Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Nabokov’
May 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- I find novels starring people—or any animate creatures, really—to be unthinkably dull. For this reason I do most of my reading in the mid to late eighteenth century, when novels with inanimate objects at their centers enjoyed a brief but memorable time in the literary limelight. The most famous one was told from the perspective of a coin: “Chrysal, or the Adventures of a Guinea thrilled contemporary readers with ‘Views of several striking Scenes,’ an insider’s account of the scandalous doings of the ‘most Noted Persons in every Rank of Life,’ and tales from the gold mines of Peru, the streets of London, the canals of Amsterdam, the ports of the Caribbean, and the front lines of the Great War … It was a tipping point for what are frequently referred to as ‘it-narratives.’ It-narratives, also called ‘novels of circulation’ or ‘object narratives,’ are novels or stories that take an inanimate object or an animal as its narrator … With a market proven, writers for hire began churning them out with variable quality. By 1781, a bored reviewer in The Critical Review complained, ‘This mode of making up a book, and styling it the Adventures of a Cat, a Dog, a Monkey, a Hackney-coach, a Louse, a Shilling, a Rupee, or—any thing else, is grown so fashionable now, that few months pass which do not bring one of them under our inspection.’ ”
- In which Nabokov, talking to us from 1926, attempts to make sense of his exile: “There is a very seductive and very dangerous demon: the demon of generalities. He captivates man’s thought by marking every phenomenon with a little label, and punctiliously placing it together with another, similarly carefully wrapped and numbered phenomenon. Through him a field of human knowledge as changeable as history is turned into a neat little office, where this many wars and that many revolutions sleep in folders—and where we can pore over bygone ages in complete comfort. This demon is fond of words such as idea, tendency, influence, period, and era. In the historian’s study this demon reductively combines in hindsight the phenomena, influences, and tendencies of past ages. With this demon comes appalling tedium—the knowledge (utterly mistaken, by the way) that, however humanity plays its hand or fights back, it follows an implacable course. This demon should be feared. He is a fraud. He is a salesman of centuries, pushing his historical price list.”
- Today in dramatic acts of digital preservation: if ever the Daily shuts down, we hope to survive in a kind of bardic oral tradition, having former readers pass down our stories one at a time through the generations, at great length and with little regard for accuracy. The website hi.co, which I’d never heard of before about ten minutes ago, is taking fewer chances. Instead of vanishing into the mists of time, they’re keeping their users’ contributions “in a nickel-plate ‘book’ designed to be readable for the next 10,000 years … Everything on the site—roughly two million words and fourteen thousand photos—will be etched in microscopic size onto a series of nickel plates. Everything will be readable with an optical microscope.” (One of the site’s founders notes that the plates are “fire resistant” and “deal well with saltwater.”)
- Some drink to remember, some drink to forget. Pour yourself a glass of marc and you can do both: “With marc, my favorite digestif, both the mortality and the miracle are there in the glass: sip it and you taste the pulverized remains (stems, grape skins, pips) of the wine refined to make it, as well as experiencing resurrection through distillation, in those unpromising oenological afterthoughts given new life. A marc is like a vanitas, the skull that artists once included in paintings to deliver a warning that no pleasure, however great, can last. Behind the smooth sophistication of strong, well-made alcohol, there is the musty hint of old grape skins—a pungent reminder that even the magic of alcohol cannot make a grape, or a drinker, eternal.”
- Philosophy departments are among the most Eurocentric in all of academe—which is fine, as long as they practice truth in advertising. Write to your congressman: “Any department that regularly offers courses only on Western philosophy should rename itself ‘Department of European and American Philosophy’ … We hope that American philosophy departments will someday teach Confucius as routinely as they now teach Kant, that philosophy students will eventually have as many opportunities to study the Bhagavad Gita as they do the Republic, that the Flying Man thought experiment of the Persian philosopher Avicenna (980–1037) will be as well-known as the Brain-in-a-Vat thought experiment of the American philosopher Hilary Putnam (1926–2016), that the ancient Indian scholar Candrakirti’s critical examination of the concept of the self will be as well-studied as David Hume’s, that Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), Kwasi Wiredu (1931– ), Lame Deer (1903–1976) and Maria Lugones will be as familiar to our students as their equally profound colleagues in the contemporary philosophical canon. But, until then, let’s be honest, face reality and call departments of European-American Philosophy what they really are.”
April 19, 2016 | by Daniel Kehlmann
In this conversation—first published last month in the German magazine Cicero—Daniel Kehlmann and the Nabokov scholar Michael Maar discuss one of Maar’s most unlikely discoveries about Lolita.
