Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Nabokov offered the world a complete view of the complexity and richness of the human spirit .
As Boyd notes, Nabokov "prefered the small type to the
main text,the obscure to the obvious,the thrill of finding for himself what was not common knowledge."
It Always Came Down To Butterflies,
Nabokov's Butterflies: Limited Edition (Hardcover)
"From the age of seven, everything I felt in connection with a rectangle of framed sunlight was dominated by a single passion," wrote Valdimir Nabokov.
"If my first glance of the morning was for the sun,
my first thought was for the butterflies it would engender.
" This was certainly an unusual way in which to view the world and one that not many readers, even those who adore Nabokov, have shared.
In fact, the ferocity of Nabokov's obsession with butterflies has only just begun to become clear with the publication of this gorgeous new book, a volume of heretofore unpublished and uncorrected writings on the subject of butterflies, edited by Nabokov's biographer Brian Boyd, together with Michael Pyle, an expert on butterflies. All translations were done by Nabokov's son, Dmitri, who has lavished his time and talent on his father's work for several decades.
Even those of us who cannot get enough of Nabokov and cannot praise him highly enough may find more than 700 densely-printed pages on the subject of butterflies a little much. As much as we love Nabokov, do we really want to read page after page of his highly technical descriptions of the various species of butterfly?
Are these writings really important, from a scientific viewpoint? Is there any connection between Nabokov's passion for butterflies and his extraordinary fiction?
Although most people would probably answer "no" to the first two questions, the answer to the third is a surprisingly enthusiastic, "yes."
In his wonderful introduction, Boyd begins to elucidate
the connections between Nabokov the writer and Nabokov the lepidopterist. We come to understand the novelist more completely and precisely by coming to understand that science that gave this unique author "a sense of reality
that should not be confused with modern (or postmodern) epistemological nihilism."
It was while dissecting and deciphering his butterflies that Nabokov came to the conclusion that the more we inquire, the more we can discover, yet the more we discover, the more we find we do not know. The world, Nabokov says, is infinitely detailed, complex and deceptive.
Nabokov's important writings on butterflies are reproduced in this volume, but thankfully, in reduced form. And other kinds of writing by Nabokov have been blended over the scientific prose, beginning with the luminous meditation on butterflies from Chapter Six of Speak, Memory.
The poems, memoirs, letters, diary entries, criticism and fiction that make up this beautiful volume cover a period from 1941 to 1947,
when Nabokov was at his most obsessive...as far as butterflies are concerned.
This obsessiveness, however, is gorgeous to behold, as in a letter from Nabokov to Edmund Wilson about a lecture trip he made to Sweet Briar College. "The weather...was perfectly dreadful and except for a few Everes comyntas there was nothing on the wing." It always came down to butterflies.
Nabokov's interest in butterflies went far beyond sorting out and naming them. He was much more than a mere tabulator or categorizer. There is something exquisitely metaphysical, even mystical, about his approach to butterflies, something that also tells us of his quest to plumb the depths of nature's complexity. In his obsession, Nabokov sought to understand the sense of design that underlies the the physical world, and he also took enormous delight in the mysteries God chose to hide from human beings, leaving to them to seek them out or not.
His scientific writings overflow with minutiae, with obscure details, lovingly searched out, sorted, underlined, displayed
This preference for the complexity of life
also underscores his writings, most notably his massive commentary on Pushkin's Onegin,
the gorgeous and imaginative Pale Fire and Ada, a late masterpiece in which Nabokov's penchant for complexity reached spellbinding heights.
While only a small percentage of readers may want to study the scientific articles in this book, their very presence operates in the most subtle of ways to remind us that Nabokov, who referred to himself as VN, was also a student "of that other VN, Visible Nature."