Nabokov, Lectures on Literature

‘In reading, one should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected. If one begins with generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it.’

So Vladimir Nabokov in ‘Good Readers and Good Writers’ which introduces his Lectures on Literature (ed. Fredson Browers, Harvest Book, San Diego, 1980).

As I’ve probably remarked here before, I’m not a big fan of Nabokov. Actually I’ve never finished one of his novels, not even Pale Fire. 40, 50, 60 pages long I think, ‘wow, this is great’, and then I lose interest and see no reason whatsoever to continue. But I thought his lectures might be enjoyable, and I was curious what he’s made of Ulysses.

But I found myself reading diagonally after a few pages. Nabokov’s strategy seemed to’ve be trying to make one love a book by retelling the story, reading out passages and making you image what the fictional world of the novel looks like. His insists on this visualization as being the key to reading novels. That’s why for him it’s so important that “(w) have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and can enjoy its details.” Apart from the fact that it’s unsure that we can do this with a picture, I doubt whether this is always so important. (If it is, the novel would surely have been superseded by the movie). In any case, it explains, for me, why Nabokov is so low on my list. I enjoy the language of language, and then the sound of language, and the thought of language, much more.

This doesn’t mean there’s nothing to enjoy or to be learned in Nabokov’s Lectures. Like, when, at the end of the lecture on Jane Austen, he states that for young author learning to write means ‘free his language from cliches, to eliminate clumsiness, to form a habit of searching with unflinching patience for the right word, the only right word which will convey with the utmost precision the exact shade and intensity of thought.’ (p. 60) That sure is something to think about when you’re spitting out a few hundred of words, rewriting without having the time to rewrite, another text. Pff.

en,quotations,reading matter,writing | June 5, 2006 | 14:44 | Comments Off on Nabokov, Lectures on Literature |


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