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A Window Into the Mind of Vladimir Nabokov


This video interview shows the work, thought and intimate life of the genius Russian writer.

There are fewer more delightful things than entering into the mind of a person we admire. This video offers exactly that opportunity and briefly shows a series of moments that reflect the personality, work methods, opinions and the daily life of Vladimir Nabokov.

The Russian author is introduced in an interview, as he explains why he will not return to Russia; he is certain that to have taken what he needed from his native country and carries it within him wherever he goes. Then, in the video’s most exquisite moment, Nabokov reads the well-known first lines of his masterpiece Lolita in English and Russian ––a totally inspiring and unforgettable moment for anybody who has read and enjoyed the novel.

Later on, Nabokov shows the camera the notes for his new book, whose provisional title was The Texture of Time. To write it he would begin, he said, with a kind of academic essay on time that he would then transform into the story that he wants to tell. His aim is, possibly, the most challenging ever: to talk about time without using similes or metaphors to refer to it. “I’ve been perplexed and amused by fabricated notions about so-called ‘great books,’” Nabokov says with obvious disdain. Thus the acclaimed writer rules out what are canonically known as “masterpieces,” and fiercely criticizes books considered works of genius such as Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak or the prose of the critically lauded William Faulkner. He takes the opportunity to list, in order of quality, what he considers to be 20th-century prose masterpieces – in an undeniably impeccable selection:

1. Ulysses by James Joyce.

2. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.

3. Petersburg by Andréi Bely.

4. Remembrance of Things Past (the first half) by Marcel Proust.

Nabokov begins by reading a list of the things he detests: passages in novels describing the brilliant thoughts of their characters; supermarket music, portable music, imposed music; abridged dictionaries and manuals; clichés of journalese; humility, and what he calls “moments of truth or enlightenment.” The latter falls into a strange place considering that his favorite novel is Ulysses, and as we know, Leopold Bloom is filled with moments of enlightenment and truth.

The video’s final scenes show Nabokov with Vera, his lifelong companion and editor, playing chess in an intimate day-to-day scene in a Swiss hotel where both lived from 1961 until the author’s death.

The video –a gem for any lover of Nabokov and his literature– is a visual close-up of the mind and personality of a categorical and great rebel of a man, a window that shows us his passion for daily life and his particular methods of working.

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