Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Memory Witness: Speak

`As Bleak and Changeless As an Old Gray Rock'

Students assigned to read Speak, Memory and Witness will acquire an essential lesson in twentieth-century history,  a nuanced understanding of public and private morality
That the greatest of American autobiographies – Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, and Witness by Whittaker Chambers – should be written by men with painful, first-hand experience of Communism is hardly surprising. No force so dominated the last century and claimed so many lives as the savage messianism of Marx and his disciples. From cretin to genius, even the most privileged and protected among us were touched. Take Nabokov: After the Bolshevik Revolution, his family fled St. Petersburg and found refuge in Crimea. In April 1919, they settled in England. A year later they moved to Berlin, where Nabokov’s father was assassinated in 1922. In 1937, the novelist, his wife and son moved to France, fleeing the fascist twin of Communism, and in 1940 to the United States for what he called the “spacious freedom of thought we enjoy in America.” In a 1964 interview Nabokov outlined his “political creed”: 

“The fact that since my youth--I was 19 when I left Russia--my political creed has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me. My desires are modest. Portraits of the head of the government should not exceed a postage stamp in size. No torture and no executions. No music, except coming through earphones, or played in theaters.”