NABOKV-L post 0022427, Tue, 21 Feb 2012 20:01:01 +0000

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Re: Nabokov and Twelve-Year-Old Girls ...
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In response to the Jim Twiggs’ query about VN’s thoughts on criminals:

I think the passage you are looking for is the following, from “The Art of Literature and Commonsense”:

“Criminals are usually people lacking imagination, for its development even on the poor lines of commonsense would have prevented them from doing evil by disclosing to their mental eye a woodcut depicting handcuffs; and creative imagination in its turn would have led them to seek an outlet in fiction and make the characters in their books do more thoroughly what they might themselves have bungled in real life. Lacking real imagination, they content themselves with such half-witted banalities as seeing themselves gloriously driving into Los Angeles in that swell stolen car with that swell golden girl who had helped to butcher its owner. True, this may become art when the writer’s pen connects the necessary currents, but, in itself, crime is the very triumph of triteness, and the more successful it is, the more idiotic it looks.”

I’m not sure I understand VN’s final point here. Shouldn’t a less successful crime reveal a greater idiocy? Is the less successful criminal closer to the artist? In any case, the whole passage is helpful when we consider characters like Smurov (a thief, remember), Hermann Karlovich, and Humbert Humbert. Each of these characters, the latter two most egregiously, commit the crime and then, through narration, attempt to “connect the necessary currents” to lift it out of the philistine realm and into the eternal one. As for the question at hand (regarding VN and little girls) we should be careful not to commit a logical error. In the quote above, VN says that if criminals had more imagination, they would write about crimes rather than committing them. It does not follow, however, that because a writer has written about a crime, he therefore desired to commit it in real life. Were it so, all of our geniuses would have dark hearts indeed.

Matt Roth

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