Notes from the Underground

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 102 in 1999.

...Harold Pinter, who in October was voted by a group of his theatrical peers as one of the three greatest dramatists of the 20th Century (along with Arthur Miller and Samuel Beckett), recently said, speaking about the United States:

"How can any country, in the light of such blanket condemnation of its policies and actions, not pause to take a liitle thought, not subject itself to even the mildest and most tentative critical scrutiny? The answer is quite simple. If you believe you still call all the shots you just don't give a shit. You say, without beating around the bush: Yes, sure, I am biased and arrogant and in many respects ignorant, but so what? I possess the economic and military might to back me up to the hilt and I don't care who knows it. And when I say that I also occupy the moral high ground you'd better believe it.

"The general thrust these days is: 'Oh come on, it's all in the past, nobody's interested any more, it did'nt work, that's all, everyone knows what the Americans are like, but stop being naive, this is the world, there's nothing to be done about it and anyway, fuck it, who cares?' Sure, as they say, sure. But let me put it this way - the dead are still looking at us, steadily, waiting for us to acknowledge out part in their murder."

...Vladimir Nabokov created the character Lolita over 40 years ago and she's been getting into trouble ever since.

On the heels of the recent controversy over the new Adrian Lyne film adaptation of the novel, another storm is brewing. "Lo's Diary", the debut novel by 42 year old Italian writer Pia Pera, retells the now classic story of Lolita and Humbert Humbert from the girl's perspective in the form of a diary. Already published in Italy and the Netherlands, and set for publication in the U.S. next July by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Nabokov's son, Dmitri, has filed a suit to have the English translation blocked from ever seeing the light of day.

"It is, in a word, a rip-off," said Peter L. Skolnic, lawyer for the Nabokov estate, who claims that the new work will harm Nabokov's reputation and seeks to capitalize on its success.

Leon Friedman, the lawyer for Farrar, Straus and Grioux, stated that the new novel fell into "fair use" standards set by the U.S. Supreme court. A statement from Ms. Pera through her publisher said: "'Lolita' belongs not just to literature but to everyday language and contemporary mythology. This suit makes one wonder wether new light can be cast on our cultural heritage only after the term of copyright has expired." The copyright on Lolita dates back to 1955, its initial publication date by Maurice Girodias' Olympia Press, and runs until the year 2030.

The tradition of literary transformation is a longstanding one that can be traced back as far as Shakespeare, through James Joyce's Ulysses interpretation of The Odyssey, to such modern authors as Jane Smiley, John Updike and Philip Roth.

Dmitri Nabokov has not made a public comment and his current location is reported to be Sebring, Fl., where he is racing cars.

Vladimir Nabokov and Maurice Girodias had a long running feud concerning the book, some of which was played out in the pages of Evergreen. See the feature Lolita, Nabokov and I by Girodias reprinted in this issue for more.


Since the story of "Lo's Diary" was posted on the Evergreen web site, Farrar, Straus & Giroux have dropped their plans to publish the title in the U.S. "I don't think it right for any publisher to feed off the reputation of a literary person," said Roger W. Straus, president and chief executive of the publishing house, "Are we standing up for writers and for literature by proceeding to publish Pia Pera or by acceding to the wishes of the Nabokov edstate?… Is this a good thing or bad thing for literature?"

Peter L Skolnik, the lawyer for Dmitri Nabokov said the decision to sue was a difficult one because, "few writers have stood for the right of free expression than Nabokov."

Pia Pera, the author of the novel, said that if it would ensure publication, she would agree to give up any economic gain from the title.

It remains to be seen whether or not Macmillan, who is scheduled to publish the title in England, will follow through with the publication.

...A wire from London reports that Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot has been named the most significant English language play of the 20th Century in a poll by Britain's Royal National Theatre. The theater polled over 800 playwrights, actors, journalists and directors. Godot topped the individual play poll and was followed by Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire

..Billy "The Gimp", the main character in John Fergus Ryan's Watching excerpted in this issue of Evergreen, would probably be having a hard time in 1998 New York.

Not only would the transformation of Times Square into a tourist theme park have left him dazed but he probably would be without a home now too. The single-room-occupancy (S.R.O.) buildings in New York, one of which housed Billy in Ryan's novel, are slowly going the way of the seedy 42nd Street neighborhood. The rooms are being renovated and converted into tourist hotel rooms. There were 44,000 S.R.O. rooms left in New York in 1993, down from around 200,000 previous existing before renovations took place in the 70s and 80s. While a S.R.O. occupant pays an average of $426 a month stabilized, new building owners who renovate can get up to $175 a night from travelers. The current S.R.O. tenants cannot be evicted but many are "persuaded" to leave via buyouts or by being forced to reside in unlivable conditions, surrounded by exposed wires, bare walls and with little or no security.

...a new flood of cheap ecstasy... The report claims that the ecstasy, which is the drug of choice in the entertainment industry, will probably sell for half of the market price, currently 1000 baht per tablet.

...Our reports from Thailand tell us that in Bangkok, Metropolitan Police officers from superintendent level down are being barred from playing golf during working hours. No officer will be allowed to play golf unless their jurisdiction was "absolutely free of crime." Not so long ago the Thai government forced prostitutes to take on the job of being golf caddies as a means of gainful living… The Office of the Narcotics Control Board expressed public alarm that Thailand may be the intended destination for a new flood of cheap ecstasy smuggled in from Holland. The report claims that the ecstasy, which is the drug of choice in the entertainment industry, will probably sell for half of the market price, currently 1000 baht per tablet … The Agriculture Department in Thailand is claiming that Japanese firms are stealing and exporting pueraria mirifica roots. The herb is said to enlarge the size of a woman's breasts and hips. The sale of the root to foreigners in the northern provinces of Thailand is so high that it is in jeopardy of becoming extinct. Thai women have taken the root for decades said Wichai Cherdhewasart, an associate professor in plant biotechnology at Chulalongkorn University. "It shows an estrogenic effect, it can enlarge breasts and hips. How much depend from woman to woman. If a woman's breasts are large already, the effect will be greater."…

Bangkok's sympathetic view of Microsoft… Just trying to keep up!

...A new and interesting perspective on the current lawsuit against Microsoft by the U.S. Government we read described Bill Gates as Clintonesque. Apparently the company feels that it is the real victim in the case, calling itself a pitiful, bumbling, stumbling company in its early years, just trying to catch up to the Internet development and web-browser monopoly of the Netscape Corp. John Warden, one of the lawyers for Gates, explained that Microsoft is being picked on by machine-hating Luddites who are trying to destroy the company for the crime of being successful in business. Needless to say, no tears were shed on Gates' and Microsoft's behalf…