Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

SPEAK, MEMORY by Vladimir Nabokov


I have mentioned in the Proust discussion the overlaps which I found between Speak, Memory and the Proust work. I will say that to date what I've read of Nabokov has only been good reading -- I've not become inspired to go read all of his work or delve into the persona. but the language in memory here as opposed to the fiction may well tip the scale. I found great empathy for his nostalgia for the loss of his earlier life and his yearnings to return while at the same time acknowledging that he would never attempt the intrigue that would be entailed -- false papers and assumed names.


To have one's very beginnings -- childhood -- the basis of one's being cut away. To be unable to return even when return was technically possible though under circumstances which were risky. To live always with the memories and little of the real objects which held those memories to one's life -- not money -- though certainly as was pointed out that was a sizeable loss for this family as for many others and his contempt for those who were only concerned with those losses is strong -- IMO deservedly so. To mourn material of sentiment is different from mourning material wealth -- and the loss of the intangible is far above either of those.


I am so glad that I picked this up at Book People and read it -- had not been intending to do so at all -- turned out to be one of those serendipitous reading experiences which flowed quickly and spoke volumes beyond the actual sentences to me. And then there were the unexpected relationships to the Proust reading.


I have some corners dog-eared and may come back to comment further.


Dottie


Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? from Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Branches, Mary Oliver


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (2 of 29), Read 60 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Monday, July 10, 2006 10:44 PM


I finished "Speak, Memory" today, and it makes all of Nabokov's works fall into place. I haven't read all of his work...yet, but fully plan to, but this one, this one is still ringing in my ears. I have Brian Boyd's bio of VN, and there are so many references to SM in it that SM is mandatory reading.

I'll just include one quote from p.290 that won't ruin anything, but is so representative of Nabokov that I must.

BTW, one of his 'sidelines' was creating chess problems.....

"It should be understood that competition in chess problems is not really between White and Black but between the composer and the hypothetical solver (just as in a first-rate work of fiction the real clash is not between the characters but between the author and the world), so that a great part of a problem's value is due to the number of "tries"--delusive opening moves, false scents, specious lines of play, astutely and lovingly prepared to lead the would-be solver astray."


Nabokov in a nutshell, eh?

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (3 of 29), Read 63 times

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From: Russ Peterson

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 08:44 AM


Exactly, Katherine!

That is the Nabokov I know from the several novels I have read. What he modestly neglects to mention is that he is also a master at hiding his clues, so they can be almost impossible to find, all without destroying the pleasure of reading the story in the first place.

I'm close behind you in Speak Memory (p.249) and should finish up today. Will post more then.

Seems quiet here. Is anyone else still reading?

Russ


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (4 of 29), Read 63 times

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From: Sherry Keller shkell@earthlink.net

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 10:02 AM


All my reading is on hiatus right now, but this is the book I'm reading when I'm reading. I hope to get back to it soon. Katherine and Russ, your notes have inspired me.


Sherry


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (5 of 29), Read 62 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 10:57 AM


Well! I'm glad to see that someone else is reading SM too. I was beginning to feel like the Lone Ranger. :)

Yes, Russ, Nabokov gives new meaning to "enigma". As far as I am concerned, half the fun of reading his books is the reread, and search for clues as to the why and wherefores of his characters.


And Sherry! Every free moment, you must read! This is so worth the effort, not that its an effort to read that prose. Its a pleasure.

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (6 of 29), Read 61 times

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From: D Randall randall_d@ix.netcom.com

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 11:25 AM


First -- having scanned the entire thread -- Russ, never, never let the idea of a "front to back" discussion of a CR or CC selection trouble you -- we talk around the edges, back to front and any which where when we get going -- no problem which end of the book makes you want to speak up -- we just speak up.


I have enjoyed reading both your posts and Katherine's here -- glad to have both of you around the board -- welcome in other words if I've not told you that.


I hauled SM home from TX but just unpacked it yesterday and inadvertently carried it upstairs so have not yet revisited those dog-earred spots to see if I can pull together any coherent comments. I will retrieve it later today and do a bit of rereading.