In your book The Two Lolitas, you made an intriguing discovery—it started to obsess me a bit. What’s equally interesting, and kind of outrageous, is that most Nabokov scholars ignored your finding. Maybe they felt they ought to shield Nabokov from charges of plagiarism. So let’s get this out of the way first—is this about plagiarism?
Of course not. The word came up in the press when I published my first article about the discovery, but that’s not what this is about at all. Read More »
April 13, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Every April for years, intrepid editors have searched in vain for a way to fuse National Poetry Month to Mathematics Awareness Month, killing two birds with one stone. It turns out a pair of Italian mathematicians solved the problem centuries ago: “Niccolò Tartaglia (ca. 1500–1557) had discovered a way to solve certain kinds of cubic equations. Another mathematician, Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576), wanted to learn the formula and promised not to publish it. Tartaglia shared the formula with Cardano as a poem, and Cardano ended up publishing it.” Even with its terza-rima rhyme scheme, though, the poem is pretty bad, I’m sorry to report. It begins: “When the cube with the cose beside it / Equates itself to some other whole number, / Find two others, of which it is the difference. // Hereafter you will consider this customarily / That their product always will be equal / To the third of the cube of the cose net.”
- Legend tells of a radical library in Lawrence, Kansas—a library teeming with zines, a countercultural cornucopia, its shelves overflowing with DIY ephemera. And this library … is totally out of business. But the University of Kansas has acquired its holdings and plans to digitize all of them. “You can already explore over 830 digitized examples from the Solidarity archives in the Internet Archive … There are hand-illustrated guides to fertility awareness, freedom for Palestine publications, essays against prisons, Firefly fanzines, and more curious titles like ‘Don’t Leave Me: How to Make Better Coffee at Home and Spend More Time With Your Cat(s).’ ”
- Today in butterfly genitalia and literary luminaries: a new book examines Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, especially his “intensely magnified” drawings of butterflies’ reproductive organs. The book argues that Nabokov’s drawings provide a new lens through which to view his fiction—but maybe they’re just butterfly drawings. Laura Marsh writes, “The more we find out about Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, the more difficult it is to grasp what he saw in butterflies, and how much his study really found its way into the worlds of his books … As a lepidopterist, he was interested in stories that spanned vast, geological time periods, informed by fine-grained empirical observations. But in his novels and stories, butterflies flit in and out of the narrative, either to adorn a moment of impossible desire or as flickering omens of doom—as in the case of the red admiral that lands on John Shade’s arm before he is assassinated in Pale Fire. They are creatures of the ever-disappearing present, hardly existing for any concrete purpose at all; their wings bear the heavy load of subjectivity.”
- Writers, screenwriters, narrative artists of all stripes: if you’re still laying the foundation for your next project, I suggest throwing a kidnapping into the mix. People love kidnappings, especially when they involve young women. Add a seamy, irrepressibly erotic abduction to your plot and success will be yours for the taking. As Anna Leszkiewicz notes, “British and American pop culture has been gripped by the kidnap narrative. Young women stare desperately out of skylights or at heavy metal doors, before wrenching themselves through. Their kidnapper has methodically planned their captivity for years, making escape particularly difficult. They often exploit the mental weaknesses in their abusers in order to do so. They struggle to find a psychological liberty that matches their newfound physical freedom, and to detach themselves from the events of their captivity … The victim is always a young woman, usually adolescent either at the time of her capture, or during her captivity. She looks a specific way, too: a pretty brunette with big, round eyes; skinny when first captured, gaunt as her captivity develops; and despite the huge number of missing black girls and women, she’s white. She has all the physical attributes Hollywood and our wider society problematically conflate with innocence, purity and victimhood—and enthusiastically sexualize.”
- Jonathan Shaw owns the largest collection of vintage tattoo flashes in the world. Lucky for us, he’s put them in a book called, yes, Vintage Tattoo Flash. Behold the mess of cowboys, sailors, smoking skulls, neon dice, good-luck charms, babes, and babies that have made their way onto American bodies from Long Beach to the Bowery.
March 24, 2016 | by Seth Gannon
A brief survey of fictional books.
I’m soon to move across the country, and surveying my bookcases—the three in the living room and the three in the bedroom, plus the unshelved piles that crop up from any flat surface—fills me with dread. The only cure, I’ve found, is to let my thoughts wander to another, even larger literary collection, a kind of underworld reflection of the one all around me. The books in this second collection are not all fiction, but they are all fictional. I’m imagining a place the late Umberto Eco might appreciate: the Borges Memorial Non-Lending Library of Imaginary Books. Read More »
February 24, 2016 | by Adam Sobsey
Game Theory’s Lolita Nation, thirty years later.
