Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Nabokov on Literature and Lolita

From Nabokov's postscript to Lolita:

Although everybody should know that I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of generalisations devised by literary mythists and sociologists)...

And later:

I presume there exist readers who find titillating the display of mural words in those hopelessly banal and enormous novels which are typed out by the thumbs of tense mediocrities and called "powerful" and "stark" by the reviewing hack. There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray's assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what some call the Ltierature of Ideas, which very often is topical trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann.


Perseus said...

I can't remember the line exactly, but I remember it well enough to paraphrase. From 'Lolita'.

"My mother died in tragic circumstances(picnic, lightning)."

In two words he beautifully conjured a whole scene. Awesome.

I had troubles with the theme of the book, but of his writing I have no complaints. 'Pale Fire' is my favourite. Hilarious. HILARIOUS.

ToneMasterTone said...

Yep, I remember that very line -- hilarious!

I've only read Lolita and Pnin, both of which were hilarious and playful, although I do have Pale Fire in the unread section of my bookshelf.

Soon, it might have to be put into the read section.

I'm assuming you're of Greek extraction. I am too, and I'm wondering: have you read Portnoy's Complaint, burst your sides and wondered how Jewish-American urban life ended up being so similar to the Greek-Australian variety?

Perseus said...

I am not of Greek extraction, but, I grew up loving Greek Mythology, which lead me, in my early 20's, to go and live in Greece for three years. I lived in Athens and worked for a famous popstar. If you're Greek, you will know her. The Cypriot superstar.

'Philhelene' is the correct term, I think.

I'm actually a Welsh, English, Jew hybrid.

I haven't read Portnoy's Complaint and here's why: Years ago I went into a bookstore with Lewd Bob and he bought it. The bookshop guy burst out laughing at his selection and said, "What? People actually want to buy this?"

Lewd Bob was traumatised and refused to read it. I joined in on the ban. Were we foolish?

ToneMasterTone said...

Modern Greek pop is unconscionably terrible and I pay no attention to it, so even if you named your popstar, I would have been none the wiser.

I'm ridiculously impressed by your living three years in Athens. Do you have a Nietzschean relationship to the myths, thinking they form a better example to people than any religion does, or do you just like the stories?

Comedy is not an acquired taste: either you find something funny or you don't.

I couldn't finish Catch-22 or Confederacy of Dunces and found them barely comical.

Portnoy's Complaint and Wodehouse generally I find to be pure comic genius.

What is beyond question, though, is that Phillip Roth is the best writer alive today.

Of the non-comic novels, I recommend most highly I Married a Communist, American Pastoral and My Life as a Man.

Perseus said...

You couldn't finish Catch 22? My God! I laughed all the way through it.

I started by liking the stories, then in my 20's I went all Nietzschian, now I'm back to just liking the stories. Sort of like vanilla ice-cream. You start with vanilla as a child, then for years you're on cinnamon, pistachio and guava, then, you get to a certain age and start buying vanilla again.

Roth? Bah. Well, I've only read one of his, so I shouldn't pass judgement.

Perseus said...

Oh... Anna Vissi is the popstar. Eurotrash, oh yes. Killdozer it ain't.

ToneMasterTone said...

Wow -- that is super grade A Greek pop royalty.

There goes my I'm-too-cool-for-Greek-pop nonchalant facade -- she's awesome for a whole lot of reasons not necessarily related to the quality of the music, kind of like Madonna.

You will regret it if you reach a ripe old age and discover that you never had a Roth phase in your life.

I also think there's certain affinities between Roth's books and a Schopenhauerian outlook, which I remember reading in your blog you've been acclimatising yourself to of late.