NABOKOV SMIRKING IN INTERVIEW (SORRY, KINGSLEY, I LOVE HIS TRICKS)
Every now & then I watch this interview purely for entertainment value. Nabokov. My dad gave me one of his books when I was twelve or thirteen, I think, and shortly thereafter I had a dawning-of-comprehension moment, like, this guy [my dad] might actually be pretty smart/have good taste. Which, while not quite a Nabokovian epiphanic moment, actually is a revelation to an adolescent.
I’ve long had the impression that a lot of folks in the HTMLGiant/indie lit crowd don’t care for Nabokov* or at least orient more toward Bukowski/Burroughs/Kafka & what I think of as the “Grits” (i.e. writers whose lifestyles are associated with gritty shit and/or whose writing prioritizes visceral response over sublimity), but I pretty much consider it axiomatic that VN was a genius and maybe the most skilled manipulator of the English language who ever lived. Also, nobody has ever been more successful at translating synesthesia into art. (Btw, do you know what “Martian colors” are? I call that as a title for a book.)
A friend of mine was obsessed with Nabokov in the 70’s and, he told me recently, wrote a book-length biography/critical analysis that he ultimately scrapped–because he became disgusted. He was convinced that Nabokov was a cruel, contemptuous, and above all devious man. (Deception being, of course, central to Nabokov’s whole aesthetic and also at the core of his conception of beauty. Nobody disputes that!) He said that when he saw Nabokov interviewed, “He was exactly like I’d imagined… utterly sneering and contemptuous.” Oh, I don’t know. I think he’s endearing.
Martin Amis used to argue with Kingsley Amis (I think I’m remembering this from Experience) about Lolita. He read his father a particularly bravura passage and Kingsley snorted and said something like, “That’s Nabokov doing tricks to make you think he cares.” (Elsewhere about Lolita, he wrote, “The end product sadly invokes a Charles Atlas muscle-man of language as opposed to the healthy and useful adult.”) Too bad for Kingsley, he never had his own epiphanic moment. Oh well, I still love Lucky Jim.
My favorite Nabokov after Lolita is Bend Sinister. Shit, I should go reread that soon.