NABOKV-L post 0000756, Mon, 16 Oct 1995 07:55:00 -0700

Subject
RJ:Cloud, Castle, Lake (fwd)
Date
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EDITORIAL NOTE. Below is Dieter E. Zimmer's <100126.2576@compuserve.com>
response to Roy Johnson's essay on "Cloud, Castle, Lake" (October 15).
Dr. Zimmer is Nabokov's major German translator and editor of the
splendid Rowohlt edition of VN's collected works. The notes and editorial
apparatus of the set make it an essential research tool for all Nabokov
scholars.
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A few remarks on Roy Johnson's thoughtful piece on "Cloud, Castle, Lake".
I don't agree that the story does not succeed in blending the fantastic and the
realistic. There is nothing really fantastic in it in the sense of something
that under no circumstance could have happened in the real world: no unicorns,
no body snatchers. Roy Johnson uses the right word himself: the story is a
"cartoon". It emphasizes certain aspects of everyday reality by exaggerating
them just a little and thus making the essence of that reality more visible. If
that produces the impression of being "almost fantastic" it is mainly because it
is the cartoon of a cartoon. Everyday life in Nazi Germany was a grotesque
cartoon, if seen from outside. Even the Bureau of Pleasantrips is not altogether
an invention. In 1937, one could very well have won a group excursion arranged
by the organization "Kraft durch Freude" ("Strength through Joy", a subdivision
of the Nazi cartoon of a trade union), and it could be dangerous to refuse such
a prize because that would have made you suspect at your place of work. Frankly,
I think the real "Kraft durch Freude" was something much more fantastic than the
Bureau of Pleasantrips so in this respect Nabokov's cartoon consisted not in
heightening but in deemphasizing the real-life cartoon. Nabokov wanted to
express an idea that was not yet common fare at that time: that The Terrible is
not something apart existing in a world of its own but that it is lurking
everywhere just under the surface of everyday life, omnipresent violence barely
covered by a thinnish varnish of joviality.That's exactly how I remember that
time (I was three and in Berlin when the man went on his compulsory excursion).
"Die Banalitaet des Boesen," as Hannah Arendt was to call it later. As such I
think it is one of Nabokov's most powerful and successful stories. It has the
power to alter the perceptions of the reader as it has altered mine. If I meet a
group of noisy hikers in a German forest, I immediately suspect they are from
some Bureau of Pleasantrips. If they obviously aren't, that's a consolation.
"Cloud, Castle, Lake" is Nabokov's main word on Nazi Germany, and I believe
there is a side remark in one of his letters to Edmund Wilson where he said so
himself.
A second point: It is not made explicit that the author is the "boss" of the
poor man who wins that trip, and that this man is something like a traveling
salesman. When I translated the story into German back in 1963, I was not sure
and asked VN. The problem was that by a lucky accident it seemed to me all too
obvious how to translate "representative": "Vertreter," of course. Now a
"Vertreter" is a traveling salesman, and he also is a substitute, a stand-in. I
wanted to know whether I should eradicate or emphasize one of those meanings. VN
(through Vera, I believe) told me by no means to blur the more general meaning.
The guy may be a traveling salesman all right; but he certainly is the author's
stand-in in the exaggerated real world of his fiction. So just two or three
casual words introduce plenty of "involition" and link the story to Nabokov's
metaphysics.

Dieter E.Zimmer, Erikastrasse 81a, D-20251 Hamburg, Germany
Phone +49-40-488140, Fax +49-40-4606129
E-mail 100126.2576@compuserve com