Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Bend Sinister

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He was a big heavy man of the hairy sort with a somewhat Beethovenlike face. He had lost his wife in November. He had taught philosophy. He was exceedingly virile. His name was Adam Krug.

As I’ve said before, Nabokov is the one writer who can always be counted on to make me feel terrible about myself, and although I consider it to be one of his secondary titles Bend Sinister was no exception. The book, in some ways reminiscent of Invitation to a Beheading (or The Trial, The Castle, or We for that matter) is a parable about an intelligent, intellectual man who more or less suddenly finds himself living in George Bush’s America. That the book was written in 1947 is therefore no small feat. While some of the anti-communism stuff may ring a little hollow today, the mockery of bureacracy, anti-intellectualism, political cowardice, and political banality in general are still dead-on.

Everywhere in history, it seems, there are those who will pay their undying loyalty to The Ruler, whoever he may be.

It’s funny; I haven’t thought too much about Ulysses after originally finishing it, but I’ve been thinking about it lately in connection with some other ideas I have, and lo and behold, Ulysses (and Ulysses) pop up in Bend Sinister, in a scene that is very reminiscent of that Stephen Daedelyus Shakespeare scene in Joyce’s book, Krug says:

Take ‘Telemachos,’ he says, which means ‘fighting from afar’–which again was Hamlet’s idea of fighting. Prune it, remove the unnecessary letters, all of them secondary additions, and you get the ancient ‘Telmah.’ Now read it backwards. Thus does a fanciful pen elope with a lewd idea and Hamlet in reverse gear becomes the son of Ulysses slaying his mother’s lovers.

The scene even takes pains to read against the text of the play in an intriguing fashion, much as Daedelyus does:

The real hero is of course Fortinbras, a blooming young knight, beautiful and sound to the core…

The real plot of the play will be readily grasped if the following is realized: the Ghost on the battlements of Elsinore is not the ghost of King Hamlet. It is that of Fortinbras the Elder whom King Hamlet has slain … Thus, old Fortinbras, disguised as his enemy’s ghost, prepares the peril of his enemy’s son and the triumph of his own offspring.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 10, 2005 at 3:31 am

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