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Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Nabokov’

“Isn’t It Nice?”

April 22, 2015 | by

In the age of the List, comparing editions of Lolita has become a national pastime. (That may be overstating the case. But there are at least two such lists in existence.)

But I hasten to say: this is not mere hackery! Or, if it is, it is a sort of hackery endorsed by one Vladimir Nabokov himself! In this clip (part of a longer film, well worth watching when you have the time) the author displays all the foreign editions of Lolita with the unself-conscious pride of a greedy baby.

(Incidentally, I'm pretty sure the elderly Turkish Lolita he references is this specimen, rivaled in unsexiness only by the somber, vaguely Keene-ish child who graces the 1963 French edition.) 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Party Line

April 7, 2015 | by

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Not Nabokov’s kind of place.

Reading about the parties of decades past, it sometimes seems they were all similar, and all awful—or at least that they had an intolerably high jerk quotient. Think of the celebrations in Cheever novels, or O’Hara stories: full of jerks, everyone drunk and uncouth and parochial.

It should come as no shock that Vladimir Nabokov took a jaundiced view of the midcentury American party. In fact, were I some hapless Wellesley or Ithaca hostess, you couldn’t have paid me enough to invite him to a dinner or sherry hour, even after he became a literary sensation. Imagine the appraisal you’d be in for—his curled lip, his chilly politeness, his scathing mental commentary, his careful evasion of the menu’s vulgarities. For your trouble, you’d be caricatured, at best, as some sort of composite Charlotte Haze–esque grotesque, fawning over his manners and dripping with self-assured provincialism. And that would be the good outcome. It’s hard to think of someone you’d want less at a midcentury faculty tea, save maybe a seething Shirley Jackson. 

The following comes from Nabokov’s 1951 story “The Vane Sisters.” Read More »

Updike: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Fan

January 14, 2015 | by

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“I can’t remember the moment when I fell in love with cartoons, I was so young,” John Updike once recalled in Hogan’s Alley magazine. “I still have a Donald Duck book, on oilclothy paper in big-print format, and remember a smaller, cardboard-covered book based on the animated cartoon Three Little Pigs. It was the intense stylization of those images, with their finely brushed outlines and their rounded and buttony furniture and their faces so curiously amalgamated of human and animal elements, that drew me in, into a world where I, child though I was, loomed as a king, and where my parents and other grownups were strangers.”

This is one of many passages where Updike talks about his childhood love of comics, a theme that recurs not just in essays but also in poems and short stories. What deserves attention in this passage is not only what Updike is saying but the textured and sensual language he’s using when he recalls the “oilclothy paper” and the “buttony furniture.” His tingling prose, where every idea and emotion is rooted in sensory experience, owes much to such modern masters as Joyce, Proust, and Nabokov, but it was also sparked by the cartoon images he saw in childhood, which trained his eyes to see visual forms as aesthetically pleasing. Indeed, the comparison with Nabokov is instructive since the Russian-born author of Lolita was also a cartoon fan. The critic Clarence Brown has coined the term bedesque (roughly translated as “comic strip-influenced”) to describe the cartoony quality of Nabokov’s fiction, including its antic loopiness, its quicksilver movement from scene to scene, and its visual intensity. I think one reason Updike felt an affinity for Nabokov is because they both wrote bedesque prose. Read More »

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How to Be Rude, and Other News

January 9, 2015 | by

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John Waters, Beverly Hills John, 2012, C-print, 30" x 20". Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York

