Former posting: In the book's opening lines N. Hickley writes: "This book is neither memoir nor autobiography. It's an adventure in I-am-a-camera story-telling - about some of the people and events that passed in front of the observer's lens." [ ] In a special chapter we find a glimpse of the encounter at Cornell reported in a fluent and informal way. "Unbeknownst to me at that time, Nabokov had met James Joyce several times in Paris in the 1930's. Had I known that during out visit, I would have lost all interest in Lolita, and probably in Nabokov, and demanded to hear every scrap of memory he retained about the Irish colossus." [Cf. Adventures in the Scribblers Trade: The Most Fun You Can Have ]
JM: Two corrections. In the subject line I wrote Hickey’s name incorrectly. The reference to Cornell is also wrong: their meeting took place in New York.
If the present message remains as a “rich text” (instead of unformatted) the links will take you directly to the chapter on Nabokov, a comfortable short-cut that must be permissible to use since it’s offered by any search machine. The journalist did his job well and a lot of peripheral research; his recollection of the interview is intertwined with up-dated information. Even after a long lapse of time (more than fifty years), he still doesn’t show that he’s read V.Nabokov’s novels with admiration or any sort of enjoyment. His report of the encounter may be colored by his particular “camera lenses” but they are a great read and offer a curious, spontaneous, perspective of an author who at that time was just starting to become rich (once again), famous and in demand for interviews. V.N nails it: “I compose a little world of my own. I have invented my Lolita, my America, and myself. What you are going to write about me is your own invention. That is where truth really is found, isn’t it?”
A.Sklyarenko: [snip] - “In any case,” Lik said aloud, “I have to cool off. …Instant cure. …Either I’ll die or it’ll help.” He slid down the sloping edge of the sidewalk, where the parapet stopped, and crunched across the pebbly beach. There was nobody on the shore except for a shabbily dressed man, who happened to be lying supine near a boulder, his feet spread wide apart. Something about the outline of his legs and shoulders for some reason reminded him of Koldunov.” [ ] Actually, it is Lik who dies at the end of the story. This shabbily dressed man lying supine near a boulder is transformed by dying Lik’s imagination into Koldunov’s corpse (Koldunov does not shoot himself dead, of course, but lives on). In the squalid quarter where Koldunov’s family lives there is a lopsided little square but no public fountain (as imagined by Lik).
JM: Contrary to my supposition that Lik didn’t die and that it was Koldunov who was lying with legs spread out, A. Sklyarenko proposes that it was Lik who died and who, in his last conscious moments, imagined that the lying man at the beach was Koldunov while he fantasized the rest of his adventure to recover a pair of white shoes. This kind of ending, as reminded me of “Details of a Sunset”*. Alexey’s observation about a false public fountain in the little square described in the novel seems to clinch the matter. Vladimir Nabokov’s own observations about Lik are sufficiently vague to leave this interpretation open (“a stage performance engulfing a neurotic performer…when dreaming of such an experience”). ** Life imitating art at the expense of the artist?
*“…Mark gave him a guilty smile and reached the front end of the car. He grasped the iron handrails with both hands, leaned forward, calculated his jump. Down below, the asphalt streamed past, smooth and glistening. Mark jumped. There was a burn of friction against his soles, and his legs started running by themselves, his feet stamping with involuntary resonance. Several odd things occurred simultaneously: from the front of the car, as it swayed away from Mark, the conductor emitted a furious shout; the shiny asphalt swept upward like the seat of a swing; a roaring mass hit Mark from behind. He felt as if a thick thunderbolt had gone through him from head to toe, and then nothing. He was standing alone on the glossy asphalt. He looked around. He saw, at a distance, his own figure, the slender back of Mark Standfuss, who was walking diagonally across the street as if nothing had happened. Marveling, he caught up with himself in one easy sweep, and now it was he nearing the sidewalk, his entire frame filled with a gradually diminishing vibration.
That was stupid. Almost got run over by a bus....
[…]And then the pain pounced upon him again, and everything became clear.
Mark was lying supine, mutilated and bandaged, and the lamp was not swinging any longer. The familiar fat man with the mustache, now a doctor in a white gown, made worried growling small noises as he peered into the pupils of Mark's eyes. And what pain!... God, in a moment his heart would be impaled on a rib and burst... God, any instant now.... This is silly. Why isn't Klara here?...
The doctor frowned and clucked his tongue.
Mark no longer breathed, Mark had departed—whither, into what other dreams, none can tell.”
**Notes by V.Nabokov: “I doubt very much that I was responsible for the odious title ("Katastrofa") inflicted upon this story. It was written in June 1924 in Berlin and sold to the Riga emigre daily Segodnya, where it appeared on July 13 of that year. Still under that label, and no doubt with my indolent blessings, it was included in the collection Soglyadatay, Slovo, Berlin, 1930./ I have now given it a new title, one that has the triple advantage of corresponding to the thematic background of the story, of being sure to puzzle such readers as "skip descriptions," and of infuriating reviewers.”
“ LIK was published in the emigre review Russkiya Zapiski, Paris, February 1939, and in my third Russian collection (Vesna v Fialtre, Chekhov Publishing House, New York, 1956). (It) reflects the miragy Riviera surroundings among which I composed it and attempts to create the impression of a stage performance engulfing a neurotic performer, though not quite in the way that the trapped actor expected when dreaming of such an experience. The present English translation appeared first in The New Yorker, October 10, 1964, and was included in Nabokov's Quartet, Phaedra Publishers, New York, 1966.” THE STORIES OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV – notes from the First Vintage International Edition, 1997, by Dmitri Nabokov.