22 08 2008

Monsieur Dimitri Vladimirovich Nabokov has decided to publish a manuscript his father wrote and begged to have buried with him. Should we be enthusiastic?

1. Vladimir Nabokov, one of the great writers of the twentieth century, surely produced something here, as he did typically, that readers will find of interest–lay readers, who take pleasure in text, and professional readers, who gain the pleasure of income when they write about what other writers write about. This manuscript, in short, is certainly worth putting into print, just because Vladimir Nabokov wrote it, and before looking at it one can already say this.

2. But it has been consigned by its author to oblivion. Should the author’s wishes not be respected? In this age where people adore and idolatrize “authentic” original directors’ versions of films, because the wish of the artist should be paramount, must we not listen to this artist’s wish? Should we band together and avoid buying this tantalizing book?

3. Could a published copy of the book be placed in Nabokov’s casket? Was it that he wished this text to be near him, and could we satisfy this wish posthumously in this way?

4. Is the son a disrespectful oaf, and should he be reprimanded? Or is he, perhaps, loath to part with a cherished manuscript by his father’s hand, and should he be lauded?

5. Is it possible that in a time of intensified commercial enterprise, when time is money and everything is worth some fraction of a buck, nobody cares what anybody says as long as they can profit by it? Should the publisher who takes on this project be shunned for exploiting the dead?

6. And, if Nabokov was so firm about not wanting this book to be widely read, why did he not destroy it himself?

7. Nabokov was not only a great writer. He was one of the great teachers of his age. (Christopher Plummer played him this way in Nabokov on Kafka [1989], but from all I know, it was a performance not only respectful but also accurate: my friend Anita Herzog Weiner studied with Nabokov and was adulatory about his lectures.) Was he, in throwing his son this riddle, teaching something about mortality, about time, about the holiness of the word?




One response

22 08 2008

it is impossible, indeed foolish, for any of us to try to moralize about the propriety of the son’s choice or the authenticity of the “author’s wishes.” those are questions only they could ever know or answer, and a riddle you have framed beautifully. as literary rather than familial heirs, our responsibility is solely to Nabokov’s written words, to his texts. i’m grateful to max brod for publishing rather than destroying kafka’s manuscripts in spite of the latter’s wishes. i suspect we’ll be grateful to dimitri vladimirovich too…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: