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Monday, January 18, 2010


An unfaithful diarist fesses up.

Currently reading Nabokov's Ada along with Boyd's book. The experience is quite enlightening since this enchanting little fairy-tale is nearly incomprehensible without some sort of Virgilistic guide.

Boyd points out that one aspect of Nabokov's flashy style that is frequently glossed over is his exploration of consciousness; that is, our awareness of individual and disparate things. The reader will be treated to a sprawling sentence where the author weaves seamlessly in and out of the character's head. Long parenthetical digressions make their way into the mix and disparate facts and characters who you'll never meet again throughout the coarse of the book pop out like party favors. As Boyd sees it, this testifies to Nabokov's desire to present the world as being comprised of individual entities. He will zone in on a particular detail and elaborate extensively and exhaustively, all the more if the detail is superfluous because it illustrates the nature of our world. These details are like an independent set of coordinates mapping out a radically heterogeneous world, hence the fact that Nabokov liked to compose his stories on note cards. These note cards were like individual specimens, slides in a lab. Here is our literary taxonomist. So, with Nabokov you have a collection of powerful details, each of which could stand alone. The result can be somewhat disorienting for the uninitiated.

I'm on the fence about a lot of this. I admire Nabokov more than most novelists right now, but it's hard for me to see any great spiritual depth in all of this splendor. Boyd's arguments are compelling and much more discerning than my own, but I still feel a remarkable impoverishment when I read Nabokov. When I read Lolita (not his best work in my opinion) for instance, the one redounding thought I had was, "He wrote this because he could and for no other reason." I think Nabokov would like that answer, but I'm not sure I do. Nabokov was fond of castigating many of the Russian masters, chief among them, Dostoevsky. As I grow older, I'm more and more drawn to the admittedly clumsy but always rich, novels of Dostoevsky, novels that assure me there are other worlds than this.

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