NABOKV-L post 0022781, Thu, 3 May 2012 07:32:19 -0700

Re: Appendix to Bunny, Judy, & Volodya?
Dear Jansy,

All this is new to me - I was aware of Wilson's complaint about the EO
translation, but not of the EO interpretation. EW rises ever higher in
my esteem. The translation of zloi/mechant, in this context however
should not be "nasty" but perhaps "vicious."

As for the balance of your post ot will take some time for me to
digest all that! But while we are on the subject of "zloiness" - has
anyone on the list come to see the poisoning theme in Ada that I used
to try to peddle here?

again with many thanks, Jansy, from

On May 2, 2012, at 5:41 PM, NABOKV-L wrote:

Jansy Mello: Sometimes Edmund Wilson, independently of his Freudian
leanings, referred to Nabokov's blindness to a character's cruel
streak with more insight than other critics or philosophers in
relation to Nabokov and his злой types, like Van Veen or Humbert
Humbert (such as Wood, Appel, Trilling, Rorty)
Here is a small selection of E.Wilson's invectives concerning
Nabokov's translation of Eugene Oneguin, and other examples, to
present to the VN-L, as a part of the "Recycle" program....
It's clear that, in line with Carolyn's inquiry, inspite of all
scholarly and critical efforts, there's still a wide field of research
open into a deeper understanding about those characters whom Nabokov
ousted from the inside of his temple, like evil gargoyles snarling
from its external façade (but which remain an integral part of the
Edmund Wilson: "The Nabokov who bores and fatigues by overaccumulation
contrasts with the authentic Nabokov and with the poet he is trying to
illuminate. It has always seemed to me that Vladimir Nabokov was one
of the Russian writers who, in technique, had most in common with
Pushkin...Nabokov...short stories and novels are masterpieces of
swiftness and wit and beautifully concealed calculation. Every detail
is both piquant and relevant, and everything fits together. Why, then,
should this not be true of his commentary and his two appendices...It
is as if this sure hand at belles lettres, once resolved to
distinguish himself as a scholar, has fallen under an oppressive
compulsion to prove himself by piling things up...Mr. Nabokov's most
serious failure, one of interpretation. He has missed a
fundamental point in the central situation. He finds himself unable to
account for Evgeni Onegin's behavior in first giving offense to Lensky
by flirting with Olga at the ball and then, when Lensky challenges him
to a duel, instead of managing a reconciliation, not merely accepting
the challenge, but deliberately shooting first and to kill. Nabokov
says that the latter act is "quite out of character." He does not seem
to be aware that Onegin, among his other qualities, is, in his
translator's favorite one-syllable adjective, decidedly злой—that
is, nasty, méchant. This note is sharply struck in the opening stanza,
when Onegin complains about the slowness in dying of the uncle from
whom he is to inherit. This is quite in Evgeni's character, and so is
his provoking Lensky by making advances to his fiancée. You are told,
just before this happens, that Evgeni is "secretly laughing." that he
is "approaching the moment of revenge." What revenge? His revenge on
Lensky for being capable of idealism, devoted love, when he himself is
so sterile and empty... He thinks Lensky a fool yet he envies him. He
cannot stand it that Lensky—fed on German romantic literature—should
be fired by ecstatic emotion. So, taking a mean advantage—raising
slowly, we are told, his pistol, in malignant cold blood—he aims to
put out that fire. There are no out-of-character actions in Evgeni
Onegin. Nabokov has simply not seen the point....Nabokov has also
studied exhaustively Pushkin's relations with his Russian predecessors
and contemporaries, and there is a good deal of excellent literary
criticism. I except from this the literary obiter dicta which are
partly the result of Nabokov's compulsion to give unnecessary
information: he cannot mention a book, however obscure, which has
influenced or been mentioned by Pushkin or which contains something
similar to something in Onegin without inserting his opinion of it;
and partly the result of his instinct to take digs at great
reputations" Cf.July 15, 1965 The Strange Case of Pushkin and Nabokov
- Edmund Wilson
