Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025490, Fri, 27 Jun 2014 15:22:09 -0700

'Lolita' . . .
Jansy, I think you are definitely right to make a connection between N.'s concept of literary parodies and the mimicry and parody of nature, which gets to something that often interests me in the way N.'s thinking seems to bleed concepts together back and forth (nature into art; art into nature) without quite letting us see how the machinery of the thinking works. He says that art is art and nature is nature and reality is not reality, and n'ere shall these concepts truly meet, yet slyly he allows us to come away from his writings feeling that art, as he makes it, is at the very least analogous to the ways and means of nature itself, a model for cosmic intelligence. In the end he gives us the impression that though he thinks that books are purely fictional and made up for fun, that nonetheless his books are realistic because they're premised on his ideas about the deceit inherent in nature.

Before going further with this I'd like to quote more fully that bit from The Gift mentioned by you.
Before the quotation you found in the obit, on page 199--200 of the Vintage International paperback edition we have this: Near the end of Chap 3. Fyodor explains to his girlfriend Zina his writing of his book on the 1800s historical figure Chernishevski and his compositional approach: "The image of his planned book had appeared to him extraordinarily distinctly in tone and outline, he had the feeling that for every detail he ran to earth there was already a place prepared and that even the work of hunting up material was already bathed in the light of the forthcoming book, just as the sea throws a blue light on a fishing boat, and the boat itself together with this light is reflected in the water." And this leads into the quote "You see...I want to keep everything as it were on the very brink of parody. You know those idiotic 'biographies romancees' where Byron is coolly slipped a dream extracted from one of his own poems? And there must be on the other
hand an abyss of seriousness, and I must make my way along this narrow ridge between my own truth and a caricature of it. And most essentially, there must be a single uninterrupted progression of thought. I must peel my apple in a single strip, without removing the knife."

On page 204 he says that this means he has the "idea of composing his biography in the shape of a ring...so that the result would be not the form of a book, which by its finiteness is opposed to the circular nature of everything in existence, but a continuously curving, and thus infinite, sentence..."

right after this, going into page 205, Zina listens to Fyodor's book as it's being written and thinks this: ".... [constructing Fyodor's biography in a circular manner] seemed at first to her to be incapable of embodiment on flat, rectangular paper--and so much the more was she overjoyed when she noticed that nevertheless a circle was being formed. She was completely unconcerned whether or not the author clung assiduously to historical truth--she took that on trust, for if it were not thus it would simply not have been worth writing the book. A deeper truth, on the other hand, for which he alone was responsible and which he alone could find, was for her so important that the least clumsiness or fogginess in his words seemed to be the germ of a falsehood, which had to be immediately exterminated."

What exactly Fyodor's truth is is never really stated, other than this circularity and linguistic precision, intended to be like the workings of the universe itself; the facts of history are only important insofar as they embody this metaphysical principal. I wasn't saying before that N. should keep parody at bay, I love it when he uses it, it's fun, a tuning fork that brings his works back down to earth, a foil against which Humbert's and Lolita's exploits take on a texture of believability. What I was getting at is how much goes unsaid in the deeper regions of N.'s aesthetic thinking. Why does Fyodor automatically assume he must embark on the parodic? Why must he trick his audience about the serious emotional nature of his work? Nabokov says that nature does this, tricks us with its wit and mimicry, with the implication that his writing merely copies the whimsical nature of nature, but is this merely a kind of backformation metaphysics coolly
marshalled to post-justify his method of literary burlesque or are his ideas about tricks, mimicry and parody really organic intuitions from his scientific pursuits as a naturalist? Boyd I think has shown very decidedly that N. was a theoretician of intelligent design (as critic Micheal Wood might phrase it) but the fact that N. refuses ever just to say straight out what he's getting at, allowing his thinking to grade into mystifications when it suits him, by way of satire (by which I mean comic sarcasm) and parody, seems to suggest that he's covering something over with fancy rhetorical flourishes. Boyd says that he does this because life doesn't exposit itself in its entirety for our convenience as most conventional novels do and N adopts his deceitful methods of composition as a way to embody this, but a skeptical reader may think that the reason N hints and suggests so much is because maybe he doesn't fully believe what he's getting at, that he's
toying with his readers the way the Wizard Of Oz did in the movie. Sure he sounds high and mighty behind that curtain, but if you pull it back what you'll find is a self amused old man. It's this mixture of the prankster and the sage I think which gives his work its peculiar blend of goofiness and profundity, common sense, cynicism and frothy hopefulness; with ironic savoire faire his best novels cut away everything leaving only the merest thread to cling to; yet the reader keeps holding on anyway. Isn't that why in the end of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Pale Fire N.'s characters's only recourse is to tell us that what they felt before realizing they'd been tricked was almost as good as if not as good as the truly magical thing would have been? In books, this is simply right, because there's an author, but does this really work in our lives? Hence the tension. I hope this gets a little bit at what you're thinking through Jansy. Figuring out what
N. means precisely is virtually impossible because he's either deliberately, or through a jokey temperament, left holes for the reader to trip on.

On Thursday, June 26, 2014 6:25 PM, Jansy Mello <jansy.mello@OUTLOOK.COM> wrote:

A second PS to Jansy Mello:[to Aisenberg [  ]…“only by taking this falseness or artiness into account at the level of a work's effect can anything genuine be approached by the medium…”] When Nabokov mentions Nature’s “marvelous system of spells and wiles” we can find the idea of “mimicry” in the background.  Now, aren’t some parodies a kind of mimicry that takes place outside the realm of biology or a darwinian survival?
Sorry to be back so soon, but I think this post-PS relates to the VN-L’s present and future debates.
I found a curious statement by Nabokov while searching for more information about Cloud, Castle,Lake. It may be brought up here without spoiling the future assembled discussions about VN’s short-story…
Published in English as part of “Nabokov’s Dozen” in 1958, its original title is  Oblako, ozero, bashnya, and it was originally written in Russian and signed by V.Sirin. VN notes in the Appendix to his collected stories in “The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov”: “The English versions of those three stories (The Aurelian, Cloud,Castle, Lake and Spring in Fialta)were prepared by me (who am alone responsible for any discrepancies between them and the original texts) in collaboration with Peter Pertzov.”
He adds: “Only ‘Mademoiselle O’ and ‘First Love’ are (except for a change of names) true in every detail to the author's remembered life. ‘The Assistant Producer’ is based on actual facts. As to the rest, I am no more guilty of imitating "real life" than "real life" is responsible for plagiarizing me.”  These  last lines by V.Nabokov are related to “artistic truth,” “true stories” and “parodies.” They may offer a hint about his choice of a title for his first novel written in English (RLSK) by adding a twist to the meaning of “real life,” by isolating these two words under inverted commas. The matter relating parodies and mimetism (in my first tentative approach) here fans out into two other issues: faithful translations and plagiarism (I omitted “pastiche” on purpose). The matter is becoming too complex for me, particularly because I seem to spot a contradiction related to historical truth and how it’s remembered
and rendered, with VN’s other assertions and I’m certainly in the wrong.

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