To Nabokov, inspiration is not just something that happens all of a sudden, but something that once you have experienced first-hand, is easily identifiable in someone else’s work.
Inspiration according to Nabokov, a boreal wind /
Vladimir Nabokov, in his essay entitled “Inspiration”, approaches the generally underappreciated subject that the title refers to, and defies the assertions that many “serious” writers have: what is important is writing, and that inspiration is routine. Despite the fact that the Russian defends this type of “anchor of sanity” (the daily routine), which every writer must follow, he argues that inspiration exists in the same way towers and ivory exist.
Conformists suspect that to speak of “inspiration” is as tasteless and old-fashioned as to stand up for the Ivory Tower. Yet inspiration exists as do towers and tusks.
Similar to what Burroughs used to say about genius, (that he “was” no genius, nor did he “have” genius, but that he was “possessed” by genius), so Nabokov speaks of his muse; as a radiance that arrives and blinds you. The following is one of the best descriptions (that hopefully we will all experience at some point or another): “[Inspiration is like] A prefatory glow, not unlike some benign variety of the aura before an epileptic attack, is something the artist learns to perceive very early in life.”
The fear of confessing inspiration was to Nabokov, one of the worst mistakes writers ever made. And it is precisely that which we must seek in all the books we read, since it is the same muse that visited the Greeks, the English, the Russians, which leaves and imprint of its boreal trail among the letters, and that makes literature a delightful and immortal thing.
A writer who is not afraid to confess that he has known inspiration […] should seek the bright trace of that thrill in the work of fellow authors. The bolt of inspiration strikes invariably: you observe the flash in this or that piece of great writing, be it a stretch of fine verse, or a passage in Joyce or Tolstoy, or a phrase in a short story, or a spurt of genius in the paper of a naturalist, of a scholar, or even in a book reviewer’s article.
In this link, “Good Readers and Good Writers" (from Lectures on Literature, 1948), by Vladimir Nabokov.Tagged: writers, inspiration, literature, Vladimir Nabokov