Last night I finished reading The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. As usual a masterpiece. Nabokov reminds me in one respect of George Eliot, for in these two writers I’m occasionally overwhelmed at the insight in a single sentence to the point where I wish I kept a commonplace book. But with Nabokov, and only with him, each time this happens the wonderful line is, in the very next sentence, undercut, transformed, blown open into a whole new meditation. Plus he’s funny.
Whenever I finish a book by Nabokov I start downloading secondary sources immediately. Often I find them as delightful as the novel. The best are those on the best book, Pale Fire. Naturally one reads these right away, since one is burning to know what really happened in this strange story. Many answers are forthcoming, and it doesn’t really bother me that there’s no consensus. Because while with, say, Shakespeare, you know that even if you believe author’s intention is undiscoverable there was an intention, with Nabokov the game was the intention and the intention was the game.
I’ve just now risen from the bath (the pleasures of leave!) where I read a 50 page article on RLSK. The fellow who’s put it on the web neglects to provide his name, though the url suggests it’s a variation of jdemoss. Clearly the article’s on the web because it’s unpublishable. jdemoss spends the first third laughing rudely at other scholars and then presents a totally kooky argument to the effect that the secret at the novel’s heart is the letter V. It’s obsessive and forced and smacks all over of escape from the crazy house. But here’s the thing. As far as I can tell, it’s also exactly right.
And somewhere in there I’m seeing an argument for tenure.