Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We began class with viewing the opening scene of the Stanley Kubrick film version of Lolita, which opens where the book essentially ends: with Humbert Humbert(James Mason) killing Clare Quilty(Peter Sellers). Its been some time since I've seen the film in its entiriety, perhaps I should watch it again. I remember thinking at the time that it was a rather cold film(being directed by Kubrick this really didn't suprise me), but mordantly comic in a way very similar to the tone of much of the novel. Being me I find it interesting to contrast various filmic presentations; James Mason and Jeremy Irons, for example or Peter Sellars and Frank Langella(who's not as funny or bizarre as Sellars, he plays more for the sinister creepy aspects of Quilty). Maybe I will when I'm feeling more patient.

The rest of class people shared the discoveries they had made.

Connection of H.H. with Peter Pan(he's never really grown up)

Lo's dead father is Harold E. Haze(H.H. !) When Humbert marries Charlotte he gives his name as Edgar H. Humbert. Poe reference and more doubling.

Jared shared his discovery that HH's destroying lust has, by the end of the novel with its closing passage, metamorphised into genuine love. This is something I actually think is very accurate, and good to point out.

The huge amount of alliteration contained in the book(just listening to the alliterations it began to sound like Finnegans Wake).

Gray Hairstreaked butterfly--alluded to by the car doors opening on pg 97

Phineas Quimby--Quilty alias, and 19th century hypnotist.

And Kyle's mammoth, in-depth, investigation on Fast Day in New Hampshire and the places that ended up leading. I was really very suprised and impressed. Oh N. you sly old dog you!

And by next Tuesday, we must come with a good test question.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More listening to Jeremy Irons as HH, which was quite enjoyable. If one was to request for a particular passage from it to be read, I think I'd request chapter 16 of part 1, wherein contains Charlotte's confession, HH's reaction and a Quilty reference, among other things. There are many other passages

Much of class today was spent detailing Clare Quilty(or "Cue")and his purpose in the novel. His last name, interestingly, bares resemblance to the French phrase Qu'il te? , meaning "Who is he?" This is the sort of reaction Quilty would provoke, in disgust, from a casual observer. Because he is, in no uncertain terms, a disgusting pervert. As is HH, of course. Really, Quilty is HH. without the poetry, all that is most vile and repugnant about HH distilled into living form. Which HH purges from himself when he kills Quilty? Interesting thought.... Well, since N. apparently wrote the death of Quilty before he wrote anything else, perhaps it does have a stronger significance for the rest of the novel. Perhaps I will explore this more later.

It was also brought up in class what appears to be an Actaeon reference in chapter 10, section 5 of Speak Memory, where N. while "hunting" for butterflies, comes across the coachman's daughter and a few other girls swimming naked in river. Ah ha!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Class begun on a thoroughly sonorous note--Jeremy Irons reading Lolita, which I gotta say made me want to listen to the whole thing. He's got the perfect voice for it; very fitting that he played Humbert Humbert in the second film version.

It was suggested that a possible reason N. may have had for making the subject of his novel a pedophile(this is not what HH would describe himself as of course; he's only aroused by nymphets... uh huh) may be one that Shakespeare also had when composing Titus Andronicus: "What's the worst that can be imagined?". Shakes of course is working up--or down?--from Ovid's Metamorphoses , which contains a plethora of The Worst that Can Be Imagined. Why? Because the only why they can possibly be comprehended and borne is through art.

It was quite an Ovidian day; the names of Jean Farlow(one of Charlotte Haze's would-be artistic friends) are Cavall and Melampus. The former is the hound of King Arthur, the latter one of Actaeon's hounds; Actaeon who was torn to shreds by his own dogs after being transformed into a stag by the goddess Diana after he spied upon her bathing. The two dogs are mentioned in Lolita when HH and Charlotte and Jean are at Hourglass Lake, with Jean telling an anecdote about skinny-dipping. And is HH, who loathes dogs, a beast who'll be shredded?

