"It appears,"' says Mr. Rowe* in his  Introduction,  "that
Nabokov-- partially by means of the mechanisms revealed below--
will  continue  to  flutter  the pulses of his readers for some
time."
     "The  mechanisms  revealed  below"  is  a  pretty  phrase,
suggesting  perhaps  more  than its author intends, but it does
not quite apply to me. The purpose of the present review is not
to answer a critic but to ask him to remove his belongings. The
book consists of three parts. Whilst I have  no  great  quarrel
with  the  first  two, entitled "A Touch of Russian" and "N. as
Stage Manager," I must protest vehemently against a  number  of
indecent  absurdities  contained  in  the  third part, entitled
"Sexual Manipulations."
     One may wonder if it was worth Mr. Rowe's time to  exhibit
erotic  bits  picked  out  of  Lolita and Ada-- a
process rather like looking for allusions to aquatic mammals in
Moby Dick. But that is his own choice and concern.  What
I  object  to is Mr. Rowe's manipulating my most innocent words
so as to introduce sexual "symbols" into them.  The  notion  of
symbol itself has always been abhorrent to me, and I never tire
of  retelling  how I once failed a student-- the dupe, alas, of
an earlier teacher-- for writing  that  Jane  Austen  describes
leaves  as "green" because Fanny is hopeful, and "green" is the
color  of  hope.  The  symbolism  racket  in  schools  attracts
computerized  minds  but destroys plain intelligence as well as
poetical sense. It bleaches the soul. It numbs all capacity  to
enjoy  the  fun  and enchantment of art. Who the hell cares, as
Mr. Rowe wants us to care, that  there  is,  according  to  his
italics,  a  "man" in the sentence about a homosexual Swede who
"had embarrassing manners" (p. 148), and  another  "man"
in  "manipulate" (passim)? "Wickedly folded moth"
suggests "wick" to Mr. Rowe, and "wick," as we Freudians  know,
is  the  Male Organ. "I" stands for "eye," and "eye" stands for
the Female Organ. Pencil licking is always a reference  to  you
know what. A soccer goal hints at the vulval orifice (which Mr.
Rowe evidently sees as square).
     I wish to share with him the following secret: In the case
of a certain  type  of  writer  it  often  happens that a whole
paragraph or sinuous sentence exists as  a  discrete  organism,
with  its  own imagery, its own invocations, its own bloom, and
then it is especially precious, and also vulnerable, so that if
an  outsider,  immune  to  poetry  and  common  sense,  injects
spurious  symbols into it, or actually tampers with its wording
(see Mr. Rowe's crass attempt on his page 113),  its  magic  is
replaced  by  maggots. The various words that Mr. Rowe mistakes
for the "symbols" of academic jargon, supposedly planted by  an
idiotically  sly  novelist  to  keep  schoolmen  busy,  are not
labels, not pointers, and certainly not the garbage cans  of  a
Viennese  tenement, but live fragments of specific description,
rudiments of metaphor, and  echoes  of  creative  emotion.  The
fatal  flaw in Mr. Rowe's treatment of recurrent words, such as
"garden" or "water," is his regarding them as abstractions, and
not realizing that the sound of a bath being  filled,  say,  in
the  world of Laughter in the Dark, is as different from
the limes rustling in the rain of Speak, Memory  as  the
Garden   of  Delights  in  Ada  is  from  the  lawns  in
Lolita. If every "come"  and  "part"  on  the  pages  of
my  books is supposedly used by me to represent "climax"
and "genitals," one can well imagine the naughty treasures  Mr.
Rowe   might   find  in  any  French  novel  where  the  prefix
"con"' occurs so frequently as to make every  chapter  a
veritable  compote  of  female organs. I do not think, however,
that his French is sufficient  for  such  feasts;  nor  is  his
Russian  good  enough for his manipulations if he believes that
"'otblesk" (confused apparently with otliv) means
"low tide" (page III) or that the  nonexistent  "triazh"
stands  for  "tyranny"  (page 41) when actually the word that I
used (and  that  he  wrongly  transcribed),  tirazh,  is
merely a publisher's term for "circulation."
     One  can  excuse a critic for not finding "stillicide" and
"ganch" in  his  abridged  dictionary  and  concluding  that  I
invented  those  words;  one  can  understand  a dull reader of
Invitation to a Beheading thinking that the  executioner
develops  a  homosexual tenderness for his victim when actually
that affectionate look reflects only  the  lust  of  a  glutton
coveting  a  live  chicken;  but  what I find unpardonable, and
indeed unworthy  of  a  scholar,  is  Mr.  Rowe's  twisting  my
discussion  of  prosody  (as  appended  to  my  translation  of
Eugene Onegin) into a torrent of Freudian drivel,  which
allows  him  to  construe  "metrical length" as an erection and
"rhyme"  as  a  sexual  climax.  No  less  ludicrous   is   his
examination  of  Lolita's  tennis and his claim that the tennis
balls represent testicles (those of a giant albino, no  doubt).
Passing  on  to  my  reference  to  chess problems in Speak,
Memory Mr. Rowe finds "sexual analogies" in such phrases as
"mating devices" and "groping for a pawn in the box"--  all  of
which is as much an insult to chess as to the problemist.
     The   jacket  of  Mr.  Rowe's  book  depicts  a  butterfly
incongruously flying around a candle. Moths,  not  butterflies,
are  attracted  to  light  but  the  designer's  blunder neatly
illustrates the quality of Mr. Rowe's  preposterous  and  nasty
interpretations.  And  he  will  be read, he will be quoted, he
will be filed in great libraries, next to my arbors and mists!


     * William Woodin Rowe: Nabokov's  Deceptive  World.
New York University Press, 1971, 193 pp.


______________________________________________________________
     Written  at  Gstaad, Bernese Oberland, on August 28, 1971,
and published in The New York Review on October 7 of the
same year.


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