Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nabokov Hate Catalogue, 1

Now I shall speak of evil as none has
Spoken before. I loathe such things as jazz;
The white-hosed moron torturing a black
Bull, rayed with red; abstractist bric-a-brac;
Primitivist folk-masks; progressive schools;
Music in supermarkets; swimming pools;
Brutes, bores, class-conscious Philistines, Freud, Marx,
Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets, frauds and sharks.
(V. Nabokov, Pale Fire 923-930)
It's a versified list of things that Nabokov's poet persona John Shade doesn't like. Some people might not think it's very good poetry. In fact I've had a professional poet stare in wide-eyed astonishment when I told him the poem was one of my favorites. I suppose he thinks the whole thing is just Nabokov's joke, an elaborate imposture that you're not supposed to appreciate as poetry...but why? Because it uses words like "supermarket"? Because sometimes it's funny?

(Nabokov said that the poem in Pale Fire was the hardest stuff he ever had to compose--did he work that hard to make it bad?)

Anyway, putting lists into verse has an ancient pedigree: there's the Catalogue of Ships from Iliad book 2, which lists the Greek heroes and the number of ships each has in tow. Literary critics even write learned monographs about "catalogue poetry."

So I'm in good company. The beauty of the poetic catalogue, and of Nabokov's hate catalogue in particular, is that you can just keep adding to it. All you need is an ability to rhyme and count syllables--as well as a sufficient number of things that you hate.

I'll leave the first two lines intact and go from there. Maybe I don't really hate jazz, but I'm sick of its being everyone's default choice for background music at swank parties. Here goes:
Now I shall speak of evil as none has
Spoken before. I loathe such things as jazz;
That flaccid poetaster who just sings
Of butterflies, dead relatives, and things;
All students whining for a better grade;
My credit card denied when I had made
Certain they knew that I'd be on a trip;

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