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214 Nabokov Studies Alfred Appel, Jr. The Art of Celebration: Twentieth-Century Painting Literature, Sculpture, Photography, and )azz. New York: Knopf, 1993. $35.00. 246 pages. The early Appel was an earnest, eager student of Nabokov (having actually been an earnest eager student of Nabokov). We had coffee once in Chicago, a quarter-century ago, and one of us—I remember the detail, not the possessorhad a bushy black beard. We quoted large passages of The Defense back and forth from memory. When we got to Luzhin forgetfully burning his hand in the terrifying deep of a chess game, Appel even cited the page number. I couldn't match that In his writing, he had one notable idiosyncracy, inventing mediocre puns and claiming they ranked right up there with those by Humbert, or Kinbote, or Nabokov himself; whenever he started out a sentence, As Nabokov would say, you remembered his better moments. I see he still does it although now mostly with Joyce, the central literary figure behind this book: The bird's Chock Full o'Nuts coffeetin torso is intact {in Calder's assemblage Chock], a canned symbol of three-dimensional new life and an art chock full of values opposed to the one-dimensional, ironic detach ment of Andy Warhol's soup-can approach—chock full o' nuttin', Joyce would say, putting on a New York accent (186) Molly's wombmate, Mr. Bloom (Joyce would say it that way, he would, he would) only has to relax ... (189) But here's a merge for auld lang syne: Brancusi's cusp runneth over, as Joyce or Nabokov might have said. (42) The later Appel of Nabokov's Dark Cinema was much more freewheeling, and also much more visually oriented—indications of things to come. This new book, The Art of Celebration, is even more visual and freewheeing (or rather, lreeassociational —a cross between a jazz riff and Tristram Shandy). It is about Nabokov only in passing, but Appel's old fans will find it a good read anyway. Appel's thesis is that modernism is divided into yea-sayers and nay-sayers. In literature, the yea-sayers are Joyce and Nabokov—Molly Bloom's "Yes" that ends Ulysses being the ultimate affirmation—but also W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Richard Wilbur, and the Ernest Hemingway of the Nick Adams stories (6). Nay-sayers include T. S. Eliot, Franz Kafka, and Nathanael West. Jazz seems to be all yea-sayers. But the focus here is primarily on painting, sculpture, and photography—with interesting connections all the way round, and with lots of illustrations in bright colors. Sizable discussions are devoted to Matisse, Brancusi, Cartier-Bresson, Klee, Mondrian, and Léger, as well as to the perhaps lesser known Malevich, Kertész, and Stuart Book Reviews 215 Davis. One nay-sayer, George Grosz, slips in for contrast. If we try to read The Art of Celebration for clues to its author's life, we may conclude from one brief passage that two Mondrian reproductions on a hospital wall once became for Appel "uplifting objective correlatives for [his] need, [his] search for order, psychic ease, calm, and renewed strength" (194)—and may have been the initial inspiration for this restorative book as well. Among nice things argued here is that the most celebratory color of modern art is bright yellow, a little key with which Appel opens any number of paintings. Although Lolita is cited a few times for its celebration of ordinary Americana, the only Nabokov text that undergoes any analysis is "A Guide to Berlin," to which Appel devotes three excellent paragraphs. The first of them, among other things, invokes the following names in its whirligig comparisons: Joseph Conrad, David Letterman, Eliot, Apollinaire, André Kertész, Matisse, Wallace Stevens, Chaim Soutine, Francis Bacon, and Puni. Here is the third: The titles alone, from THE PIPES to THE PUB, trace a happy physical and mental progression, a resurrection of a kind: from hard, icy ground—where the pipes are laid out like dead infantrymen—to warm, closed space, an inviting room where newspapers and magazines hang "like banners" to celebrate the idea of community, friendship, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 214-215
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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