Saturday, December 18, 2004

Speak, Memory — or at least look up the damn quote!

I read this morning in William Boyd's upcoming story collection, FASCINATION:

"Wasn't it Nabokov who said the best response to hostile criticism is to yawn and forget? I yawned. I forgot." ["Adult Video."]

This evening I found myself dipping into Nabokov's collected stories, which I haven't looked at in years. I thought of reading one of the many I haven't touched yet, then just zoomed to the back to marvel at "The Vane Sisters," which for all its trickery is an unimpeachable and wholly pleasurable piece, the master working at the top of his form and so on. I came across this line, which reminded me of how I feel on particularly productive, optimistic, stimulus-soaked days: "I walked on in a state of raw awareness that seemed to transform the whole of my being into one big eyeball rolling in the world's socket."

Which somehow recalled a favorite passage in Charlotte Brontë's VILLETTE, about doing a "prodigious amount of living" one morning.

Let's not trust me on that one, and consult the abandoned commonplace book (hereafter ACB): "Prodigious was the amount of life I lived that morning. Finding myself before St. Paul's, I went in; I mounted to the dome: I saw thence London, with its river, and its bridges, and its churches; I saw antique Westminster, and the green Temple Gardens, with sun upon them and a glad, blue sky of early spring above; and between them and it, not too dense a cloud of haze."

Which is of course a hundred times better than the fragment I misremembered. I love the commas after river and bridges, and were I the kind of fellow keen on making literary history proclamations that he doesn't really have the knowledge to back up . . . oh hell, I am that kind of fellow! — I'd say this was one of the most exquisite uses of the semicolon in the English language. There's drama; a kind of heroism; accurate conveying of information (visual); and, finally, not a little inexplicable sadness.

(For more on Nabokov's "The Vane Sisters," see my article "The Oblique Case," Keeler News, No. 30, Dec. 2000:


Blogger doctornox said...

Nice blog, "Ed"!

Has anyone noted how closely Nabokov's choice of hobby mirrors his relation to experience? To wit:

The beautiful thing and the delicate net. The struggling body and the subduing ether. The corpse and the steel pin. The careful mounting.

12:41 PM  

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