Nabokov on Examinations
With the new academic year about to crash, this seems more than usually relevant.
For some reason my most vivid memories concern examinations. Big amphitheater in Goldwin Smith. Exam from 8am to 10:30. About 150 students—unwashed, unshaven young males and reasonably well-groomed young females. A general sense of tedium and disaster. Half-past eight. Little coughs, the clearing of nervous throats, coming in clusters of sound, rustling of pages. Some of the martyrs plunged in meditation, their arms locked behind their heads. I meet a dull gaze directed at me, seeing in me with hope and hate the source of forbidden knowledge. Girl in glasses comes up to my desk to ask: "Professor Kafka, do you want us to say that…? Or do you want us to answer only the first part of the question?" The great fraternity of C-minus, backbone of the nation, steadily scribbling on. A rustle arising simultaneously, the majority turning a page in their bluebooks, good teamwork. The shaking of a cramped wrist, the failing ink, the deodorant that breaks down. When I catch eyes directed at me, they are forthwith raised to the ceiling in pious meditation. Windowpanes getting misty. Boys peeling off sweaters. Girls chewing gum in rapid cadence. Ten minutes, five, three, time's up.
From Alvin Toffler, "Vladimir Nabokov—A Candid Conversation with the Artful, Erudite Author of Lolita", in Playboy, Vol. 1, January 1964, pp. 35-45. Reprinted in Strong Opinions, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1973. (Via the always wonderful Sentences). Two questions:
- Why call this either "candid" or a "conversation", when it is well known that Nabokov demanded his questions be sent in advance, and then proceeded to read his answers from notecards—or simply handed the notecards to his interviewer?
- Can the choice of Toffler to interview Nabokov be any more bizarre? Toffler?