A Tribute to Dmitri Nabokov

Lila Azam Zanganeh, author of The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness, remembers Dmitri Nabokov, the only child of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov. Dmitri was a womanizer, whose life resembled a James Bond film. But he was also his father’s best translator. It’s a beautiful tribute:

Dmitri was also a womanizer, once known in the Italian press as “Lolito,” seducer extraordinaire. His life — mountaineering in Wyoming and British Columbia, singing in Medellín and Milan, racing cars and boats along the Mediterranean, carousing with handsome girls — was something out of a James Bond film. When I asked him why he had never married, he told me life had slipped away too quickly. Sensing he was being disingenuous, I later ventured to ask again. This time, quietly, almost in a whisper, he said his parents had been “twin souls,” and he knew it would “always remain impossible to match what they had had.”

What became apparent in Dmitri in later years was the remnant of that lost world. It came with a sense of compassion and dignity, of patience and nobility, despite his foibles, his occasional childlike demands, his folie des grandeurs. As he neared the age of his father’s death, it remained just as impossible for Dmitri to accept that “Father” was no more. Often, when he evoked his parents, Dmitri’s ice-blue eyes would begin to drift out of focus. I caught him at his desk one afternoon watching a YouTube montage called “Nabokov and the Moment of Truth,” which juxtaposes film clips and stills of his parents and himself. He was in his wheelchair, leaning deeply into the computer screen, silently crying.

Readings: USB Plug, Nabokov’s Lepidoptery, Art Forger

A few interesting readings from today:

1) “USB Plug Goes Both Ways” [Yanko Design Blog] – wonderful concept for a double sided USB plug. Would alleviate a ton of hassles of trying to correctly connect the USB thumb drives and other devices to our computers.

2) “Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution is Vindicated” [New York Times] – when he wasn’t writing novels, Nabokov had a deep passion, lepidoptery:

Nabokov inherited his passion for butterflies from his parents. When his father was imprisoned by the Russian authorities for his political activities, the 8-year-old Vladimir brought a butterfly to his cell as a gift. As a teenager, Nabokov went on butterfly-hunting expeditions and carefully described the specimens he caught, imitating the scientific journals he read in his spare time. Had it not been for the Russian Revolution, which forced his family into exile in 1919, Nabokov said that he might have become a full-time lepidopterist.

This piece explains how one of Nabokov’s most interesting (and controversial!) theories about a group of butterflies he studied (the Polyommatus blues) has been vindicated:

Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime. But in the years since his death in 1977, his scientific reputation has grown. And over the past 10 years, a team of scientists has been applying gene-sequencing technology to his hypothesis about how Polyommatus blues evolved. On Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, they reported that Nabokov was absolutely right.

I love the inclusion of Nabokov’s poem near the end:

I found it and I named it, being versed

in taxonomic Latin; thus became

godfather to an insect and its first

describer — and I want no other fame.

3) “The Forger’s Story” [Financial Times] – a fascinating piece about Mark Augustus Landis, who may be described as a reverse-forger. That is to say, he forged paintings not for the purpose of selling them, but to see if they would be accepted into museums:

For nearly three decades, Landis has visited ­museums across the US in various guises and tried to donate paintings he has forged. As well as Father Scott, he has posed as “Steven Gardiner” among other aliases. He never asks for money, although museums have often hosted meals for him and made small gifts. His only stipulation is that he is donating in his parents’ names – often his actual father, ­Lieutenant Commander Arthur Landis Jr, a former US Navy officer.

Landis has been prolific and consistent in his endeavor:

Matthew Leininger, chief registrar of the ­Cincinnati Museum of Art, has spent more than two years tracking Landis’s progress. He estimates that Landis has tried to fool at least 40 museums – and probably many more – in 19 states in cities from Boston and Chicago to Savannah and ­Oklahoma City. Some forgeries have been spotted, yet he has persuaded museums not only to add works to ­collections, but even to hang them in galleries.

What’s fascinating is that what Landis does isn’t against the law:

The difficulty is that, however annoying and disruptive Landis’s activities may be for museums, he does not seem to have broken the law. “The criminal statute [of fraud] says there must be a loss and that’s the problem. There hasn’t been a loss to any victim,” says Robert Wittman, an investigator who used to run the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

As always, I recommend reading the entire piece.

Vladimir Nabokov: Invitation to an Interview

Vladimir Nabokov is one of my favorite authors. His command of the English language is rivaled by few other authors.

I’ve read Nabokov’s Lolita, Pale Fire (recently profiled in my newly-created page of classics), The Luzhin Defense, Invitation to a Beheading (read my review), and portions of his autobiographical memoir Speak, Memory. I’ve learned a lot about Nabokov through those books…

But the point of this post is to highlight my incredulity of his personality after reading Nabokov’s interview with Paris Review (#40, Winter-Spring 1967). As I highlight below, Nabokov comes across as pedantic, cynical, snarky, and yes, even arrogant. I knew Nabokov held himself in high regard, but as you’ll see below (and if you read the entire interview), he may be on another level here. The most important bits (in my opinion), I bold.

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Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading: Book Review

Today, I finished reading Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Invitation to a Beheading. It’s a fairly short novel, at around 220 pages, and I finished reading it in a span of two days.

This is an interesting work, full of vivid imagery, surreal settings, and twisted, sometimes irrational, dialogue. The plot revolves around a young man named Cincinnatus C., who is condemned to death (by beheading) for committing a crime of “gnostical turpitude.” The crime itself is imaginary, so no definition is provided. The majority of the novel takes place inside a prison cell, where Cincinnatus is visited by jailers, an executioner who pretends to be a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws, who bring their furniture (not to mention household utensils and “sections of walls”) with them into Cincinnatus’s prison cell. The musings of Cincinnatus are bizarre: in one part of the novel, the protagonist imagines the characters as miniature people.

You’re unsure at first, but you discover maybe a quarter through the novel that Cincinnatus has grand visions (or illusions of grandeur). He has a notebook where he writes down his thoughts and what he encounters in his daily life (“to write letters to various objects and natural phenomena”) within the fortress in which he is confined. At times you think he is absolutely clueless about his situation, as the questions he asks may be mistaken for those coming from a child. Still, he tries to reconcile his (grim) situation…

You don’t really read this novel for its plot, absurd as it may be. You read it to digest the dialogue and Nabokov’s eloquent narration. At the end of the novel, Cincinnatus is taken to be hanged, and the way the ending unfolds is just sublime. I read it over multiple times just to make sure I followed (a foreshadowing three-fourths of the way into the novel: “Cincinnatus allowed them the right to exist, supported them, nourished them with himself”).

If you haven’t read any of Nabokov’s work, don’t make this your first. I would recommend reading Nabokov’s Magnum opus, Lolita, first. Then, I highly recommend reading Pale Fire (which I enjoyed much more than Invitation to a Beheading).

Nabokov himself said of this novel: “The worldling will deem it a trick. Old men will hurriedly turn from it to regional romances and the lives of public figures.” But prior to that sentence, the best line: “It [Invitation to a Beheading] is a violin in a void.” Take it for what it is.

The rest of this review is the presentation of certain quotes I found interesting, and where appropriate, my dissection of these quotes.

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