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Tag: Nabokov

The Last Supper: Nabokov and Leonardo

Friday, 3 May, 2019

The world is marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor. In the town of Vinci in Tuscany, the Museo Leonardiano is exhibiting the artist’s first known drawing, dated 5 August 1473. From 24 May to 13 October, an exhibition will open at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, featuring 200 Leonardo drawings. The Louvre expects huge demand for its da Vinci exhibition in October, urging visitors to book a time slot ahead of their visit and, staying in France, a tapestry based on Leonardo’s Last Supper will be displayed at the Château du Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley, where he spent the final years of his life, between 1516 and 1519. It’s the first time the tapestry has been outside the Vatican museum since the 16th century.

The great writer Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated by The Last Supper and oblique references to the mural can be found throughout his books. In fact, the young Nabokov composed a poem in 1918 entitled, The Last Supper.

The Last Supper

The reflective hour of an austere supper
Prophecies of betrayal and parting
A nocturnal pearl illuminates
the oleander petals.

Apostle leans towards apostle
Christ has silvery hands
Candles pray brightly, and along the table
nocturnal moths crawl.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

The Last Supper


Reading the mnemogenic Larkin on reading

Tuesday, 7 August, 2018

A Study of Reading Habits

When getting my nose into a book
Cured most things short of school,
It was worth ruining my eyes
To know I could still keep cool,
And deal out the old right hook
To dirty dogs twice my size.

Later, with inch-thin specs,
Evil was just my lark:
Me and my cloak and fangs
Had ripping times in the dark.
The women I clubbed with sex!
I broke them up like meringues.

Don’t read much now: the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store,
Seems far too familiar. Get stewed:
Books are a load of crap.

Philip Larkin (1922 — 1985)

The wonderful thing about Philip Larkin was his honesty. He was able to see through the many boring, cynical rituals that make up much of modern life and compress his visions into verse that remains shocking and hilarious.

Language Note: Martin Amis, in his Poems by Philip Larkin, honours the poet for his “frictionless memorability”, and, he adds, “To use one of Nabokov’s prettiest coinages, he is mnemogenic.” The word was coined by Nabokov in Bend Sinister, where a character named Professor Adam Krug describes a dream of his schooldays, and mentions gaps left by “those of his schoolmates who proved less mnemogenic than others”. From the Latin: mamma + –genesis, the noun “mammogenesis” refers to the growth and development of the mammary gland.


Nabokov on Goddard, and Wilde, and Beckett

Tuesday, 28 April, 2015 0 Comments

Before the anticipation of Mayweather-Pacquiao there was the historical fact of Breitensträter vs. Paolino. The date was 1 December 1925 and the venue was the Sports Palace in Berlin. The fighters were the German Hans Breitensträter and the Basque Paolino Uzcudun. Ringside among the 15,000 spectators was the young Vladimir Nabokov. His account of the bout was published as “Breitensträter–Paolino” on 28 and 29 December in the Latvian émigré journal Slovo. It is filled with delightful observations. This bit on Goddard, and Wilde, and Beckett, the boxers, is especially good:

“I have had the luck to see Smith, and Bombardier Wells, and Goddard, and Wilde, and Beckett, and the miraculous Carpentier who beat Beckett. That fight, which paid the winner five thousand, and the runner-up three thousand pounds, lasted exactly fifty-six seconds, so that someone who had paid twenty pounds for their seat had only enough time to light a cigarette, and when he looked up at the ring, Beckett was already lying on the boards in the touching pose of a sleeping baby.”

When the Times Literary Supplement published the first English translation of Nabokov’s “Breitensträter–Paolino” three years ago, Thomas Karshan, one of the translators, noted, “In our translation we have tried to do justice to Nabokov’s dashes, staccato or metaphysical, his commas, apprehensive or explosive, and his inversions, abstract or gutsy, all so important in a piece devoted to testing how far art can go in formalizing even those parts of life that might seem most resistant — even boxing, even blood and pain. We have also tried to catch those moments, so far from the oracular pronouncements of the opening, in which Nabokov mimics the brusque street-talk of the boxing fan or commentator, mixing his voice with the voices of the crowd — a democratic ventriloquism unique in his work.”