Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A gift

The Nabokov Online Journal has just launched, and by some kind of strange serendipitous coincidence it includes a few intriguing articles on The Gift, which I literally just started reading this morning. Re-reading, actually; I sat through it some years ago and never really got it. By consensus it's considered the best of the Grandmaster's Russian novels, and it's certainly the most lush and poetic, but I never thought it had a sufficient amount of story to it, and it never seemed to me as engaging as The Defense or Invitation to a Beheading. I'm trying to tackle it slowly.

Actually, the reason I'm reading it is entirely because of Nabokov's arch-nemesis Dostoevsky. I was reading Notes from Underground this week when I stumbled upon a rather odd connection to both Nabokov and his former student Thomas Pynchon. Dostoevsky's unnamed narrator is arguing against materialism, and the idea of better living through science and reason, and utopianism in general. He says that he has no belief in the "crystal palace" of Chernyshevsky -- which if I recall the endnotes correctly referred to a metaphor in Chernyshevsky's novel What Is To Be Done? where the crystal palace represents a perfect Communist state.

Chernyshevsky's novel plays quite a role in Nabokov's novel, mainly because it has this notoriously social realist perspective that is the opposite of his own approach to art. The crystal palace of Chernyshevsky was presumably based on one at the London Exposition in 1851, which Pynchon also alludes to on the first page of Gravity's Rainbow, set nearly a century later, when Londoners are scrambling to avoid an approaching bomb: "It will be the fall of a crystal palace." (Interestingly, Against the Day begins with an airborne ship approaching another exposition: the Chicago World's Fair of 1891.)

Anyway, reading D. put me in a mind to read N.

More on D. later. I took a pile of notes on Notes. Whether I'm disciplined enough to put them together in any shape is another question.

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