NABOKV-L post 0017118, Mon, 29 Sep 2008 15:31:01 -0400

Re: Nabokov's famous formulation about literature ...

I agree with Stan that such folkloric references hardly needs a footnote, they are part and parcel of our culture.

However, Wikipedia says that

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf, also known as The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf, is a fable<> attributed to Aesop<> but in fact written in 1673
(Ben E. Perry, ed.Babrius and Phaedrus: Newly Edited and Translated Into English, Together with an Historical Introd. and a Comprehensive Survey of Greek and Latin Fables in the Aesopic Tradition, Loeb Classical Library<>. 1965, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 462, fable no. 210).”

I find it strange as the story bears all features of folklore and really must exist in any Indo-European culture that had grazing cattle and wolves around.

It might be that this story it is not readily familiar to the Oriental readers.

But then, there is an interesting Chinese story of King You's folly, predating even Aesop:


King You of Zhou (a historical figure, reigned 781 BC - 771 BC, spelled 周幽王) allegedly tried to impress his favorite queen by fooling the nobles with the beacon<> into thinking that there was danger of enemies attacking).

So we in the West might read a Chinese novel which mentions King You as a creator of literature, and think this postmodernist!

I have seen a version in which the shepherd lies not TWO but THREE times, breaking the standard three-times-a-charm sequence; the TRUTH is the fourth time, which is unusual; compare any Proppian fairytale or Bellmann’s “What I tell you three times is true.”

Interestingly, it takes three or two consecutive lies for villagers to start to believe it, even without a TV.
Most modern folks are more gullible, I guess!

Victor Fet

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Stan Kelly-Bootle
Sent: Monday, September 29, 2008 1:09 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov's famous formulation about literature ...

I’ve always taken VN’s reference to the “Cry Wolf” story as a misleading tease in defining literature’s duplicitous origins. Aesop’s fable itself (circa 600BC) starts with the boy lying twice and then being ignored and eaten when a real wolf appears. Indeed, Aesop concludes with the telling generalization:

Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.

This sits quite uncomfortably with

'Listen, sir, Literature was not born the day a boy ran out screaming 'Wolf! Wolf!' with a huge brown creature in hot pursuit. It was born when that boy shouted 'Wolf! Wolf!' and there was no wolf at all!' ”

Taking the Aesopica as “literature,” we have a strange narratival time-reversal: the founding example followed by its negation. Further, the author, far from exploiting literature’s power, nay, delight in deceiving, warns of the fatal dangers of confusing truth and falsehood.

I’m also puzzled by one of Khademul Islam’s implications. Bengali readers will certainly be as acquainted as Western readers with the “Cry Wolf” fable, possibly more so! In ironic fact, there’s plausible evidence that the original oral sources for Aesop’s fables were Indian story-tellers (e.g., the Sanskrit Panchatantra). The interactions of shared folk-motifs are complex and, of course, disputed:

We do know that the Greek Aesopica, as collected by Barbrius, was translated by the Indian philosopher Syntipas circa 100BC. Had he not done so, the fables may well have been lost to the West! The Greek originals having been lost, what we have now are Greek translations from Syntipas’s Syriac translations from the Greek. I leave the implications of this to translationologists.

It’s a moot point whether Shahaduz Zaman needs to elaborate on or mention the source of his VN quotation. Khademul Islams asks patronizingly “What will average Bengali readers make of it?” What sort of question is THAT? Not one that VN or his disciples would ask? The quote makes sense on its own (or it doesn’t!), and it would be rather anti-Nabokovian to expect a short story to carry over-explicit messages on the role and mechanisms of literature. Let’s leave some glossage to future Zamanian scholars.

Stan Kelly-Bootle

On 26/09/2008 22:35, "Sandy P. Klein" <spklein52@HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

On Shahaduz Zaman
Khademul Islam

Ibrahim Buksh's Circus and Other Stories by Shahaduz Zaman (translated by Sonia Amin), Dhaka: UPL; 2008.

Shahaduz Zaman is a Bengali writer, well regarded especially for his short stories. He has a doctorate in medical anthropology and teaches at BRAC University. He has written widely on the subject in both English and Bengali--I remember reading a Bengali daily's Eid issue where he published an engrossing ethnographic piece on our hospital culture. His dissertation and training has meant that a degree of native medical folklore and knowledge has seeped into his fiction, which has given them a texture and atmosphere unusual in Bengali short stories. In this collection of eight of his short stories in English translation being reviewed here, for instance, 'Clara Linden in Nijkolmohona' gives us examples of folk songs of midwives and those sung during pregnancy:

[ ... ]

It can also lead him into dubious areas. In the story 'Paper Plane,' a man on a bridge at night comes up to the narrator (unreliable, of course!) and says, “ 'Listen, sir, Literature was not born the day a boy ran out screaming 'Wolf! Wolf!' with a huge brown creature in hot pursuit. It was born when that boy shouted 'Wolf! Wolf!' and there was no wolf at all!' ” The above is actually Nabokov's famous formulation about literature and the necessary duplicity of the artist. While the erudite reader of English literary criticism may recognize and resonate to the words, one has to wonder: What about average readers reading the story in the original Bangla, who are very likely unaware of the deeper reaches of Nabokov's conception of art and the creative process? What are they to make of it? If unexplained (and I don't have the original Bangla with me), then it's in danger of being merely an acquired pose, an affectation of deep thought. Or perhaps in postmodernism it doesn't matter, in which case the issue is moot...

[ ... ]
Khademul Islam is literary editor, The Daily Star.
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