I do know that one aspect of this book which resonated for me was the somewhat dual nature of Nabokov -- the scientific side and the literary side. From what little I'd read about him of course I knew this was so but SM brings it into sharper focus for me and gives a picture of a renaissance-man style intellect which somehow had not registered before.


Dottie


Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? from Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Branches, Mary Oliver


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (7 of 29), Read 62 times

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From: Russ Peterson

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 11:46 AM


Dottie,

You are telling the wrong man to speak about whatever comes to mind /broad grin/. I happen to love reading Nabokov, but your comment about the Renaissance man is the first I've heard that said, and you are exactly right! I found it fascinating to read in Speak Memory of the various ways his very loving mother encouraged him, from her pointing out things in the garden and saying "Remember this!" when he was a toddler, to her copying his poetry down into a notebook as he recited it to her at a later age. And, of course, when he was being a night owl with an early love, somewhat to her misgivings, nevertheless asking the butler to leave some fruit out for him on the veranda for his early morning return home. It is absolutely no wonder that he yearned for his early years, over and beyond even his lost wealth!

PS Glad to be here!

Many thanks for your welcome,

I'll yada some more, :)

Russ


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (8 of 29), Read 56 times

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From: Russ Peterson

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 12:04 PM


Sherry,

If inspiration is what you need, I have enthusiasm to spare! Lolita is the book that starts out like a barn afire, captures immediate attention and never lets up. His others, including SM, can tend to start out slower but, IMO, if one just keeps reading, then suddenly one is completely enthralled, and, by the end, one is glad for having made the journey. SM, with the few pages I have left, looks like it is shaping up exactly that way, with scenes that rival any in his fiction and which would make any novel glad to have them.

Russ


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (9 of 29), Read 53 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 01:42 PM


Hello All! Yay!

Nabokov does put so much of himself, literally into his books, but always with some sort of twist. Either inverted self, reverse self, or any combination that occurred to his fertile mind. One thing I found interesting was the way he would use events in his life and bequeath them to his characters and then....well here is what he says at the beginning of Chapter 5....

"I have often noticed that after I had bestowed on the characters of my novels some treasured item of my past, it would pine away in the artificial world where I had so abruptly placed it. Although it lingered on in my mind, its personal warmth, its retrospective appeal had gone and, presently, it became more closely identified with my novel than with my former self, where it had seemed to be so safe from the intrusion of the artist. .......The man in me revolt against the fictionist, and here is my desperate attempt to save what is left of poor Mademoiselle." (one of his, for want of a better word, Nanny.)


It seems he simply was compelled to write if for no other reason than to diminish hurtful memories. That's not quite right, but its the path.

"Look at the Harlequins!" seems to be the most inverse of 'autobiographies', when it came out, some critics said it was horribly egotistical, but it wasn't. Whichever critic said that did not understand the wonderful sense of humor VN possessed.


Dottie, you have it exactly right! Renaissance Man covers it beautifully. And Russ, I think a backwards/forwards/inside-out discussion of any Nabokov fits the bill to a "T". :)


Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (10 of 29), Read 58 times

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From: Ann Davey xyzdavey@tconl.com

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 06:30 PM


I read the book too long ago to really participate in this discussion, but I think it was the most beautiful autobiography I have ever read. As I remember, the parts about his brother were particularly touching. Russ or Katherine, could you refresh my memory on the brother? As I recall, Vladimir was obviously the gifted darling in the family and the brother died during the war. Vladimir felt guilty about his brother.


Ann


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (11 of 29), Read 53 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 08:28 PM


Ann

I think VN in a way suffered from "survivor's guilt". When the papers and opportunity for he and Vera and Dimitri to leave Europe gelled, there was no chance to get in touch with Sergey as S was out of town at his friend's Villa. It was either leave without saying good-bye or miss what was the last chance to get his family to safety. Remember Vera was at least part Jewish, so both she and the child were in terrible danger. Also Sergey was a homosexual, and Vladimir was never quite comfortable with his brothers proclivities. V did say though that the time he spent with Sergey those few years were the closest they had been in their lives.

