VN COLLATION #21
by Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
"The first time I read the book, I read it for all the wrong
Three major events dominated the "news" about Nabokov during the last six
months: the centennial of his birth, Adrian Lyne's film version of Lolita,
and Lolita's #4 ranking in the Modern Library Edition's list the
"Top 100 English-Language Novels of the 20th Century." Celebrations around
the world to commemorate Nabokov's 100th birthday began with the Cornell
Nabokov Centenary Festival held Sepember 9th-11th in Ithaca, New York. The
New York Times article describing this festival previously appeared
on NABOKV-L. For other accounts of the festival see the online Cornell
reasons." "I was looking for the sex. When I read it
again, I found the book to be horrifying, hilariously funny,
heartbreaking and ultimately, in a kind of screwed-up way, a love story."
and the Cornell student newspaper, which manages to misspell Nabokov's name two different ways in a single headline!
Reviews of Lyne's film in the many media outlets range from the recklessly
exuberant to the condescendingly dismissive. A brief synopsis by Peter Travers
in the September 3, Rolling Stone (p.108) presents a more "balanced"
point of view.
The #4 ranking speaks for itself.
This is not to say that Lolita is free of smarm. Lyne being Lyne, the
kinky purveyor of 9 1/2 Weeks and other indecent film proposals, he
can't resist cheap shots, such as Swain fellating a banana and Irons
playing fetishistic footsie, that owe less to Nabokov than to Zalman
King's Red Shoe Diaries. Still, the quality material forces Lyne to
rise to the occasion. For all its flaws (and the growing certainty that
Kubrick did Nabokov better), Lyne's Lolita deserves attention and raises
censorship issues that make it a film worth fighting for.
In an article entitled "An Embarrasment of Riches," Ruth Wallach, Acting
Head of the Doheny Reference Center at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, discusses the changing world of academic scholarship and Zembla,
Jeff Edmunds's award winning website devoted to all things Nabokovian.
"Another example of a very specialized scholarly project is a Nabokov
site called Zembla - The Nabokov Butterfly Net. It is a kind
of a bibliography or catalog of topics pertaining to Nabokov, which
includes original content. It is used by graduate students and faculty
as a springboard for further research, although potentially it contains
a finite amount of information. I would argue that unlike a print bibliography
which is not always available in one's library, this site is readily
available to anyone with access to the web. And it offers a different
kind of information to scholars than a traditional bibliography. Lastly,
it provides collaborative space. I wonder whether sites such as this
will shift the scholarly paradigms for humanities research from individual
to group endeavors."
Lolita attracts most of the attention but Pale Fire speaks
to a different audience with increasing authority. For those interested
in hypertext, Pale Fire ranks as one of the first. From the August
23, Chicago Tribune written by Jimmy Guterman,
HEADLINE: POWER SHARING; CYBERWRITERS ARE USING HYPERTEXT TO GIVE READERS
THEIR OWN CHANCE TO CREATE
A generation of cyberwriters--inspired by the theories of Vannevar
Bush, Ted Nelson and other pioneers in the field of computer science,
and as comfortable manipulating the 0s and 1s of computer programming
as they are manipulating nouns and verbs (if not more so)--are experimenting
with creating fiction and poetry intended for the computer screen rather
than the printed page.
The hypertext way of experiencing and describing events in art isn't
that new. Groundbreaking alinear fictions like Jorge Luis Borges' "The
Garden of Forking Paths" and Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire emphasize
that, even without computer screens, we live in a hypertext world where
random information dances across our consciousness and then disappears,
where digressions may never link back to the main subject.
An odd and improbable annotation for "Stella Blue," a Robert Hunter/Jerry
Garcia (Grateful Dead) composition can be found at:
a website devoted to annotations to Grateful Dead songs.
