Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020804, Thu, 30 Sep 2010 18:02:26 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] Searching after a pair of hazel eyes...(cont.)
Pursuing those hazel eyes described in Nabokov's "passport," I was led, by mistake, to a different document and identity, following a short-story, written by Nabokov in 1945, "Conversation Piece," from which I selected a group of sentences because, although there was no reference to Nabokov's own eye-color, we come across Doubles, triptyches, Nice, Kinbotean twists, a Shoe and even a certain Sybil (Hall).

"I happen to have a disreputable namesake, complete from nickname to surname, a man whom I have never seen in the flesh but whose vulgar personality I have been able to deduce
from his chance intrusions into the castle of my life. The tangle began in Prague...A letter came to me there from a small library...In exasperated tones, it demanded that I return at once a copy of the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion. ...One spring day, in Nice, a poker-faced girl with long earrings called at my hotel...took one look at me, apologized, and went away. In Paris, I received a telegram ...and l admit deriving a certain grim satisfaction from the vision of my frivolous double inevitably bursting in, flowers in hand, upon Alphonse and his wife. A few years later, when I was lecturing in Zurich, I was suddenly arrested on a charge of smashing three mirrors in a restaurant - a kind of triptych featuring my namesake drunk (the first mirror), very drunk (the second), and roaring drunk (the third). Finally, in 1938, a French consul rudely refused to stamp my tattered sea-green Nansen passport because, he said, I had entered the country once before without a permit. In the fat dossier which was eventually produced, I caught a glimpse of my namesake's face. He had a clipped mustache and a crew haircut, the bastard. When, soon after that, I came over to the United States and settled down in Boston, I felt sure I had shaken off my absurd shadow. Then - last month, to be precise - there came a telephone call. In a hard and glittering voice, a woman said she was Mrs. Sybil Hall." *

*- Also from the internet, there's an informative article by Tim Conley ( jsse.revues.org > Issues > 45), in which the author discusses those elements that are used to identify Nabokov, his signature and his style, now set side by side to a narrative analysis of what "the literature of social intent" means.
"Originally published as "Double Talk" in The New Yorker and retitled in Nabokov's Dozen (1958), "Conversation Piece, 1945" does have some "signature" traits, such as the émigré narrator and the fascination with doubles, but, fascinatingly, it is exactly these customary "Nabokovian" features which the story both expects will be taken for granted and employs to subvert, even contradict the narrative itself."[...] ..."The narrator, who begins by saying he has "a disreputable namesake" ... accepts an invitation to one "Mrs. Hall's apartment house"...where he discovers a dozen middle-class people (mostly women) calmly despairing the fate of Nazi Germany...When the guest speaker, a professor whom the narrator calls Dr. Shoe when he "did not catch his name, finally proposes to play "The Star-Spangled Banner," the narrator confesses to being overcome with physical nausea and leaves....He takes the wrong hat, however, and the next morning Dr. Shoe materializes at his door and returns the narrator's larger hat. The narrator only finds Shoe's hat (Nabokov chuckling again there) when the man has left, but he tosses the hat four storeys down to him...Beginning with the opening anecdote about the overdue copy of the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, the narrator's account attempts to conceal himself, to deny that he is "the bastard", the drinker, antisemite, and "author of those depraved, decadent writings." This is Hyde ascribing his own monstrous crimes to Jekyll, with the exact nature of those crimes obscured and the names removed...These inversions may be Nabokovian games, but they are being played with dangerously high stakes. The turns of the narratological screw in "Conversation Piece, 1945" do more than reveal the narrator's abhorrent character in the manner that the surplus and substance of endnotes to Shade's poem reveal Kinbote's monomania in Pale Fire. ..For readers to accept the role of the narrator in "Conversation Piece, 1945" as a morally benign reporter of the banality of evil, they must also accept that Nabokov is capable of writing a fiction which offers unmediated and (literally) self-evident truth, besides the unsettling contradictions I have pointed out within the story itself. On the other hand, in detecting contradictions within the "liberal" facade of the narrator and finding reason to doubt his series of denials and negations ( he is not the "vulgar personality" ...he is not at the party by choice, he is not in agreement with the notions expressed there, and so on), the reader is confronted with stark questions about the relation of political ideology to historical truth.From this vantage point we can better appreciate Nabokov's contempt for "the literature of social intent" as a rejection of the purity of any ideology or intention -liberalism included- which necessarily reifies "History" or "Truth." In "Conversation Piece, 1945," we as readers are witness to such "grisly and ironic reversals" as leave us without an ideological viewpoint that we can call innocent.History and Denial in Nabokov's "Conversation Piece, 1945"

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