I continue to work on a first draft of The Hanging Man, though I’m interrupting that work briefly to go over a couple of passages of Go Home, Miss America before sending it off to some people. Not really editing or revising, so much as clarifying a few things in early chapters. Also to write a synopsis, which work I don’t enjoy much. I also find myself making notes about Mona in the Desert, which I plan to revise beginning this winter. So, lots to do. I have failed to even mention the 12-foot wooden fence we'll be building next weekend.
Meanwhile, I’m finishing up a re-read of Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, which is a collection of his lecture notes that some nice editor (Fredson Bowers) has arranged into more-or-less coherent fashion as essays. I’m in the final section, about Joyce’s Ulysses. While I appreciate Nabokov’s ideas about style and structure, and I agree mostly with his comment that a good reader reads primarily with his spine—that is to say, gets a tingling sensation in his nervous system when he encounters creative acts of style and structure in literature and understands that a good book is much more than its surface—I find again that there’s something missing in Nabokov’s analyses of these great works. Literature is more than Nabokov seems to admit it is, because Nabokov seems to disallow any talk of unconscious work by the author, by which I mean Nabokov pretends that all of the patterns we see in a novel are deliberate works of the writer, and that any network of symbols or themes that we might see that was not seen by the author himself is just a figment of our imaginations. That seems wrongheaded, but I blame Nabokov’s distaste for all things Freudian for this blind spot. Artists work with their intuition and instincts as much as they do with their intellect, but intuition and instinct have no place in Nabokovian analysis. “Beauty and pity,” yes, but all of it consciously placed there by the writer. Once again I can’t help but feel that Vladimir was afraid of the deep inner workings of his own mind. And none of this is quite what I mean. I'll have to think a little more about what I think Nabokov is missing, but I do believe he's looking at literature through a window he kept deliberately narrowed. He was a funny guy, that Vladimir Nabokov. I know, I know: you want specifics, something more than "Nabokov seems to..." so that I'm making some sort of solid claims of my own here. But I'm not trying to have an argument with VN; I'm trying to work out for myself what the use of literature is. Why do I read? Why in God's name do I write? Why do I write these particular books? Et cetera. Nabokov is only peripherally important to that.
But that’s all by the way. Lectures on Literature is a fine book, presenting a well thought-out method of (one particular way) to look at literature. Read it, ignore the limits Nabokov places on literature, and learn about style and structure.
I’m also continuing Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, which is a foolish romp but quite entertaining and well written, at least the first part. Doctor Rabelais wrote five books in this series over twenty-odd years, so who knows what happens as it continues? It’s a comic narrative with no real central idea to hold it together, so it’s something I can read a couple of chapters of and then set aside and return to it whenever; a cliffhanger it’s not. Because there is no real story being told in G&P, I find myself casting about for something else to read alongside it after I finish up the Nabokov. I don’t know what that’s going to be.
Also, this weekend Mighty Reader and I saw this barred owl about a mile from our house: