nabokov and loquacity, august sander, the elegant red box

Vladimir Nabokov’s the last surviving heir Dimitri Nabokov, contrary to Vladimir Nabokov’s last wishes, finally decided to have Vladimir’s last novel, The Original of Laura, published. It has been on index cards in a Swiss vault for decades. The ethical dilemma of deciding to act contrary to a dying man’s wishes is serious, but much softer in the consequences then those dilemmas involving life and death. That Nabokov is still read, argued about and an influence on modern fiction is a affirmation of his contribution to literature and culture. One of the oft cited observations about him was his obsession with finding just the right word or phrase. He used literary devices like alliteration, intricate plotting and even anagrams to create language that would linger in the reader’s mind. Those qualities have been grist for both his admirers and critics. But could Nabokov talk as well as he wrote. In a recent column about Hank Moody(David Duchovny) in Showtime’s Californication, Heather Havrilesky at Salon writes,

And why, if he’s really a writer, does everything out of his mouth sound so unoriginal and clichéd? Why is he so repetitive in his aggressive streaks? Why is he so boring, for a sociopath?

Havrilesky is one of, if not my favorite media critic, but I think her dislike of Moody is coloring her logic. We all, hopefully, know someone that we feel is fun and interesting to talk to. Are they great writers. Most likely not. Being good at one form of communication, in which our judgment is always tangled with degrees of subjectivity, does not guarantee being good at all of them. When Writers Speak

That’s Vladimir Nabokov on my computer screen, looking both dapper and disheveled. He’s wearing a suit and a multibuttoned vest that scrunches the top of his tie, making it poke out of his shirt like an old-fashioned cravat. Large, lumpish, delicate and black-spectacled, he’s perched on a couch alongside the sleeker, sad-faced Lionel Trilling. Both men are fielding questions from a suave interlocutor with a B-movie mustache. The interview was taped sometime in the late 1950s in what appears to be a faculty club or perhaps a television studio decked out to resemble one. The men are discussing “Lolita.” “I do not . . . I don’t wish to touch hearts,” Nabokov says in his unidentifiable accent. “I don’t even want to affect minds very much. What I really want to produce is that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader.”

Not bad, I think, as I sit staring at the dark granular box on my YouTube screen. In fact, a damned good line to come up with off the cuff. But wait! What’s that Nabokov’s doing with his hands? He’s turning over index cards. He’s glancing at notes. He’s reading. Fluent in three languages, he relies on prefabricated responses to talk about his work. Am I disappointed? I am at first, but then I think: writers don’t have to be brilliant conversationalists; it’s not their job to be smart except, of course, when they write. Hazlitt, that most self-conscious of writers, remarked that he did not see why an author “is bound to talk, any more than he is bound to dance, or ride, or fence better than other people. Reading, study, silence, thought are a bad introduction to loquacity.”


man with pipe and hat by august sander. August Sander (17 November 1876 – 20 April 1964) was a Geramn photographer that wanted to literally document humanity. His style, tonality and blemishes were elements he insisted be retained. To Sander they were part of the honesty he strove for. This picture, yet another favorite, was part of his People of the 20th Century. While he was pretty much left alone when the Nazis first came to power, Sander’s work eventually was viewed by the Reich as contrary to the image the Nazi’s wanted to portray of the German people. Sander’s subjects were truly human, not some Aryan ideal –  in 1936 the Reich destroyed most of his photographic plates. I’ll probably post some more of his photos in the future, but in the mean time there is a nicely done flash slide show here, Masters of Fine Art Photography.

the elegant red box

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