Klein's sighting of Arthur Krystal's "When Writers Speak."
includes one of AK's surprise: "But wait! What’s that Nabokov’s doing with
his hands? He’s turning over index cards. He’s glancing at notes. He’s reading.
Fluent in three languages, he relies on prefabricated responses to talk about
his work. Am I disappointed? I am at first, but then I think: writers don’t have
to be brilliant conversationalists; it’s not their job to be smart except, of
course, when they write."
He may not have remembered
Nabokov's words about his reliance on index cards: "I
think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a
A different choice of
comments from Krystal's article brings out another perspective on
"writers that speak", when Dave Haan's sighting selected its "opening
and endgame," with an anedocte about Humboldt,
certifiable lunatics and Balzac, and commending AK "for bringing his
essay full-circle" ...
Arthur Krystal, "When Writers Speak", essaying in the Sep 27 Sunday New York
Times Book Review; I excerpt the opening and
That’s Vladimir Nabokov on my computer screen,
looking both dapper and disheveled. He’s wearing a suit and a multibuttoned vest
that scrunches the top of his tie, making it poke out of his shirt like an
old-fashioned cravat. Large, lumpish, delicate and black-spectacled, he’s
perched on a couch alongside the sleeker, sad-faced Lionel Trilling. Both men
are fielding questions from a suave interlocutor with a B-movie mustache. The
interview was taped sometime in the late 1950s in what appears to be a faculty
club or perhaps a television studio decked out to resemble one. The men are
discussing “Lolita.” “I do not . . . I don’t wish to touch hearts,” Nabokov says
in his unidentifiable accent. “I don’t even want to affect minds very much. What
I really want to produce is that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader.”
Not bad, I think, as I sit staring at the dark granular box on my YouTube
screen. In fact, a damned good line to come up with off the cuff. But wait!
What’s that Nabokov’s doing with his hands? He’s turning over index cards. He’s
glancing at notes. He’s reading. Fluent in three languages, he relies on
prefabricated responses to talk about his work. Am I disappointed? I am at
first, but then I think: writers don’t have to be brilliant conversationalists;
it’s not their job to be smart except, of course, when they write.
[snip] ... when the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a
friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was
invited to the doctor’s home for supper. A few days later, Humboldt found
himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat
reserved, and didn’t go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched
clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly,
while making horrible faces. When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his
host. “I like your lunatic,” he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The
host frowned. “But it’s the other one who’s the lunatic. The man you’re pointing
to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac.” _______
Mr. Krystal is to be
commended for bringing his essay full-circle, as I believe that Nabokov would be
inclined to agree with von Humboldt.