Nabokov, just as he is famous for the great books he wrote, is equally known for his arrogant, olympian disdain and aristocratic dismissal of some of the greatest names in literature, many his contemporaries but also the writers of the past and well entrenched in the canon (he called Cervantes a cruel sadist). What is specially delightful about reading his interviews and comments is the way in which he goes about doing the demolition job. He obviously relishes it and somehow as a reader I always find something very charming in his arrogance, even when he is speaking about some of my favourite writers. For example, here is Nabokov on Dostoevsky:
Dostoevski, who dealt with themes accepted by most readers as universal in both scope and significance, is considered one of the world's great authors. Yet you have described him as "a cheap sensationalist, clumsy and vulgar." Why?
Non-Russian readers do not realize two things: that not all Russians love Dostoevski as much as Americans do, and that most of those Russians who do, venerate him as a mystic and not as an artist. He was a prophet, a claptrap journalist and a slapdash comedian. I admit that some of his scenes, some of his tremendous, farcical rows are extraordinarily amusing. But his sensitive murderers and soulful prostitutes are not to be endured for one moment-- by this reader anyway.
And another outburst on Dostoevsky:
Dostoevski the publicist is one of those megaphones of elephantine platitudes (still heard today), the roar of which so ridiculously demotes Shakespeare and Pushkin to the vague level of all the plaster idols of academic tradition, from Cervantes to George Eliot (not to speak of the crumbling Manns and Faulkners of our times).
Here is another example, where he dismisses one writer after the other (including our own Tagore--"a person called Tagore", sigh!). He obviously never found any value in having a literary circle of his own. Good for him.
Because of your mastery of our language, you are frequently compared with Joseph Conrad.
Well, I'll put it this way. When a boy, I was a voracious reader, as all boy writers seem to be, and between 8 and 14 I used to enjoy tremendously the romantic productions-- romantic in the large sense-- of such people as Conan Doyle, Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, and other authors who are essentially writers for very young people. But as I have well said somewhere before, I differ from Joseph Conradically. First of ail, he had not been writing in his native tongue before he became an English writer, and secondly, I cannot stand today his polished cliches and primitive clashes. He once wrote that he preferred Mrs. Garnett's translation of Anna Karenin to the original! This makes one dream-- "ca fait rever" as Flaubert used to say when faced with some abysmal stupidity. Ever since the days when such formidable mediocrities as Galsworthy, Dreiser, a person called Tagore, another called Maxim Gorky, a third called Romain Rolland, used to be accepted as geniuses, I have been perplexed and amused by fabricated notions about so-called "great books". That, for instance, Mann's asinine Death in Venice or Pasternak's melodramatic and vilely written Zhivago or Faulkner's corncobby chronicles can be considered "masterpieces," or at least what journalists call "great books," is to me an absurd delusion, as when a hypnotized person makes love to a chair. My greatest masterpieces of twentieth century prose are, in this order: Joyce's Ulysses,Kafka's Transformation, Biely's Petersburg, and the first half of Proust's fairy tale In Search of Lost Time.
Nabokov defining Poshlost is the most hilarious of all but I will save that for another post.