The Real Clash

"In a first-rate piece of fiction, the real clash is not between the characters, but between the author and the world." -- Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

I made a note somewhere of a reference to this quote by Brian Boyd, an alarmingly-devoted Nabokovian, whose book Nabokov's "Pale Fire": The Magic of Artistic Discovery opens more cans of worms than any other study of a single novel I can think of. Boyd's comment was that, in an interview, Nabokov claimed he really meant to say, not "between the author and the world," but "between the author and the reader." (Naturally, I'd rather go with “world” -- since, for the duration of the reading experience, the author and the reader have to be somewhat on the same side, even if this is but a short-term alliance of convenience.)

Someone said of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim -- I think it was Alan Watkins in Brief Lives -- that it was a book that said, it's not like that, it's like this. Isn't this statement true of any novel that works? Novelists are always writing against -- claiming, this is more true than the last thing you read, at least for now, and not just for me. Even if literary novelists from Henry James on tend not so much to be saying this is how the world works as this is how the world feels, they're still saying, this is how the world is. Readers who would rather be told how the world works, we perhaps lose early on to Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand...

Maybe I'm saying that the real clash is not between the author and the world, but between the author and the author's perception of the received idea of the world. Oh dear, that's not a terribly catchy formulation... perhaps my gentle readers can do better...

2 thoughts on “The Real Clash”

  1. Perhaps what you mean is, the clash is between the author and whatever in the world impelled the author to write a particular novel at a particular time. (?)

  2. it’s interesting to see nabokov correcting himself, but why would we believe that he had “meant” to say something else than what he said? after all, his interviews belong more to the domain of an independent art form than attempt to clarify anything about his novels. (have you seen them on youtube? some nabokov interviews are on youtube).
    the gap between the two is the gap between the realist and post-realist fiction 🙂

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