Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nabokov's Art as Story

Landscape with the Voyage of Jacob
Claude Lorrain (1677)

After Lolita’s mother is hit by a car, HH and Lolita begin a yearlong driving tour of North America. They have been on the road now for months and their views of the countryside are understandably different. HH takes an artsy approach (as in the below paragraph) where Lolita reads road signs to pass the time. She is fascinated by the different bathrooms signage such as Guys/Dolls, Jack/Jill, John/Jane and ignores his pleas to be transformed by the scenery. A mark of their different ages, sure, but also their futures; HH foresees a tempest coming and Lolita is merely biding time until her rescue.

View of Toledo
El Greco c1597-9

“By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average lowland North-American countryside had at first seemed to me something I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of those painted oilcloths which were imported from America in the old days to be hung above washstands in Central European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at bedtime with the rustic green view they depicted—opaque curly trees, a barn, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those elementary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, the nearer I came to know them. Beyond the tilled plain, beyond the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile loveliness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled-peach tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional dove-grey cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There might be a line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, and hot still noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude Lorrain clouds inscribed remotely into misty azure with only their cumulus part conspicuous against the neutral swoon of the background. Or again, it might be a stern El Greco horizon, pregnant with inky rain, and a passing glimpse of some mummy-necked farmer, and all around alternating stripe of quicksilverish water and harsh green corn, the whole arrangement opening like a fan, somewhere in Kansas.” (Lolita p150 Peguin edition)

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