Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lidija Hass / Nabokov in America



Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita by Robert Roper – review


A jaunty biography shows how the landscape, culture and energy of his adopted country inspired the Russian author’s greatest works




Lidija Haas
Wednesday 29 July 2015 06.29 BST

“I
t had taken me some 40 years to invent Russia and Western Europe,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his afterword to Lolita, “and now I was faced by the task of inventing America.” It’s a sign of the special reputation for arrogance Nabokov gleefully cultivated that this statement reads more as a brag than a standard metaphor for what all fictions have to do, for the need, even in a realist novel, to craft a world from scratch. Nabokov habitually presented himself as a magician and puppet master, constructing texts full of subtle pleasures for good, obedient readers and riddled with trapdoors for anyone who tried to make an unsanctioned interpretation, anyone who dared think themselves as clever as the author.

In his new book about Nabokov’s American years, roughly 1940 to 1960, the novelist and Whitman biographer Robert Roper expresses anxiety about the two pitfalls many a Nabokovian has fallen into: worshipful attention, in which the critic marshals all possible evidence to support Nabokov’s own self-conception; and, on the other hand, “the school of testy carping, of taking on the great man and knocking him down a peg or two”. Roper’s book is a jaunty effort to “borrow Nabokov back from the scholars”. Even as he acknowledges his debt to the Nabokovs’ major biographers, Brian Boyd and Stacy Schiff, he sets himself against “the basic account” of Nabokov’s career that they and others present, which “holds that America was but one phase of an ongoing pageant of greatness”: 20 years of brilliance in Berlin and France, writing in Russian, another 20 in America, during which he reinvented himself in English, and then almost the same again in Switzerland, writing Ada and other late masterpieces.
Roper wants to rescue America. The books written there, he says, aren’t just different because Nabokov was now writing in English, or because he was good at recording his surroundings, Isherwood-style. His engagement and affinity with American life and literature (notwithstanding his disdain for the “pale porpoise”Henry James) has been underestimated; his American novels are distinct from what he’d done before; more than that, Roper writes, they’re an apotheosis – “the claim to greatness rests most solidly on the American books”. Indeed, from the outset, Roper makes Nabokov himself into a peculiarly American figure, as much immigrant hustler as aristocratic European, someone who’d acted out scenarios from Mayne Reid’s Wild West books as a child, and who was scrappily resourceful in making his name, despite racking up some 60 rejections from US publishers before he even arrived.



Nabokov liked all sorts of things about his adopted country, its trashy cultural ephemera as well as its natural beauty, its openness but also its odd conservatism, in which he perhaps sensed a different kind of opportunity (“what charms me personally about American civilisation,” he wrote to his agent before the move, “is exactly that old-world touch, that old-fashioned something which clings to it despite the hard glitter, and hectic nightlife, and up-to-date bathrooms”). His delight in it is beguiling, as is the image Roper offers of him as a particular kind of immigrant. Not an émigré in the mould of Thomas Mann orBertolt Brecht, Nabokov immersed himself in the new place, not least via his work as an lepidopterist, through which he made all kinds of friends. Far from keeping to a rarefied enclave, Roper’s Nabokov is a figure more like Ayn Rand, who came as he did from St Petersburg – although she was, as Roper tactfully notes, “a writer of different attainments”, she also made a “wholesale embrace of what she took for Americanism” – or Billy Wilder, who’d made movies in German and French before his American classics.

Like Wilder, Nabokov did a good line in American comedy. “Reality was vital and vulgar here,” Roper suggests, providing “‘exhilarating’ opportunities for burlesque”. Part of the joke in Pnin is that the bumbling foreigner, with his futile eagerness to fit in, can be more American than the Americans by virtue of sheer desirous optimism. Think of Pnin’s set of false teeth grinning to itself in its container – “It was a revelation, it was a sunrise, it was a firm mouthful of efficient, alabastrine, humane America” – or of his passion for the washing machine: “Casting aside all decorum and caution, he would feed it anything that happened to be at hand, his handkerchief, kitchen towels … just for the joy of watching through that porthole what looked like an endless tumble of dolphins with the staggers.” Pnin is far cosier thanLolita, but they do share an expansiveness: one a social comedy swollen with feeling; the other perhaps the most boisterous, spirited parody-tragedy you could conceive.
Yet Nabokov’s America, however exhilarating, remains in many respects realistic. Roper notes at one point that “readers of Lolita, especially of the road-trip parts, might almost have used it as a Baedeker”, and he takes that part of his own argument too much to heart at times, excitedly detailing the motels the Nabokovs stayed in on their butterfly-hunting trips – Nabokov reported crossing “several states (all of them beauties)”. In the Corral Log motel in Afton, Wyoming, we learn, “the Nabokovs had their own unit with bath”, and “the cabins were built in Broadaxe Hewn Log style, with compound dovetail corners (each log end extending beyond the meeting of walls). The logs were debarked and varnished, the chinks filled with mortar and covered with battens.” This sort of detail is strange, given that Roper generally leaves out the everyday texture of their lives amply covered by Boyd and Schiff.