Here is a quote from "Speak, Memory":


"For various reasons I find it inordinately hard to speak about my other brother. That twisted quest for Sebastian Knight (1940), with its gloriettes and self-mate combinations. is really nothing in comparison to the task I balked in the first version of this memoir and am faced with now. Except for the two or three poor little adventures I have sketched in earlier chapters, his boyhood and mine seldom mingled. He is a mere shadow in the background of my richest and most detailed recollections. I was the coddled one; he, the witness of coddling."

And later..

"About that time, a page from his diary that I found on his desk and read, and in stupid wonder showed to my tutor, who promptly showed it to my father, abruptly provided a retroactive clarification of certain oddities of behavior on his part."


Vladimir knew little of Sergey's life during the war, but called him a "frank and fearless man" for critizing the regime.

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (12 of 29), Read 53 times

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From: Ann Davey xyzdavey@tconl.com

Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2006 10:14 PM


Thanks, Katherine. "I was the coddled one; he, the witness of coddling." It must have been difficult for his brother. Do you know how he died?


Ann


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (13 of 29), Read 50 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 01:11 AM


Ann,

I'll quote what VN wrote, no one could say it with the dry passion that he did...


"At one time he was employed as a translator at an office in Berlin. A frank and fearless man, he criticized the regime in front of colleagues, who denounced him. He was arrested, accused of being a "British Spy" and sent to a Hamburg concentration camp where he died of inanition, on January 10, 1945. It is one of those lives that hopelessly claim a belated something--compassion, understanding, no matter what--which the mere recognition of such a want can neither replace nor redeem."


So close to the end of the war too. An outrage.

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (14 of 29), Read 50 times

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From: Ann Davey xyzdavey@tconl.com

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 08:54 AM


Very sad.


Ann


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (15 of 29), Read 52 times

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From: Sherry Keller shkell@earthlink.net

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 09:58 AM


I just finished the part of the book (I'm very much behind) where the 11-year-old VN falls in love with Collette at the beach resort his family goes to each year. Knowing how obsessive he becomes about things he loves helps us to understand how he can remember in detail so much about the early part of his life. His descriptions of Collette are breathtaking. She must be the origin of his Lolita, who herself, if I remember correctly, was a re-creation of an earlier love of Humbert Humbert's. So here is another example of Nabokov using his fiction as a mirror of his memory. He creates fictional characters (selves?) to expand his memory, re-interpret it, and bring it around full circle. I wonder how he kept the two parts of his life, the real and the fictional, straight. Obviously, his fictionalizing parts of his life did have an effect on his memory of it, as noted in the quotation above.


Sherry


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (16 of 29), Read 55 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 11:33 AM


Sherry,

I just loved the bit about Colette! The way he described the girl (Zina) from the previous summer, but then when he saw Colette,

"I knew at once that this was the real thing."

And notice above the description of the "narrow long-toed foot"--Lolita's foot.


Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (17 of 29), Read 45 times

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From: D Randall randall_d@ix.netcom.com

Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 01:16 PM


I am returning to the bedtime routine which I compared earlier either here or elsewhere to the bedtime kiss scene in Proust's work.


I marked the page for the quote which I posted here in one of earlier notes, but just before this is a passage which struck me very strongly as well. I had a couple of responses to it and would be interested to hear others ideas as well.


....As a small child, however, I was assigned a more modest arrangement, rather casually situated in a narrow recess between a wicker hamper and the door leading to the nursery bathroom. This door I liked to keep ajar; through it I drowsily looked at the shimmer of steam above the mahogany bath, at the fantastic flotilla of swans and skiffs, at myself with a harp in one of the boats, at a furry moth pinging against the reflector of the kerosene lamp, at the stained-glass window beyond, at its two halberdiers consisting of colored rectangles. Bending from my warm seat, I liked to press the middle of my brow, its ophryon to be precise, against the smooth comfortable edge of the door and then roll my head a little, so that the door would move to and fro while its edge remained all the time in soothing contact with my forehead. A dreamy rhythm would permeate my being. The recent "Step, step, step," would be taken up by a dripping faucet. And fruitfully combining rhythmic pattern with rhythmic sound, I would unravel the labyrinthian frets on the linoleum, and find faces where a crack or a shadow afforded a point de repere for the eye. I appeal to parents: never, never say, "Hurry up," to a child.


Forgive the lack of marks for the French there.