Or is he Caliban, another eloquent "thing of darkness"? As N. has The Tempest runs through much of his work, it is a fair assumption. Similarly, if HH is Caliban, who's to say N. isn't Prospero? I'm having lot's of question marks aren't I?

Friday, September 18, 2009

I present here my measly attempt at annotation of a page(71 to be exact) from Lolita. I shall try.

"So Humbert the Cubus schemed and dreamed--and the red sun of desire and decision (the two things that create a live world)rose higher and higher, while upon a succession of balconies a succession of libertines, sparkling glass in hand, toasted the bliss of past and future nights. Then, figuratively speaking, I shattered the glass, and boldly imagined(for I was drunk on those visions by then and underrated the gentleness of my nature)how eventually I might blackmail--no, that is too strong a word--mauvemail big Haze into letting me consort with little Haze by gently threatening the poor doting Big Dove with desertion if she tried to bar me from playing with my legal stepdaughter. In a word, I was as helpless as Adam at the preview of early oriental history, miraged in his apple orchard."

Humbert the Cubus: The incubus is a demon that supposedly had sex with and/or impregnated women while they slept. HH designates himself as one.

red sun of desire and decision: the alliterative d's are noted, as well as the contributing idea of the sun beating down upon you and creating a haze(Haze), in which one sees hallucinatory visions, such as pairs of things...

succession of balconies--succession of libertines

mauvemail: mauve is a shade of light purple. Just what HH would choose to "pretty up" his intentions.

Adam--miraged in his apple orchard: reference to Genesis, obviously. Yet we also have the prescence of forbidden fruit(Lo) and the opportunities for obtaining it dazzling HH. There is also the suggestion of palindroming the paragraph--red sun of desire at the start, apples(often red)closing it.

That was perhaps an anemic effort, but I tried. And it dizzying, how much there really is to take note of.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today's class was spent essentially recapping the plot of Lolita, with all the intricate detail which results when one analyzes it. This is an assignment actually, which everyone forgot to do: to annotate a page from Lolita, selected purely at random if we so choose. This, while we are being technical and practical, ties in with the assignment to do a mid-term paper, 2 to 3 pages in length, discussing a segment from any book by N. Due some time in October.

From discussion and digression of Lolita's plot, we brought up connections outside of the novel which tie-in with it--ie. the film The Night of the Hunter, in which a mother marries a monster who imperils her children(and starring Shelley Winters, who also played Charlotte Haze in the Kubrick film version of Lolita)--and connections within the novel itself: in the class list, we have McFate, Aubrey. McFate is the sense of cosmic plotting H.H. detects throughout the novel. But than the name of the school he teaches at is Beardsley. If one takes the names "Aubrey" and "Beardsley" and puts them together, we come up with the name of an author and illustrator of erotic images(or so I gather from our being forbidden to look the pictures up).

And how there are several fairy tales at play in the book, in particular Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Bluebeard. Look especially at The Enchanted Hunters section.

And the notion of how N. has written, with this novel, a meta-fiction, in which the characters in a text know that they are characters. Examples include, but are not limited to, John Fowles The French Lieutenent's Woman and Cervantes' Don Quixote.

And we are all to send three sentences to Amanda in response to her very reasonable and pertinent question: Why a pedophile? Why choose to write about a pedophile?Because it is question that is worth asking: why should we read a novel about this highly immoral character? One is then directed to page 283, which Dr. Sexson refers to as the moral center of Lolita. And the scene in which Lo is playing tennis, which is an unsullied, epiphanic moment for H.H.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A vast deal of meaty piquant material covered today, just from the first sentance of Lolita. The foreward by John Ray Jr.(jr. jr. hee, hee) begins "Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male" . A parallel was then drawn between this, and the black widow--the hated venomous spider--, and a passage on page 49 on which Humbert Humbert says "I am like one of those inflated pale spiders you see in old gardens." I'd read the book before, and caught quite a few things, but this I had not. Curiouser and curiouser...

