The Little Lantern of the World
June 30, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

Nabokov in Berlin. 'Vladimir Nabokov was starting his career as a writer when he found himself in Berlin. "It is clear, for one thing, that while a man is writing, he is situated in some definite place; he is not simply a kind of spirit, hovering over the page...Something or other is going on around him." The short 1934 novel Despair from which this quote comes is already heavily self-ironising compared with the stories of the previous decade. But like them it is studded with incidental Berlin experiences, from the shape of the city's S-Bahn train line on the map to the comedy of a German misspeaking English. "I suppose only the pest. The chief thing by me is optimismus." If Nabokov's Berlin was in his head, it was nevertheless not invented.'

'Perhaps tying works of art to their originating topography is vulgar and needs to be kept discreet. But history needs Nabokov. During the artistically formative years, he lived here in the 1920s and 1930s, he peerlessly described how Berlin's 300,000 Russian émigrés endured life after the Bolshevik Revolution. A city "swarming with ragamuffins" (Despair) and here and there "an urban vagabond with an early evening thirst" (The Fight, 1925). Here were thousands of lonely people haunted by poverty and nostalgia. Divorce or widowhood sealed their fate.'
posted by VikingSword (6 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'll gladly take anything related to Nabokov and I enjoyed reading this, but I have to agree with mattdidthat. Plus, and this is obviously not VikingSword's fault, but I believe there's at least one glaring factual error (related to his father) in the linked article.
posted by christopherious at 9:43 PM on June 30, 2010

Plus, and this is obviously not VikingSword's fault, but I believe there's at least one glaring factual error (related to his father) in the linked article.

Well, yes. And:

"In An Affair of Honour (1927), the cuckolded Anton Petrovich went through the motions of a classic Russian duel only to find himself stuck in a shabby Berlin hotel after his opponent didn't show."

But isn't it all about the pleasure of the hunt? I thought it quite thematic for an article about Nabokov :)
posted by VikingSword at 9:56 PM on June 30, 2010

All right, for what it's worth I'll allow myself to be persuaded by that, VS, since I presume the man would have approved. Now there's two of us standing out here on this little branch. :)
posted by christopherious at 10:08 PM on June 30, 2010

When I was in Berlin last October, I had a little project to visit all the known Bowie Berlin landmarks. It was fun. This article makes me wish I had done the same thing with Nabokov. Maybe next time.
posted by VikingSword at 10:30 PM on June 30, 2010

"A Guide to Berlin" is indeed Nabokov's method laid bare. That story alone could serve as the full curriculum for a course in writing.
posted by Faze at 4:15 AM on July 1, 2010

Hah! Nice, Faze. Yes Nabakov is one of the wizards... and Vikingsword, same, I sat in the Square in front of Bulgakov's apartment from Master and the Margarita in Petersburg-- have to do this for Nabakov. ASAP.
posted by delilablu at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2010

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