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Nabokov's interview. (17) The New York Times Book Revie w [197

Israel Shenker sent me his questions on June 10, 1971, three weeks before coming to see me here in Montreux. My written answers were accurately reproduced in The New York Times Book Review, January 9, 1972. Their presentation would have been perfect had they not been interspersed with unnecessary embellishment (chitchat about living writers, for instance). What do you do to prepare yourself for the ordeals of life? Shave every morning before bath and breakfast so as to be ready to fly far at short notice. What are the literary virtues you seek to attain-- and how? Mustering the best words, with every available lexical, associative, and rhythmic assistance, to express as closely as possible what one wants to express. What are the literary sins for which you could be answerable some day-- and bow would you defend yourself? Of having spared in my books too many political fools and intellectual frauds among my acquaintances. Of having been too fastidious in choosing my targets. What is your position in the world of letters? Jolly good view from up here. What problems are posed for you by the existence of ego? A linguistic problem: the singular act of mimetic evolution to which we owe the fact that in Russian the word ego means "his," "him." What struggles these days for pride of place in your mind? Meadows. A meadow with Scarce Heath butterflies in North Russia, another with Grinnell's Blue in Southern California. That sort of thing. What are your views about man's upward climb from slime? A truly remarkable performance. Pity, though, that some of the slime still sticks to drugged brains. What should we think about death? "Leave me alone, says dreary Death" (bogus inscription on empty tomb). What kinds of power do you favor, and which do you oppose? To play safe, I prefer to accept only one type of power: the power of art over trash, the triumph of magic over the brute. What are the large issues that you can't get interested in, and what are you most concerned with? The larger the issue the less it interests me. Some of my best concerns are microscopic patches of color. What can (should?) we do about elusive truth? One can (and should) engage a specially trained proofreader to make sure that misprints and omissions do not disfigure the elusive truth of an interview that a newspaper takes the trouble to conduct with an author who is rather particular about the precise reproduction of his phrase.

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