First, the tucking of the child into the space -- this is perhaps unheard of for some levels but it rang so true for me whose first remembered sleeping space was an odd room between my parents bedroom and the other two bedrooms of the house and the only bathroom. I can also recall being tucked into bed in some pretty odd little niches over time especially when visiting with relatives. Nowadays we must have an entire room etc,etc, etc. to the point of insanity if one were to buy into all the experts. I realize this is a measure of economic ability but even so I think people aim for it all too often.


Then, the rhythmic leaning upon the door and simply "contemplating" the surroundings, entering his own imagination -- creating faces or whatever. That final plea to parents hit home. I lost that battle at times but I know I did far less of it than many of my group when raising my own children. But largely it reminded me of the less hurried childhood I had experienced and the time that I spent in just such occupations -- simply staring at objects, floors, ceilings, upholstery -- or absorbed in books to the point of being out of this world completely. Freedom to simply exist, breathe, THINK -- childish thoughts of course as I was a child -- but none-the-less -- just time undisturbed. This resonated very deeply for me. Anyone else?


That is the positive aspect of this -- but isn't there some form of this rocking of the head against a door or a surface which has been linked to behavioral disorders of some type? I have a vague recollection of this but no specific disorder came to mind. Or am I completely confused on this?


The passage also led me to wonder as to the outcome of such unhurried time as a child producing creative and independent intelligent beings. Any thoughts on that theory?


Dottie -- checking off the first 'dog-ear' page and I may/may not be back once I've read the next one


Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? from Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Branches, Mary Oliver


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (18 of 29), Read 42 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 03:05 PM


Dottie,

I simply thought of the rocking motion of his forehead against the door as a throw back to the cradle, or a rocker that he'd perhaps been used to as a baby. It was soothing as a baby, and continued to be so.

Don't we all enjoy the mindless movement of a swing or rocker even as adults?


LOL I must have been one of those spoiled kids, I had my own room as an only child, so cannot relate to the "tucked into a corner" bit, but certainly see nothing wrong with it. I would think in a large household it would be reassuring to be so.


Fortunately, I don't remember ever being rushed as a child, unless it was to get up for school (which I hated), but that was it. It was just my mother and myself and we're both readers.....many the time I remember the pair of us reading in the den and finishing and switching books, and when finished getting in the car and going down to the Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets at 2 a.m. Those were the days when they had curb service. La la... :)

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (19 of 29), Read 47 times

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From: Russ Peterson

Date: Thursday, July 13, 2006 03:48 PM


Dottie, It doesn't sound so unusual to me. Depression baby that I was, I was probably the unusual one in having my own bedroom from Day 1 (or 4 or 5). But many are the stories I have heard of infants being put to bed in dresser drawers. And when our third came along, he had to make do with a crib out in the entryway to our apartment just inside the front door. So I would describe Nabokov's arrangements as just lovingly snug. :) And I definitely agree with you about all the extra doo-dad's that many seem to think necessary these days. And the laws that make some of them mandatory. Oy! Never in my day!

Russ


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (20 of 29), Read 36 times

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From: D Randall randall_d@ix.netcom.com

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 11:38 AM


In scanning this thread I realize that in reference to the bedtime routine I posted a quote on it not here but in the Proust thread -- ah well -- the thought holds just the same.


I finally took an evening of my reading time to revisit the dog-ears I'd made while reading Speak, Memory in TX and have pulled together a few more thoughts.


There was one section in which Nabokov was walking about their home and his description of the winter afternoon atmosphere of the rooms struck me. he told of standing at the oriel window in his mother's bedroom with his mouth pressed to the gauze covering and tasting the cold of the glass. In the next breath/sentence he is at that same window years later as the Revolution opens and very matter of factly tells of seeing his first dead man from there. What a shift from the "sepia gloom of an arctic afternoon" to a dead man "carried away on a stretcher," and the further visual detail of the comrade struggling alongside to take the dead man's boots to replace his own worn-out pair.


Again, later he is describing a room and the gathering of the people/family within it and tells of his drawing with the colored pencils. In the next line he is distancing himself from the memory and confessing that the pencils having been placed in his books at varying moments, in varying scenes are no longer "his" but that he's kept the dog called Box I and so that dog is still his -- a memory.


