Showing posts with label Vladimir Nabokov. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Nabokov. Show all posts

Friday, May 8, 2020


Lolita 1955.JPGIt's odd to imagine that Vladimir Nabokov's serpentinely sensual  1955 novel Lolita is 65 years old. Oddly, you come across younger readers who think writers began writing about sex until the mid 60s; I have no desire to ask where they've been or how they might have recieved (or not) their information. But oh well. On topic, it's a little more  unnerving to realize that I am the approximate age of that tale's cringe-causing protagonist, Hubert Humbert, that sad, grey character who wooed the twelve year old title figure with such a beautiful and odiously applied poetry. Re-reading it, I feel Humbert's physical aches and pains and even some measure of his longings for the touch of a women's skin against mine--I remain a romantic sensualist when all my protesting about the the course of the world are said and done with--and yet there is a horror, trepidation in a minor key as Humbert's fanciful seduction of the girl proceeds. I remember reading this in my early twenties thinking it erotic and wonderfully alive with what it made my young soul  yearn for, but thirty seven years hence the same novel is a little unnerving. I have lived long enough to have experienced a bit of the adult obsession that our author put to page in 1955, and it's not nostalgia or another manner of euphoric recall. Lolita is Nabokov's peculiar masterpiece that indicts us along with Humbert in the foul pursuit of young Lolita's virtue.
The novel endures because Humbert's interior-designed arousal has not been mitigated by the art of the writing nor a change over time about what is allowable between the sexes. The novel is a joy to read for the rare genius of Nabokov's writing, and the grime-crusted salaciousness of Humbert's game is still revolting. This the novel's great achievement, a comedy that indicts the reader as being likewise culpable in the seduction of a seeming innocent.I think it's more a matter that Lolita has aged well because the subject of a middle aged man's infatuation with a very young girl continues to give us the creeps fifty years since publication, and that Nabokov's writing remains musical, full of light, and wonderfully seductive in it's conveying of sensation.Nabokov was not an optimist in thinking that his characters would rise above their instincts and desires and do something selfless and noble, and with Lolita he hands us a masterpiece that is ageless because it retains the capacity to corrupt the reader and leave them feeling less certain in their moral stance for the pleasure they've just taken from the author's artful description of gamy undertakings.The tension is purposeful, I think, to the end that Nabokov's comic pessimism was directed not to instruct a moral lesson, but rather to show that our personalities are problematic things in that we acknowledge what is wrong and what is bad for us and yet pursue our worst inclinations with sweetly rationalized zeal. We are entranced with Humbert's poetics as he waxes about the authority of his senses , and it is there we find ourselves seduced, willingly surrendered to beauty created to describe what is morally unsettling. This is Nabokov saying "Gotcha"!Where Nabokov got his inspiration for his  "gotcha", but all the twists and turns in his relationship (or lack of relationship) with  his wife Vera is academic in the most anemic sense, since what we continue to have finely diced ambivalence toward is what he finally imagined in the novel Lolita, as alluring fiction. It remains the job of the indexer and the hagiographer to draw the precise and mathematical formulations as to the relations between the author's failings as a human being and the deceitful decorum of his elegant and untrustworthy narratives; for the reader seeking a distraction and an amusement the important matter is the complexity of our response to Lolita's seamless pulling from two directions. This isn't the only fiction where he's artfully drawn situations and casts whose multiple duplicitous all create mischief of varying degrees of transgression in the erstwhile pursuit of a mutating Ideal.Pnin, Pale Fire,Ada, Look at the Harlequins are all wonderful deliberations on bad faith. I am willing to accept that Nabokov was a personal bastard himself to be able to write so richly and so well of so many spoiled, privileged and vainly deluded creatures; his moral lesson , if there was one he presented, was that one ought not assume that there are firms moral lessons or insights to deep seated truths from the exposure to beauty and elegance; beauty is only a condition of our need for pleasure, and in itself does not make the gamier stuff in this life--the lying, the cheating, the ill will and violence we do toward one another-- sympathetic or defensible merely because it happens to be filtered through an attractive lens.
Humbert is a man of self-made pathologies and lacks anything of the Tragic Hero, a great man who, despite great deeds and good works, offends the Universe with exclusionist pride. He is perhaps a Pathetic Figure, someone objectively without redeeming virtues or qualities who willfully and blissfully contrives a habit of thinking to make their pursuit of gratification seamless and undisturbed by an intervening conscious. Tragic Heroes who started out as individuals who have the potential to make the world a better and more just place, but who have a fatal flaw that will ensure their demise. Humbert is all Fatal Flaw, a ruinous example of errant humanity. The novel is a unrelenting study in sheer pathology, made more disturbing by Nabokov's willingness to grace certain thinking with a sweet music.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sometimes two is better

Another controversy involving Vladimir Nabokov is about to ensue, Slate magazine's Ron Rosenbaum informs is, when his publisher issues a stand alone publication of the titular poem from the novel Pale Fire. More than a few tempers will flair, more than a few words will be shot over the figurative bow.The controversy from a few years ago, involving the publication of the index cards comprising the first draft of the unfinished The Original of Laura, is different than the impending ado over releasing the poem from the novel Pale Fire by itself. One wasn't even a finished piece of writing, something that had existed as reed thin sketches that might later be fleshed into a work worthy of Nabokov's esteemed reputation.

I was among those argued for the destruction of the "manuscript", such as it was; I suspected that the endeavor was to compel us to further stress our credit limits and credibility in the same instance, to make money on slim offerings and, indeed, to see the Nabokov faithful fawn and fall over themselves raising the skeletal notes to absurd levels of desperate praise. The issue was that I am generally against the posthumous publication of rough drafts by famous writers; I generally assume that there is a good reason why the works weren't published in the author's life time. A good writer would know when they 're writing with less than a full tank of gas. An interest in an unpublished manucript is warrented, I think, provided that the tome is, more or less, a complete work , or in a state of near-completion; though lacking the fnal grace notes a note late writer might have provided, the finessing that creates the signature tone, it remains a fairer idea in comparing the posthumous publication with the ouvre that came was produced during an author's productive years. The Original of Laura, though, is rather too skeletal an artifact . Considering a finished work, as a few critics have done, borders on literary necrophilia.

The new issue is something different, as the poem in Pale Fire, titled "Pale Fire", is a strong work on it's own terms, separate from the meta-narrative that surrounds it. It highlights the writer's brilliance with English--the flowing musicality, the lyric wordplay, the seduction of the senses that gives lust and obsession a rationale, a heartbeat. No one, I suspect , would be embarrassed by reading the poem as a stand alone object. I think this could the start of a interest exercise in meta-texting; Kinbote's annotations to the fictional Shade's epic are themselves a poetics based on the assumptions of a inquisitor who's credentials , it turns out, are fictional, and that the whole novel turns out to be a a tightly knot of considerations premised, it seems, on what the commentator needed to exorcise. The poem published by itself could be reinterpreted by a generation of new critics intrigued with the prospect of reviving a form of Freudian criticism, investigating ideas on the supposition that Nabokov was engaging issues he wasn't aware of on the waking level. And it's not as if the original novel is being replaced by the unchained poem--it will be available as long as readers care about how beautiful, sly, musical, sexy, and hilarious prose can be .