Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The spine and its tingle

In last Sunday's New York Times Book Review, the poet William Logan writes of sailing "the traitorous Internet between the lies of Scylla and the damned lies of Charybdis." Well, yes, those choppy waters are full of enough misinformation to bring even a skillful navigator to wreck.

The other day I googled a phrase I remembered from Vladimir Nabokov: "Let us worship the spine and its tingle." And there it was, in someone's list of favorite quotations, attributed Scyllalike to me. I had indeed used the phrase, many long years ago, in pre-Internet days, in The Soul of the Night, where I clearly attributed it to Nabokov.

You may recall that a few months ago a commenter here accused me of plagiarizing someone else's blog. When I went to look, the blogger had lifted a post of mine verbatim. In fact, half of what was on her blog was mine, carefully adapted to make it look like her own -- a Charybdis for the unwary sailor. Tom sorted it out, but for all I know her plagiarized musings are still floating around out there in the cybersea.

But back to Nabokov. If I were at Stonehill, I would access the print version of his Lectures on Literature. As it is, I will have to rely on the Internet, with all its risks. Here is the complete quote, which someone will no doubt attribute to me:
All we have to do when reading Bleak House is to relax and let our spines take over. Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle. Let us be proud of our being vertebrates, for we are vertebrates tipped at the head with a divine flame. The brain only continues the spine, the wick really goes through the whole length of the candle. If we are not capable of enjoying that shiver, if we cannot enjoy literature, then let us give up the whole thing and concentrate on our comics, our videos, our books-of-the-week.
I wish it were mine.