The scene where he lights the carbide lamp on his bicycle to go out at night took me back to my childhood fascination with the carbide lamp atop my father's mine hat. Nabokov's description of the white flame is accurate -- the flame was in fact so white that one couldn't actually look at the light when it was burning but it certainly illuminated the surroundings.


What I find remaining with me from this book is the ebb and flow of the memory he feels he's kept and the memory he feels has been given away in his writings. The back and forth of memory which is all he has left of a great portion of his life as being enough and being nothing -- the longing associated with the inability to return and see coupled with the regret of having done so -- for example the bad encounter with a former teacher when he revisited Cambridge.


The other thing which stays is the artistic tone -- the color, the "dance" of the composition, the spiraling of events and life and memory. I think this may be the book which finally has hooked me into Nabokov -- and I'm likely in for a binge at some point in the future.


Also -- someone mentioned the early obsessiveness -- I'm wondering then if the noticing of details over and above those noticed and retained by one's peers is an indicator of diagnosed obsessive behavior. Easy enough to check out certainly -- anyone here know?


Dottie


...in Proust so little happens that one forgets so much! from The Oak in the Acorn, Howard Nemerov


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (21 of 29), Read 37 times

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From: D Randall randall_d@ix.netcom.com

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 12:04 PM


And there were other sections which seemed to me to tie into the Proust which is being read and addressed elsewhere here at the moment -- still, I'll share them here.


First, there's the sleep relationship which I noted in the bedtime routine earlier here and quoted in the Proust thread. And the insomnia is an overlap as well. Nabokov made the point this way: "All my life I have been a poor go-to-sleeper." which I found delightfully ungrammatically awkward but absolutely correct. He went on to elaborate of course -- and much of it is echoed in the known sleep problems which Proust suffered -- from the bedtime separation from the mother to the delays and insomnia.


Another point which I loved -- "I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip." This reminded me of the comment in the Proust thread that it was as if he dumped his memories out and sorted them into related bits and then shifted them about to make a mosaic -- "superimpose one part of the pattern upon another" = mosaic? Certainly Proust also had a disregard for chronology and used overlapping of the patterns of his life and memories to tell his story -- his attitude toward "tripping the visitors" was much like Naokov's I surmise. Both authors use of these methods pulls in the reader and wraps them in that magic carpet/magic lantern pattern over pattern life-scape of memory to great effect.


Nabokov spoke of the spiral as a spiritualized circle -- a circle which "has uncoiled, unwound, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free." And later offers this: "A colored spiral in a small ball of glass, that is how I see my own life." The circle which memory and present life could be considered change when one allows or is forced to see memories as a spiral? Or when one has lived with memories and woven them back into one's life in a different form they are seen as set free or perhaps he is set free from them by having done this? By writing his memories into his books. An interesting exercise to think through.


And lastly -- he poke of seeing his love for a person as having radii which stretch from his heart to the most remote points of the universe. in other words from the personal to the utmost universal. He says that he ends by measuring his lobe against incalculable things such as the behavior of nebulae. It seemed he was saying he was helpless against making such comparison though it also seemed to make his feelings small or insignificant. This seemed to me to fit the deep melancholy, nostalgia which permeated Speak, Memory.


Dottie


...in Proust so little happens that one forgets so much! from The Oak in the Acorn, Howard Nemerov


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (22 of 29), Read 36 times

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From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 01:36 PM


Dottie,

You know I do remember reading, where I cannot quite recall, that Proust was an author that Nabokov deeply admired, so certain similarities certainly are liable to be in their works. I do see them, but to me Nabokov's use of the language is more interesting. Twistier perhaps. :)


Regarding his last encounter with his old professor at Cambridge, I didn't find it to be unfortunate. I actually got the impression of dry humor from VN's description of his repeat performance of crunching the tea things.

"Oh, yes, of course," he said, "I know who you are." P.273

I found myself laughing out loud.


As regarding obsessive behavior.....I don't find that he went over the edge so to speak, in fact I was under the impression that he had somewhat of a photographic memory, and simply was unable to forget most details. Even down to the name of Colette's dog. I found the manner he told that story hilarious. What a wonderful tale!



