Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001253, Mon, 26 Aug 1996 10:50:44 -0700

Taruskin on Prokofiev and Stalin via Nabokov (fwd)
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>

>From The New York Times, Sunday, August 25, 1996; p. 26 H (Arts):


By Richard Taruskin

One of Vladimir Nabokov's truly immortal passages lies buried in one of
his least-known books, his critical study of Gogol. In a dozen pages of
pure hilarious poetry, inventing one unforgettably ludicrous image after
another, he impresses on his non-Russian-speaking readers the amazing
range of nuances the Russian language makes available in one fabulous
word: poshlust (pronounced PAW-shlust; it's hardly posh).

There is no space for such a tractate as Nabokov's within the cramped
confines of these columns, and hence no chance of conveying all the
marvelous resonance of the word. The best capsule definition I can come up
with might be something like highfalutin bad taste. I wish we had a single
word for it, though, because it has become a pervasive feature of out
concert life, by no means confined, as Nabokov came close to implying, to
German art.

... What can it mean in 1996 -- Year Five of the Sovietless New World
Order -- to perform and lustily (or as Nabokov would put it, poshlustily)
acclaim the worst musical dregs of the Stalin's personality cult [i. e.
Prokofiev's "Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution,"
composed in 1937 and performed most recently at Lincoln Center by the
Kirov Orchestra and Chorus under Valery Gergiyev]...

Neither Mr. Gergiyev nor old Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's cultural henchman,
has a monopoly on propaganda. But, as Nabokov observed, propaganda of any
kind "could not exist without a generous supply of and demand for

"Poshlust is especially vigorous and vicious," Nabokov wrote, "when the
values it mimics are considered, rightly or wrongly, to belong to the very
highest level of art, thought or emotion."

...Mr. Rockwell [the director of the Lincoln Center Festival], Mr.
Gergiyev and their fans have indeed struck a blow. It is not for art that
they have struck it, though, but for poshlust. A blow for poshlust, by any
reckoning, is a blow against art.