Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

April 28, 2008

I Helped Save Nabokov's "Laura" and Now I'm Not Sure I Should Have

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:01 am

Here’s the Guardian account of the decision. You’ll notice it emphasizes my challenge to Nabokov’s son Dmitri to stop teasing us: tell us whether he was going to carry out his father’s wishes and burn his father’s final, unfinished manuscript or save it for “posterity”. You can find the whole story here and here.

Perhaps things might have taken the course the eventually did without my intervention, which goes back to 2005 when I first wrote about Laura for The New York Observer. But Dmitri himself, in a backhanded way, seems to have credited me with having focussed enough attention on the issue to force him at long last to decide.

I know this because a week before the official announcement, he passed word on to our mutual friend Deb Friedman though Dmitri’s friend Sandy Klein, that “Laura will be read” and that he’d include Deb in the acknowledgments. In part, I think because it was Deb who (at Dmitri’s suggestion) passed on to me a pre- publication version of his interview in the April ’08 issue of the Nabokov Online Journal in which Dmitri brings up Laura, threatening to destroy it as his father wished, then has some kind words for me (though disputing my thematic speculations about Laura).

And it was this that prompted me to resume writing about Laura for Slate and publicly call on Dmitri to stop “teasing” us with his indecision. The Slate stories were picked up worldwide and it was during a live Australian Broadcasting Company book chat, show on which I appeared along with the world’s leading Nabokov scholar Brian Boyd, that Dmitri’s e mail describing his imaginary chat with his dead father was read. The imaginary chat in which is father gave Dmitri permission to ignore the wishes he expressed when he was alive and gave Dmitri permission to “make some money” off Laura.

But as the latter Slate piece indicates I had some doubts about this decision, some questions about the content of the unfinished manuscript. Dmitri then turned on me, and I’ve developed further doubts and regrets since then. Regret in part for badgering poor Dmitri who had an incredibly difficult decision to make. But regret as well because from what I’ve seen of the unpublished manuscript–just a few paragraphs–I developed a new theory of why Nabokov (Vladimir) wanted it burned–and perhaps why it should be although it now appears too late.

Remember I’m not associating myself with book burners, and part of me wants to read the whole thing to put the few troubling paragraphs I’ve seen in perspective and see what Nabokov might have been working toward in the unfinished, unrevised index-card version of Laura. (Actual title The Original of Laura

No, I’m not for book burning, but on the other hand it wasn’t a finished book, VN had expressed in his earlier work the belief that certain authors (presumably including hmself) have strong feelings about only allowing their final finished versions to be published. And I had assumed that Dmitri might compromise and–while not destroying it–put the manuscript (some fifty handwritten index cards, we’re told) in the hands of restricted archive, rather than publish it as a novel.

Especially because of the potentially sensational nature of the content: VN seemed–from the scant evidence of those few paragraphs available–to be revisiting the most inflammatory aspect of his most inflammatory book, Lolita, and he might well have wanted to refine it more, before letting the world have at it. It’s certainly understandable that he might not want anything but his final, most thoroughly and carefully thought-out version to be read for fear of misinterpretation.

Now however it may be inevitable, the discussion about the manuscript, about Nabokov’s life and work may disproportionately focus on the issue of his moral attitude toward Humbert Humbert’s obsession. In my view it’s always been easy to see the novel as the portrait of a monster, to separate author and character, but any further, more explicit description of the nature of Humbert’s monstrousness, anything more explicit than can be found in Lolita will diminish the attention to the rest of VN’s work; people will be arguing about his life or trying to read his mind rather than his work.

As I said Dmitri may well have taken this course regardless of what I’d written. And he may well have good reasons for it, the emphasis on money may be a self-deprecating way of eliding the fact that he does not want to burn his father’s words. But still, I feel responsible and I wish I didn’t feel misgivings about how it will all work out.


April 25, 2008

The Bell Verdict and the Tragic Folly of Vice Squads

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:29 am

Whatever you think of the not-guilty verdict this morning–the acquittal of the NYPD cops who shot and killed Sean Bell during a street fracas after a strip club bachelor party–the shooting was a tragedy. An unnecesssary tragedy. And there is a guilty party.

