Nabokov on Close Reading

While I am slaving away grading a pile of papers written by whippersnappers who think “modernismistic” is a word and that “stream of conciseness” is one of its “predominate” attributes, allow me to post something soothingly well written and lovely.  This basically explains my whole philosophy of life (at least that part of it that hasn’t already been covered):

In reading, one should notice and fondle details.  There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected.  If one begins with a ready-made generalization, one begins at the wrong end and travels away from the book before one has started to understand it.  […] We should always remember that the work of art is invariably the creation of a new world, so that the first thing we should do is to study that new world as closely as possible, approaching it as something brand new, having no obvious connection with the worlds we already know.  When this new world has been closely studied, then and only then let us examine its links with other worlds, other branches of knowledge.

–Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature

Don’t you feel more sane and rational now? I know I do.  Nabokov: always better than a punch in the neck.

3 thoughts on “Nabokov on Close Reading

  1. John April 15, 2008 / 1:20 pm

    I used to live here:,+clarens,+switzerland&jsv=107&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=43.983628,77.255859&ie=UTF8&ll=46.44321,6.892397&spn=0.009389,0.018861&t=h&z=16

    (sorry for the messy link, I hope it works if you copy it). If you follow Vaudrès scroll over to the right of the map following Avenue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and then locate Avenue Eugène Rambert, just above Rambert is Chemin de Muraz. Between Rambert and Muraz is the Clarens/Montreux graveyard. It is there that Nabokov is buried. It is a very beautiful place situated between the lake and some vineyards. Fifteen more minutes to the East by foot you pass in front of the Montreux Palace Hotel where he used to live. The area is stupendously beautiful and I wish, I wish(!), I could be back living there… I can imagine his surroundings contributed to his ability to write such lovely passages as the one you referenced above.

  2. Alfina the Vague April 16, 2008 / 11:03 am

    Well THAT just sounds HORRIBLE! Ha.

    Anyway, you won’t be stuck in France forever, will you? Or will you? Will the evil French landlords, etc., detain you while being rude and snobbish?

  3. John April 16, 2008 / 4:01 pm

    Oh no – I will not remain in France. I am here temporarily. My departure from France will coincide with the end of my degree. That should be early 2009. So, less than 1 year. I am only here because my degree is being done conjointly between two universities – one in France, one in Switzerland.

    Unfortunately, I will not be returning to Clarens/Montreux as much as my heart would lead me there – most probably it will be Zurich for awhile. After that, who knows? Perhaps I’ll head back to North America and get re-habituated to speaking English.

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