Truthful speaking would be a simple way to tell the truth, if the truth were simple and could be told.

28 February 2008

A Nabokovian Debackle

Thus far, I've only read three novels by Vladimir Nabokov. One was a piece of absolute genius (Pale Fire), one was pretty good (Lolita) and one I didn't care for as much (Pnin). I'm still going to get through Ada one of these days -- in all likelihood sometime in the next coming year (yet I did read three Pynchon books within months of each other and it's been about a year since I finished Against the Day and have finally started pursuing Mason & Dixon). I do like Nabokov, though sometimes it's difficult to remember that you have to absorb his novels slowly, like you would for a Pynchon or a John Crowley (whose better than any of them), because they're about 300 pages or so for the most part and you get that momentum of flipping through the pages. Anyway: he's worth checking out.

Which brings up this point: apparently before he died, oh so many years ago, he was working on another novel and had gotten someway into the first draft-- which he wrote on lined index cards, a craft he gave to John Shade -- when he kicked the bucket. He instructed his son not to publish the novel, to burn it; it was far from finished, written out on only 50 index cards, which apparently makes up about 30 manuscript pages, and I suppose he didn't think it was strong enough to carry the Nabokov label. As it turns out, his son did not burn the draft but he didn't publish it either, keeping those notebook cards under safe keeping someplace or another. Now he's debating about whether or not it's time to allow us, the reading masses, to see the novel.

Slate recently ran a couple pieces concerning the piece, which you should read right now (this isn't a non-profit radio station; the FCC isn't watching me, I can call to action as much as I want):

The Last Work of Vladimir Nabokov Part I

The Last Work of Vladimir Nabokov Part II

Both links provide plenty of other links to other parts of the site, of other opinions, and whatnot, that could very well keep you glued here for hours. They are worth checking out, as well.

The novel itself does sound interesting, according to these articles, and I bet there are plenty of people out there who would jump at the chance of reading it, as unfinished, incomplete, or unputtogether (I made that last one up) it is. The whole story surronding the debackle is ripe for a story of its own, and Rosenbaum numerous times compares it to Hamlet. Which, if you read the article, you'll find it makes more sense.

I read both Stoppard and Banville's responses to the first article and they both make interesting points. Till when do we respect the wishes of the artist about his work? When an artist releases his or her piece, it's out of their hands, up for interpretation from anybody despite what the artist initially intends. Sure, their ideas could influence how people think of their work, but once it's gone, it's gone. So, doesn't it make sense that an artist, of any medium, really, should have enough time to perfect it to the best of their ability before it's released?

Then again, many of us readers are hard-core readers, and often times when you find someone you like, you want to read everything they've written, no matter how long it takes (I only have one more Gabriel Garcia Marquez book to read before getting through his completed works). And even the lesser work of a great writer is still better than the best work of an average or mediocre one.

On top of that, without people who have been instructed to destroy manuscripts before they were released we wouldn't have most of Franz Kafka's works, This Side of Paradise, or works by Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Balzac, and Marlowe. Yet that poses another problem: the responsibilty of it all. Though Frank Herbert's dead, there've been a great deal of Dune books based off the notes he left, and the same thing's going for that Wheel of Time serires. Both of which are absolutley dreadful and I wouldn't cry if they were lost in the labyrinth of time. Then you have Tolkien's son. The publication of The Silmarillion was understandable but the man pretty much whored out all of his father's works. We keep getting them and they're all terrible. I mean, even if I'm not as big a fan of Lord of the Rings as I used to be (great setting; not-so-great characters), don't you think there needs to be some level of respect?

As for this issue: I'm not going to put my allegiance to one group or another just yet (I mean, this isn't Barak Obama/Hilary Clinton decisions; this is far more important). I will say that I will be really disappointed if those 30 cards meet the flames -- and I'll get over it -- but if the book comes out, I'll definitley read it.

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