Tuesday, February 07, 2012

"the fruit of insomnia and migraine"

It is silly to seek a basic law, even sillier to find it. Some mean-spirited little man decides that the whole course of humanity can be explained in terms of insidiously revolving signs of the zodiac or as the struggle between an empty and a stuffed belly; he hires a punctilious Philistine to act as Clio's clerk, and begins a wholesale trade in epochs and masses; and then woe to the private individuum, with his two poor u's, hallooing hopelessly amid the dense growth of economic causes. Luckily no such laws exist: a toothache will cost a battle, a drizzle cancel an insurrection. Everything is fluid, everything depends on chance, and all in vain were the efforts of that crabbed bourgeois in Victorian checkered trousers, author of Das Kapital, the fruit of insomnia and migraine.
As I've noted previously, Nabokov often took great pains to ensure that readers would not read any ideas into his work, or any messages or political statements of any kind. On the other hand, he never missed a chance to take a potshot, as in the above passage, taken from his decidedly minor (and short) Russian novel, The Eye. The passage is a fairly typical Nabokovian aside, both in its content and its irrelevance. Its complete irrelevance to the fiction surrounding it signals to the reader an actual opinion, bordering on an idea, possibly even, heaven forbid, a political idea held by the author. As usual, when it comes to extra-literary matters, Nabokov had little idea what he was talking about. (And though I enjoy and admire much of Nabokov's fiction, I'm inclined to think his influence, at least on literary criticism, is rather pernicious.)

As fun as it is to make jokes at Nabokov's expense regarding his special pleading and other nonsense (and it is fun), I'd intended to use this passage to lead into a post about Marx and misreadings and his popular reputation. Nabokov is, alas, far from the only person to not understand the first thing about Marx, or to mistakenly believe he was a proponent of some kind of "economic determinism". In the event, I couldn't quite get going on it. Perhaps another time. But, since we're here, let's look at another quote from Nabokov:
Rowdies are never revolutionaries, they are always reactionary. It is among the young that the greatest conformists and Philistines are found, e.g., the hippies with their group beards and group protests. Demonstrators at American universities care as little about education as football fans who smash up subway stations in England care about soccer. All belong to the same family of goofy hoodlums--with a sprinkling of clever rogues among them.
This bit of silliness, we are told by Patrick Kurp, comes from the interview Nabokov gave Philip Oakes in The Sunday Times, in June 1969, which was later collected in Strong Opinions, which I have noted elsewhere, is surely one of Nabokov's worst books. Kurp, another writer whose literary sense I have great respect for, and who often makes similar claims to avoiding politics, unpleasantly saw fit to post this the day police evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zucotti Park in New York.

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