The hallmark of mindless, ceaseless consumerism is not buying to have but buying to replace. A TV is not the goal, but a bigger one is. A more expensive one is. One that lights up and accesses the internet. In Fight Club, the protagonist seems like a mindless consumer. He isn’t. First, note well that he consumes but when he does he does it to have–he does not buy to replace. He laments the loss of his property. He had bought a couch. He thought that no matter what happened he would always have that couch. He would not buy another, more expensive and more ‘stylish’ couch. He had his couch. His property. In an odd way he was already far removed from the culture he later sought out to destroy.
Hold a magnifying glass up to your eye. Right side up and then, in a flash, up side down. What else is like this? What happens in the middle? Zeno’s Paradox: In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach halfway to the pursued, so the slower must always hold a lead. I can get closer and closer to overtaking upside down with right side up, but never overtake it until, all at once, it’s happened.
In a bit of awkward preening in Despair’s foreword, Nabokov recounts the circumstances attending to this first translation of the work. “I asked a rather grumpy Englishman,” says Nabokov, “whose services I obtained [End Page 313] through an agency in Berlin, to read the stuff; he found a few solecisms in the first chapter, but then refused to continue, saying he disapproved of the book; I suspect he wondered if it might not have been a true confession” (Despair, p. xi). Nabokov’s explanation appears to be the one which we will find in nearly all of his later works.
Sometime in late 1960 or early 1961 Adolf Eichmann, jailed and awaiting trial in Jerusalem, was given by his guard a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s recently published Lolita, as Hannah Arendt puts it, “for relaxation.” After two days Eichmann returned it, visibly indignant: “Quite an unwholesome book”—Das ist aber ein sehr unerfreuliches Buch—he told his guard.
“I note incidentally that professors of literature still assign these two poets [i.e., Blok and Mandelstam] in different schools. There is only one school: that of talent,” Nabokov told Herbert Gold in an interview in 1966