Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000172, Mon, 10 Jan 1994 13:40:21 -0800

Dear NABOKV-L Subscribers: Subscriber Suellen Stringer-Hye provides the
following round-up of Nabokov miscellanea for 1993. We plan for this to be
a regular monthly feature (or perhaps more frequently if material warrants).
Your contributions and comments are welcomed. Editor

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 6 Jan 1994 12:54:54 -0600 (CST)
To: chtodel@humanitas.ucsb.edu
Subject: Nabokov 1993

In 1993 Vladimir Nabokov, the synesthesia-afflicted author,
professor, chessman and soccer player, made his way through the
headlines and byparagraphs of newspapapers and magazines from
America to England, Russia, Eastern Europe and India. He was
quoted in many articles questioning the orthodoxy of Freud ('Why
should I tolerate a perfect stranger at the bedside of my mind?')
and held as a standard for countless new writers whose books or
talents were usually pronounced "worthy of Nabokov". He was
sometimes "arrogant" or "indifferent to old friends" but most
often respected for his genius and the enduring quality of his
works. Lolita, while not necessarily more famous than her author
does lead a life of her own. A famous stripper revealed that she
operated under the name 'Dolores Haze', and any article about
child pornography was obliged to contain some mention, either
denouncing or supporting the book and its often misunderstood
Throughout the year I plan to track Nabokov as he travels
through newspapers and popular magazines, hoping to catch a
glimpse of him in his various disguises and in my very best
journalese, reporting the points of alightment to Nabokovians on
this list. This is not meant as a scholarly activity. The volume
of material is huge and a comprehensive bibliography is a not an
unworthy project but beyond the scope of the present endeavor. It
is really just for fun; a view of the evolving figure of Nabokov-
-a measure of his genius, a progression of his fame. Below are
collected some of the choicer quotes from 1993:

In an article about soccer from the London Times, September
20, 1993 Nabokov appeared as "one of history's great goalies" and
is quoted:
"I was less the keeper of a goal than the keeper of a

The November 7, Washington Post tribute to Fellini and River
Phoenix begins:
"Death is a question of style Vladimir Nabokov once
wrote. The simultaneous deaths of Fellini and Phoenix
were nothing if not stylish..."

Robert Day, the author of a September 5 Washington Post Magazine
article advising college students "on how to get a generous
education" (K is for Know Yourself, L is for Lessing, Lee, Lamb,
Lear, and Lucretius) lands at N on Nabokov and goes on to quote
this well known story and add his own commentary:

"Nabokov. Vladimir. American novelist and literature
professor who once had something like the following
conversation with a student at Cornell University:

'Mr. Nabokov, I want to be a writer.' Nabokov looks up
from his reading he points to a tree outside his office

'What kind of tree is that?' he asks the student.


'What is the name of that tree?' asks Nabokov. 'The one
outside my window.'

'I don't know,'says the student.

'You'll never be a writer.' says Nabokov.

I like this story first because I think it is probably
apocryphal (they are the best kind), and second because
Nabokov-- who I happen to think is a very great writer and
must have been a very great teacher-- is as wrong as he is
right in his assertion.

What you have to do is leave the professor's office and find
out the name of the tree. If you don't do that, you'll not
be a writer. Or a botanist. Some combination of the
passion of the scientist and the precision of the artist is
needed to be a good student. Look up the words in this
magazine that you don't know. Be able to name all the
shrubs and trees in your college quadrangle. Learning is
among other things, the accumulation of detail. Have you
put down this article to find out the name of that body of
water between Greece and Italy?"

The rest of this article is clever and somewhere credits Nabokov
for having led its author to Martin Eden (I assume he is talking
about the Jack London story).

"Pop poetry in motion" is how Daniel Nussbaum, the author of
several books which exclusively employ the registered vanity
plates of Californians as vocabulary for his short stories and
novels describes "Platespeak" a lexicon expanding daily as
Californians register 500 new vanity plates a day. From four
separate plates the author has contrived "LOLITA: I08JLBT. SOAMI
AA PERV?" Hamlet's soliloquy goes like this : "2BORWAT?" and Lady
Godiva muses, "IH8CLOZ".

On August 8, in the Boston Globe travel section a journalist
visiting Nabokov's family home in St. Petersburg discovered:

"The building recently was bought by a Russian
millionaire, the young founder of the "Neva Times"
newspaper. Today a sign outside describing the offices
might have been composed by Nabokov in a mischievous
mood: "Committee on the Press and Means of Mass Media

Salman Rushdie, speaking at a National Press Club Press
"It's improbable , in my mind, that those who attacked
Nabokov for being a child molester had much knowledge
of the content of 'Lolita'...So at least I'm in good
company. It seems that it is necessary not to read a
book in order to be able to burn it and seek the
death of its author..."

And the zealous Nabokov fan, Massachusetts Governor William F.
Weld, in the American Spectator, December issues, was asked for a
recommendation of books to give for Christmas which he apparently
begins with Borges and ends with Nabokov.( I did not see the
original article but was referred to it through a Washington Post
story commenting on the usually bad taste of politicians--Weld
was the exception.) Weld is quoted:

"If God truly resides in the well-chosen word, 'Pale
Fire' is a work of divine inspiration."

Just a small sampling of the many things written about Nabokov in
1994. As D. Barton Johnson stated in an earlier post to this
list, Nabokov may not be an Elvis, but as they say about Elvis,
it is clear that Nabokov also lives.