Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reflections on Nabokov #51

For a long time I thought my two favorite European writers were Nabokov and Proust. They shared a love of fantasy that was appealing to someone who wanted to be immunized from conflict. Nabokov thought the artist was a deceiver who wove mysterious illusions that imprisoned the reader in a sticky web of enjoyment. Proust suggested that by aestheticizing memory the past could be remade into something more palatable or heroic. For years when someone asked who my favorite writers were (usually myself, since no one really ever wanted to know) this is the litany I recited, reassuring myself that we all control our own happiness by the quality of the fantasy life we lead.

Now that the years that have passed since since I've read anything by either person are in the double-digits I've stopped asking myself to defend my artistic ideals, and I had almost forgotten this is what I sort-of believe. Somehow I've now turned into someone who is more interested in revealing the ugly brute reality of life and death to those who appear suspiciously over-happy. I only realized this recently after reading a bunch of Philip Larkin poems. In particular, "A Study of Reading Habits", which ends with:

Don't read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who's yellow and keeps the store,
Seem far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

Not sure what this has to do with Nabakov or Russia, other than the fact that I picked up the Lectures on Literature the other day. But maybe this pose of Larkin's, which appears so quintessentially Anglo, is part of the appeal of Russian history, the central message of which is: things really are, and have been, and will be, much worse than the peddlars of enchantment want you to think.

1 comment:

  1. What bothers me about Nabokov is that he's too tricky. Like Joyce and yes, Proust, he seems like somebody other writers like, not a writer for ordinary readers... But let's see some posts on Lolita to debate the question...