SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (6)
July 19, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.
THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA
Vladimir Nabokov knew that Kafka’s command that his writings be posthumously destroyed had been ignored; and as an admirer, he was glad of it. Moreover, Nabokov’s wife and literary executor, Véra, had prevented him from burning the oft-rejected manuscript of Lolita. So we wonder how earnest he was in ordering Véra and their son, Dmitri, to incinerate any writing left unfinished at his own death. The Original of Laura was begun in late 1974, handwritten in pencil on VN’s customary index cards — and when he died two and a half years later, a pile of cards it remained. Notes for a novel; neatly numbered, but hardly a whole. Yet Véra never got around to burning it, and eventually the task of either honoring or abjuring that final wish fell to Dmitri. In 2009, after much-publicized agonies of indecision, he chose posterity over the chimney.
This “novel in fragments” asks to be assessed as both an object and a writing. To the first: the book’s design, by Chip Kidd, is predicated on reproducing at full dimensions each of VN’s original notecards, with text printed below. Since every page is of cardstock density, and since the wordage alone would barely fill a pamphlet, The Original of Laura is perforce many times its “natural” weight and thickness. In fact the volume is seductively formidable, stout yet sleek, its creative substance quite outweighed by its physical atoms. Further, the cards are perforated, and may be punched out to create, on the one hand, a simulacrum of VN’s own card file, and on the other, a literal emptiness, a sweet crater of melancholy at the heart of the book. Some of us find that kind of gimmick — theme and theory made tactile, playful — irresistible.
As writing, The Original of Laura defines “unfinished.” Apart from sustained descriptions of the young Flora, chased by a pedophile named Hubert H. Hubert, and an old man’s attempt to erase himself through mental will (a variation on Kafka’s dying beetle), the text is without form or fixation. Parts read like dementia, or a more literary version of Dutch Schultz’s last words. And that’s fine, because the book is so brief a linger. Having accepted that no story exists, only sketches in pencil, you relish the grace of what is essentially a prose poem, a mental maunder, purely Nabokovian in language and line: “A cloudless September maddened the crickets.” The imagery is like a string of Christmas lights liberated from the tree of narrative, strung without pattern across the gray pages of a dimming mastery, there simply to be enjoyed for their random twinkle, their pointless beauty.
SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): RAIN | ARDUIN | SEINFELD | MAP INSERTS | TIME | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.