Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Everything Else Is Speculation

Yesterday I was lying in bed at The Nest trying to nap, as the Evil Flu came on, and I decided to read, since I'd had too much coffee in the morning to actually sleep at that moment. I went into the bookbag I carry to the Putins Coffee Shop every weekend, with a revolving variety of magazines and newspapers in it, and dug out the May 23, 2008 issue of The Chronicle Review. Therein was a story called "Literary Remains," about Vladimir Nabokov's son Dmitri's quandry over whether or not to publish his father's "The Original Laura," an incomplete manuscript that exists on 138 notecards. Nabokov had told his son: "Burn it." But of course we know he tried to burn "Lolita" himself and was stopped by wife Vera. And we all know the end of that story, so to speak.

So, a bunch of people were asked what Dmitri Nabokov should do. (For those of you who try to avoid passive voice like I do, give me a break today; I have the flu.) These people aren't just people; they are novelists, literary critics, playwrights, professors of English and literature... And most of them said "publish" in one form or another. Only Sir Tom Stoppard (wouldn't you expect him to be called Sir Thomas Stoppard?), playwright, agreed with my gut reaction: Honor the author's words and burn the notecards. Of course, Sir Tommy said it more poetically:

"There are parallel universes, might-have-been worlds, full of lost works, and no doubt some of them would have been masterpieces. But our desire to possess them all is just a neurosis, a completeness complex, as though we must have everything that's going and it's a tragedy if we don't. ... In all honor, we must honor the only fact: that he said "Burn it." Everything else is speculation- mostly self-serving speculation on the part of the Nabokov industry, the last people we should listen to." (The Times)

The question about why people would say "publish" is answered pretty clearly here. What is it that makes some of us, though, if only a few, feel an immediate urge to honor the words of the man who isn't even here anymore, and not want to deviate from that?

Today we had to say good-bye to HamCat, speaking of not being around anymore, so it's a double bummer of a day. No more to say about that.

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