Monthly Archives: December 2016

a colloquy regarding Vladimir Nabokov

 

 

 

At Elisabeth Vandermeer’s awesome site on Russian literature,

https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/

there was a post the other day about Dostoevsky.

The following is an exchange between myself and another respondent to the post, based on an observation I made about Vladimir Nabokov.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     December 2016

 

 

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Roger W. Smith:

This is a typical post for this site. Which is to say that it is extremely well — I should say, beautifully — written and very informative. And, it makes one want to go back and read an author one hasn’t read for a long while. It seems that everything essential has been said about Dostoevsky, with nothing superfluous. Critics write whole books and never get as close as this to the heart of the matter.

A couple of thoughts re Dostoevsky. I am wondering, is he not — as regards style — somewhat like a writer such as Balzac, in that he didn’t give a hoot about style, basically. it was the story and the characters that mattered?

An opinion that I have formed, not based on an extensive acquaintance with his works, is that Nabokov is overrated. Brilliant, but nonetheless, overrated. I recall reading critical writings of Nabokov in which he refers slightingly to Dostoevsky and seems to rank him much lower than contemporaries such as Tolstoy.

A final comment. The illustrations on this site are always chosen, one can see, with great care, and they enhance appreciation and understanding.

 

 

Benn Bell:

I would like to say that I agree with him that your article is an excellent piece. You already know that I love Dostoevsky and have read him extensively. But I must disagree with Roger’s comment on Nabokov and cannot let it go unchallenged. I have also read Nabokov extensively and I find the notion that he is over rated as a writer quite absurd. Between the two of them I would rather read Nabokov any day.

 

 

Roger W. Smith:

I have taken note of your comment and see why you might differ with me.

In response, I would be inclined to say the following.

I don’t know Nabokov that well, having read some of his stuff, e.g., “Speak, Memory,” “Despair,” “Pnin,” and “Lolita” (in part).

“Lolita,” frankly, left me feeling wanting, impoverished. I could not get into it.

I have also read, in whole or part, the following critical works of Nabokov: “Nikolai Gogol” and “Lectures on Russian Literature” (parts)

Does this make me an authority? No.

But, I got the feeling that Nabokov is:

— undoubtedly brilliant;

— somewhat superficial or arid in terms of the emotional depth of his works.

Regarding the second comment – so called superficiality – I feel that Nabokov does not have or achieve in his writings the emotional depth of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, that his works do not strike the same deep chords. It seems to me, from my personal experience as a reader, that often one, while being impressed if not amazed by the pyrotechnics of Nabokov auteur and his ingenuity and linguistic ability, finds oneself left wanting more emotional nourishment from his works.

“looking for beauty”

DSCN0286.JPG

 

 

I just ran into a youngish woman on 60th Place in Maspeth, Queens, where I live.

I was taking an afternoon walk and at that moment was taking a photo with my camera of a beautiful tree in front of a house on the side of the street.

The woman said to me (I quote verbatim):

I like that you’re looking for the beauty in the world. … You’re looking for the beautiful moments, simple moments.

Then she high fived me.

Such a nice and perceptive comment.

— Roger W. Smith

     December 11, 2016

Roger W. Smith, “Reflections on How I Deal with Lingering Resentments”

 

 

This brief essay is concerned with the need we all feel sometimes to overcome ill effects and resentments from long past experiences.

One example may serve to illustrate what I am thinking about: my lingering resentment and anger towards my high school Phys Ed teacher and baseball coach, Robert C. (Bob) Gibson.

Mr. Gibson was the chairman of the Physical Education Department at Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a very popular teacher and coach, but I can’t forgive him for the way he treated me when I went out for baseball in my junior year. He didn’t want me on the team and let me know it. It was really unfair.

I think he thought I was a scholar who had no aptitude for baseball, and maybe the fact that I wore thick glasses had something to do with it. But at least one teammate did wear glasses, and that didn’t seem to bother Mr. Gibson.

I was deeply hurt but was resolved not to show it or quit.

I can never forgive or forget the way he treated me. I never got over it.

 

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My older brother has commented on this and similar resentments I have from the past. He feels that I should be able to leave them in the past and move beyond them.

I am of two minds about holding past grudges.

By remembering past slights, I believe, and refusing to forget out about them, by stubbornly holding on to them, one is, in a way, protecting oneself against the possibility of future hurt. I am convinced that my good memory, if I may compliment myself on having one, comes from a strong desire to not forget what has happened to me, both good and bad, so that I can defend myself in the future against further hurt and emotional pain.

On the other hand, there does seem to be validity to what some mental health experts seem to say about trauma, that you need to be able to overcome it and let go, put it in the past.

I have recently read two books: Getting Unstuck: Unraveling the Knot of Depression, Attention, and Trauma by Dr. Don Kerson; and Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann.

Neither book is the sort that I would ordinarily take interest in. But I finished both.

Both authors make good points and also lapse, in parts of their books, into New Age psychobabble. But, some of the stuff they say seems to have validity. They talk about the need to be able to overcome the effects of trauma. Apparently, a lot of people don’t even know that it is something one has to learn to deal with.

Apparently, it’s a left brain-right brain sort of thing. You have to be able to call up the painful memories, get them out of your left brain, which is critical and unforgiving, and from there into your right brain — sort of upload and dump them there — which can deal with them emotionally, and then be able to let go, become whole and healed once again.

Something like that.

These things don’t exactly work for me, and I in many ways feel that I never want to let go of my anger at Coach Gibson. I don’t know. But I can see the validity of the point that these writers make: about getting over the ill effects of past mistreatment and saying, that was long ago, it’s time to move on, to move beyond them.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2016

 

 

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Addendum: I was thinking today, for no particular reason, about this post, and I feel that I never should forget or forgive my coach’s treatment of me.

To others, the incident may seem negligible. To me, it wasn’t. Some hurts are shrugged off. Others, occurring at a particular time — say, in one’s youth, when can be particularly vulnerable — can’t. Other persons lacking empathy can’t see how a seemingly trivial thing can be a big deal, psychologically speaking.

And, of course, some major abuses or atrocities inflicted upon groups of people should not be forgotten and should be preserved in their collective consciousness.

 

— Roger W. Smith, August 3, 2017

 

 

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Addendum: A relative of mine posted a comment about this post on Facebook. His comment and my response are below.

 

Sometimes the best way to leave resentment behind is to realize that the offender is dead and no one else remembers the incident(s).

 

Roger’s Smith’s reply:

Perhaps.

But, your “offender is dead” point seems beside the point.

Does this mean that all past offenses committed in human history and experienced in one’s personal life get wiped off the slate after — and by virtue of — the fact that the “offender” has died?

Secondly, you make the point that “no one else remembers”? The incident I wrote about would, naturally, not be remembered by hardly anyone besides me. Again, this is beside the point. It was a minor incident in the grand scale of things, but I was deeply hurt by it.

I told almost no one, besides confiding it to my older brother years later. (I did so because he and I were talking about the coach, whom we both knew from high school.)

Have not you suffered hurts and indignities in your own life that have festered but which you may have rarely talked with others about, which you perhaps had a hard time dealing with, and which linger?