by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University

In 1993 Vladimir Nabokov, the synesthesia-afflicted author, professor, chessman and soccer player, made his way through the headlines and byparagraphs of newspapapers and magazines from America to England, Russia, Eastern Europe and India. He was quoted in many articles questioning the orthodoxy of Freud ('Why should I tolerate a perfect stranger at the bedside of my mind?') and held as a standard for countless new writers whose books or talents were usually pronounced "worthy of Nabokov." He was sometimes "arrogant" or "indifferent to old friends" but most often respected for his genius and the enduring quality of his works. Lolita, while not necessarily more famous than her author does lead a life of her own. A famous stripper revealed that she operated under the name 'Dolores Haze,' and any article about child pornography was obliged to contain some mention, either denouncing or supporting the book and its often misunderstood aesthetic.

Throughout the year I plan to track Nabokov as he travels through newspapers and popular magazines, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in his various disguises and in my very best journalese, reporting the points of alightment to Nabokovians on this list. This is not meant as a scholarly activity. The volume of material is huge and a comprehensive bibliography is a not an unworthy project but beyond the scope of the present endeavor. It is really just for fun; a view of the evolving figure of Nabokov- -a measure of his genius, a progression of his fame. Below are collected some of the choicer quotes from 1993:

In an article about soccer from the London Times, September 20, 1993 Nabokov appeared as "one of history's great goalies" and is quoted:

"I was less the keeper of a goal than the keeper of a secret."

The November 7, Washington Post tribute to Fellini and River Phoenix begins:

"Death is a question of style Vladimir Nabokov once wrote. The simultaneous deaths of Fellini and Phoenix were nothing if not stylish..."

Robert Day, the author of a September 5 Washington Post Magazine article advising college students "on how to get a generous education" (K is for Know Yourself, L is for Lessing, Lee, Lamb, Lear, and Lucretius) lands at N on Nabokov and goes on to quote this well known story and add his own commentary:

"Nabokov. Vladimir. American novelist and literature professor who once had something like the following conversation with a student at Cornell University:

'Mr. Nabokov, I want to be a writer.' Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window.

'What kind of tree is that?' he asks the student.


'What is the name of that tree?' asks Nabokov. 'The one outside my window.'

'I don't know,'says the student.

'You'll never be a writer.' says Nabokov.

I like this story first because I think it is probably apocryphal (they are the best kind), and second because Nabokov-- who I happen to think is a very great writer and must have been a very great teacher-- is as wrong as he is right in his assertion.

What you have to do is leave the professor's office and find out the name of the tree. If you don't do that, you'll not be a writer. Or a botanist. Some combination of the passion of the scientist and the precision of the artist is needed to be a good student. Look up the words in this magazine that you don't know. Be able to name all the shrubs and trees in your college quadrangle. Learning is among other things, the accumulation of detail. Have you put down this article to find out the name of that body of water between Greece and Italy?"

The rest of this article is clever and somewhere credits Nabokov for having led its author to Martin Eden (I assume he is talking about the Jack London story).

"Pop poetry in motion" is how Daniel Nussbaum, the author of several books which exclusively employ the registered vanity plates of Californians as vocabulary for his short stories and novels describes "Platespeak," a lexicon expanding daily as Californians register 500 new vanity plates a day. From four separate plates the author has contrived "LOLITA: I08JLBT. SOAMI AA PERV?" Hamlet's soliloquy goes like this : "2BORWAT?" and Lady Godiva muses, "IH8CLOZ."

On August 8, in the Boston Globe travel section a journalist visiting Nabokov's family home in St. Petersburg discovered:

"The building recently was bought by a Russian millionaire, the young founder of the "Neva Times" newspaper. Today a sign outside describing the offices might have been composed by Nabokov in a mischievous mood: "Committee on the Press and Means of Mass Media Information."
Salman Rushdie, speaking at a National Press Club Press Conference reflected:
"It's improbable, in my mind, that those who attacked Nabokov for being a child molester had much knowledge of the content of Lolita...So at least I'm in good company. It seems that it is necessary not to read a book in order to be able to burn it and seek the death of its author..."
And the zealous Nabokov fan, Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld, in the American Spectator, December issues, was asked for a recommendation of books to give for Christmas which he apparently begins with Borges and ends with Nabokov. ( I did not see the original article but was referred to it through a Washington Post story commenting on the usually bad taste of politicians--Weld was the exception.) Weld is quoted:
"If God truly resides in the well-chosen word, 'Pale Fire' is a work of divine inspiration."
Just a small sampling of the many things written about Nabokov in 1994. As D. Barton Johnson stated in an earlier post to the NABOKV-L list, Nabokov may not be an Elvis, but as they say about Elvis, it is clear that Nabokov also lives.
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