The guilty party is the tragic stupidity of wasting law enforcement resources, endangering law enforcement lives by forcing cops to enforce antiquated vice laws. In a city that is the world’s number one target for terrorism personnel, funds and lives are squandered on expensive, provocative and dangerous laws designed to keep strip clubs sex and drug free. And New Yorkers are supposed to be smart!

Even if you’re not a libertarian on such matters (as I am) those cops would not have had to be there, those bullets would not have been fired, that bachelor party wouldn’t have turned bloody and fatal if the police department didn’t task undercover cops with infiltrating strip clubs, making like they’re a den of evil rather than vice there’s a difference).

Mayor Bloomberg who initially tut-tutted over the number of shots fired is abandoning his responsibility if he doesn’t go deeper than that, and order his police commissioner to re examine the priorities in enforcement. Vice squads, buy and bust operations, belong to the 19th century. They cost money and they cost lives. If he’s such a brave independent, cost-conscious fellow as he’s always telling us he is, Bloom-berg should pay NYPD cops more (starting salary 25K!) and make sure the money’s spent on non stupid priorities. Giving us more security (hint: the ports) rather than unattainable sterility.

April 23, 2008

Shakespeare's Birthday: Some Suggestions

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:10 am

Here’s a list of some books, films, websites I compiled for The Wahington Post and Slate which you might consider picking up to celebrate. Don’t forget the book over there in the left hand column.

April 19, 2008

Today's Moment of Beauty: A Neglected Springsteen Song

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:31 pm

I should do this more often. Just pause and share with you some rare moment of found beauty. I rarely listen to Prairie Home Companion. Nothing against it, just not my thing. But today I happened to catch an amazing duet–I believe it was the Williams sisters–cover of Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” from Lucky Town.It just killed me. An arrow through the heart. I’m glad I have someone to dedicate it to.

Here are the lyrics. You have to hear it of course, not just read it. But that chorus:

I’ll wait for you,
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me.

I think I spent about a year replaying that song. I could spend another one. He has so many of these underestimated (compared to the anthemic faves, the whole “Boss” bullshit)) simple but intense love songs. I’m thinking of “Tougher Than the Rest”, “Secret Garden”.

Listen to “If I Should Fall Behind”. Am I wrong? Anyone suggest other neglected gems?

Freedom Tower in the Trash!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:23 am

Can’t resist following every clumsy step of the Freedom Tower Farce. Sad it’s likely to end in tragedy ever were built. But a more pathetic, inept crew could not be found.

The latest: Confidential schematics of the Titanic folly known as “Freedom Tower”, the nplanned 1776 foot tall (take that, Osama!) maximum security prison-like office buiding/terrorist Target One “memorial” for the Twin Towers at New York’s Ground Zero were found in a trash can by a homeless guy.

Most of the coverage (New York Post front page: “FREE-DUMB TOWER”) focussed on the the security threat–who knows what else was carelessly thrown out where? Who knows the intimate details of the innards of the grandiose mistake the Freedom Tower is. (Build a memorial to the the people not the building! Don’t make innocent workers hostages!) The thick booklets had everything a terrorist planning an attack could possibly want.

Perhaps the security concerns about the trashcan dump are justified. But that isn’t the only reason this grandiose, foolish, empty, dangerous terrorist magnet, worker hostage project should be junked.

I think the plans in the trash can were metaphor, a sign, a warning. Not just the plans, but the whole project belongs in the trash.

This farce is a disgrace to the memory of the victims.

April 11, 2008

The Inside Story On Bob Dylan's Pulitzer–Plus, Who's Next?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:20 am

You all probably know that the Pulitzer Prize Committee awarded Bob Dylan a “special citation” for his lifetime body of work:

“A Special Citation to Bob Dylan for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Some have asked “why Dylan now?”, others “why not Dylan before now?”, why the “lifetime achievement” Oscar type citation rather than a regular award. Some have found it cripplingly hard to handle the idea that a one time “anti-establishment” singer is being honored by the establishment. In some commentary on it you hear the echo of those tediously outdated complaints Dylan used to suffer every time he shifted direction. Complaints that date back to Beats muttering into their expressos in Greenwich Village coffee houses that Dylan has somehow “sold out”. A trend that began with the poor sad folkies who couldn’t get the genius of his shift to electrifying rock ‘n’ roll.

