Monday, February 4, 2013

The Original of Laura

I now own two more books, Vladimir Nabokov, The Original of Laura. A Novel in Fragments (Dying is Fun). Ed. Dimitri Nabokov (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009) and Andrew Piper, Book Was There. Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 2012). I paid $10.00 for each at Brattle. While I had looked at the Nabokov book longingly in bookstores around Christmas 2008, I was going to skip the Piper book. But the planned followup on a previous post made the purchase almost necessary.

Piper claims in this book as well that Nabokov's "incomplete novel" offers a "timely reminder of the tangled relationship of books and notes. Without notes, so Laura tells us, we have no books" (63f). As I said before, Nabokov wrote his manuscripts on notecards.[1] Here some testimony for this:
I find now that index cards are really the best kind of paper that I can use for that purpose writing. I don't write consecutively from the beginning to the next chapter and so on to the end. I just fill in the gaps of the picture, of this jigsaw puzzle, which is quite clear in my mind, picking out a piece here and a piece there and filling out part of the sky and part of the landscape and part of the - I don't know, the carousing hunter. (Nabokov 1990), p. 16f.
...I find cards especially convenient when not following the logical sequence of chapters but preparing instead this or that passage at any point of the novel and filling in the gaps in no special order. (Nabokov 1990), p. 69.
Ada was physically harder to compose than my previous novels because of its greater length. In terms of the index cards on which I write and rewrite my stuff in pencil, it made, in the final draft, some 2,500 cards which Mme. Callier, my typist since Pale Fire, turned into more than 850 pages." [Interview with the New Yorker 1969 (Nabokov 1990), p. 122].[2]
If Piper had checked Nabokov's claims about his writings, he would have seen that the notecards he used were no notes, but the pages of his manuscript. And there is a big difference between the two, even if, as in most manuscripts that are actively worked on, some passages are more rough than others. There are even "notes to self," like "[write] at least three cards of this stuff. There are also "notes" that are taken by the character of the novel (on Buddhism and self-annihilation), but they are also part of the manuscript, not stuff that precedes it.

1. See here. (See also the references provided in this post, especially this one).
2. "(Nabokov 1990)" refers to Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York: Vintage International, 1990; first published 1973).

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