Nonetheless, his argument comes to life in the chapters on Lolita, where he points out that the novel fits into a very American tradition of captivity and abduction narratives (one Nabokov apparently first encountered viaPushkin). Whether or not you’re convinced by the connections Roper traces to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Melville’s Moby-Dick, it seems uncontroversial to say that had Nabokov succeeded in his attempts to move to England instead in the late 30s, there would have been no Lolita – and not just because of the open road or the gum-chewing teen: the whole shape of the narrative, the language and energy of it, is unimaginable without the American landscape and culture. We even have a European version to compare it to, The Enchanter, written in 1939, which has the paedophile fleeing with the child, but shares few of Lolita’s other qualities. “Like the author of a story about bulls and capes who changes the setting to Spain,” Roper writes, in bringing the theme to America, “Nabokov inherited a stage.” One problem for Roper is that Lolita offers such a good, intuitive example of his thesis that it paradoxically makes his book seem almost superfluous.

There is a risk of implying a facile American exceptionalism. Other books have taken some European figure or other and emphasised their hitherto underrated debt to the US – at least one, Arendt and America, is coming out this year. But Roper has a different aim: he has no wish to make a parochial claim on “the great python of art”, who had “made bulging repasts” of Russian, French and English literature. Nabokov himself argued, in his 1947 lectures at Wellesley and Cornell, that “‘national literature’ is a contradiction in terms … for me literature is not the echo of a nation but the echo of individual genius … The art of Pushkin or Gogol or Tolstoy is considerably closer to that of Flaubert or Dickens or Proust or Joyce than to anything an average Russian could think up.”

Reading that very personal brand of great man theory, you realise that Roper finds Nabokov more interesting and impressive than he found himself (no easy task). In place of the snobbery, the famous superiority complex, Roper finds someone who “immersed himself in the demos”, both in theory and in practice. And more important, Roper gently rejects Nabokov’s claim that “inventing America” meant simply collecting some local colour to “inject a modicum of average ‘reality’ … into the brew of individual fancy”. Instead of a hermetically sealed genius, roaming around but never changing, letting nothing in, Roper finds a writer who is open, flexible, susceptible to influence; who doesn’t know everything in advance, but rather makes discoveries and passes them on.

THE GUARDIAN
BIOGRAPHY OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Obituaries / Lemmy


Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister obituary

The Motörhead frontman’s reputation as one of rock’s most infamous hell-raisers belied his keen intelligence and interest in social and political issues

Joel McIver
Tuesday 29 December


Few musicians have walked the rebel’s walk with as much conviction as the Motörhead frontman Lemmy, who has died aged 70 after a short battle with cancer. Despite his high-profile image as a hell-raiser, Lemmy’s influence as a musician and songwriter should not be underestimated.
His bass guitar style was unique, combining a heavily distorted tone with chords for a sound that more resembled rhythm guitar. The amphetamine-fuelled tempo of Motörhead’s songs in the 1970s made the band – in any of its many lineups – stand out from the more leisurely heavy-metal sound of the day, inspiring younger admirers such as Metallica. Despite the rawness of his music, Lemmy’s melodies were indebted to classic 1950s rock’n’rollers such as Little Richard, giving Motörhead a recognisable and popular sound.

