Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The world and words this morning

After reading student calls for "reporting and tracking microaggression from faculty" and the need for "cultural humility training" for professors, and after reading the morning news of the latest people murdered for their incorrect thinking, incorrect beliefs, or incorrect efforts to help the plight of others in their faraway countries, I felt a little beaten down. The world seemed lacking in beauty and goodness.

Being rather silly at times, I had the urge to eat the last chocolate bunny. Unfortunately, the consumption of chocolate bunnies solves very little. Doesn't help.

Coming across a little passage of Nabokov helped. It had beauty. It had goodness. It was suffused with love, the work of a creative being reaching toward someone he cherished.
Three years have gone--and every trifle relating to father is still as alive as ever inside me. I am so certain, my love, that we will see him again, in an unexpected but completely natural heaven, in a realm where all is radiance and delight. He will come towards us in our shared bright eternity, slightly raising his shoulders as he used to do, and we will kiss the birthmark on his hand without surprise. You must live in expectation of that tender hour, my love, and never give in to the temptation of despair.
Now this praise and image of glory expresses a son's love for his father. It also expresses a Christian belief in a creative, bright realm beyond this life--not a very popular concept among intellectuals when he wrote those words. Although you may be thinking that I'm wandering away from the original topic (the effect of too much chocolate, perhaps), this homage does have something to do with free speech, correct or incorrect thinking, and variety of opinions:
V. D. Nabokov, a lawyer and professor and athlete and editor of a progressive newspaper, was a liberal who was convinced change was overdue in Russia, but he eventually came to abhor and then oppose the bloody revolutionary chaos that arrived. Elected to the first provisional parliament ever formed in Russia, he was a courageous man, a hero to some. When he leaped up to shield a political enemy who was speaking at a rally in Berlin, he was shot to death by a pair of assassins. Their intended victim walked away unharmed    --both passages from a review of The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov by Larry Woiwode in Books and Culture
First, I note again the beauty and goodness and warm love in the passage of a letter written to Vladimir Nabokov's mother. Second, I note that V. D. Nabokov was a liberal and a progressive who lost his life--who gave his life--in defending a political enemy. Third, I note the calls for campus tribunals and training. Fourth, I note the slaughter going on around the world in the service of abolishing incorrect beliefs and thinking.

11 comments:

  1. Marly, as for students' thinking, I blame parents and teachers (K-12 and beyond); I do not foresee the pendulum's return in a more sensible direction at any time soon. So, I also seek beauty in spite of everything else. Today, both Wordsworth and Dickinson are candles in the darkness for me.

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    1. "Despite all" works for me. Those are good candles.

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  2. I am with you Marly. All of us seek consolation in beauty, the beauty of art and poetry and of the natural world.
    Human beings are as often appalling as they are wonderful.

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    1. Yes, such a strange mixture--all capable of creativity and beauty, goodness and truth, but so many choosing something else.

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  3. tunnel vision: the drive to conviction that one is the only possessor of truth. reality: what generally exists outside the comprehension of humans...

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  4. Boy, was this the right post for the right day.

    Here's a story I hope will cheer you a bit. Two days ago, our neighbor passed away unexpectedly at 62. He was flinty, wry, and not immediately warm. He was good to us when it mattered, and we liked him, but he wasn't shy about acknowledging the decisions in his life that disqualified him from sainthood.

    Yet tonight we learned what he was up to when we'd see his pickup truck roll down our shared driveway: every day, he was helping take care of the nonagenarian widow of an old friend. I had no idea he even had the energy--but mostly I was surprised into happiness by his example. It's really something how much goodness thrives quietly around us that we don't even see.

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    1. Ah, that's a sweet story. And to think that "goodness thrives quietly around us" is lovely.

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  5. I fear I read this post far too quickly first time round, astonished at the things Old Nab got up to before resuming his butterfly hunting and writing Pale Fire. When I came up against the fact that he'd been assassinated in Berlin, with the Lolita scandals apparently initiated posthumously, I was secretly relieved.

    Old Nab (my Old Nab) was a great writer but with a tendency towards the sardonic. The humanity in the first extract you cite hardly seemed to square with the way he tormented Edmund Wilson almost to the point of self-ignition, or his sly observations about the country that had taken him in and given him the elbow room he needed to write his novels. Nor with his very strange attitude towards being interviewed (Questions submitted in advance, Nab writes down his apocalyptically dull answers on separate postcards, interviewer repeats his questions orally for the camera, Nab reads the answers from the cards. Solemnly.).

    Finally, in a volte face that exemplifies my lack of formal education, I worked out that the first person singular in the first extract was my Old Nab (having temporarily discarded his sardonism) and that the Nab in the second extract was his dad. His dad's second initial, D, should have been the clue. Old Nab's second initial is V but it is at this point we sink into what can be called "the War and Peace morass". Old Nab's V stands for Vladimirovich and that, surely, is one of those patronymics that so bedevils Western readers of the Russian classics and was a contributory factor in my being being unable to finish Karamazov for the fourth time of asking, having - on the last attempt - reached page 350. I could never work out whether patronymics were real names or not.

    Perhaps it's time you attached a sort of health warning to certain future posts. Something like: "RR this one's a no-no for you; you'll be out of your depth." Then I'll confine myself to the rare occasions when you expatiate on the novels of John Grisham.

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    1. Hah. Well, what do I know about the facts of Nabokov, really, being one of those completely uninterested in biography? And that little snip stood alone, without any context.

      So perhaps you can call the whole attempt fabulist, spun out a wisp.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.