1. If possible, be Russian. And live in another country. Play chess. Be an active trader between languages. Carry precious metals from one to the other. Remind us of Stravinsky. Know the names of plants and flying creatures. Hunt gauzy wings with snares of gauze. Make science pay tribute. Have a butterfly known by your name.
2. Do not be awed by giant predecessors. Be ill-tempered with their renown. Point out flaws. Frighten interviewers from Time. Appear in Playboy. Sell to the movies.
3. Use unlikely materials. Who would choose Pnin as hero, but how did we live before Pnin?
4. Delight in perversity. Put a noun into the dictionary. Now we recognize the Lolita at every corner, see her sucking sweetened milk through straws at every soda fountain, dream her through all our fantasies.
5. Burn pedants in pale fire. Accept no fashions. Be your own fashion. Do not rely on earlier triumphs. Be new at each appearance.
6. Age indomitably, in the European manner. Do not finish your labours young. Be a planet, not a meteor. Honor the working day. Sit at your desk.
It is certainly not then--not in dreams-- but when one is wide awake,
at moments of robust joy and achievement, on the highest terrace of
consciousness, that mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own
limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower. And
although nothing much can be seen through the mist, there is somehow
the blissful feeling that one is looking in the right direction.
I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader's mind. No matter how many times we reopen "King Lear", never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert's father's timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances will Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.