Monday, August 1, 2016

Nabokov Revisited

I like very much this author photo from Vladimir Nabokov’s later years, showing him soaked by a sudden rainstorm, delighted. I know that for some, his mischievous, playful spirit is often overshadowed, if not altogether eclipsed, by his intimidating intellectual prowess, recondite allusions, and (mis)perceived arrogance. Consider, however, that face, the face of a man who brandished a net to capture fluttering things; and place it alongside this, from biographer Brian Boyd’s introduction to Nabokov’s Butterflies:
His love of Lepidoptera drew upon and further sharpened his love of the particular and the habits of detailed observation that gave him such fictional command over the physical world—biologically (birds, flowers, trees), geographically (localities, landscapes, ecologies), socially (manorial Russia, boardinghouse Berlin, motel America), and bodily (gesture, anatomy, sensation). He thought that only the ridiculously unobservant could be pessimists in a world as full of surprising specificity as ours, and he arranged his own art accordingly.

I once wrote a brief essay on Nabokov’s tantalizing definition of art as “curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy”; first published in a journal called The Nabokovian, the piece now resides here. I offer it as a tiny indication of why Nabokov’s smile reflects such a genuine, knowing sort of joy.

(Photo by Horst Tappe)