This month, Omnivore Recordings rereleased Lolita Nation, the 1987 double album by the San Francisco pop band Game Theory, who were dissolved in 1990 by their leader, Scott Miller. (Obligatory note: he’s not the Scott Miller from the V-Roys). It’s the latest and most prized offering in Omnivore’s reissue of Game Theory’s complete catalog, long out of print—original pressings of Lolita Nation sold for more than a hundred dollars on eBay.
Lolita Nation checks off all the boxes of the sprawling, ambitious double album: its twenty-seven tracks, mostly of Miller’s knotty but grabby songs, are interspersed with outbursts of experimental noise, rash new musical ideas, a backward-masked Beatles crib, and references to the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Joyce, and Kubrick. There’s a song in 5/4 time, loosey-goose instrumental interludes, and self-referential snippets of other Game Theory songs—a trademark Joycean habit of Miller’s—all of it marshaled into an apparent concept album about the anxious transition from youth to adulthood. But Lolita Nation defies thematic pigeonholing, just as its songs resist easy listening, and it still sounds fresh and compelling almost three decades after its release. Mitch Easter, who produced it along with five more of Miller’s albums, told me, “Scott was always modern in a way that took me a minute to say, Are you sure?” Read More »
January 28, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- It feels like only yesterday that I was lugging my hardcover of 2666 around town, regularly having my mind blown on subway cars, buses, park benches, et cetera. Imagine how much easier it would’ve been to have that experience in one prolonged five-hour session at the theater! Robert Falls and Seth Bockley are bringing Bolaño’s opus to the stage next month, at the Goodman Theatre: “The play is being presented with three intermissions. To keep things moving, Mr. Falls and Mr. Bockley boiled the novel down to essential characters and story lines, though they would periodically restore some of the stories-within-stories-within-stories, like the tale of a painter who attaches his mummified hand to a self-portrait … The directors and the design team worked to create a distinct style for each of the five parts, keyed to the radically different literary genres Mr. Bolaño drew on: fairy tale, hard-boiled crime novel, academic satire, lyrical short story, Don Quixote–style picaresque.”
- Meanwhile, in Chile: Ariel Lewiton is on the hunt for Neruda’s ghost. “Isla Negra was the home Neruda loved best, the one for which he’d written: The house … I don’t know when it was born in me … For the first time I felt the prick of the scent of the winter sea—a mixture of laurel and salty sand, seaweed and thistle, struck me. It was here I believed I would finally find Neruda … I had not thought to bring flowers. I walked past the grave to where the hill gave way to the sea. At the shore, waves thrashed the rocks. I took off my shoes and waded out from the land. The water was so cold it burned and I stood there for a while with the ocean biting at my ankles.”
- And while we’re focusing on the Spanish language, Janet Hendrickson has translated entries from the letter a in a seventeenth-century Spanish dictionary. Among the words: apio (celery), “the symbol of sadness and weeping”; alba (dawn), “What is that? Nothing but the dawn as it walks among the cabbages”; and andrógeno (hermaphrodite), “Some say that women have three wombs on the right and three on the left and one in the middle; some wombs create males, the others females, and the one in the middle hermaphrodites. And others attribute even more wombs to women, and many allow for none of this.”
- Did you know? Between long bouts of poverty, disease, and malnutrition, people in the Middle Ages occasionally had fun. They did this by playing cards, mainly. And you should see these cards, on display now at the Cloisters Museum here in New York: “The decks on view are often beautiful, and sometimes poetic; a number are humorous and a few downright bawdy. For instance, on one card (pictured above) a woman with long blonde braids sits on a stool milking a grumpy cow—which on inspection proves to be a bull. Another portrays a woman passing a phallic-looking tree on her way to market. One hand balances the basket of geese on her head, the other lifts her long skirt above her knee. Geese are not all that is for sale.”
- There’s been plenty of attention paid to Nabokov’s recently collected letters to his wife, Véra—but why hasn’t anyone told me before now that he used those letters to chronicle everything he’d eaten for the day? The Nabokov diet, writes Nina Martyris, was hardly gourmet: “Nabokov kept his promise of sending her a daily bulletin, which included a scrupulous itemization of his meals. Listing every meal he ate was clearly a drudgery, but he hurried on with it by squashing the menu between parentheses: ‘(A couple of meatballs—cold-cuts, sausage, radishes)’; ‘(cold-cuts, fried eggs, a cold meatball)’; or ‘(liver and gooseberry jelly—a sort of frog caviar).’ Occasionally, there was a dry barb: ‘incomprehensible meat,’ and more rarely, a stab of praise, ‘magnificent blueberry soup.’ But mostly it was a boring plod of cold cuts and compotes.”