Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001296, Thu, 12 Sep 1996 17:16:47 -0700

Faulkner's birthday visit to John Shade (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE. The originator of the note below, Thomas Bolt
<bolt@spacelab.net>, is the author of (inter alia) the 1001 line poem DARK
ICE that appeared the the NY review BOMB in the Fall of 1993. His poem is
an ingenious meditation on VN's poem PALE FIRE in which nearly every
conceivable change is anagrammatically rung on the expression "pale fire"
and the name Vivian Darkbloom. A true tour de force that will be appearing
soon on NABOKV-L and Zembla. The latter version will be accompanied by the
author's notes and pseudo-notes which were omitted in the BOMB publication.

Has anyone (everyone?) noticed William Faulkner among John Shade's
birthday guests? On page 161 of PALE FIRE (note to line 81), on the day
after the party, our narrator inspects the library books Sybil is
preparing to return: "I bent towards them under the incubus of
curiosity: they were mostly by Mr. Faulkner". On the previous page and
day (our narrator again), "I saw a world-famous old writer, bent under
the incubus of literary honors and his own prolific mediocrity, arrive
in a taxi out of the dim times of yore when Shade and he had been joint
editors of a little review." Back on page 161, Sybil lists among the
guests who had to be invited "the fellow whose novels you and John think
so phony."

Nabokov's sneaking Faulkner into the party reminds me of his fondness
for Joyce's "man in the brown MacIntosh"--according to Nabokov, Joyce
himself. The library _buchmann_ implies curiosity but not interest--the
Shades don't think enough of Faulkner's books to buy them. My guess is
Nabokov saw Faulkner, who had won the Nobel Prize a few years before, as
a sort of American Dostoevski--if that--and identified a strain of
poshlost' in his work. When Nabokov disliked an accomplished writer's
work, it usually seems to have been in reaction to 1)poshlost' or 2)the
pulp-and-plaster of "big ideas," political and otherwise.

Is poshlost' alive and well as a critical idea? I know it enjoyed some
currency years ago, but has it caught on? It's interesting to note how
related Nabokov's two dislikes in literature are.
EDITOR'S NOTE. Yes, the term "poshlust" seems to have taken root and is
used by people with no connection with Russian lit. Not quite up there
with "objective correlative," but widely known.