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Nabokov Studies, 1 (1994), 207-33. BOOK REVIEWS John Burt Foster, Jr. Nabokov's Art of Memory and European Modernism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. xviii, 260 pp. Foster's book deals in detail with the period 1925 to 1950, though there are frequent discussions, some of them extended, of later works. The three principal parts are labelled "Points of Departure," "Toward France," and "In English." The first deals with Mary, The Defense, and Glory; the second with Kamera Obscura, Despair, "Mademoiselle O," "Spring in Fialta," and The Gift; and the third with The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Bend Sinister, and Speak, Memory. There is an epilogue treating Pale Fire. The subject is highly intricate and at times elusive. It is neither memory nor art in isolation, but the metaphysical art/memory complex behind the deceptively simple phrase of the title. But it is not about this in isolation, either. It is about how Nabokov's art of memory participated in the grand dialogue of European artistic and cultural movements (principally but not exclusively Modernism) at the time. Foster's name for the genre in which he is working is "cultural biography." I have good news and bad news. First the good news. No one interested in the work of Nabokov can consult these pages without being informed, challenged, stimulated, and dazzled by Foster's erudition and daring. He is in many ways an ideal reader of Nabokov: one who has thoroughly mastered the text in its Russian, English, and, where necessary, French incarnations, and who is also massively informed in the European literary and cultural context. The whole might be likened to a solo intellectual dance with incredible leaps and pirouettes, startling and at times alarming to behold. The bad news is that this dance takes place on a towering and terrifyingly unstable intellectual scaffolding, a framework of argument, proof, and implication, the individual boards of which seem forever in danger of slipping from their supports. Everything about this scaffolding, from its overall design down to the tiny fasteners on the point of popping from their sockets (words like "therefore* and "because") makes me uneasy. It may be that the image of scaffolding itself came to me as a result of Foster's discussion of the ending of Mary, where Canin, after mentally reliving his youthful affair with the heroine, decides against resuming his intimacy with her, walks away from the sta tion where she will shortly arrive, and heads away from the choking little Berlin knot of emigration towards France and the sea. Nabokov surrounds his vicarious young self at the end of his first novel with novelistic shorthand for newness, earliness, and freshness. It is daybreak, a new house is under construction nearby, the lumber still yellow and fresh. This novel is done— both the roman-novel in the reader's hands and the roman-love affair with Mary, as recomposed in Canin's shaping memory. Mary (whose identity with Russia seems to have been forgotten by almost everyone except Ganin) belongs 208 Nabokov Studies to the past. The nom de guerre Canin masks the identity of one who had planned a counterrevolutionary foray across the border to liberate Mother Russia. But now a new geography, France and beyond, a new destiny, and many new novels lie ahead. In his Futurist Manifesto of 1915, Foster reminds us, Marinetti had blazoned the image of a house being built. Nabokov's image in Mary is therefore a sufficient pointer to the presence, somehow, of "futurism" in the book at this point. Later, in The Defense, the single phrase "glittering extremism" as applied to Luzhin's opponent Turati, also somehow 'suggests futurism." We are proleptically reminded that Sebastian Knight will have taken (one needs fussy tenses to keep the temporal kaleidoscope in focus) a trip with a Futurist, and (back now in Mary) that Mayakovsky had earlier been mentioned. But the reader wishes to ask: what is specifically Futurist about the image of a house being built? Marinetti might as well try to copyright tapwater. Why, for instance is it not rather Cartesian? Descartes makes vivid use of the image in the Discours de la méthode. Raymond Queneau...


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pp. 207-209
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