But was Dylan ever really “anti-establishment”? Maybe in the beginning as a lefty acoustic folk singer he was for a while, but then he rather rapidly turned on the lefty acoustic folk singer establishment itself when it objected to him refusing to toe the acoustic faux-folk line in his work (anyone remember “My Back Pages”?)

Let’s face it, for a long time, Dylan has neither been anti-establishment nor establishment, he’s been off somewhere on his own establishing an “establishment” of his own, you might say, an idiosyncratic Dylan establishment that doesn’t conform to conventional pro or anti stereotypes: he’s been following his nose (well his ear) to new territories, a habit that was often portrayed as “betrayal”, sell out, even “Judas”-like by some who can’t handle an artist so difficult to pin down for long.

A couple of days after the Pulitzer citation, a writer for the NY Times called me and indicated, in a long pre amble that he was trying to breathe some life into the anti-Establishment/establishment dichotomy in an essay for the “Week in Review” section.

He was trying to get me to confirm what seemed to me a dubious thesis that the culture continues to reward Dylan with honors and he continues to “spurn” them. I asked the guy where was the spurning? Yes, nearly 40 years ago he wrote a song about his discomfort accepting an honorary degree from Princeton (“Day of the Locusts”). But even then he didn’t refuse the degree. And ever since then he’s shown up for every award, Kennedy Center Honors, Oscars, Grammys etc and generally accepted with humility. I cited one Dylan website Expecting Rain” where I’d read some article quoting Dylan reacting to the Pulitzer with “disbelief”. Not exactly spurning it because it was “too establishment, dude”.

Needless to say my dissenting view was left out of the resulting article and various Dylan savants were quoted–surprise!– agreeing with the writer, but, to my mind, they were all locked into that virtually pre-historic initial image of Dylan as merely a rebel, which I tend to feel is a reductive way of looking at him. “Rebel” is just not a particularly useful way to talk about his two greatest albums “Blonde on Blonde” and “Blood on the Tracks”, for instance. These are investigations of love and obsession not blows against the Empire, unless you define it as the tyranny of love…The ancient dichotomy is just too easy a way to pigeonhole his music and his persona.

I loved the Toddy Haynes film, I’m Not There but thought the one flaw in it was that it spent too much time with the whole sterile protest singer vs. non-protest singer argument–the second silliest Dylan argument there is. (First silliest: is he poet? No, people, he’s a songwriter there’s a difference.) Anyway enough with the whole anti establishment lens for looking at him. It’s not 1970 any more!

Still, no Pulitzer recognition of any kind til this year? The The Times guy asked me what I thought the Pulitzer Committee was up to? Trying belatedly to look hip?

“I can’t read their minds.” I told him.

No, but a couple nights later I ran into someone who could read their minds. Someone with first hand knowledge of the Pulitzer and why Dylan got it now.

According to this source (and I think he knows what he’s talking about), the Pulitzer Prize for Music had long been the special province of a single Columbia music professor and the prizes all tended to go to a certain type of contemporary formal composer, some of whose music was so obscure few had heard it and in some cases it had never been played, at least in public.

Duke Ellington never won an a Pulitzer and there was some feeling there was a racial angle to the kind of criteria that were being used that excluded American jazz geniuses, not to mention the entire development of rock and roll and the brilliant work of some Country & Western songwriters (Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell all those unsung writers for whom just about every song is like a haiku version of a Raymond Carver short story–eminently Pulitzer- worthy.)

But, my source said, “they got rid of him” and began to try to making amends over the last few years, giving lifetime achievement type citations to the likes of John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. And this year Bob Dylan. And yet somehow this disturbs–in an old maid kind of way–some people. My Timesinterlocutor wondered if he’d show up at the Pulitzer luncheon or if his failure to show for a luncheon would demonstrate his disdain for the recognition. A blow against the Machine! But since he was touring in Europe at the time a failure to appear might be the result of concert commitments rather than “spurning”.

Give the guy a break already.

