6: burning books

I am fascinated by Dmitri Nabokov’s (several-month old; I think there’s been more news on it but don’t have time to find and read it yet) dilemma over whether or not to burn the manuscript of his father’s last book, as per V.N.’s request. Nabokov is by far one of my favourite authors, as I am fairly sure I’ve mentioned before. Lolita was my first, of course, but I have since branched out enough to consider myself quite devoted to his work. Pale Fire is a masterpiece, Invitation to a Beheading was one of the best books I read in 07, and I reread Pnin with clockwork regularity. So on one hand the idea of a Nabokov novel from beyond the grave, even an unfinished one, makes my brain salivate. What breathtaking gems of prose may lie within that swiss vault! The heartrate doubles at the possibility of it!

And yet I can completely understand Dmitri Nabokov’s dilemma. I myself am greatly superstitious about the dead and the wishes of the dying. And yet, as everyone on the internet keeps saying in response to this, what about Kafka? What if he had been obeyed? Just think of the loss! Think of all of the other great works of literature that have been destroyed and mourned for centuries — the rest of Gogol’s Dead Souls, for example, or Bruno Schultz’s famously lost The Messiah (I mention these as the two most recent lost or destroyed texts I have personally longed for in the past week — I’m sure there are others) — do we really want Nabokov’s Laura to join their ghostly ranks?

Familial obligation and devotion are pitted against the demands of history and scholarship. Clearly, logically, the latter should win — this book should be preserved, at least, if not published — I quite like the compromising idea that has been mentioned of giving the index cards over to some archive or another rather than publishing them — after all, this is not some third-rung temporarily popular author we’re talking about, one whose work has no greater significance or artistic merit and whose reputation will vanish beneath the weight of newly written words. Nabokov is — and I challenge anyone to seriously argue against this — one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. True, not all of his books are as transcendent as others, but even a poor example of a Nabokov novel is better than the huge percentage of shit that’s published and sold these days. Therefore it would be just as criminal to destroy his work as it would be to disobey his orders and preserve it — but the latter would simply offend a ghost of a memory of a man, whereas the former affects — well, not millions, but a significant enough amount of people for the choice to seem slightly weighted in favour of the hungry living, I think.

Maybe I’m just arguing against burning because I would love to read this book. Selfish.

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~ by Not Alice on March 6, 2008.

One Response to “6: burning books”

  1. […] on their three most enjoyed books of the year. The last book that he mentioned was his own, the controversial and never-published manuscript Laura. It seems as if the book will be published after all, a turn […]

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