Lemmy / ‘Apparently I am still indestructible’

Lemmy


Lemmy: ‘Apparently I am still indestructible’


The Motörhead frontman has changed his lifestyle – he has switched from whiskey to vodka – in the battle for health. As the band release their 22nd studio album, Bad Magic, he explains how 50 years of hard rocking have taken their toll


Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead, dies at 70

Michael Hann
Thursday 13 August 2015 15.38 BST



Lemmy is as much a collection of myths and legends as a man. In the popular imagination, he’s made up of equal parts Jack Daniel’s, amphetamine sulphate, Nazi memorabilia and extreme-velocity noise. The myths and legends cloak him as surely as the black shirt, the black jeans, the custom-made boots, the cowboy hat with its “Death or Glory” insignia and the Iron Cross around his neck.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lemmy / 10 of the best

Lemmy: 10 of the best

In tribute to Motörhead’s leader, here is his musical life, told through 10 songs


Michael Hann
Wednesday 22 April 2015 10.27 BST

The Rockin’ Vickers – It’s Alright

First things first: no one is claiming this is one of the 10 best songs ever recorded by Lemmy. The only thing that’s certain about this pick is that each song could be replaced by a dozen others. So why’s It’s Alright here? Because Lemmy wasn’t just about Motörhead. Or even just Motörhead and Hawkwind. Lemmy was a product of the the 1950s and the 60s, of rock’n’roll and the British beat boom. Starting a top 10 with the release of the first Motörhead album just wouldn’t be truthful, because he’d been making music for 15 years or so before then. Lemmy’s first recordings were made with the Rockin’ Vickers (originally billed as Rev Black and the Rockin’ Vickers), who were Blackpool’s premier mid-60s exponents of playing R&B while dressed as vicars. (It was, admittedly, a small field.) No one would know who they were now if it not for the fact that Lemmy, then still called Ian Willis, was their lead guitarist, largely because their slim recorded legacy isn’t really up to that much. The standout is this version of a Pete Townshend song – which either prefigured or was adapted from the Who’s The Kids Are Alright – where we get the first glimpses of Lemmy’s unhinged approach to making his instrument a conduit of noise: the scrunches of guitar at the beginning are reminiscent of the Creation, while Lemmy’s solo sounds as if 999 monkeys had been handed guitars and locked in a room until one of them came up with something approaching free jazz.

Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead, dies at 70


Lemmy, lead singer of Motörhead, 

dies at 70
Band pays tribute to ‘noble friend’ Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, who died after learning of cancer diagnosis on Boxing Day


Adam Brereton
Tuesday 29 December

The band announced on their Facebook page that Lemmy learned of the disease on 26 December, and was at home when he died.
Lemmy, born Ian Fraser Kilmister, formed Motörhead in 1975 and was its only constant member, as singer and bassist. The band released 23 studio albums and are best known for their 1980 single Ace of Spades.

'I'm alone' / Migrant children explain why they risked crossing the border



'I'm alone': Migrant children explain why they risked crossing the border
About 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the US-Mexico border in October and November, more than double who crossed during the same period last year


Associated Press and staff
Saturday 26 December 2015 17.58 GMT


The seven children had just crossed the river, shoes still caked with mud, when US border patrol agents stopped them.
The youngest was six, Jon Smith Figueroa Acosta, he said, and he’d made the 2,000-mile journey from Honduras. He did not know to what city or state he was headed, but he had a phone number for his father in the United States.
“Estoy solo,” he said, meaning, “I’m alone.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Will Ferrell / ‘Ignorance is a key part of comedy’



Will Ferrell: 

‘Ignorance is a key part of comedy’


Will Ferrell knows exactly how to make us laugh. He’s back with Mark Wahlberg for his latest film, Daddy’s Home, and will soon return as Mugatu in Zoolander 2. Tim Adams meets him to see what’s behind the most expressive jowls in America


Tim Adams
Sunday 20 December 2015 11.30 GMT

 Will Ferrell: ‘He looks like he could have walked out of a pensions plan ad.’
Photograph: Pål Hansen for the Observer


Half an hour before I interviewed Will Ferrell I made the mistake of watching a clip of him interviewing himself. In one of Ferrell’s manySaturday Night Live (SNL) incarnations he did a celebrated spoof of the long-running American arts show Inside the Actors Studio, in which James Lipton presents cerebral interrogations of Hollywood stars. Ferrell donned a bald wig and beard, sat with a pile of Lipton’s preferred blue notecards and went through a parody of the questions he might have asked: “What’s your favourite curse word?” he asked of himself. “If heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive?” And, of acting in general, and comedy in particular: “Is it craft – or is it crap?”

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mavis Gallant / A brief survery of the short story

Mavis Gallant
Poster by T.A.

