Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022276, Fri, 30 Dec 2011 11:57:32 -0200

[SIGHTING] Martin Amis on Stalkers
James Twiggs sent a VN sighting: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/reviews/other_categories/article846882.ece from Divine levity by Martin Amis, 23 December 2011, related to Br i a n B o y d "Stalking Nabokov"and V l a d i m i r N a b o k o v "Pale Fire. A poem in four cantos by John Shade "*

JM: There are piles of critical codes I cannot crack: was Martin Amis's latinate indulgence in his recent review an expression of reverence towards a biographer and his stupendous biographee? What kind of indignation moved him against Andrew Field (the "tonnage of its inaccuracies"? "its murky presumptuousness"?) How are we to distinguish his explosions of irony, or envy, from his sincerest praise among Amis's sea of hyperboles?

A first edition of Andrew Field's 1967 "Nabokov His Life in Art" reached me through a used-books section at the "Amazon.com" and it came in a pristine condition - except for the stamped name from an American university cum library-card, showing that no student had borrowed it, ever (strange, is it?). I had read Field's "The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov"in the late eighties and I allowed myself to enjoy it as an almost fictional novel about the author of "Lolita" (the only VN novel I'd re-read until then) in all innocence. Martin Amis's bibliographical indications seem a bit vague to me (but what do I know?). Apparently the Field's "Biography" and Field's "A Critical Narrative" seem to have become one single book for Amis, instead of at least three different editions** with ( I hope) variations. This is all rather confusing.

I was duly impressed by Field's introductory affirmation I'd just read: "Because at this writing there are probably not ten people who have read even eighty per cent of what Nabokov has written, Nabokov; His Life in Art is, first of all, in a very real sense, a sea chest, containing excerpts and allusions to hundreds of valuable and precious documents, forgotten or completely unknown. The perplexity that even Nabokov's most fervent admirers have ofteh felt should now - quite apart from my own commentary and opinion - be clarified, for the reader may now place and trace the various Nabokovian motifs which figure throughout his art." (p.6) He had noted on the previous page that "If the Russian emigration had had its own "Formosa," a real second Russia in which a literature could have been nurtured and found resonance, America would probably have lost its most important writer of this century. If the substantial body of Nabokov's Russian writing and the best critical articles about him had been translated before 1950, it is extremely unlikely that Lolita or Pale Fire would have been nearly as miunderstood as they were." and his commentary clarified several questions that had been nagging me of late (the relationship between VN and the emigré Russian writers in Europe and in America).
I haven't yet really got started on the Field book, though - and Martins Amis short dismissal hasn't yet spoiled my mood (maybe it's either too undiscriminating or too curious).

* - Excerptions:"Would-be Boswells start to wonder whether their particular Dr Johnson is really worthy of such protracted labour...Vladimir Nabokov died on July 2, 1977.Before the month was out Andrew Field finally published Nabokov: His life in part. The book had been gestating since the mid-1960s...As it turned out, his biography became mildly famous for the tonnage of its inaccuracies ...but what concerns us here is its murky presumptuousness - and the depth of the affront it managed to cause...The biographer is evidently unhappy with his station... It was Brian Boyd who, in the late 1980s, put the Nabokov Life (and archive) in order...Boyd is impeccable on points of fact and tact...Boyd's comportment is exemplary, and his prose is energized by an impassioned lectorial love. Here is a writer who has heeded Auden's requiem for Yeats, which ends: "In the prison of his days /Teach the free man how to praise". In Stalking Nabokov Boyd attempts something fairly ambitious: he takes the titanic Nabokov and seeks to revise him upwards. As Boyd sees it, Nabokov is not only the greatest novelist of the twentieth century; he is also a considerable poet, an important scientist, a controversially original translator...a fearless and liberating critic, a learned psychologist (and not just a Freudophobe), a prolific playwright, an inimitable memoirist, and a humblingly tireless and eloquent literary correspondent. After this cannonade of accomplishments, it feels almost bathetic to be reminded that the chess problems Nabokov devised are widely considered to be "world-class"...Stalking Nabokov, in the end, is a tribute not just to an extraordinary literary animal, but also to the size, force, and stamina of an extraordinary brain....It must be admitted that Stalking Nabokov gets off to a decidedly shaky start...Boyd's air of chummy informality leads to vulgarisms ...a fair amount of shameless repetition...[...] there is one verse epic ...that all Nabokov's admirers will have read at least twice - namely "Pale Fire". The novel of that name requires us to leapfrog back and forth between John Shade's heroic couplets and Charles Kinbote's crazed "Commentary"...The long and fervent essay in Stalking Nabokov, and Boyd's new edition of an unencumbered "Pale Fire", compel us to reexamine the poem as an autonomous whole. And the exercise is epiphanic. "Pale Fire" glows with fresh pathos and vibrancy - and so does Pale Fire. For the first time we see the poem in all its innocence, and register the vandalism of Kinbote's desperate travesty...On the timbre of Nabokov's artistic spirit Boyd is fundamentally right-headed..:It is time to deemphasize the allegedly cold, cruel, dark, daunting Nabokov...Nabokov was a celebrator; and the secret of his prose is its divine levity [...] gloom and dejection (as Boyd puts it) are only for "the ridiculously unobservant"...Boyd is also something of an apologist for the only significant embarrassment in the Nabokov corpus...Boyd ignores the paedophilia theme ...To be as clear as one can be: the unignorable infestation of nymphets in Nabokov is not a matter of morality; it is a matter of aesthetics. There are just too many of them...Panegyric is rightly regarded as the dullest and idlest of all literary forms. In our attempts to evaluate Nabokov's feverish shimmer, with its "distant spasms of silent lightning", we have nothing to adduce but our own helpless subjectivism; that, and quotation..."

** - In the third edition of "VN The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov" we read: "Portions of this book have previously been published in Nabokov: His Life in Art,copyright 1977 by Andrew Field, and Nabokov: His Life in Part, copyright 1966 by Andrew Field. Copyright 1986 by Andrew Field.

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