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Taking Readings on Exegetes of Our Vladimir

Inspired in part by Ray Davis' exemplary exercises at TheValve (to which, X-posted).
Nabokov Studies #10 arrived unexpectedly this week – I'd thought my subscription had run out – in appreciation, I'll go beyond the abstract (available at above link) to record my take on what's of interest in these articles, and perhaps illustrate why scholarship can matter to a lay reader.

Karshan, Thomas – December 1925: Nabokov Between Work and Play
Nabokov as belles-lettrist is underappreciated, eclipsed by the novelist, for whom the former phase provided pupal development. Here he shadowboxes a self-invented double, a competing concept of play, via the Breitensträter–Paolino pugilistics, and pairs this off against "A Guide to Berlin" on work as means as its own end; both bloody, both lovely. Karshan adumbrates the literary qualities of both essays, with Aykhenvald's "In Praise of Idleness" as catalyst, and Shlovsky in the background.

Waysband, Edward – An Intertextual Spiderweb in Nabokov’s “Cloud, Castle, Lake”
A slender thread on which to hang an article, ploughing an idle furrow, tying up a loose end from Christine Rydel's "Nabokov and Tiutchev" in Nabokov at Cornell, in which Tiutchev deepens the connection between CCL and Invitation to a Beheading. Waysband traces the tenuous strand of the trope through VN's early writing, and strains to connect this with the Tiutchevian interests of Tolstoy and Mandelshtam.

Connolly, Julian – Black and White and Dead All Over: Color Imagery in Nabokov’s Prose
Here the abstract lays it all out ... I can add no color, except to say this is more concordance than explanation.

Norman, Will – The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and the Modernist Impasse
The problem of turning, or at least incorporating, historical contingency into timeless art. RLSK is underrated; examining this aspect adds something to the assessment, but not what's essential. Still, it serves to temper the overaesthetic perspective of VN (and of Flaubert, Proust, and Joyce) to which some assessors are prone, and identifies the conventions of literary biography with which VN plays, which I think is more to the point.

Akikusa, Shun'ichiro – The Vanished Cane and the Revised Trick: A Solution for Nabokov’s “Lips to Lips”
The gem of this issue. The story-behind-the-story of compromised publication (about a subsidized Mary Sue) delayed its advent til VN was Englishing, due to parallels to then-contemporaneous events [1]. The problems of self-translation are compounded when one can't pronounce pronouns properly. Explicating what's made explicit in English rendering reveals what's implicit to the careful Russian reader and invisible to the oblivious, including the protagonist of this story, a proto-agonist to the Vane Sisters narrator. And the doubling in letters! speaking of self-translation ... and citing Nabokov scholar / story-within-a-story namesake Dolinin for pointing out the stick as connection with Despair ... and to make it even more meta, the essay itself is extended from the Japanese original, and one cannot but wonder whether the author is aware of his own literary otherworldliness.
[1] There is more literary fodder here, as "Lips to Lips" was recognized as payback to Chisla, wherein Sirin had been panned by a critic whose wife had attempted to influence VN's review of her own mediocre novel.

Mella, John – The Difference of a Sibilant: A Note on Pale Fire, Canto Three
An examination of modulation between comic and cosmic which itself fails to modulate, much less resonate.

Condren, Dustin – John Shade Shaving: Inspiration and Composition in a Selection from Pale Fire
I've never been satisfied with my understanding of Canto IV of "Pale Fire". Yes there's the mock heroic declamation, yes the toilette elaboration to the Canto II Rape of the Lock (A nymph came pirouetting, under white / Rotating petals, in a vernal rite / To kneel before an altar in a wood / Where various articles of toilet stood), yes even Carolyn Kunin's suggestion that the blood amid Our Cream alludes to Shade's stroke (I palpate / Through strawberry-and-cream the gory mess ... cf. my synapsis). So this was of particular interest, and so I'll go on about it. The last time I devoted to analysis, I concentrated on the poet/critic allusions via John & Sybil Shade, wholly neglecting Kinbote. Condren fills in -- Housman:Kinbote::Pope:Shade -- and particularly the bit from Housman's lecture "The Name and Nature of Poetry":

“Poetry indeed seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was described in connexion with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite: 'A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.' Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because, if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keats’s last letters, where he says, speaking of Fanny Brawne, `everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.’ The seat of this sensation is the pit of the stomach.”

Condren, while acknowledging Toker's noting the trio of responses (in responding to Rorty's Barber of Kasbeam), seems to miss a trick by not explicitly tying this to the 'triple ripple' Shade senses (such sensations consistent with Kunin's reading). But he more than makes up for it by pointing out the relevance of the oft-elided Biblical reference, Eliphaz in the Book of Job, and does some clever twisting of words with Eliphaz, as having IPH (Canto III) in the middle and Hazel wrapped around -- indeed, the Haunted Barn episode is the word made flash. But aside from bearding some of the sexual ramifications, the rest is just aftershave tonic.

Voronina, Olga – The Tale of Enchanted Hunters: Lolita in Victorian Context
An overwrought gilt frame, obscuring the picture and promising more than is delivered. Narrowing the context to the late Victorian and to Carroll and Ruskin overemphasizes the latter, while Poe receives only belated mention. What there is of merit here (which isn't trivial) is overwhelmed by data selectivity to fit the case, superimposed encoding, might haves becoming therefores, and dogs that don't bark. This one don't hunt.


Anonymous Ray Davis said...

Hey, I read that issue last week, too! Voronina's is an iffy paper but would've made a terrific post. Come to think of it, most of what appears in Nab. Stud. would probably work better in weblog form.

4/7/07 12:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could pay you to write a critique of nabokov's criticism that I must turn in to class. You have many great things to say!!

6/3/10 13:25  

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