Fwd: Lolita in 'A small killings' by Alan Moore and Oscar Zarate,
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Date: Sat, 12 Nov 2005 22:28:48 -0500
From: George Shimanovich <email@example.com>
Reply-To: George Shimanovich <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Lolita in 'A small killings' by Alan Moore and Oscar Zarate, etc
To: 'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'
'. if Edmund Wilson can get bombed (the "sapajou" joke in the Pushkin
translation), mere mortals want to stay at home with the comic strips. Which
is too bad. For there is more pleasure to be derived from a Nabokov novel
than from anything else available in contemporary literature, or even, for
that matter, from any mixed- media group-grope of deracinated starvelings
desperate to groove the East Pillage obscene.'
Speaking of which, I just finished my second comic book, 'A small killing',
first being 'Watchmen' by the same author, Alan Moore. Having enjoyed
'Watchmen', which is so multi-themed, subtle and parody-like, that it
withstands comparison of being to classic superhero comic books what Ada
became to family chronic novels (I bet even Carolyn will like Watchmen's
conservative superhero Rorchach more then others), I took upon more recent
(2003) and short comics 'A small killing', only to discover that it's
protagonist, Timothy Hole, took Nabokov's Lolita on his fateful trip to
England. Without exposing the plot I'll just say that themes of Lolita
interleave with those of the story in more then one way and meet in
different junctures of the story line. Alan Moore is anarchist but that does
not blunt his pencil. Good writers don't have politics, bad readers have.
George Shimanovich <email@example.com>
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf
Of D. Barton Johnson
Sent: Saturday, November 12, 2005 9:07 PM
Subject: John Leonard's 1969 New York Times review of ADA
EDNOTE: Ran across this by chance. For many people probably their first
exposure to ADA.
May 1, 1969
The Nobel-est Writer of Them All
By JOHN LEONARD
ADA: Or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. By Vladimir Nabokov.
Here is Vladimir Nabokov's first new novel in seven years, twice as long as
any book he has ever written before, and 14 times as complicated. Naturally,
the reviewer approaches it scared to death. Nabokov's prose is always
booby-trapped, and if Edmund Wilson can get bombed (the "sapajou" joke in
the Pushkin translation), mere mortals want to stay at home with the comic
strips. Which is too bad. For there is more pleasure to be derived from a
Nabokov novel than from anything else available in contemporary literature,
or even, for that matter, from any mixed- media group-grope of deracinated
starvelings desperate to groove the East Pillage obscene. Why leave the
explication to the exegetes? Or the execration to those radical critics who
keep trying to put N. down as some sort of recidivistic White Russian
He is, as he once wrote about something else, "a goblet of rays of light and
pus,/a mixture of toad and swan." He is, as well, our only living literary
genius. Nobody else could have written an antideterministic masterpiece,
contemptuous of Freud (there is no guilt) and Marx (there are no politics,
no economics, not even any history), that is at once a sexual and
philosophical romance, a brilliant science-fiction, an awesome parody and a
gigantic punundrum that would wake up Finnegan.
Let me risk some tentative explications.
(1) The anthropological description of an alternative world. N., by deciding
that certain ancient wars, which were lost, should have been won, has
rearranged history to suit himself. There are Russians all over North
America, and, because all Russians speak French, they go about obsessively
coining trilingual puns. N's world is called Antiterra. "Our" world, Terra,
is apprehended only by madmen, philosophers and science-fiction writers. The
two worlds are out of technological phase, allowing N. to pump away on his
narrative as though it were a slide rule.
(2) A theory of time, which makes time the plaything of the artist. rudely
speaking, time for Proust was a repertoire of smells, an olfactory septic
tank. For N., it is a safe-deposit box full of images, summoned according to
whim or compulsion by the artist, in whatever order is convenient or
necessary. Time is always present, and the instant becomes eternal insofar
as it engages and freezes consciousness into metaphor. (Intense love, for
instance, is such a frozen slab of consciousness, always available for a
quick fry in the imaginative oven.) Unfortunately, it's a theory of time
that only works for geniuses; the rest of us must live in an empirical funk.
But N. may just be parodying Tolstoy's "great man in history" essay. (See
Explication No. 3.)
(3) A parody of "Anna Karenina" in particular, the Russian novel in general,
and the evolution of The Novel in universal. (I am indebted to Nabokov
scholar Alfred Appel Jr. for this interpretation, and it works. Not all
scholars fail to see the crypt for the cryptograms.) N. opens "Ada" with a
reversal of Tolstoy's opening "Anna" paragraph, and then manages in one book
to recapitulate the various fecundations and despoliations that great Earth
Mother of prose has had to endure from an army of ravishing innovators.
(4) A love story. "Ada" is, really, the memoir of a philosopher who, at age
14, fell in love with his cousin, age 12. But the cousin, Ada, turns out to
be his sister, and they spend seven decades solving the togetherness
problem. During those decades Ada sleeps around and the philosopher, Van,
writes the treatises ("catching sight of the lining of time...the best
informal definition of portents and prophecies") which account for
Explications 1 to 3.
It should be pointed out right here that Ada, as a character, is lovable.
There are those critics who-resenting the fact that N. enjoyed a happy
childhood-complain of his cerebral chill. They have ignored Pnin, Fyodor,
Luzhin, Krug and even Humbert Humbert in the earlier novels; but if they
ignore Ada, there isn't a lyric spark in their gray clay hearts.
It should also be pointed out, before I give the one and only true
explication of "Ada," that the book is full of incidental games: N. makes
fun of existentialism, of his own annotators, of Jorge Luis Borges, of
Balzac, Kafka, Proust, Joyce, John Updike (very affectionately), and
especially himself: "Her spectacular handling of subordinate clauses, her
parenthetic asides, her sensual stressing of adjacent monosyllables...all
this somehow finished by acting upon Van, as artificial excitements and
exotic torture- caresses might have done, in an aphrodisiac sinistral
direction that he both resented and perversely enjoyed."
Exactly. And what he's done in "Ada" is write his own artistic
autobiography, a companion piece to "Speak, Memory," a treatise on his own
internal Antiterra. He has constructed an entire shimmering culture out of
his exile and wanderings, a language out of his own experience. Combine Van
(chess-playing, tone-deaf "old wordman") with Ada (butterfly-collector,
amateur botanist); superimpose them on a Russian America; add masks, deceit,
memory, dreams, conjuring, apostasy, the zoo and the cage and the
acrobatics; celebrate the crime (which was that of Cincinnatus C.) of being
opaque in a transparent world-and you have the elusive N., "like a
bifurcated spectre/like a candle between mirrors sailing off to a sunset."
He has written elsewhere that "the future is but the obsolete in reverse,"
and that "the only real number is one, the rest are mere repetition." "Ada,"
dedicated to his wife, is his jeweled butterfly, singular, timeless, the man
himself. If he doesn't win the Nobel Prize, it's only because the Nobel
Prize doesn't deserve him.
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