Others: In an article written in 1988, The Barber of Kasbeam: Nabokov
on Cruelty, Rorty takes pains to describe Nabokov as a liberal malgré
lui-même, who provides a responsible perspective for looking out on
society, and a doorway into "participative emotion", like the one
which "moved liberal statesmen such as his own father." According to
Rorty, the "sinister aestheticism" that leads Nabokov to value style
and aesthetic rapture instead of ethics, is a cover-up for the
author's conflict with his own humanist dimension. This same fact is
also acknowledged by Peter Quenell (in his preface to one of the
editions of Lolita), who sees Nabokov as a benevolent humanist, in the
European tradition of Rabelais and Montaigne. A. Appel Jr., likewise,
described him as "an author whose deeply humanistic art affirms man's
ability to confront and order chaos". Terence Rattigan, who sees
Lolita as genuinely shocking, as only works of an elevated moral
purpose can be, agrees with Lionel Trilling, who states that "Lolita
is not a book about sex, it is a book about love." Could it be that
Nabokov, as suggested by Rorty, was aware of the link between art and
torture? Was he describing his own dilemmas between the nurturing of
esthetical pleasure and a certain practice of cruelty? Rorty's answer
is based on the three features he sees as most characteristic of
Nabokov: his perversely insistent aestheticism, the fear of being led
to cruelty by this same aestheticism and his concern with immortality.
According to Rorty, Nabokov was desperately trying to believe that
"artistic gifts" were "sufficient for moral virtue", even though he
knew that there is no possible synthesis between ecstasy and
solidarity. In Richard Rorty's opinion, the aestheticism in Nabokov,
"one of the most powerful imaginations of the 20th century,"
nevertheless leads us along a journey of personal growth, since, in
reading his books, we are forced to recognize in ourselves forbidden
fantasies and emotions, contradictory facets that acquire dialectic
expression as they are worked through. According to Rorty, Nabokov did
not intend to imitate reality, but rather to modify it, and the reader
as well. Rorty manages to find, among the statements of an already
mature Nabokov, one that serves to justify his bet. In it, Nabokov
defines art as the result of "beauty plus pity"*
According to James Wood, "in his biography of Nikolai Gogol, Nabokov
writes that, when a very elevated level is reached, as in Gogol,
'literature is no longer interested in taking pity on the poor devil,
or cursing the rich fellow. It aims at that secret depth in the human
soul, where the shadows of other worlds pass as the shadows of
anonymous and unfathomable ships.' Nabokov believed that "the capacity
to wonder at trifles - no matter the imminent peril - these asides of
the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life, are the highest
forms of consciousness, and it is this childish speculative state of
mind, so different from common sense and its logic that we know the
world to be good", since he maintained "an irrational belief in the
goodness of man..." that "becomes something much more than the wobbly
basis of idealistic philosophy. It becomes a solid and iridescent
truth" Yet, of the pitiable handful of verbs referring to emotion in
the book, one is expended in the sentence 'Not that I particularly
liked Lenski' (a tutor). And when he fears that his father may have
engaged in a duel, he avows dustily that there was 'a tender
friendship underlying my respect for my father." When his childhood
best friend is killed while fighting with General Deniken against the
Bolsheviks, he can only nod toward "richer words than I can muster
here." Worst, perhaps, is the suave paragraph he devotes to his
brother Sergey's demise in a Nazi concentration camp.
Like Proust's Marcel, Vladimir lies miserable in his darkened bedroom,
but there are none of the wrenching emotions culled from the everyday
that you find in Proust--the crippling separation anxiety of Maman
closing the door and padding downstairs. Instead we get--wonderfully,
wonderfully--the quality of light coming from his nanny's door 'some
20 heartbeats' distance' from his bed". Cf. .Delicious Pedantry By
James Wood (Monday, April 26, 1999)

* - Cf. Jansy B. S. Mello: "Lolita: from book to film: Freudians, Keep
Out Please"
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