In response to:
Happy Families from the May 22, 1969 issue
To the Editors:
NYR readers may be amused to know more about why Nabokov, as pointed out in Matthew Hodgart’s excellent review of ADA (May 22), refers to me on p. 542 of his novel as an “invented philosopher.” In my Ambidextrous Universe (Basic Books, 1964), in a section on Kant’s approach to space and time, I quote two lines from Pale Fire. (Nabokov’s page citation is to the British Penguin Press edition; he will find his lines rendered in Russian on p. 159 of a Russian paperback translation.) I did not mention Nabokov but credited the poem instead to his invented poet, John Shade. Nabokov returns the joke by calling me “invented,” since my book appeared on Terra, a perhaps imaginary earth, whereas the action of ADA occurs on Anti-Terra, an earth of antimatter. (Nabokov’s novel exploits the familiar science-fiction concept of “parallel worlds” first used so entertainingly by H. G. Wells in his greatest Utopia novel, Men Like Gods.)
Unfortunately, some astonishing recent experiments on time reversal were made too late for me to discuss them in my book or for Nabokov to refer to them in the remarkable essay on time that is Part 4 of ADA. It now appears that if there is an Anti-Terra in the cosmos it is not only mirror-reflected and charge-reversed, but possibly also changing in a time direction opposite to our own. A New American Library paperback edition of The Ambidextrous Universe will appear this summer with a last chapter much lengthened to explain these fantastic new developments. The new section was written, alas, too soon for me to quote from Nabokov’s imaginary antinovel with its palindromic (reversible) title.
Matthew Hodgart, Esq.
Department of English
I do not really mind your introducing ridiculous errors (such as “at graze” instead of “at gaze” or the reference to Gardner—look up that passage in his book and index) all through your review of ADA, but I do object violently to your seeing in reunited Van and Ada (both rather horrible creatures) a picture of my married life. What the hell, Sir, do you know about my married life? I expect a prompt apology from you.
Matthew Hodgart replies:
I shall be very glad to apologize if I have unwittingly caused Mr. Nabokov offense. Since he asks me, I know nothing about his life, beyond what I have read in Speak, Memory, and a few public facts about his academic and literary career. The sentence in my review to which he objects was an extrapolation from Speak, Memory. I now see that it was unwarranted; but it was not intended to be discourteous, and I hope that he will accept this apology.
Note: “Gaze” was correctly spelled in Mr. Hodgart’s manuscript, but was inadvertently printed as “graze.” The editors regret this error.
July 10, 1969