Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025749, Fri, 3 Oct 2014 01:00:37 -0300

An old sighting revisited: Sebald on Walser

After I picked up again Sebald's intriguing study about Robert Walser, I
checked the List-archives to see if I'd already mentioned the Nabokov
sightings in it. I had, but only in part.

I'd left a question in the air, related to the Golliwogg quotes by Sebald.
Since then, I found the best possible reply to it in D.B.Johnson's article
<http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dbjgo1.htm> Nabokov's Golliwoggs: Lodi
Reads English 1899-1909


What my report missed was Sebalds's comparison between the
characteristic flickering instability of Walser's people and objects and
those in Gogol, relying amply on his quotes from Nabokov. However, I still
fail to grasp Sebald's intentions concerning the nature and the placement of
his selection of paragraphs from Nabokov's works.

An interpretation related to the part Nabokov played in one of Sebald's
novels is found in: Netting the Butterfly Man: The Significance of Vladimir
Nabokov in W. G. Sebald's The Emigrants, by Adrian Curtin and Maxim D.
Shrayer. Religion and the Arts, Volume 9, Issue 3, pages 258 - 283, 2005

Abstract: "In this essay, we examine the role of Vladimir Nabokov in W. G.
Sebald's The Emigrants (1992; Eng. tr. 1996), both as a character in the
novel (as the unannounced "butterfly man") and as an intertextual and
metaphysical point of reference. It is our contention that this authorial
intervention on Sebald's part may stem from the fact that both the
German-born Sebald and the Russian-born Nabokov were spiritual witnesses to
the Shoah, and though they were non-Jewish authors, they were committed to
the artistic reckoning of this event through writing and memory. To this
end, we offer a reading of The Emigrants that re-interprets the book in the
light of Nabokov's continued presence, juxtaposing the artistic systems of
these two authors and considering their respective approaches to
catastrophe, as well as the shared possibility in their art that the human
spirit may survive and endure."

Sebald's "nabokovianism" reminded me of another text that I couldn't
fail to connect to his own intuitions, particularly in the lines: "Nabokov's
style always grips the thing at the edge of presence - the thing bends
somewhere, it heels, almost disappearing and finally sending off some kind
of washed-away reflection," from Mikhail Epstein's Good-bye to Objects, or,
the Nabokovian in Nabokov, in A Small Alpine Form: Studies in Nabokov's
Short Fiction, ed. by Gene Barabtarlo and Charles Nicol, New York: Garland
Publishers (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, Vol. 1580), 1993,
pp. 217-224.*


*- Here is what M. Epstein writes about this kind of eerie dissolution in
"Spring in Fialta":

"It is not my intention to talk about Nabokov per se in some general
literary terms. Rather I will regard the "Nabokovian" (nabokovskoe) as a
principal category of Russian aesthetics and metaphysics. Nabokov is a
phenomenon; the Nabokovian is a unique concept that encompasses a multitude
of phenomena. Along with the Pushkinian and the Gogolian, the Tolstoian and
the Dostoyevskian, it possesses an enormous clarifying capacity [ ]
Actually, it is rare to find someone who possesses as many Nabokovian pearls
as Nabokov himself, even in the most commonplace phrases where no claim is
laid to any specific imagery. For example, witness the beginning of "Spring
in Fialta," both the story and the collection: "Spring in Fialta is cloudy
and boring." 1 ("Vesna v Fial'te oblachna I skuchna",4) What appears to be
Nabokovian here, aside from the fact that it was emitted from Nabokov's pen?
/ Don't you feel, however, a special pearly nuance of the Nabokovian spring
and its charming autumnal sluggishness? The "violet" (fioletovyi) color of
the very name Fialta in combination with the cloudiness - what a delicate
gamut of silverly-pearly tones, a palely-diffused light, that is reflected
in the epithet "Fialta ... cloudy!" What about the wonderfully whimsical
combination "spring... boring" - this epithet weakens, as if by soothing
gesture, the intense and almost sickly energy of spring which is
strengthened by that very exotic ethnic name "Fialta"! /Of course, the two
epithets would not rise next to each other if there were not such an
assonance, similar to the crunching sound of one's step in melting snow, in
the suffix "chn"? "Vesna v Fial'te oblachna I skuchna,"- in such a damp,
transparent, Nabokovian springtime world you suddenly turn out to exist,
thanks to the fact that one quality is dissolved in the other: Fialta melts
in a cloud, spring dissolves in boredom. Thus, this world is already filled
with the pellucid presence of something different, to which there is neither
a trace nor a name."


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