Nabokov's Lectures on Literature shows up in Elif Batuman's The Idiot:
In the bookstore, waiting for Svetlana to finish comparing different editions of Beowulf, I started flipping through Nabokov's Lectures on Literature, and my attention was caught by a passage about math. According to Nabokov, when ancient people first invented arithmetic, it was an artificial system designed to impose order on the world. Over the course of centuries, as the system grew more and more intricate, "mathematics transcended their initial condition and became as it were a natural part of the world to which they had been merely applied... The whole world gradually turned out to be based on numbers, and nobody seems to have been surprised at the queer fact of the outer network becoming an inner skeleton."
Suddenly, all kinds of things I had learned in school seemed to fit together. Could it be true, what Nabokov said -- that the abstract calculations had come first, and only later turned out to describe reality? (109)
I'm going to AWP in Washington DC and doing two panels, plus a signing, plus a reading for Best Worst American and would love to see you and talk with you at one of them. Or at all of them! Seriously. I'm also reading in Chicago and in Little Rock.
Here's where I'll be:
- Signing! Thursday, February 9, 10:00 am-10:30 am: At the AWP Small Beer Press table (Washington, DC)
- Talking!/Paneling! Saturday, February 11, 12:00pm-1:15pm, At this panel: "Immigrants/Children of Immigrants: a Non-traditional Path to a Writing Career" (with Ken Chen, Monica Youn, Marie Myung-OK Lee, and Irina Reyn). Location: Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four (Washington, DC)
- Talking!/Paneling! Saturday, February 11, 4:30pm-5:45pm, At this panel: "The Short Story as Laboratory" (with Lesley Nneka Arimah, Carmen Maria Machado, Kendra Fortmeyer, and Sofia Samatar) Location: Marquis Salon 9 & 10, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two
- Reading! (with Kelly Freaking Link!) Saturday, February 11, 6:00pm-8:00pm at Politics and Prose (Facebook event page here) (Washington DC)
- Reading! Thursday, February 16, 7:30pm-9:30pm at Women and Children First (Facebook event page here) (Chicago IL)
- Reading! Monday, February 27 at 6:30pm at Curbside Books and Records (More info here, Facebook event page here) (Chicago IL)
- Talking! in April at the Arkansas Literary Festival (Little Rock AR)
Hi! Small Beer Press just revealed the new cover for my book and it is a red-white-and-blue(-and- black) thing of beauty. Also: I've been collecting their titles for years, so it's a special and weird thrill to realize that the book will have so much awesome company. Super excited.
So the photo below is me right after I took the oath of citizenship, which happened yesterday, a Tuesday, which meant we had to leave our baby with the sitter. The baby's an American. So is my wife. So, for that matter, is pretty much my whole immediate family. I was the hold out.
I'm pretty sure I was eligible for at least three years. I had been meaning to do it, but we were traveling a lot (we moved from Vegas to the Pacific Northwest to Amish country to Chicago) and the application is $680 -- a deal and a privilege, to be sure. You can't put a price on citizenship. But you can totally keep meaning to do it later because $680 feels like a lot.
And then you have an insane spray-tanned caricature spewing rhetoric so hateful, so inconsistent and bizarre, that you start laughing, and then worrying when half the country takes the joke seriously. And then the joke gets to be the presidential nominee of a major political party. That's when $680 feels like a bargain.
So thank you, Donald J. Trump. You're what it took for me and for (I'm guessing) thousands of others like me to take the not-insignificant leap from permanent resident to citizen.
In the elevator to the courthouse, a man saw a bunch of us in the elevator clutching our appointment letters. He said, "Trump, huh?"
We all nodded.
He said, "You're going to vote? You got to vote."
All of us nodded -- all of us, an elevator stuffed with nervous soon-to-be-citizens all worried we forgot some important document (the green card? the letter? were we supposed to bring our old passports?). But yes, we all said we were going to vote.
We took the oath. The judge welcomed us, told us that the US was lucky to have us, that to swear allegiance to the US did not mean we abandoned the culture and the food and everything we hold dear from our old life. It was all moving, way more moving than I thought it would be.
I've been here for years. I've always enjoyed the privilege of the observer, an embedded outsider. I'd been holding on to that feeling forever, of being in the US and very much loving it but also not quite belonging, or thinking I did not quite belong. That feeling's gone, but it will come back, I'm sure. But still: what has replaced it is just as light, just as freeing, just as wonderful, just as strange. This judge made all of us feel truly welcomed.
The voter registration folk waited right outside the court. I filled out the form. It took all of five minutes.
Check out The Enchanted Hunter motel -- a nod to Lolita's The Enchanted Hunters hotel -- in this X-Files episode from the 2016 season, "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." The episode was written by Darin Morgan, who is no stranger to awesome Nabokov references. His 1996 X-Files episode, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," features a space overlord named Lord Kinbote.
Check out the Lolita poster in this frame from The Man in the High Castle!
Check out Greta Gerwig holding Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire in Noah Baumbach's lovely, effervescent, way way funny Mistress America!
