Monday, February 28, 2011

Nabokov Under the Glass

In a review/essay in the February 4 Times Literary Supplement, Thomas Karshan comments about Nabokov, “In his enormous English edition of Eugene Onegin, he unearthed the gargantuan root-system of poetic allusion that feeds Pushkin’s novel in verse. He (Nabokov) mocked and celebrated the elephantine pedantry of that edition in his novel Pale Fire, which is composed of a 999-line poem by imaginary poet John Shade, and a textual apparatus written by a crazed scholar, Kinbote” (“Nabokov in Bed,” TLS, 2/4/11). Karshan goes on to distinguish between two of Nabokov’s characters, Kinbote and his uncle Conmal, who simply enjoys reading, as a way of discussing the antinomies of Nabokov’s own personality and the critical approaches these dualities propose. Eric Naiman, a latter day Kinbote, whose Nabokov, Perversely is reviewed in the Karshan’s piece “believes that Nabokov seeded throughout his major works the syllables of various dirty words so as to express ‘art’s necessary perversity.’” Karshan points to Naiman’s analysis of the words “associate” and “banal” in Bend Sinister as containing the roots “ass” and “anal,” and revealing “clues to a homosexual subtheme in the book.” “Conrad” and “constructed” in Lolita conjure the French “con,” meaning “idiot,” and the Spanish “with,” which one would suppose functions as some sort of double entendre. In Pnin, “chat” is of course “pussy,” and words like “very,” “university” and “discovered” contain a root of “perverse.” Karshan, who goes on to review two other Nabokov critiques in his essay, concludes about Naiman, “There is, then, a fascinating book to be written about the perverse reading that would do justice to Nabokov, but Nabokov, Perversely is not that book.” But it’s fun to think of the writer as creating antibodies like a sufferer of an autoimmune illness, which attacks the organism itself. Was it the nature of Nabokov’s own particular brand of esthetic paraphilia that he set out to ridicule the edifices he so painstakingly created?

6 comments:

  1. Oh, Francis! You surprise me. When does "con" mean "idiot" in French? Go to Wikipedia and look up "le con" or to Google translate and look up "con." ;)

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  2. Thanks Anonymous but I find "bloody idiot" and "stupid jerk" in two Google citations for the translation of "con." Are we not senselessly nitpicking here? Is this not the kind of over zealous scholarship that Nabokov was parodying? Love Francis

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  3. We are! On that point, I'm confident. Peace, Anonymous

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  4. Mentioning Pushkin - are u aware of Pushkin's Secret Journal 1836-1837? New edition just came out. What a book!

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  5. No,not aware thanks so much for letting me know! But now I'm involved in a rational exchange of information and I must avoid the pitfalls of that at all costs.

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