A brief survey of the short story part three: 

Mavis Gallant

Mavis Gallant's immaculately plotless tales are much loved by other writers. We readers shouldn't let them hog her



No living author seems to me less deserving of the term "writer's writer" and its implication of remote obscurity than Mavis Gallant. In Michael Ondaatje's words, "among writers she is a shared and loved and daunting secret", and it seems a telling detail that while she remains too little known, those who read her tend to move, as I did, from ignorance to devotion with uncommon haste.
An English Canadian born in Montreal in 1922, Gallant has lived in Paris since 1950. Perhaps as a combination of an unsettled childhood - from the age of four onwards she attended 17 boarding schools - her early, short-lived marriage, and her relocation at the age of 27 to Paris (a city in which she knew no one) with the sole intention of writing fiction, the themes that have come to define her work are those of expatriation, dislocation and impermanence.
Gallant has written two novels and more than 100 stories, most of which were first published in the New Yorker. These have been collected in eight books, but Bloomsbury's doorstopping Selected Stories, its contents chosen by the author herself, is the best single-volume starting point.
Set between the 1930s and the present day, and ranging in location from Madrid, the Côte d'Azur, Berlin, Montreal, Florida, Moscow and, of course, Paris, Gallant's stories employ a myriad of voices, styles and techniques to explore a similarly diverse range of subjects. She has also written interlinked cycles, such as the strongly autobiographical Linnet Muir sequence from the mid-1970s and the comical Henri Grippes stories. Yet, as noted above, it is the marginalised life of the expatriate that is most often returned to.
The feeling of displacement so crucial to much of Gallant's work is nothing as parochial or crude as merely pointing out the differences between cultures (although her characters themselves might sometimes do just that, the intention is generally to show how such attitudes are born of misconceptions). Rather, the otherness of the foreigner abroad mirrors a more profound separation that lies between us all, no matter how much in love or intimate we might think ourselves to be with others. Indeed, she often seems to suggest that acceptance of this unpleasant fact is key to establishing one's personal freedom. The superb 1971 story "In the Tunnel" offers a particularly unflinching expression of this view.
For this reason there is often a coldness at the heart of her stories, but it would be quite wrong to see this as existing in place of empathy. Gallant's tone can alter in a moment, twisting between the satirical, the cruel and the compassionate with no warning or clue offered to inattentive readers. Critics have also said she is unfair towards her male characters, but speaking as a representative of that sex I'd say she seems to be pretty spot on with them, in all their pusillanimous or predatory detail.
"Useless chaos is what fiction is about," Gallant has said, and even in those stories where significant events occur they remain rooted entirely in character and deliberately careless in plotting, always favouring interiority and reaction above action. Throughout her work incidents receive and are starved of attention in a way that entirely ignores the precedents typically thought of as being essentials of dramatic tension.
And yet, paradoxically, they remain compulsively readable and deeply memorable. In this regard her writing represents a peerless rebuttal to all talk of the importance of structure and the rules of writing, glorying instead only in the marriage of the inventiveness of the mind and a blank page's potential.
If this sounds somehow too haphazard to be effective, or her manner too detached to provoke profound feeling, one need only read a story such as "The Other Paris" (1953) or the masterful The Moslem Wife (1976) - or any one of many more - to realise their emotional power, even if oftentimes this impact is only truly experienced some time after their reading. Gallant acknowledges this in her preface to the Selected Stories, writing:
"Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait."
They can, and of course they do, but it's difficult to follow this wise advice when the inimitable works it refers to are of such temptingly high quality.




A brief survey of the short story

001 Anton Chekhov
002 HP Lovecraft
003 Mavis Gallant
004 Ryunosuke Akutagawa
005 Raymond Carver
006 Julian Maclaren-Ross
007 Etgar Keret
008 Robert Walser
009 VS Pritchett
010 Grace Paley

011 Katherine Mansfield
012 Heinrich von Kleist 

013 Franz Kafka
014 MR James
015 F Scott Fitzgerald
016 Donald Barthelme
017 Jane Bowles
018 Stefan Zweig
019 Ray Badbury 
020 Nikolai Gogol


038 Isaac Babel





Saturday, December 26, 2015

HP Lovecraft / A brief survey of the short story

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

A brief survey of the short story part 2: 

HP Lovecraft

HP Lovecraft was a master of fantastic horror tales, but the hate which drove his work was all too real.

