose a lurid artificiality on his dense set pieces, as if in homage to what many readers in fact consider a weakness that the better Nabokov novels escape rather than wallow in. The Pregnant Widow, for example, introduces us to Adriano, a local aristocrat also courting Scheherazade… Adriano is, not to put too fine a point on it, a ridiculously suave and ridiculously athletic midget, whose amorous demonstrations become increasingly grandiloquent (including helicopters and the like). In an earlier Amis fiction, you feel, Adriano would have been funny, but over-the-top hilarity is something Amis has lost the knack of, so that he merely upsets the measured domain of the other characters with his cartoonish incongruity.  THE PREGNANT WIDOW by Martin Amis,2011 Review by Thomas McGrath


2. “There’s Adriano, who is in love with Scheherazade: although he’s stinking rich, he’s four feet ten inches short (does that height ring a bell?  ‘She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock…’ Nabokov’s Lolita, of course).  There’s Amen, Whittaker’s boyfriend, who is so traumatised by the sight of Scheherazade’s bare breasts that he can’t stand to be near her: and there are deliciously countless others.”


3. “Not that this novel is veiled autobiography. It's really more a kind of alternative memoir about a lesser person, one who doesn't have the stamina and imaginative fire to write. In that way it's a bit like "Look at the Harlequins!," in which Nabokov provides the gullible reader with a fictional autobiography of a Russian cad who has a string of unsuccessful marriages and had seduced a nymphet. In the same vein Amis in "The Pregnant Widow" is an orphan and thereby sheds his famous real-life father Kingsley, the beloved and eccentric main character in "Experience…”. By William Deresiewicz


4. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis (Knopf, 384 pp., $26.95)  “Well, another civil, subtle, well-modulated novel from Martin Amis. Wait—what? British fiction’s most flamboyant word-wrangler, subtle? The celebrated character-bully and reader-molester, civil? The epicure of extremism, well-modulated? Yes, apparently. This is a new Amis, similar in theme but different in subject as well as style. An Oxford-educated scion of the literary intelligentsia, Amis has made a career of not writing about his own milieu. [   ] Style has always been Amis’s greatest strength and weakness. In his study of Nabokov, Michael Wood makes the useful heuristic distinction between style and what he calls “signature.” Signature announces the author’s presence. Style, Wood says, “is something more secretive... a reflection of luck or grace, or of a moment when signature overcomes or forgets itself.” With style, “we think about the writing before we think about who wrote it.” Well, Amis’s style, in his most characteristic works, as glorious as it often is, is all signature, is always signature. Signature is the whole point of it. Look at me, it says. [  ] The narrator of Dead Babies claimed to be evoking a world of "cancelled sex". With the exception of one mishandled flirtation, ThePregnant Widow is a novel of uncancelled sex that takes place during a period of cultural shift, when girls started to sunbathe topless and treat boys as sex objects, or so Amis says.

But the novel isn't all shagging.[   ] Meanwhile, Amis nudges the reader with covert references to - among others - Noël Coward, Joseph Heller, Yeats, Kafka, Tom Wolfe, Henry James, Kingsley Amis (a paraphrase of a line from That Uncertain Feeling), the King James Bible, Ford Madox Ford, Shakespeare, Nabokov and Martin Amis.








*- I reached Martins Amis’s novel by a very devious route. We were reading about Nabokov’s references to two of the meanings of gravity (“gravitas” and the force: “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.”), whereas I started to check if Nabokov also employed this word to indicate pregnancy (to be gravid, “heavy” with child). To my surprise I found not one example of “gravid”(of course, my search was quite limited…) but, besides all the gravity-elocubrations in ADA and LATH, I got one that’s close to “gravitas” (seriousness and honor) in one of his short-stories, namely “A Forgotten Poet” I quote: “It was then that two enormous policemen quickly and painlessly removed the old man. The audience had a glimpse of his being rushed out - his dickey protruding one way, his beard the other, a cuff dangling from his wrist, but still that gravity and that pride in his eyes.”  

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