NABOKV-L post 0001431, Thu, 14 Nov 1996 12:28:36 -0800

Re: The Extra Is (fwd)
EDITOR'S NOTE. See Richaed Gilinsky's comments following "Sirin"'s
original posting.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 1996 10:50:37
From: Richard Gilinsky <>

Reply to:

>Has anyone ever come across any instance in which VN has exhibited
>self-doubt? I consider this to be both an aesthetic and a personal
>question. In the first instance, I think of Dostoevski, whose themes of
>self-disgust VN never really understood (enough for argument right here, I
>think); in the second, I think of the very well-established dynamic (a
>picturesque one, traditionally involving drink, drugs, women-- bad prose,
>etc.) of self-love/doubt that has afflicted so many writers incapable of
>dealing with the "angelic" status that their creativity has afforded them.
>I guess another way of asking this is is is, does anyone have anything to
>say about how disgustingly capable he seemed to be in dealing with this
>really quite troublesome fact of existence? For it is the precise lack of
>this incapability, as far as I can tell, that dictates his simultaneous
>profundity and inhumanity. Like a statue.
My question is this: is VN's work meaninfully illuminated by such inquiry?
Wanting to know how he might have squirmed at his desk when choosing his
deathless words and phrases is, in my opinion, an invasion of his privacy,
even his post-mortem privacy. That Beethoven routinely failed to empty
his chamber pot does not in the least affect our (my) response to the
sublime writing in the C# min quartet (Op. 131) nor does his art change
at all when we learn how clumsy and gruff he was in his personal
relations. VN is neither "angelic" nor a devil, nor should we, it seems,
as students of his literature -- I rank myself a 6.5 on an admiration
scale of 10 -- much care. I, for one, find him neither profound nor
inhuman as judged by his body of work. He's a superb craftsman of
English, as we all know, and one can only stand in awe of his
fiction/autobiography which he tossed off in his second (or is it third?)
language. He isn't a statue. Two friends of mine studied with him at
Cornell. They remember his sparkling humor and the insights he gave them
into other writers they studied. He has become too much of an icon as his
humanity goes out of focus with time. I'm sure he wrestled with his own
devils -- the unresolved state of his exile as manifest in his uncertain
geographic collages and shifting nationalities, to name one central theme
in his writing. He was just a guy, after all, who happened to be one of
the most gifted writers of our century, and he would probably be both
uncomfortable with and cynical about all the studied formal criticism.
("Pale Fire" certainly anticipates our sophomoric inquiries and makes us
embarrassed to utter them. He puts up the target, and before we can draw
a bead, he's punched out the bulls-eye for us with his own brilliant

R. Gilinsky