Sunday, December 20, 2009

Descendo minoratus!

Welcome to the funeral. Or, in the words of my favorite UNH Hockey pregame song:
The funeral is about to begin.
Tickets will cost $17.95, but you get in for free with a receipt verifying your purchase of Nabokov’s The Original of Laura.

I’ve mentioned this work in passing a couple of times. In fact my new quest item became an obsession after I read about how Nabokov wrote on index cards and I realized how helpful they would be if used correctly. And there are none in Moscow. This is a different story. The story of The Original of Laura:

As the story goes, Nabokov (Vladimir) had a pustoi rabochii stol [empty work desk] for the last years of his life, telling his wife and son that he had completed everything he wanted to, and it was only towards the end that the desk began to be cluttered, again, with new notes. He had plans for at least one novel, and I believe that he mentioned another work after The Original of Laura.

But then That One Who Makes the Totentanz Go ‘Round came to get him. Nabokov asked his wife to destroy the index cards (she didn’t) and for his son, Nabokov (Dmitrii), to ensure their destruction (he hasn’t). Allegedly, Nabokov (Dmitrii) was visited in a dream by his father (Vladimir), who told him that enough is enough and to just publish the index cards already, some thirty years after the author’s death.

This is essentially a long aside, a lot of backstory that will be involved in the program passed out at the doors of the adapted-for-the-stage version of this blogpost. We don’t have time or energy or desire to show it on stage. I know this is anathema, but I don’t particularly care for Nabokov’s writing, and I don’t want to discuss TOoL (what an amazing acronym for the piece) as a literary object. I just like the story behind its creation.

I originally wanted to compare this to the genius marketing behind Salinger’s refusal to publish for the past century, but I fear his crack squad of lawyers. I’ll take a different tact: there have been a lot of writers who have asked for their works to be destroyed. It is, especially in that constructed “Great Canon of Traditional Russian Literature,” quite a Big Thing™. I’ll just throw out two major posthumous works of which you might have heard: Gogol’s Mertvye Dushi [Dead Souls], Part II; Bulgakov’s Master i Margarita [The Master and Margarita].* Both of these, and TOoL as well, were subject to the author burning editions of the manuscript (rumor has it that Nabokov burnt the entirety of TOoL’s second tome, and we just have scattered notes to the first part).

* Don’t think this as a solely Russian tradition. Vergil’s dying request was for The Aeneid to burn.

Maybe I’m too much a cynic. Maybe. Probably. But I question how much of this is a genuine desire to see the work destroyed, and how much of it is an acknowledgement of what is accepted behavior for a belle-lettrist pri smerti [at the moment of death]. That is: are we not witnesses to a performance piece that ensures, even if the wish to destroy the work is fulfilled, the status of the author as a Creative Individual™?

If I start burning things, you’ll know why. And I’ll expect you all to start lobbying for Frozen Icarus to get a publication deal. Mwahaha.

But for real reals, speaking of my being a creative individual, Briullov and I have started an archive of pretentious thought. It’s gonna be A Thing™. It might wean some of the crazy out of this little guy, like poison from the wound. But then again it probably won’t.

1 comment:

Kaytee said...

Ummm for the record - Foucault's appointed protector has actually honored Foucault's order to not publish anything posthumously. GOD DAMN HIM! And, seriously, Foucault would be the *one* person where that would actually work because he believed that his work was a "tool box" for others to pick apart and that a work was essentially no longer an author's own once it had been interpreted by *anyone* which is *everyone* who ever reads it. Just sayin'.

Dear Whoever you are Foucault's-lover-slash-gatekeeper: get over it! He didn't really mean it. <3 Katie.