Sunday, 05 February 2006

Duped By Fools? Nay! Duped By The Best After last night's "spoofed dupe" I decided that if I'm to be made a mockery it may as well be by someone I esteem. So I sat down and started reading the author for whom the phrase "contempt for his readership" hardly does justice to the cruelties he inflicts on it: Vladimir Nabokov. (Why do we become intellectual masochists when suffering from mental fatigue? I only hit the dizzingly self-conscious shelf when I'm physically beaten and mentally drained. There must be an explanation. If I could string three thoughts together I might even be able to smoke it out.) As I lazily re-read Pnin and Speak, Memory I tried to ignore my marginalia lest its cataloguing of authorial shenanigans interfere with the languid movement of my eyes across the page. The man cannot tell an unvarnished truth. He was mad for varnish and refused to write a single sentence which failed to embelish aurally its plain meaning. (On which more shortly.) He also despised prepackaged symbolism. Here he counters the psychoanalytic account of his work in Nabokov's Deceptive World by objecting that: Mr. Rowe's manipulating my most innocent words so as to introduce sexual "symbols" into them. The notion of symbol itself has always been abhorrent to me, and I never tire of retelling how I once failed a student—the dupe, alas, of an earlier teacher—for writing that Jane Austen describes leaves as "green" because Fanny is hopeful, and "green" is the color of hope. The symbolism racket in schools attracts computerized minds but destroys plain intelligence as well as poetical sense. It bleaches the soul. It numbs all capacity to enjoy the fun and enchantment of art. Who the hell cares, as Mr. Rowe wants us to care, that there is, according to his italics, a "man" in the sentence about a homosexual Swede who "had embarrassing manners" (p. 148), and another "man" in "manipulate" (passim)? "Wickedly folded moth" suggests "wick" to Mr. Rowe, and "wick," as we Freudians know, is the Male Organ. "I" stands for "eye," and "eye" stands for the Female Organ. Pencil licking is always a reference to you know what. A soccer goal hints at the vulval orifice (which Mr. Rowe evidently sees as square). I can think of no author whose words are more "guilty" than those of Nabokov . . . unless I think of Joyce. But Nabokov's words move in a more familiar register than Joyce's. You don't need fluency in forty-five languages to know when Nabokov pulls your leg. You need only experience the tingling Hey . . . wait a second which so many of his sentences induce to know that his sentence-level meaning is far from "innocent." You don't even need to read the books to know he's about to dupe you. The titles alone tell all. Speak, Memory? Why must he enjoin his memory to speak instead of simply remembering? Especially considering his infamous hostility to "the talking cure": I have ransacked my my oldest dreams for...

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