Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002314, Mon, 1 Sep 1997 11:46:49 -0700

Re: Lunatic esthetics (fwd)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 1 Sep 1997 01:04:12 -0400 (EDT)
To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum <NABOKV-L@UCSBVM.ucsb.edu>
Subject: Re: Lunatic esthetics (fwd)

From: Ben Friedlander <bef@acsu.buffalo.edu>

Jay Livingston sent the following extract from a
review of a new biography of Frederick Exley, asking for comment:

> Yet Frederick Exley was also one of the most cunning stylists, at once
> hard-boiled and mandarin, in recent fiction. His trilogy ("A Fan's Notes" was
> subtitled "A Fictional Memoir") looms behind the current memoir vogue,
> although Exley's own confessions of impotence and failure flaunted no redemptive or
> therapeutic aspirations but tilted more toward the fantastic self-displays of
> the lunatic esthetics of his beloved Vladimir Nabokov.

The Nabokov reference appears to be a mangling of a passage from Exley's
second book, _Pages from a Cold Island_. At one point Exley describes his
uncomfortable experience at an awards ceremony:

Finally the _ne plus ultra_ of the day arrived,
the presentation of the gold medals for a body of work
--for, in Faulkner's now fabled phrase, "a lifetime
spent in the agony and sweat of the human spirit."
Vladimir Nabokov became the sixth (only the sixth!)
American . . . in history to win the Award of Merit
Medal for the Novel. He was the only recipient of
the day not to appear. I remember thinking with a
pang that if I hadn't come it would have been
Nabokov and me (certainly the only way, however
loonily tenuous, my name would ever be linked with
his), but in acceptance he sent a charming, very
funny, very self-parodying cable from Montreux,

It sounds as though the word "lunatic" in "lunatic esthetics" is adapted
unthinkingly from the "loonily" of Exley's "loonily tenuous," and that the
phrse "self-displays" derives from Exley's memory of V.N.'s "very
self-parodying cable." I haven't seen the biography; perhaps this anecdote
is quoted in it; perhaps the reviewer read Exley's book long ago and this
is what he remembered. A sad comment on the reviewing biz.

Ben Friedlander