  • Michel Houellebecq has announced that he’s stopped promoting his new novel in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
  • A history of Nabokov in adaptation: “Filmmakers have mined all of Nabokov’s movie-friendly novels … But the adaptation I’m still waiting for is Pale Fire, which pretty much everyone agrees is unfilmable.”
  • Who among us hasn’t thought long and hard about “what might have tickled the funny bones of folks suffering under Stalinism”? The Suicide, a 1928 play by Nikolai Erdman, was apparently so funny that Soviet authorities forbade it from being staged until 1982, ten years after its author had died. Now the play has been adapted for contemporary Western audiences, but “this bleakly comic portrait of desperate lives in Soviet Russia feels wheezy and labored, ultimately about as much fun as a winter holiday in Siberia. (Grim footnote: Mr. Erdman was exiled there after being arrested on political grounds in 1933.)”
  • On John Waters, who has a new show at Marianne Boesky Gallery: “He is the only funny conceptual artist I can think of. He is—like the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo—a rude satirist who sends up the absurdities of American culture, in particular our obsession with fame and eternal youth.”
  • “Bitcoin may well be the world’s worst-performing currency. In 2014 it lost more than half of its value against the dollar, beating even Ukraine’s hryvnia and the Russian rouble. But measured by the number of new books it has inspired, bitcoin is top of the pile. Nearly 200 titles about the crypto-currency came out last year, according to Amazon. Another dozen will hit the shelves in the coming months.”

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Meet the New Black Friday (Same as the Old Black Friday), and Other News

November 28, 2014 | by

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • The mystery novelist P. D. James is dead at ninety-four. “‘When I first heard that Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall,’ she was fond of saying, ‘I immediately wondered: Did he fall — or was he pushed?’ ” (James was interviewed for The Paris Review’s Art of Fiction series in 1995.)
  • Black Friday is hell. But now there is a new hell, for there is a New Black Friday. (It involves Walmart and money.)
  • “In recent years, not just in novels but in movies, television, poetry, video games and the visual arts, drones have taken on a life of their own. As a character, they are menacing, melancholy or gallant; beastly, blind, snub-nosed, noisy and fast—Predators and Reapers in real life, ‘Helicarriers’ in Hollywood. They are the oversize hook at the end of a joystick, a militarized, antiseptic video game characterized by precision; or they are a weapon system proliferating at a breathtaking rate, and leaving a trail of destruction behind. They show off the military talent of their users, or they are an expression of unbridled hubris. They represent protection or extermination—and they carry out both things at once.”
  • In 1948, an eleven-year-old girl named Sally Horner was abducted—and the details of the case bear more than a passing resemblance to Lolita.
  • Something to ponder over leftovers: the literature of Thanksgiving. (From Mark Twain: “In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.”)

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The Death of the Pay Phone, and Other News

September 22, 2014 | by

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A man in a Miami retirement community uses a pay phone, 1973. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • It’s Banned Books Week. Read something that some prudish bureaucrat condemned as mind-polluting trash. The options are nearly endless
  • Woolf v. Wharton: “Critics exalted Dalloway as an important advance in literature. In the Saturday Review, the critic Gerald Bullett unfavorably compared Wharton’s latest, A Mother’s Recompense, with Mrs. Dalloway, calling Woolf ‘a brilliant experimentalist,’ while Wharton was ‘content to practice the craft of fiction without attempting to enlarge its technical scope.’ ” Wharton was stung by the slight, and disapproved of modernist experimentalism—but it may have goaded her into attempting a “stunning narrative maneuver” in The Age of Innocence.
  • Among Nabokov’s “menagerie” of pet names for Véra: Gooseykins, Pussykins, Monkeykins.
  • Graham Greene’s 1952 open letter to Charlie Chaplin, defending him against trumped-up charges from the House Committee on Un-American Activities: “I suggested that Charlie should make one more appearance on the screen … He is summoned from obscurity to answer for his past before the Un-American Activities Committee at Washington—for that dubious occasion in a boxing ring, on the ice-skating rink, for mistaking that Senator’s bald head for a rice pudding, for all the hidden significance of the dance with the bread rolls … at the close of the hearing Charlie could surely admit to being in truth un-American and produce the passport of another country, a country which, lying rather closer to danger, is free from the ugly manifestations of fear.”
  • Doomsday for NYC pay phones: “Next month in New York City, a contract will expire that requires the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to maintain the city’s 8,000 remaining pay phones.”

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