STELLA BLUE: However, there is a character in Vladimir Nabokov's novel
Pale Fire (1962) named Stella Blue. In the "Commentary" portion of the
novel, in the note to line 627, which discusses the "great Starover
Blue," and astronomer, Nabokov writes:
"The star over the blue eminently suits an astronomer though actually
neither his first nor second name bears any relation to the celestial
vault: the first was given him in memory of his grandfather, a Russian
starover ..., that is, Old Believer (member of a schismatic sect), named
Sinyavin, from siniy, Russ. "Blue." This Sinyavin migrated from Saratov
to Seattle and begot a son who eventually changed his name to Blue and
married Stella Lazurchik, an Americanized Kashube." (p. 236)
Cocktails are back in fashion but the martini is out of luck. In an
article published on August 19 in The New York Times "Oh, for
Just Plain Gin And Dry Vermouth," William Grimes describes some of the
new concoctions replacing the venerable cocktail king. (Note the Nabokovian
subtext even before arriving at Grange Hall.)
Art Spiegelman, known for the comic book masterwork, Maus: A Survivor's
Tale, founded a series called Neon Lit. The series takes postmodern
novels and translates or adapts them into the comic book format.
In Texas, the pilgrim traveling this via dolorosa will find the Martini
Ranch, a Dallas establishment, whose manager said: ''The sky's the limit.
If it's in a martini glass, it's a martini.'' He ain't a-kiddin, either.
One of the bar's standout cocktails is the Mars Bar martini, a syrupy
swirl of dark chocolate liqueur, white chocolate liqueur, amaretto and
Frangelico, served in a glass whose rim has been dusted in chocolate
flecks from frozen Hershey bars that have been run through a blender.
Mr. Donohoe and his allies have already lost the gin battle. Most
people drink vodka martinis. And even the most strict-constructionist
martini drinker has to concede that some of the rococo martinis are
rather clever, like the Pixie Stick martini, a combination of pineapple
vodka, sour cherry syrup, fresh lime and lemon juice. The drink, created
at Candy Bar in Chelsea, is not the kind of cocktail you find in a Raymond
Chandler novel, but it has a certain offbeat appeal. The Lolita, a new
addition to the menu at Grange Hall, calls for 12-year-old Scotch and
hazelnut-flavored sherry, a sly allusion to the real name of Nabokov's
heroine, Dolores Haze. The drink, topped with a mildly salacious garnish,
wins a point or two for inventiveness.
The first book in this series was Paul Auster's City of
Glass, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. Then we did
the Gifford. And now Spain. Rodriguez is putting the final touches on
his adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley. And
Mary Gaitskill has just completed a brilliant script for the next book,
Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark.
A well known Nabokov fan, Martin Amis comments on Nabokov's effect on
his writing in an interview excerpted from the Paris Review (number
Can you talk about the influence of other writers or poets? I know
one of them is Saul Bellow.
I would say they are more inspirers than influences. When I am stuck
with a sentence that isn't fully born, it isn't yet there, I sometimes
think: how would Dickens go at this sentence, how would Bellow or Nabokov
go at this sentence? What you hope to emerge with is how you would go
at that sentence, but you get a little shove in the back by thinking
about writers you admire.
I was once winding up a telephone conversation with Saul Bellow and
he said: 'Well you go back to work now,' and I said all right, and he
said: 'Give 'em hell.' And it's Dickens saying: 'Give 'em hell.' Give
the reader hell. Stretch the reader.
The Hindu Goddess LALITA has three aspects, as virgin (Bala), mother
(Tripurasundari) and crone (Tripura Bhairavi). She is the waxing Moon.
She represents love and sexuality. Lalita means "She who Plays."
One can only imagine how terribly Nabokov would have hated the opening
paragraph and the further implications of an article, written by Wendy
Moonan of The New York Times, on August 21, "Seeing Beauty In
the Bug On the Wall,"
Links and Bobolinks
Salvador Dali used to take live beetles to lunch with him at the St.
