vladimir nabokov


…but then got ran over by a bus and died. No im totally kidding! but you really did get the flu and couldn’t join me.

The talk was at Housing Works, and it included two other speakers: David Gordon and Michael Kunichika.Your expectations were unclear: talk about Russian writers who, though they left us long ago, remain potent presences for readers and writers today. From Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Vasily Grossman and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, we’ll learn about obsession, madness, realism, fables, and more, in an event with all the drama and pathos (well, at least some of the drama and pathos) of the great Russian novels themselves.


Here are all the texts I would have sent you, in chronological order and without clarifying who said what, because color-coordinating via SMS goes a step too far:

truth-seeking urgency intrinsic in russian lit

antithesis to beckett & writers who focused extensively on beauty of language

falling in love w/ english language, less plot driven urgency

dostoevsky similar to conrad in terms of truth-seeking urgency

multivocality of dostoevsky

there is no right, just different truths

dostoevsky threw the best literary parties (metaphorically speaking, as a creator)

proust s parties were too long, and maybe the guests were wearing better clothes

abstract psychological curiosity in motives, including abnormalities–>russian approach

going in depth for big questions, characters not being introverted

serialization of lengthy works, such as ‘war & peace,’ adds towards creating a broader debate. they become part of the broader debates occurring during their time

some compare the creation of microcosms of russian lit to ‘the wire’

comparing to british office, where they look at the camera at moments of despair but the viewer cannot do anything to help // to embarrasing dostoevsky characters

nabokov disliked dostoevsky for his “bad writing”

dostoevsky had a v diff approach to writing from nabokov: almost got executed literally, then was told he had another five years

that is also why dostoevsky did not pursue inanimate writing, unlike tolstoy (?)

nabokov didn t like music!

neither did dostoevsky !! (probably diff reasons)

saul bellow s ‘dean of december’–>similar urgency in truth-seeking (someone from the audience)

can reading a book be so vivid it appears like a different life?

if yes, it depends on willingness of writers to go to great lengths in creating characters who go too far, embarrass themselves/ are visceral

perhaps a key element that helps bring about the urgent truth-seeking: religion s role for the writers

religion, like their fiction, was trying to explain what goes on beyond the physical

nabokov s direct ancestor was dostoevsky s jailor. weird how he was not willing to cut him any slack, considering

dostoevsky was crowd-pleasing oriented bc he lived off writing




Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Events & Haut or not & Random / 2 Comments
February 11th, 2014 / 5:20 pm

2006 Updike interview re: Nabokov (and other things)

Lila Azam Zanganeh: I read that you weren’t a great fan of Ada.

John Updike: I thought the book was [coughs]—sorry I think I may be losing my voice.

Lila Azam Zanganeh: No problem.

at Guernica

Power Quote / 6 Comments
January 27th, 2011 / 12:27 pm



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.)

Author Spotlight / 66 Comments
December 15th, 2009 / 1:28 pm

Classic Word Spaces (5): Vladimir Nabokov

googlenabokovOn the last morning of my summer stay in St. Petersburg, I briefly left my wife and her family to walk to 47 Bol’shaya Morskaya, the childhood home of Vladimir Nabokov. The building, originally the mansion of the Nabokov family, houses on its first floor a museum, which I entered and was allowed to tour on my own for 100 roubles

To celebrate the publication of The Original of Laura, I’d like to post an illustrated account of my visit to the Nabokov Museum. I stupidly did not pay the extra 100 roubles to take photographs, so what follows are pictures I have lifted from around the web, sorry. I’ve also tried to explain, as best I can, what I learned of Nabokov’s life in this house – I consulted the museum website and Wikipedia when my memory failed me. I hope you enjoy, and please, if you have corrections/additions/Nabokov stories, share in the comments.


Word Spaces / 21 Comments
November 16th, 2009 / 4:53 pm

Nabokov Book Covers

Pale.doyle.mOver at Design Observer, John Gall has shared this cool project of redesigned Nabokov book covers, which he created by taking photographs of specimen boxes. The boxes were assembled by a variety of designers, whom he names in the post. Have a click over.

(via @parisreview)

Web Hype / 26 Comments
November 10th, 2009 / 2:16 pm

The Original of Laura



Knopf is publishing the book in an intriguing form: Nabokov’s handwritten index cards are reproduced with a transcription below of each card’s contents, generally less than a paragraph. The scanned index cards (perforated so they can be removed from the book) are what make this book an amazing document; they reveal Nabokov’s neat handwriting (a mix of cursive and print) and his own edits to the text: some lines are blacked out with scribbles, others simply crossed out. Words are inserted, typesetting notes (“no quotes”) and copyedit symbols pepper the writing, and the reverse of many cards bears a wobbly X. Depending on the reader’s eye, the final card in the book is either haunting or the great writer’s final sly wink: it’s a list of synonyms for “efface”—expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out and, finally, obliterate. (Nov.)

Via Conversational Reading

Random / 12 Comments
August 1st, 2009 / 11:42 pm

Mean Monday: Fuck Everybody, I Hated This Book

Hi. I am in a really bad mood although I was in a worse one a few hours ago but I just paid a woman to make me lift weights for an hour and feel maybe a bit better? Hm. Nah. I came home from working out and spent 30 minutes or so cleaning up cat urine. My house still stinks to high hell. I hate my old cats. I am going to have them put to sleep. I hate them. They pee everywhere. Also, when I was working out? I smelled cat pee. I took my clothes out of a laundry basket full of clean clothes and so what that means is one of them got in the laundry basket and peed on my clean fucking clothes. Hi, lady who worked me out! I smell like cat piss! Be my friend! I was hungover when I got to the gym- hi, scotch and a pack of cigarettes, I hate myself more than I hate everybody else- but now I am not so hungover. One of my cats slept on my head though last night, so I am asthmatic today because of that. Fuck everything. It’s raining like crazy. READ MORE >

Mean / 29 Comments
April 6th, 2009 / 2:15 pm