Friday, November 17, 2006

Elsewhere recently, related to Nabokov and Dostoevski

At The Mumpsimus, Matthew Cheney on Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading. Along with a beautiful discussion of the novel, Matt says this, about people's general suspicions about imagination:
Inevitably, there were students who were convinced Nabokov was insane or a drug addict or both. This accusation comes up all the time when we read anyone who is not among the hardest of hardcore realists, because imagination is something that has come to be associated only with the stimulus of drugs or madness. That someone could think up a story like Invitation to a Beheading -- where a man is imprisoned for "gnostic turpitude" in a fortress of porous walls and fake windows and rules against improper dreams -- without being addicted to hallucinogens or lacking a couple of screws is at best inconceivable to many people, if not threatening. The people who issue these accusations would never think of such a story or such imagery themselves, and therefore they can't imagine how anyone else could, unless there was something wrong with their brains.
And Rodney Welch on giving Dostoevski another chance, finding something there, but still deciding that Dostoeksi just isn't his thing (link via The Reading Experience). He seems to notice that Dostoevski is capable of great artistic power:
A slight turn with Dostoevsky came some years after my initial attempt, and that's when I picked up Demons [aka The Possessed]. This story of Stavrogin and the band of bored nihilists of mid-century Russia was absolutely staggering, if only because it seemed to me so very, very prescient. It's a fantastic novel about how revolutions implode, and to reach that ending, where all the principals die, one dropping after the other very much like in the last scene of Hamlet, was staggering -- it was like reading this great, massive historical tragedy, written by someone with incredibly far-seeing vision, who somehow knew how the history of his country would play out. I thought maybe it was one of the greatest novels I'd ever read. And it was cinematic, too; there's a scene at the end where some character, I forget which, stumbles upon a dead body and holds a candle up to his dead face. It was a beautifully visual scene, and I didn't recall anything like it in anything else of Dostoevsky's.
But finally this "beautifully visual" stuff, along with suspense and mystery, "is not what really interests Dostoevsky. His interest, his focus, is a good deal more psychological". Rodney ultimately finds Dostoevski "weirdly interesting" but "painful" where "the attempt is more interesting than the execution." I tend to agree (though I cannot get behind his comparison to Ornette Coleman or Captain Beefheart, both of whom have made a lot of music that is simply wonderful).

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