Regis. He kept them in a clear plastic box on the table and watched,
riveted, as they navigated mounds of sand. He found them more interesting
than his companions. Vladimir Nabokov loved butterflies and was expert
at catching them; he gave them names like Karner Blue and Satyr I and
II. He may have taken his cue from the Surrealist André Breton, who
mounted boxes of butterflies on the walls of his Paris apartment in
the 1920's. Victorians, like the British aristocrat in the film "Angels
and Insects," invited young men who had scoured the globe for natural
specimens to their homes.
Suddenly, bugs are fashionable. "There's this real fascination with
the natural sciences now," Mr. Taylor said. "They were always interesting
to collectors, but now it's the masses."
In the March 1997 Los Angeles Magazine, Lawrence Weschler makes
an interesting comparison between Gidget and Lolita in an article called
"From Hitler to Hollywood." The article traces the fortunes and fates
of German émigrés who landed in Hollywood after WWII.
Open The Door, Homer
A connection to "Open The Door, Richard!", a popular novelty song, recorded
by artists such as Jack McVea and his All Stars, 1947 (Jukebox Lil JB-607).
Yesterday evening I watched at [sic] a movie, titled "Lolita," directed
by Adrian Lyne, a great cinema-man, and played by Jeremy Irons, Melanie
Griffith, Dominique Swain. This is a new movie and as far as I know it
is not shown at the cinemas in the US yet. Irons, the stepfather of Lolita
(Dominique, at age of 14) fells [sic] in love with her, an ensest [sic] relationship,
well, I know this is not the right place to criticize the movie, what
I want to know is that, somewhere in the movie, Lolita plays a 78 rpm
record and song goes on as "open the door Richard... open the door Richard..."
Well, the story of the movie belongs the years of early 1940s. Any relation
with Dylan's "Open The Door Richard"? Ankara, Turkey
Letters to the Editor: For the Love of Power, Wall Street Journal;
New York, Sept. 17, 1998:
"Open the Door, Richard" was recorded in the 1940s by the great R&B
musician Louis Jordan, sometimes referred to as "the Grandfather of
Rock'n'Roll" due to his influence on Chuck Berry, often called "The
Father of Rock'n'Roll."
Jordan's song was so popular and so well known that in the 1950s it gave
rise to an "answer" song by the New Orleans guitarist Smiley Lewis (with
Huey "Piano" Smith on piano) called "I Hear You Knocking." This too was
a major R & B hit.
Richard Penniman, a.k.a. Little Richard, working the clubs in New
Orleans in the 1950s, got hit with so many requests for "Open the Door,
Richard" and "I Hear You Knocking"--for obvious reasons--that he
recorded a Rock'n'Roll "re-response" song called "Keep A Knockin' But
You Can't Come In." It also became a top-selling record.
Perhaps another apt comparison is between Bill Clinton and
the fictive Humbert Humbert, the nymph-seeking exploiter of Nabokov's
Lolita. Both are erudite men who love game-playing. Both undervalue
and exploit others for their own self-interest. Both are concerned with
the "show," the performance, not with ugly reality. Both are in thrall
to their passion. Both are trapped by their passion; they may know what
they are doing is wrong, but they cannot conquer their character flaws.
Life imitates art, after all.
The above puts a timely spin on the following tidbit I received from a NABOKV-L
subscriber (many thanks JA).
I noticed the following in my July 1998 catalog from Thompson Cigar
Co. I've enjoyed reading your Nabokov collations, and thought perhaps
you might find it useful:
The item is "vanilla and regular flavored Lolita cigars." The text
reads: "What Lolita wants is a person who a appreciates a truly good
smoke. Take your choice of savory vanilla-flavored or regular Lolitas."
They cost $17 for a box of 25.
Another tip from a NABOKV-L subscriber:
Thought you might like to know of an excellent article forthcoming in
the journal Criticism entitled "The Cinematic Art of Nypholpesy:
Movie Star Culture and Nabokov's Lolita." It will be out in the
Winter 1999 issue.
The author is Elizabeth Power.