NABOKV-L post 0024260, Wed, 22 May 2013 10:16:48 -0700

Re: Chess problem
Dear Jansy,

The difference between playing the game and devising problems is something I
hadn't thought about much if at all until you mentioned it. We know that our
author did play with his wife, there are photographs. He may not have been a
very good player. The devising of puzzles must use a different set of muscles
than the solving of them. And when one is playing the game it does not feel as
if one is solving a puzzle - or you would know the outcome.

In my research I came across an online chess problem devised by Nabokov and
tried, vainly, to solve it. But you know, I suspect our author of cheating. It's
just a suspicion, but the disposition of the pieces was so random as to make it
unclear which side of the board had originally been black and which white (there
is a convention of course, but I wasn't thinking of that). I could only resolve
it by moving a pawn to her final destination.

In what way might VN haave cheated? In a real chess problem, the pieces have to
have reached their positions through normal chess play. But how can one prove
it? Indeed, the puzzle removes all "freedom" from the player. In the problem I
found on line, the player is to achieve checkmate in two moves - so though he
may be able to find ways to win, he might not (and indeed I could not) do it in
two moves. Well, I am not even a rank amateur in this field, but no one else
seems interested in playing except you and I. Are there really no chess players
among us?

On the other hand, in VN's fictional games, Pale Fire preeminently, whether the
player or reader solves the puzzle/s or not, even if he makes no attempt to, he
can still enjoy the game. I hope to find the time to look up Martin Gardener;s
Annotated Alice to see how he analyzes Through the Looking Glass as a chess
game. By the way, Dame Judi Dench is currently starring in London as the adult
Alice in a mediocre play called Peter [Pan] and Alice [in Wonderland]. I am
hoping someone suggests to her that she follow in Sarah Bernhardt's footsteps
and play Hamlet one of these days.

unchessworthingly Carolyn

From: Jansy <jansy@AETERN.US>
Sent: Wed, May 22, 2013 7:40:01 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Chess problem

Carolyn Kunin: "... it got me to thinking about Nabokov as a chess
player.Google led me to an interview done with the author before fame struck,
but in 1951, the latest book was .a volume called "Conclusive Evidence." It was
an autobiography and yet it wasn't altogether so. Would Mr. Nabokov talk a bit
about it? He would.[ ] The memoir became the meeting point of an impersonal
art form and a very personal life story."[ ] "With me, Mr. Nabokov said, 'it
is a kind of composition. I am a composer of chess problems. Nobody,' he said,
'has yet solved the chess problem in 'Conclusive Evidence' ." What about a
professional, a Reuben Fine, a Reshevsky, or someone like that? 'I'm waiting
for one to come along,' Mr. Nabokov said in a voice that could have been as
ambivalent as Joyce's when people were starting to guess at the title of what
turned out to be 'Finnegans Wake'."

Jansy Mello: You reminded me of two things. In the first place, that Nabokov
wasn't as keen on playing chess as he was in devising chess problems.So, his
invitation in "Conclusive Evidence" turns the reader into a chess player and
this promotes a distancing distinction bt. him and those readers whose joy
depends on solving the problem and winning the game, instead of following the
malicious turns and clever devices of his mind (another kind of "discovery

Still stuck with Kinbote's mention of Proust's "flora of metaphors," I started
to read again Beckett's essay, which was not a true academic work, filled with
footnotes, references and quotes, although his work already carried the mark of
his future writings (a variation of VN's Memoir that isn't just a Memoir,
i.e, an Essay that's not an academic feat). Beckett became close to James
Joyce during his stay in Paris. Joyce, noticing the young man's talent, invited
him to join a collective travail evolving around what he'd been writing
in 1922, namely, his "Work in Progress, published much later, in 1939, as
Finnegans Wake (Beckett was in charge of researching Bruno, Vico and Dante
and his results were published as a part of "Our Exagmination Round his
Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress") ..

Factifications, indeed! And these carry me to the second association to your
comment. It's a quote, from Mark Twain's Autobiography (which I haven't
read) After all, if Clement's observation is true, he must have inadvertently
transformed his "very personal life story" into literary fiction then and
there. ( "When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had
happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I
cannot remember any but the things that never happened.")
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