And yes! The folding magic carpet analogy was so apt! But don't we all look at past occurences, our history through the lens of events that transpired in between? It is impossible not to.


I loved the stories he told of Vera and Dimitri before their departure for America, and the wonderfully loving way he spoke of his family. I particularly appreciated the approach of calling Vera "You" throughout the story, much the same as in "Look at the Harlequins!". All part of not sharing his relationship with Vera with the world. This was the private domain that he would not allow intruders to enter.

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (23 of 29), Read 35 times

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From: Pres Lancaster preslan369@yahoo.com

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 02:08 PM


KATHERINE: Great post. I particularly liked:


" . . but to me Nabokov's use of the language is more interesting. Twistier perhaps. :)"


Twistier indeed, I think he takes it as far as it should go.


pres


Being dead is no excuse. Let there be happy chaos.


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (24 of 29), Read 32 times

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From: D Randall randall_d@ix.netcom.com

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 03:06 PM


Moi: Also -- someone mentioned the early obsessiveness -- I'm wondering then if the noticing of details over and above those noticed and retained by one's peers is an indicator of diagnosed obsessive behavior. Easy enough to check out certainly -- anyone here know?


K.P.: As regarding obsessive behavior.....I don't find that he went over the edge so to speak, in fact I was under the impression that he had somewhat of a photographic memory, and simply was unable to forget most details.


Moi: What I was wondering was whether or not that trait of holding the multitude of details which others generally do not do was an indicator in the diagnosis of obsessive behavior in general. That was not intended to suggest that Nabokov went "over the edge" into clinically defined obsessiveness. In fact I rather agree with your idea that it is somewhat similar to the concept of a photographic memory.


It may also be relative to the artistic temperament -- those who being observers of detail in their lives -- either in regard to people or in VN's case -- think of the detail in the study he did on the butterflies and moths -- a scientific eye for detail then translated into a detail for the detail of the visual -- as in those visuals he presented relative to the colored pencils.


K.P.: And yes! The folding magic carpet analogy was so apt! But don't we all look at past occurrences, our history through the lens of events that transpired in between? It is impossible not to.


Moi: Regarding the emphasized lines -- EXACTLY! But I would go so far as to say that we each see not only our own lives but all lives and history through our own filters/layers -- and I would include your same statement -- it is impossible not to! That combined input/memory/present resulting from them is what makes an individual being -- and there is no escaping ourself. Heh.


K.P.: I loved the stories he told of Vera and Dimitri before their departure for America, and the wonderfully loving way he spoke of his family. I particularly appreciated the approach of calling Vera "You" throughout the story, much the same as in "Look at the Harlequins!". All part of not sharing his relationship with Vera with the world. This was the private domain that he would not allow intruders to enter.


I liked that aspect as well, Katherine. I thought this might be in part a way for him to hold to a reality which if it was known would somehow be lost to him in the way that his childhood and so on were lost to him and as those things which he used in his books were felt to no longer be truly his own. Again -- I see an underlying melancholia/nostalgia at the root of the privacy.


I thought VN voiced regret at having made the return visit though certainly i agree with you as to the humor in his telling of it --especially down to the recognition moment when he stepped into the tea tray.


As for the contest for twistier use of the language -- perhaps there was an edge given VN's lifelong exposure to multi-linguilisn -- but I would hold both are masters and that Proust hold up even in translations if the translators are expert in their own tongue and work to exactness of thought and flow. The only way to truly compare is to read Proust in the French and even then it would depend upon the reader's level of language savvy for a good comparison to be made.


Dottie


...in Proust so little happens that one forgets so much! from The Oak in the Acorn, Howard Nemerov


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (25 of 29), Read 33 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2006 03:52 PM


Dottie,

I must agree with the connection of remembrance of detail to artistic personality, sometimes I believe that most people see life/the world with tunnel vision and miss more than half of what is going on around them.

As to the "contest" between Nabokov and Proust as to which is twistier (so to speak) language wise, I have not read enough of Proust to be a true judge of his prose (as beautiful as it is), however, as far as I know Proust did not go through the personal loss and turmoil that Nabokov did in his life, thereby not having to develop a sense of humor in self-defense so to speak. Plus look at the chess problems that Nabokov created.....Created! What an amazing and diverse mind the man had. And yes, of course the lepidoptery. That stands alone in talent and persistence.