Chris Power
Wednesday 7 November 200708.00 GMT


It seems at once germane and perverse, when still within a grave's length of Halloween, to dedicate the next post in my survey of the short story to a man who traded in horror, yet whose creations won't ever be costumes clothing the world's trick-or-treaters. That said, if anyone rang my bell dressed as the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath - writhing masses of ropy black tentacles with multiple puckered mouths - or any other spawn of Howard Phillips Lovecraft's furiously dark imagination, I wouldn't be dilatory in dishing out the sweets.
Lovecraft's fictional oeuvre - more than 50 stories written between 1905 and his death in 1937 - is unremittingly bleak. Heavily influenced by, among others, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany and Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft went several rungs lower than his forebears by eradicating any shred of optimism from his tales of what he called "cosmic horror".
Lovecraft's world, now known as the "Cthulhu Mythos" has gone on to be a common source for Jorge Luis Borges and a host of other, lesser authors. This is a world where humanity exists in the shadow of ancient, monstrous, slumbering extraterrestrial beings who are occasionally woken and to whom we are as insignificant as microbes in a petri dish.
From a purely stylistic perspective, the weight of dread Lovecraft can summon is extraordinary, although when excerpted certain passages can seem preposterously overblown. In their proper context, however, his hallucinatory moments erupt to shocking effect from prose otherwise characterised by its dry, scholarly tone: in this manner, time and again, reason is invoked only to be torn to shreds and tossed into a midden, which is pretty much what Lovecraft thought the world amounted to.
This monomaniacal vision results in a great deal of repetition throughout the stories, both thematically and at the level of the sentence. Discovered journals reoccur; moons are invariably "gibbous" and horrors "eldritch", "unnameable" or "unspeakable", while every character is either headed for a padded cell, disappearing into a gaping maw or recording their final thoughts as murderous cultists descend on them.
But rather than being tedious, these repetitions become instead something insidiously ritualised. The real horror, one that multiplies if several stories are read in succession, is generated by their obsessive reaffirmation of life's mindless cycle. But rejecting Lovecraft's toweringly bleak outlook doesn't preclude appreciation of these compellingly weird fictions.
The most successful of Lovecraft's stories, such as The Whisperer in Darkness (1930) or The Call of Cthulhu (1926), are elaborate in construction and measured in their revelations, generating atmospheres of dread that are difficult to shake off. Add to this their interconnectedness, from the fictional New England settings of Arkham and Miskatonic University (Alma Mater to numerous doomed students and professors) to the rites, tentacled beasts and visions of alien, non-Euclidian cities that recur. What emerges is a unique blending of place and theme similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth or the Paris of Balzac's Comédie Humaine.
In the best traditions of science fiction, Lovecraft was also quick to incorporate contemporary discoveries into his work. At the Mountains of Madness (1931) makes use of continental drift theory, still controversial at the time, while the discovery of Pluto in 1930 was immediately accorded an ominous relevance in The Whisperer in Darkness. Similarly, Planck's quantum theory and Einsteinian relativity were rapidly co-opted into his work and squared with his beliefs, just as youthful readings of Darwin had proven to him the non-existence of the human soul.
There is another aspect to this strange body of work, however, much less discussed than its horror. Following an unhappy period in the mid-1920s living amid New York's immigrant community, Lovecraft's previously amorphous racism became focused and rabid. Michel Houellebecq believes this shift is what impelled the "mad rhythmic pulse of cursed sentences" that streak his greatest works, beginning with The Call of Cthulhu. In these stories the sects that worship his monstrous creations are invariably non-whites or uneducated, rural whites, and Lovecraft asserts - in terms uncomfortably close to contemporary fascist rhetoric - that through their actions these "lower breeds" are hastening humanity's end.
It's a repugnant viewpoint, and presents a difficulty with which anyone who can be said to "enjoy" Lovecraft's work must tussle. Because the forms lurking in his work, albeit draped in phantasmagorical disguise, aren't really beings from beyond, but manifestations of a very human hatred.

THE GUARDIAN




A brief survey of the short story

001 Anton Chekhov
002 HP Lovecraft
003 Mavis Gallant
004 Ryunosuke Akutagawa
005 Raymond Carver
006 Julian Maclaren-Ross
007 Etgar Keret
008 Robert Walser
009 VS Pritchett
010 Grace Paley

011 Katherine Mansfield
012 Heinrich von Kleist 

013 Franz Kafka
014 MR James
015 F Scott Fitzgerald
016 Donald Barthelme
017 Jane Bowles
018 Stefan Zweig
019 Ray Badbury 
020 Nikolai Gogol