I was carrying a book: the forthcoming “Letters to Véra,” by Véra’s husband, Vladimir Nabokov. But the voices around me were unrelaxingly shrill—I could concentrate on what I was reading, just about, but I could extract no pleasure from it. So I took my drink back into the foyer, where the pianist, after a break, had resumed. The businessman was still on the phone; as before, we were sitting two tables apart, and back to back. Occasionally I heard snatches (“Have you got any office method where you are? Have you?”). But now I was slowly and appreciatively turning the pages, listening to that other voice, V.N.’s: humorous, resilient, full of energy. The letters begin in 1923; two years earlier, he sent his mother a short poem, as proof “that my mood is as radiant as ever. If I live to be a hundred, my spirit will still go around in short trousers.”
When January dawned in 1924, Vladimir (a year older than the century) was in Prague, helping his mother and his two younger sisters settle into their cheap and freezing new apartment. (“Jesus, it’s called basic gumption. Do you know how you spell that?”) These former boyars were now displaced and deracinated—and had “no money at all.” (“5C? No. Obviously. 4C. 4C, for Christ’s sake.”) Vladimir himself, like his future wife, the Judin Véra Slonim, had settled in Berlin, along with almost half a million other Russian fugitives from 1917. And in Berlin the two of them would blithely and stubbornly remain. Their lone child, Dmitri, was born there in 1934. The Nuremberg Laws were passed in September, 1935, and they began to be enforced and expanded after the Berlin Olympics of 1936; but not until 1937 did the Nabokovs hurriedly decamp to France, after a (seemingly never-ending) struggle with visas and exit permits and Nansen passports.
All ambient sounds suddenly ceased, and the businessman was saying, “D’you know who this is? Do you? It’s Geoffrey. Geoffrey Vane. Geoffrey. Geoff. Yeah. You know me. And you know what I’m like. . . . Right, my patience is at an end. Congratulations. Or, as you’d say, super. . . . Now. Get your fucking Mac and turn to your fucking e-mails. Do you understand me? Do you understand me? Go to the communication from the fucking agent. The on-site agent. You know, that fucking Argy—Feron. Fucking Roddy Feron. Got it? Now bring up the fucking attachment. Got it? Right—fucking 4C.”
Hi! I'm thrilled and proud that my story "Northern" found an awesome home in the Fall 2015 issue of Huizache, and just and thrilled to be in such good company. Seriously daring, urgent, amazing writing in here -- please pick up a copy!
In the very Nabokovian documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, Nick Cave recalls the very earliest memory of his dad: Him reading Lolita to him, admiring the writing, and Cave admiring his father. "He became a greater thing," Cave says. Lolita recurs in the movie -- it pops up briefly in the opening sequence and will return at crucial moments. Some screencaps below.
Clotheshorse provides a very occasional spotlight on the intersection of literature and men's fashion.
This excerpt comes from Adam Thirlwell's The Escape:
Now, however, Haffner's colleagues would have been surprised.
Haffner was dressed in waterproof sky-blue trousers, a sky-blue T-shirt, and a pistachio sweatshirt. These clothes did not express his inner man. This much, he hoped, was obvious. His inner man was soigne, elegant. His mother had praised him for this In the time when his mother praised him at all.
-- Darling, she used to say to him, you are your mother's man. You make her proud. Let nobody forget this.
She dressed him in white sailor suits, with navy stripes curtailing each cuff. At the children's parties, Haffner acted unconcerned. As soon as he could, however, he preferred the look of the ganster: the Bowery cool, the Whitechapel raciness. Elegance gone to see. His first trilby was bought at James Lock, off Pall Mall; his umbrellas came from James Smith & Sons, at the edge of Covent Garden. The royal patent could seduce him. He had a thing for glamour, for the mysteries of lineage. He could talk to you for a long time about his lineage.
The problem was that now, at the end of the twentieth century, his suitcase had gone missing. It had vanished, two weeks ago, on his arrival a the airport in Trieste. It had still not been returned. It was imminent, the airline promised him. Absolutely. His eyesight, therefore, had been forced to rely on itself -- without his spectacles. And he had been corralled into odd collages of clothes, bought from the outdoor-clothes shops in this town. He walked round the square, around the lake, up small lanes, and wondered where anyone bought their indoor clothes. Was the indoors so beyond them? Was everyone always outdoors? (9-10)
Karl Ove Knausgaard travels across America, retraces Norwegian and Viking trails across the country, makes this observation: "I loved it not only because I had finally seen something in the United States that Humbert and Lolita could have seen — a fabulous entry for Nabokov’s catalog of American monuments, wonders and reconstructions — but also because it struck me that the image of reality that this particular reconstruction presented was, in a curious way, absolutely true."
From My Saga, Part 2.
Part 1 is here.
An observer would receive the wrong impression from this salacious tableau. Their ages were wrong, I thought. Incompatible. Insidious Nabokov insinuated himself into my dreams once more, not allowing me to lose myself in watching what was before me, not allowing me to engage life. Hannah was my Humbert, the lieutenant the ingenue. Fire of my loins. They fucked, no other term can be used. Hannah and her lieutenant fucked and fucked.
...I won't translate Lolita even though I've always wanted to. It's against the rules. Nabokov's earlier work in rowdy Russian I could. "But in my arms she was always Lolita."
"Lo. Lee. Ta."
My memory has aged into an unruly child but is still quite precocious. (47-8)
I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.Quote spotted in these two James Woods New Yorker pieces: