Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” (1977)

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(Conclusion. Continued from part 1.)

Dick felt insecure about being a writer of genre fiction, however successful. In an introduction to a collection of his short stories (published in 1980), he advised readers to “bear in mind that most were written when SF was so looked down upon that it virtually was not there, in the eyes of all America. This was not funny, the derision felt toward SF writers. It made our lives wretched…really cruel abuse was inflicted on us.” The abuse was largely self-inflicted. When meeting new people in the late 1950s, especially if they had real or imagined literary connections, Dick would deliberately downplay his science fiction writing, instead emphasizing his attempts at “mainstream” novels with more conventional realistic plots, which very few people ever read. Even in 1981, he felt that his failure in this area was “the tragedy…of my creative life.”

But he needn’t have worried. A Scanner Darkly was his literary masterwork, in which the line between realism and science fiction thinned out into nonexistence. In fact, the stylistic conventions of science fiction writing are deliberately used to erode that line, from the very first page. Continue reading

Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968)

letmetellyou“Let me tell you about my mother.”

I wrote earlier that every culture revolves around a certain central idea, which is best expressed in a single word, thus allowing one to see that culture in sharp focus. I gave several examples, with the notable omission of American culture. Maybe now we can fill in this missing piece. The theme of American culture is destruction. Continue reading

Vladimir Nabokov, “The Gift” (1938)

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An oak is a tree. A rose is a flower. A deer is an animal. A sparrow is a bird. Russia is our fatherland. Death is inevitable.”

1884 grammar textbook quoted in the epigraph (11)

The epigraph is not a fabrication.”

Nabokov’s foreword to the English edition (9)

(Continued from part 2.)

Nabokov despised clichés, but his life easily fits them. The Gift, his penultimate novel in Russian (the last being Other Shores), is proof that money does not buy happiness. It was written in obscurity, in Berlin, when Nabokov roomed in boarding-houses and made a living as an English tutor. The same drab life is shared by the protagonist of The Gift, and yet he is remarkably free from it. His inner world offers him an escape. In Pale Fire, a quarter-century later, it will lead only to a more restrictive prison. Continue reading

Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita” (1955)

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Madison Beer, a singer and TikTok star who boasts 11 million followers on the platform, is facing backlash after admitting to ‘romanticizing’ the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, a story of a middle-aged professor who becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old girl.”

Insider, June 2020

(Continued from part 1.)

Let’s not waste time talking about the beauties of Nabokov’s prose, as do many uncomfortable readers in desperate need of some angle from which Lolita might be safely appreciated. As you can see, there isn’t one. Continue reading

Vladimir Nabokov, “Pale Fire” (1962)

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Nabokov was an aristocrat who enjoyed American motels and looked down on the literary fashions of his era.”

“infographic” from a website that helps college students cheat on homework

John Shade, a professor of English literature at a very thinly disguised Cornell University, and a poet in his spare time, composed a poem in Popean iambic pentameter titled “Pale Fire.” Unfortunately, he died before it could appear in print, but his colleague, Prof. Charles Kinbote, has eagerly volunteered to curate its publication. Pale Fire, the novel, is the published edition (or at least the corrected proofs) of “Pale Fire,” the poem — Kinbote’s foreword, followed by Shade’s poem itself, then Kinbote’s commentary, and finally an index. Continue reading

Natsume Soseki, “Kokoro” (1914)

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(Conclusion. Continued from part 2.)

Kokoro was finished two years before Soseki’s death, and is representative of his late work. It has become his signature, certainly in the English-speaking world, and to some extent in Japan as well (although in schools they prefer to teach his early novels). The style and atmosphere of the novel elicit bewilderment and fascination, which parallel the feelings of the protagonist. Continue reading

Natsume Soseki, “Sanshiro” (1908)

tokyouniversity
Sanshiro’s old stomping grounds.

(Continued from part 1.)

But so far, it is only 1908, and Soseki has just completed Sanshiro. Quite unlike the solitary, introspective atmosphere of The Three-Cornered World, the new novel takes place in the midst of Tokyo university life. Its world is much bigger and wider, full of dialogue and social situations whose participants have diverse points of view and frequently appear to be deeper and more fully realized than the protagonist, rather than serving as vessels for his aesthetic appreciation. Regardless of how much actually happens on its pages, it certainly feels like it takes place in an active, energetic world where things are happening all around. Continue reading