Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020721, Sun, 12 Sep 2010 12:09:02 -0300

Re: [NABOKOV-L] Butterflies, moths: "mariposa bruxa"
A.Stadlen: On "mollitude": it may be just worth remembering that VN greatly admired Samuel Beckett's "Molloy". (See Strong Opinions.)
A.Bouazza: Mollitude is not VN's coinage, but its usage is attested by the OED as early as the 17th century and is defined as "softness, effiminacy".
A. Sklyarenko: Speaking of Einstein, note that Eystein (btw., Eystein was the name of several kings of Norway) is a Zemblan court portraitist, master of trompe l'oeil (see Kinbote's note to line 130).

JM: There are many Einsteins, Zweisteins, Eysteins and Eisensteins, there are also various mollys, mollyblobs, mollitudes and molloys. Probably, at different times and spaces, Nabokov referred to each and everyone of them.
Thanks, A.Bouazza, for the erudite correction for mollitude, as its not having been coined by VN, also, for the OED reference which mentions, as in the 17th century usage of "Molly" (slang) ,"softness,effeminacy" (not the meaning Nabokov had in mind when he used it in ADA, I suppose). Sure enough, the word has been amply discussed at Nab-List before, another important reminder.
Sklyarenko noted that "The title of Amfiteatrov's story, Tochka opory ("The Point of Rest"), reminds one of the term "Archimedean point" (Archimedes is among the great geniuses of the past who are mentioned in Tochka opory), a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can objectively perceive the subject of inquiry, with a view of totality", and it eminded me of Mascodagama's inverted stand to look at the world and, of course, to the legend of Saint Christoph (there's a quatrain.about his carrying Christ on his shoulders like Atlas bearing the world because, in this case, where would the saint have rested his feet...) In a way, Nabokov often pulls away our fulcrum, our "the point of rest" by his irradiating verbal games.

R.S.Gwynn corrected the missing "its" from the lines I quoted, and demonstrated a Red Admiral with open wings resting on the sand. The white flecks were discernible but not its "ink-blue wingtips" (I once saw a Vanessa very enlarged copy displaying a series of extremely small blue dots, close to the white flecks: I wonder if these are the ones VN is describing?)
The sand on which it rests (the word, I mean) may be another equivocal allusion by Nabokov for, in a former description of this same butterfly, he uses the word "sable" ( as an heraldic term, but it also points to a furry kind of marten and to...sand).The final vision of a hieratic and outspread Vanessa, if it is connected to heraldry ( Zemblan"haravalda"?) would then be unintentionally but, even so, strongly connected to Kinbote's dellirious Zembla!

From: R S Gwynn
Sent: Saturday, September 11, 2010 6:40 PM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] [NABOKOV-L] Butterflies, moths: "mariposa bruxa"

In a message dated 9/11/2010 4:13:07 PM Central Daylight Time, jansy@AETERN.US writes:

John Shade: "A dark Vanessa with a crimson band/ Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand/ And shows ink-blue wingtips flecked with white..." (993-5)
Charles Kinbote: "One minute before his death, as we were crossing from his demesne to mine... a Red Admirable...came dizzily whirling around us like a colored flame. Once or twice we had already noticed the same individual, at that same time, on that same spot, where the low sun finding an aperture...splashed the brown sand with a last radiance... One's eyes could not follow the rapid butterfly as it flashed and vanished, and flashed again, with an almost frightening imitation of conscious play which now culminated in its settling upon my delighted friend's sleeve...Then the tide of the shade reached the laurels, and the magnificent, velvet-and-flame creature dissolved in it."

JM: The quotes from Pale Fire describe the apparition of a Red Admirable, close to the end of Shade's poem and of his life.
Shade could not have written about it and,only then, got up to walk along with Kinbote for a knackle of nuts and a glass of Tokay,when he came across this same butterfly.What strikes me most in Shade's lines is how he brings up minute details, which he couldn't have seen from a distance, exceept through the eyes of his memory (the ink-blue wingtips flecked with white).
Besides, the specific butterfly, his "dark" Vanessa (why dark?), settles with its wings open like a night-moth (otherwise the wingtips, as described, wouldn't be discernible).

Kinbote spins a different story altogether. He explains the insertion of the butterfly in Shade's poem, and their subsequent stroll cum Red Admiral, by informing,quite casually, that it was "the same individual" which both had encountered before in curious situations. He adds a mysterious and magical mood into his report, an "almost frightening imitation of conscious play". He also creates a "phaneros" ( Boyd's Orphic Phanes, or "a flame that appears and vanishes...). He also exalts its red color, unlike Shade. Kinbote's "ominous" Vanessa is, indeed, a Red admiral, "a colored flame" or a "velvet-and-flame" creature. Although he mentions the sand, like Shade did in his verse, and an approaching "tide of the shade" that "dissolves it" Kinbote's (insistently) flaming insect settles on Shade's sleeve, not on the sand.*

The third line is misquoted. It should be "And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white."

Here is a photo of a Vanessa on the ground:

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