Also regarding Nabokov's reticence to discuss Vera, "Look at the Harlequins!" is an excellent view on that. Vadim discusses in rather graphic detail sometimes his relationships with lovers and wives, but when it comes to "You"....nada. Zip. Same difference.


And Pres, yes, Nabokov takes it to the very edge. Perfectly. :)

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (26 of 29), Read 37 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Sherry Keller shkell@earthlink.net

Date: Saturday, July 22, 2006 10:08 AM


I finished Speak, Memory yesterday, and what a lyrical last chapter. The way he writes about being a new father is delicious. I think his ability to sense so many details at once and translate that into writing is one of the things that make him a genius. His brain must be different from most brains. No detail is too minute for him to discard, and these everyday details is what gives his writing so much life and immediacy. I'm sorry some of you got bogged down in the genealogy at the beginning and called it quits. That section wasn't very scintillating, but you should go back and read the section on what it was like to write his first poem. Fantastic.


Sherry


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (27 of 29), Read 28 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Russ Peterson

Date: Sunday, July 23, 2006 12:29 PM


Brian Boyd has called Speak, Memory an artistic masterpiece. In fact, Nabokov's artistry often goes on effortlessly for pages on end, before one is let loose and can finally take a breath to reflect on what one has just read.


It is difficult to find a confined enough segment for detailed comment in a short post, but just such an artistic segment does occur at the very end of Chapter 3, where VN is thinking of his Uncle Ruka.


I see again my schoolroom in Vyra, the blue roses of the wall paper, the open window. Its reflection fills the oval mirror above the leathern couch, where my uncle sits, gloating over a tattered book. A sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth pervades my memory. That robust reality makes a ghost of the present. The mirror brims with brightness; a bumblebee has entered the room and bumps against the ceiling. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.


In a handful of short sentences, and with a vocabulary of plain words, Nabokov creates a vivid three-dimensional scene before our very eyes. We see the ceiling and a wall bounding a spatial volume -- two walls, in fact, if the mirror is going to reflect the window -- so we have three surfaces defining the corner of his schoolroom.

There is color, in the blue roses, and bright outdoor light illuminating the scene through the window. Perhaps a breeze enters through the open window. A bumble bee just did, and it provides sound for our scene, at the same time that it fills out the volume with its flight back and forth and around in three dimensions. And not just a dull drone, but a sound that probably changes in pitch and quality as the bumblebee changes direction, combined with the randomly added thump-thumps of its bounces off the ceiling. The enclosed room is opened out to views in three directions, and the walls have evaporated, first out through the window toward one scene, and then through the mirror into a reflected 'adjoining' second room and then, again, out through the reflected window there, but into a different scene in a different direction. Finally there is the lazy warmth of a summer afternoon with Uncle Ruka contentedly reflecting on his own childhood memories through the pages of a book, seeing through a window into continuity with the past.


Light, color, sound, air, space, warmth, motion, contentment, present, past. All in a memory whose very reality "makes a ghost" of the present.


And then finally, there is the yearning that it reflects back into one of our own deepest emotions.


Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change, nobody will ever die.


Russ


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (28 of 29), Read 28 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Katherine Pontalba

Date: Sunday, July 23, 2006 01:06 PM


How beautiful Russ!

That section reminds me of the first few lines of Chap 15.


"They are passing, posthaste, posthaste, the gliding years--to use a soul-rending Horatian inflection. The years are passing, my dear, and presently nobody will know what you and I know."


As long as we remember....the past lives in us.

Katherine


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Topic: Speak, Memory (The Discussion) (29 of 29), Read 25 times

Conf: Classics Corner

From: Pres Lancaster preslan369@yahoo.com

Date: Thursday, July 27, 2006 08:19 PM


"Mr. Sokolenko organized the show to advance his hypothesis: than Nabokov's meticulous, masterly prose style grew out of his love of science."


From a NYT article on 07 26 06 by Alexander Osipovich about a exhibition in the Vladimir Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg.


pres


Being dead is no excuse. Let there be happy chaos.


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