- Series: Harvest Book
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (December 16, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156027755
- ISBN-13: 978-0156027755
- Package Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #200,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lectures on Literature 1st Edition
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Not really essays, not genial and general E. M. Forster-ish talks either, nor stirring defenses nor rhetorical destructions, these lectures Nabokov prepared and gave at Cornell in the Fifties are just that: he talks and reads, we listen (the same general approach - heirophant picking out the mystery from the dross - that Nabokov used in his own fiction); and literature is taken apart like a boxful of toys: "impersonal imagination and artistic delight," "the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole." There are diagrams and drawings, quiddities made visual: a map of Sotherton Court in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; exactly what kind of beetle Gregor Samsa turned into in "The Metamorphosis" the facade of 7 Eccles St., Bloom's house in Ulysses; what Odette's orchid looked like in Swann's Way. The more specific and crammed the writer, the more specific and crammed Nabokov's lecture: Dickens, Flaubert, Joyce. He finds Bleak House's tricks delicious, the richness and the pity; in Ulysses he swats away the Freudian interpretations ("a thousand and one nights [made] into a convention of Shriners") in favor of the devilish intricacy of Joycean synchronicity: "the hopeless past, the ridiculous and tragic present, and the pathetic future." Where sheer lush orchestration is less the thing, Nabokov falls back on thematic layering and transformation; before Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" he is almost brief, enchantedly synopsizing although with microscopic attention still. In Nabokov a crankiness is always near the surface (here he rants against movies, even music); and he betrays a certain anxiety by detailing so much, as though a great work might try and fool him: there's something at the same time eccentric and regimental to his appreciation. But finally there is a personal, fussy, high rapture to these lessons and illustrations, not quite analytical (Nabokov was too defensive and contentious for analysis - maybe too brilliant, too) - more a delight in literature-as-camouflage. Distinctive and demanding. (Kirkus Reviews ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This expresses a thought I have had for decades, but lack Nabokov's brilliance eloquence.
The scattered gems that sparkle throughout this book are what kept me reading.
And now I know that the preceding is a hackneyed image, and why it is a ...
What might you be looking for that would bring you to this collection of lectures?
Like me, you want to view literature from inside the mind of a favorite writer.
You are a serious student of the written word and open to advice on how to read.
You have been assigned a paper on one or more of the following:
Jan Austin's Mansfield Park
Charles Dickens's Bleak House
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Marcel Proust's The Walk by Swan's Way
Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis
James Joyce's Ulysses
In other words this is not a book that will appeal to many readers. Speaking as a fan of Nabokov, this fan status may not be sufficient motive to finish the lectures.
Absent a plot summery, these are lectures given by VN as a professor of European Literature at Cornell University in 1948. The above selections represent not so much VN`s personal favorites, but examples he chose to facilitate lecture points. The lectures tend to contain highly detailed recountings of each book. Within each discussion is an emphasis on the details, the geography, specific events and images chosen by each writer. His thesis seems to be that writer's use these details to specify the created universe that is their particular universe.
Nabokov believes that the writer is a creator. Readers who insist that the writer is recounting experience and retelling reality are missing the point of the creative process. That is; within a story reality is no more or less than what the writer needs it to be. Therefore details matter. Further more a real reader has a duty to reread works of art or else risk missing these details. Not only read for detail, but "fondle" them.
Against this concept, at once romantic and mechanistic Nabokov adds in another eloquent observation. A real reader:
"In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine." (Thank you [web reference removed]
For also noting this quote)
It is the tingle between the shoulders that marks a good read, and a good reader.
For all of this I have to agree with many of the other reviewers here at Amazon. There is something overly sanitized and dispassionate about Nabokov's method of literary analysis. Great themes and cosmic struggles fall away while we create maps and clock synchronicities. VN may not care about `isms' and 'ists'; but are we better readers if we see the art as so many themes and specifics?
The almost Victorian squeamishness Nabokov demonstrates on matter of sex and body functions -he is hampered in his ability to fully discuss or appreciate Ulysses may be appreciated by those who automatically dismiss books with such references. Yet this same VN is the author of the famous novel, Lolita. This is a book about a pedophile. Granted, an oversimplification, but the irony exists.
I am glad I finished this book. I am not sure how long it will be before I attempt more literary analyses by Vladimir Nabokov.
In Nabokov's world, art fully defines a literary work. Here writer is an "enchanter" and a story teller, rather than historian, philosopher or instructor in any practical matter. His lectures are devoted to detecting the elements of style and structure in some of the most remarkable novels of European Literature.
One of these elements is symphony. Nabokov once confessed that he never found much pleasure in music. If we imagine for a second that he did, he probably would have preferred symphonies to chamber music and big band to jazz trio. He delighted in complex structures, where multiple parts fit neatly together: symphony of people in Flaubert's agriculture scene in "Madame Bovary", where "all the characters of ... book intermingled in action and in dialogue", symphony of simultaneous events in "Ulysses", symphony of senses in Proust's pairing of the visual and musical effects of moon light in "The Walk by Swann's Place", which he considered more complete and elegant than moon light's description in Gogol's "Dead Souls" where only visual perception is called to work.
Many other elements of personal style are noted: Dickensian imagery and word play, Proust's evolving sentences where A leads to B leads to C, the theme of layers in "Madame Bovary", variation of style in "Ulysses".
Nabokov's method of detecting these elements is to pay special attention to detail. The natural scientist in him believes that any general conclusion would develop naturally after the facts have been collected and taken in. Nabokov expected his students to draw street maps and family trees, visualize hairdos and notice the exact way one catches a coin tossed in the air.
Having answered the how of reading literature, Nabokov considers the why. The answer he offers is to acquire a taste for it. He believes that seeing the novel through its author's eyes, rising to the level of "the joys and difficulties of creation" is one of the most intense pleasures, and shares this pleasure with his students.