Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021870, Thu, 28 Jul 2011 16:42:59 +0300

Mascodagama's grin
Van’s face, shining with sweat, grinned between the legs of the boots that still shod his rigidly raised arms.

From Victor Hugo's L'homme qui rit ("The Laughing Man," Ch. VI: "The Awakening"):

"How long have you had that laugh?"
"I have always been thus," said the child.
Ursus turned towards the chest, saying in a low voice,--
"I thought that work was out of date."
He took from the top of it, very softly, so as not to awaken the infant, the book which he had placed there for a pillow.
"Let us see Conquest," he murmured.
It was a bundle of paper in folio, bound in soft parchment. He turned the pages with his thumb, stopped at a certain one, opened the book wide on the stove, and read,--
"'De Denasatis,' it is here."
And he continued,--
"Bucca fissa usque ad aures, genezivis denudatis, nasoque murdridato, masca eris, et ridebis semper."
Ridebis Semper (you'll be laughing forever) was VN's Latin penname (his 1940 self-parody Zud was signed Ridebis Semper). Mascodagama's performance reminds one of "Ursus rursus" and "Chaos Vanquished," the interludes written by Ursus and performed by him, Gwynplaine, Dea (a blind girl) and the tame wolf Homo in "The Laughing Man" (Ch. IX: "Absurdities Which Folks Without Taste call Poetry"):

The pieces written by Ursus were interludes--a kind of composition out of fashion nowadays. One of these pieces, which has not come down to us, was entitled "Ursus Rursus." It is probable that he played the principal part himself. A pretended exit, followed by a reappearance, was apparently its praiseworthy and sober subject...

When the curtain drew up, the crowd, massed around the Green Box, saw nothing but blackness. In this blackness three confused forms moved in the reptile state--wolf, a bear, and a man. The wolf acted the wolf; Ursus, the bear; Gwynplaine, the man. The wolf and the bear represented the ferocious forces of Nature--unreasoning hunger and savage ignorance. Both rushed on Gwynplaine. It was chaos combating man. No face could be distinguished. Gwynplaine fought infolded, in a winding-sheet, and his face was covered by his thickly-falling locks. All else was shadow. The bear growled, the wolf gnashed his teeth, the man cried out. The man was down; the beasts overwhelmed him. He cried for aid and succour; he hurled to the unknown an agonized appeal. He gave a death-rattle. To witness this agony of the prostrate man, now scarcely distinguishable from the brutes, was appalling. The crowd looked on breathless; in one minute more the wild beasts would triumph, and chaos reabsorb man. A struggle--cries--howlings; then, all at once, silence.

A song in the shadows. A breath had passed, and they heard a voice. Mysterious music floated, accompanying this chant of the invisible; and suddenly, none knowing whence or how, a white apparition arose. This apparition was a light; this light was a woman; this woman was a spirit. Dea--calm, fair, beautiful, formidable in her serenity and sweetness--appeared in the centre of a luminous mist. A profile of brightness in a dawn! She was a voice--a voice light, deep, indescribable. She sang in the new-born light--she, invisible, made visible. They thought that they heard the hymn of an angel or the song of a bird. At this apparition the man, starting up in his ecstasy, struck the beasts with his fists, and overthrew them.

Then the vision, gliding along in a manner difficult to understand, and therefore the more admired, sang these words in Spanish sufficiently pure for the English sailors who were present:--

"Ora! llora!
De palabra
Nace razon.
De luz el son."
Then looking down, as if she saw a gulf beneath, she went on,--

"Noche, quita te de alli!
El alba canta hallali."

As she sang, the man raised himself by degrees; instead of lying he was now kneeling, his hands elevated towards the vision, his knees resting on the beasts, which lay motionless, and as if thunder-stricken.

She continued, turning towards him,--

"Es menester a cielos ir,
Y tu que llorabas reir."

And approaching him with the majesty of a star, she added,-

"Gebra barzon;
Deja, monstruo,
A tu negro

And she put hot hand on his brow. Then another voice arose, deeper, and consequently still sweeter--a voice broken and enwrapt with a gravity both tender and wild. It was the human chant responding to the chant of the stars. Gwynplaine, still in obscurity, his head under Dea's hand, and kneeling on the vanquished bear and wolf, sang,--

"O ven! ama!
Eres alma,
Soy corazon."

And suddenly from the shadow a ray of light fell full upon Gwynplaine. Then, through the darkness, was the monster full exposed.

To describe the commotion of the crowd is impossible. A sun of laughter rising, such was the effect. Laughter springs from unexpected causes, and nothing could be more unexpected than this termination. Never was sensation comparable to that produced by the ray of light striking on that mask, at once ludicrous and terrible.

In Ada, 'Ursus' is the Franco-Estotian restaurant in Manhattan Major (also known on Antiterra as Man) visited by Van, Ada and Lucette (2.8).

On the other hand, one is reminded of the performance that Bender and Vorobyaninov watch in the Columbus Theatre in Ilf and Petrov's "The 12 chairs" (see my earlier posts to the List).

Speaking of movies ("The Battleship Potyomkin," etc.): in "The Golden Calf" Ostap Bender writes a shooting script Sheya ("The Neck") for the Chernomorsk (read: Odessa) film company.

Boyd: Ganin, the hero of Mary: “Only a short while ago he could walk on his hands, quite as well as a Japanese acrobat, and with legs elegantly erect move along like a sail” (Mary 8).

In Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days," Passepartout (Phileas Fogg's French valet) joins a company of Japanese acrobats during his brief stay in Yokohama.

Benten + red = Bender + net

Benten + tam-tam + oh = Bentham + temnota

Benten - indigenous part part Yokohama; cf. the Benten lamp in Ada; net - Russ., no; tam-tam - Japanese gong mentioned in "Around the World in 80 Days;" Bentham - Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a British author mentioned in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin; temnota - Russ., darkness (Dea, a character in Hugo's L'homme qui rit, is a blind girl; Panikovsky, a character in Ilf & Petrov's "The Golden Calf," imitates blindness; there are three blind characters in Ada)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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