One of the things mentioned in class is the charge against N. that is occasionally brought up by those who are offended by the protagonist of Lolita: if he writes such a loathsome character, they say, than he must have been like this(ie. a psychotic pedophile)too. Well, even disregarding momentarily the biographical information that N. adored his wife and was apparently completely faithful to her all the fourty-some years of their marriage, it ought to be borne in mind that the real test of imagination is being able to create characters who are not like yourself. Shakespeare is a major instance of this, given all the horrible villains and murderers he penned. Does that mean Shakespeare was himself like Iago or Edmund or Macbeth? No; same goes for N. and many other major writers.

At one point in Speak Memory N. speaks about his favorite author, Serin, and all of his amazing virtues. But there's just one problem... Serin doesn't exist. N. made him up! Go figure.

And apparently Dmitri Nabokov, son of N., has cleared for the release of his father's final, unfinished novel The Original of Laura, which will be published in November. N.'s desire apparently was for the book not be published as it was, since he hadn't gotten it to the aesthetic point where he felt it should be, and asked for it to be burned. So is his son doing the right thing? Well, its a situation that has presented itself quite a few times in literary history. Kafka asked for his papers to be burned, and they weren't; Virginia Woolf requested in her suicide note that all of her remaining papers and journals be burned, but her husband Leonard kept them. If these wishes had been followed, there would be a great deal of these writers' work which we wouldn't have or know about. Intriguing dilemma.

And, paronomasa, which means word-play. Which N. did in abundance.

"Reverting to his professional state, he drove the Humberts to their residence and all the way Valeria talked, and Humbert the Terrible deliberated with Humbert the Small whether Humbert Humbert should kill her or her lover or both or neither."(Lolita, page 29)

Monday, September 14, 2009

I have been (re)reading Lolita as we were instructed to do over the weekend, but I thought I'd go ahead and post an entry on Speak Memory since we will be moving on to other works(yet one never truly "finishes" something; it is always there. Speak Memory is no different).

I was momentarily thrown when I reached chapter 15, since N. abruptly begins to address a specific 'you', as if in conversation, which he hasn't done really in the preceeding chapters, and which is sustained throughout chapter 15. However, I quickly came to realize that the 'you' he is addressing is his wife Vera; all the numerous references to the shared experiances with "our baby" and "our child". One gets the impression that he felt very deeply about her, about their young son. N. is sometimes dismissed, I've noticed, as being as being "only" a stylist and nothing more(we in the Major Authors course have perhaps already come to realize how misguided such a criticism is). But, chapter 15 in Speak Memory offers examples of how his intensely ornate and intricate way of putting things brings deep real emotion to the front and center. Instead of saying something banal like "I love my wife and our child very much.", N. gives this...

"Whenever I start thinking of my love of a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love--from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter--to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae(whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadfull pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time.It is a pernicious habit, but I can do nothing about it...I have to have all space and all time participate in my emotion, in my mortal love, so that the edge of its mortality is taken off, thus helping me to fight the utter degradation, ridicule, and horror of having developed an infinity of sensation and thought within a finite existence." (pg.232, Speak Memory, chapter 15, section 1)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It turns out that N. did have a few other writers whom he did unreservedly enjoy and admire: Jane Austen(Mansfield Park to be specific), Charles Dickens(Bleak House), Robert Louis Stevenson(Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Franz Kafka(The Metamorphisis). The last two clearly fit into two of his favorite things--dappleganer and transformation such as butterflies undergo.

