Thursday, January 17, 2008

To Destroy or Not to Destroy

Is there an English lit major who does not adore Nabokov? (I have yet to encounter one.) I haven't read Nabokov since my senior year of college, when I took a Nabokov class, which was great but, ultimately, draining; what really did it for me was having to look up seemingly every other word in Ada, or Ardor in the dictionary which was not only annoying (seriously interrupted the flow of the prose) but did no wonders for my self-esteem either. (For the record, I never did finish Ada. Some day. Maybe.) But I loved Lolita (read it 3x -- rare for me)! And Pale Fire! And The Gift!!!! Oh, The Gift...

Anyway, where was I... oh yes. Nabokov. I haven't read Nabokov since my English major days, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for him. So, when I read that Nabokov's son may or may not burn his father's final, unfinished manuscript, I freaked out a bit. Nabokov expressly gave orders to destroy the manuscript (known as The Original of Laura) upon his death. So the question: should his son, his last surviving heir, grant his father's dying wish or should he do the world a great service and make Laura available to the public?

I hope he picks the latter, because I really want to read it!!!


Alex said...

I've only read Lolita (albeit three of four times; that doesn't mean it's not literary laziness on my part). But it seemed to me -- maybe it was the way Rosenbaum wedged himself into the story -- that any reasoning behind wanting Dmitri to publish the manuscript is ultimately selfishness on the part of grabby, gushing readers. One can make the argument that releasing an author's work posthumously would probably have little effect on his or her reputation if already well-regarded, or it could catapult a little-known writer into the literary stratosphere.

But in this case, we're the only ones who benefit; we know that what we'd be getting is one very short, unfinished segment of a never-completed hypothetical whole. As much as we perhaps want it to be the key that unlocks whatever meaning scholars haven't yet wrung out of Nabakov's work, I feel like its impact would be finite and brief. Coming at this long-lost manuscript with the ravenous anticipation of collectors is bound to disappoint.

Burn it, I say. Don't we owe Nabakov, whose work we revere as linguistically brilliant, shockingly beautiful, and breathtaking in its complexity, the same power to choose when, how, and in what format his work would be read (if at all) that he had in life? Isn't that why we love him?

But hey, Dmitri will do what he wants. I guess I just hope that the rest of the world clamoring for Laura won't be the factor that tips the scales in favor of the rest of the world.

Raquel Laneri said...

You are absolutely right. My reasons for wanting to read it are entirely selfish. Plus, there's some sort of perverse forbidden quality that makes this text so alluring. The story behind it makes the text sound so enticing.

It's true that the short manuscript would probably do little to change our perceptions of Nabokov as a writer. (Though the son's been talking it up considerably.) But then won't that make its publishing harmless? But then again he expressly said he wanted the manuscript destroyed. Is his son's duty to fulfill that request? Is not granting a deceased love one a wish wrong?

I'm just glad I'm not in the son's position.

Alex said...

Who knows -- maybe after I've had my mind freaking blown by the rest of Nabokov's (durr spelling) oeuvre, I'll wish for the same thing. The article also implied that transcriptions of the notecards existed, so maybe there's a sorta kinda middle ground. Or maybe Dmitri will destroy the notecards, lock up the transcriptions, and leave a stipulation about it in his own will.

Then again, I'm in favor of publishing unedited versions of Raymond Carver stories, so whatever.

Raquel Laneri said...

Yay! Raymond Carver!

Well, I had to read MUCH of Nabokov's oeuvre for that class I took, and I will say that I was not blown away by all of his works. He is such a craftsman and wordsmith that sometimes his books felt too calculated or controlled or cold for my taste. Even his humor sometimes seemed disturbingly cold. But, yeah, his great books are really mind-blowing.