NABOKV-L post 0005230, Wed, 28 Jun 2000 11:55:45 -0700

Nab Forum-- NYTimes Forum Select Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)
** Just a clarification: "quirky" was applied not to VN's _Pale Fire_ but
to Brian Boyd's book on _Pale Fire,_ which is the subject of their
discussion. The confusion occurred when some of us suggested that VN may
have taken the word as a compliment were it applied to his work -- and
I suspect, back then, it was not yet, in any sense, a "code word." I do
think the value of "quirky" is in the eyes of the beholder -- sort of
reminds me of this famous exchange between Lou Grant and Mary Richards
(and not 100% verbatim): "You have spunk, don't you?" asks Lou with a
smile, and when Mary, visibly flattered, for she perceives it as a
compliment, agrees, he screams out: "I hate spunk!!!" GD***

From: Mark Bennett <>

Well, since Ms. De Risi asked . . .

My objection to "quirky" as it may be applied to V.N's novels goes
beyond simple disdain for shabby usage. God knows I use "the language of 31
presidents and Fenimore Cooper" quite shabbily myself, and, glass houses
being what they are, I would hesitate to lob a stone of rebuke at a critic
for a mere infelicitous adjective. Rather my objection to "quirky" is based
upon its duplicitous duty as innocent modifier and culpable signifier. As
Mr. Bolt quite accurately pointed out in his contributions, "quirky" is a
publishing code word which is intended to dismiss the subject to which it
is attached as unworthy of serious consideration by "serious" people who
read journals such as the New York Times. Should a critic employed by that
journal describe a novel as "quirky" what he, or she, is actually saying is
something like: "this book is trivial, addresses an irrelevant subject, and
is not redeemed by the author's affectation of stylistic or structural
novelty; all right-minded people should ignore it, both because of its
inherent flaws and because the author is the not right kind of person to
merit my praise." Of course, few popular critics would be so bold or foolish
to openly say such things about V.N. novels in the Times, but by employing
an ostensibly favorable code word such as "quirky" V.N. can be lumped
together with non-entities and dismissed in toto. Thus, the program of
insidious revisionism proceeds; the work of a true genius is dismissed and
neglected while tendentious trash is praised and heralded as "powerful"
(another code word.) It's small injustice, surely, by one that annoys me

On the other hand, isn't this exchange all rather speculative? I
didn't keep the entire thread, but did anyone at the Times actually describe
"Pale Fire" as "quirky?" Wasn't "quirky" applied to Boyd's new book about
"Pale Fire?" In any event, Boyd's quacking riposte should quiet that
particular quirk

Mark Bennett

P.S. Couldn't a great movie be made out of "Falter?"

-----Original Message-----
From: Galya Diment []
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2000 3:57 PM
Subject: Re: Nab Forum-- NYTimes Forum Select Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)

From: Laura De Risi <>

How many lovely mails about one infelicitous word! From a provincial abode
in a distant, Mediterranean land, and from the even greater distance of a
non-native English, I've been watching my screen filling up for five days
with the most controversial interpretations of QUIRKY. George Steiner, on
remarking that A. E. Housman's reviews were founded on the axiom that a
false emendation is far worse crime than murder, concluded, "There is
something in philology that appeals to the worst in man."
And yet, and yet--I truly enjoyed the exchange! Happily, I mean, there are
still people of passion and conviction who won't let any shabby usage pass.
Language is worth it. Thanks to Kurt, Tom, Rodney, Mark, Phillip, Jennifer,
and, of course, to Galya. Any more fwds on the topic?

Laura De Risi
Rome, Italy

*** Not yet in today's mail -- but given the gravity of the subject and
the gravitas of the analyses it has spurred, I am sure it will refuse
to die for a while longer. But then online discussions do tend to be
rather "quirky" -- don't they? :) GD***