N. also held that a "good reader" needed four things: memory, imagination, some artistic sense, and a dictionary(for readers of N. this last is definitely needed). Similarly the Great Writer, to N., needs to be three things in order to qualifiy as such:
1. Teacher
2. Storyteller
3. Enchanter

I liked that we ended up talking a bit about chapter 5 in Speak Memory, which I liked very much. Its really something how he makes Madmoiselle(a figure so dull in real life that her real name isn't even recalled by N.)such an indelible character--fat, terribly emotional, unable to speak Russian. My favorite episode in chapter 5(and possibly the whole book, though there is a close second to be discussed later)is part 3, where N. and his little brother Sergey sneak away as dusk is approaching on a winter night with Turka the Great Dane in search of adventure, only to be brought back by Dmitri the gardener, to Mademoiselle frantically shouting from the porch. It reminds me of a story my grandpa Ort would tell me about going out with his brother Roger when they were about five and four to go bear hunting with their pop-guns in McCalister Montana not long after Christmas. Everything ends up being connected whether it thinks it is or not.

Today the commonplace, since sloth prevents me from typing out the episode described above, will be a short pithy phrase right from the beginning of the book: "Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature,..." this comes in the midst of a discussion on the suppression of imagination and N.'s disdain for such a thing. But its just so potent a phrase even on its own!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It was mentioned that it would good for us to designate a 'commonplace' site on our blogs for favorite lines from N. that we come across, and of which there are certain to be many. I determine here and now to try to put in my 'commonplace selection at the end of every entry. his may be a helpful stratagem pour moi. Being a colossal nerd and having already read Lolita, Speak Memory and Pale Fire I was unsure quite how to precede. Now I think I do.

A place of pleasure(that sounds so wrong I just realized) is necessary to establish, since N. doesn't the pleasures of adjectives and puns, or puzzles. His writings are designed to be like puzzles and games or parody, which to N. is the same thing; parody is not to be confused with satire, which intends to teach a lesson. N. is not didactic author. Yet, strangely, it was mentioned in class that N. and Oscar Wilde(who proclaimed "There are no moral or immoral books only well-written books and badly-written books")may just be the two most moral writers there are. Hmm...

We include today a quote of N.'s mentioned in lecture--"The word "real" is the only word that must be in quotation marks."--and the final sentance of the first paragraph of Lolita: "Look on this tangle of thorns."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My First Memory
There are many things that I can remember from when I was little; there are scattered vivid single images, the time-order of which I cannot be certain: The smearing of a melting orange popsickle against a white wall; my Dad's old cat Casey looking down at me from the basement window where she was sitting out of reach; squeezing mud between my fingers and toes. But the earliest, full complete scene that I have as a memory is this: I am two years old, and with my mother and older sister Erica(who was five)at a cabin in Big Sky canyon--Friendship cabin it was called--, looking on as Mom tells my sister that Grandpa Duane had died, and my sister crying and being upset, and myself feeling concerned about why she was upset. I knew that it was something big and serious; as I recall the whole room had sunlight coming in, golden, but in hard shafts like around late afternoon/sunset, with lot's of dark spots all around.
Nabokov(who will hence be refered to as N.)would find this fitting, a presentation of the dark abyss at the opposite end from the other dark abyss we start from. N. is very concerned with death, after all(aren't we all?)
N. was also prone to trashing other writers and their works (like Freud and Dostoevsky and Finnegans Wake), but doing so in an great style. Because everything must have style. Whether your Benji in The Sound and the Fury or Humbert Humbert in Lolita, style is what will distinguish you. Because as Wallace Stevens said: " A change of style is a change of subject."
And the concept of the doppleganger has been brought up(right up there with butterflies and chess as important themes to N.) By cosmic seredipity I read a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen the other night called The Shadow(freakin' creepy,like most of his stories)which uses this concept.
Life is its own palidrome it seems.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Today was the first day of the class for Vladimir Nabokov, which contained, eeirly(sic?), the same class-list as poem that one finds in Lolita. There were so many wittily matched words and names and letters(three A's in a row, four names begining with Z, some with names that were the same from the novel)that you'd have thought that it was made up. But it wasn't...and yet..."One of those coincidences that poets love and logicians loathe"--V.

Our first assingment(other than to begin reading Speak Memory)is to write about our first memory(because memory and time are Nabokov's two central concerns). I intend to do this at a time in the near future, where I can put down as many of the recallable details as possible since details are what matter to Nabokov so very much.