By the way, full disclosure: I’m working on a short book about Dylan for Yale University Press. Interested to hear from any fans or “Dylanists” (I prefer that to “Dylanologist”) on an any aspect of his life or work you feel has not been dealt with adequately or has been dealt with inaccurately.

i’d also be interested in hearing if readers had suggestions for the next “Lifetime Achievement” type Pulitzer for overlooked musicians.

April 7, 2008

Oh, the Stupidity…Stop the Folly of "Freedom Tower"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:02 am

A couple of years ago when i was writing for The New York Observer I wrote several columns attacking the folly of “Freedom Tower’ the grandiose idiotic attempt to “memorialize” The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers by building a 1,776 foot high office tower that would instantly become a terrorist magnet, paint a target on all the unfortunate workers and service employees forced by foolish employers to work there.

My feeling about the folly was re enforced when the preliminary plans for the Titanic office tower’s security were criticized by New York City’s Police Department and a new set of plans focussing on “bollards” fire hydrant-sized posts that would presumably foil truck bombers and dubious high tech identity checks like “iris screening” were advanced to give everyone a feeling of security. (Not).

The whole idea was misguided from the start I’d argued. it was not going to be a terrible psychic blow to Osama Bin Laden to see another perfect target rise in place of the Twin Towers. Quite the opposite. It’s not like “the terrorists would win” if we didn’t build it. They’d win if we did, because we’d have to turn all lower Manhattan into a high tech prison to protect it and it would still be vulnerable, and besides, the point was not to memorialize a building (unless you were a greedy real estate developer who’d been awarded billions for that purpose alone). The point was to memorialize the people who were murdered at Ground Zero, not to make some moronic triumphalist self defeating gesture.

I’d always felt that the best memorial for the 9/11 attack was to leave the gaping hole in Ground Zero as the only memorial, the raw earth speaking far more eloquently than any over-praised architect could, of the kind of wound it was. Having just come back from a trip to Hiroshima I was even more aware of the danger of memorializing that served to cover up the horror it supposedly paid tribute to.

But blowhard politicians, opportunistic insurance-funded real estate developers, obscenely vain celebrity architects, and sycophantic reporters (the Esquire series) took no notice of the daily horror of imprisonment “Freedom Tower” would entail for the workers within.

Oh no, the promoters and p.r. men and the gullible writers who sought to lionize them said, it will be a noble work, show the terrorists we have no fear. and won’t be onerous at all for the public who wanted to live, work and visit lower Manhattan.

Well now New York’s Daily News has published some leaked details of the newest security plansfor Freedom Tower that would be laughably pathetic if they weren’t taken seriously by those who made them.

I had compared the original revised security plans to a high tech prison. This new plan will turn all lower Manhattan into Gitmo. Talk about irony. Talk about “letting the terrorists win”. Stop the madness!

April 3, 2008

How You Can Help Defend Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:27 pm

Readers of this blog know that I have often written in defense of the brave Somali born dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel.

Not just from the murder threat that hangs over her because of her collaboration in Amsterdam with the film maker Theo van Gogh, who was stabbed to death by a Islamic fanatic who left a note threatening Hirsi Ali’s life.

Not just from milquetoast liberals who can’t see past the shibboleth of multi culturalism to express unequivocal support for Hirsi Ali’s right to live and express her dissent from the Muslim culture she was born into. The type of liberal who coined the term “Enlightenment fundamentalist” for her because she believes that tolerance of intolerance leads to repression and murder. And because it gives such a timid intellectual an excuse not to do anything to protect her from death threats.

But also from the cowering, pusillanimous European governments who have refused to give her adequate security protection from death threats

The situation is precarious. Adequate security against intolerant murderers is costly. Now at last there’s a way believers in freedom of expression uncowed by fundamentalist rage, can make a gesture that could mean the difference between life and death. Not just for Hirsi Ali, but of all dissidents from woman-hating sharia law. Hirsi Ali has set up a foundation to support freedom of expression for dissidents and offers those who wish to a way to contribute to her own protection.

If you go to her new website you can find ways to contribute to her and other brave dissidents. I hope you will.

Update: I’ve had a problem with the links on the website. I’ve notified the person who provided it and hope it’s temporary or limited to my iBook, but please be patient and I’ll keep you updated.

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