Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026917, Thu, 24 Mar 2016 13:19:23 +0300

Proustian bed & assassin pun in Ada
In his essay Texture of Time (Part Four of Ada) Van mentions the Proustian bed and the assassin pun:

But beware, anime meus, of the marcel wave of fashionable art; avoid the Proustian bed and the assassin pun (itself a suicide — as those who know their Verlaine will note).

In his poem Art Poétique (“Art of Poetry,” 1885) Paul Verlaine says that a poet should avoid la Pointe assassine, l'Esprit cruel et le Rire impur (the assassin Pun, the cruel Quip and the impure Laughter):

Fuis du plus loin la Pointe assassine,
L'Esprit cruel et le Rire impur,
Qui font pleurer les yeux de l'Azur,
Et tout cet ail de basse cuisine!

Le Rire (Laughter, 1900) is a book by Bergson, the philosopher whose theory of time had a tremendous influence on Marcel Proust (the author of “In Search of Lost Time”). Like Verlaine and Proust, Bergson is directly mentioned in Ada:

Van (crossly): 'I don't understand the first word... What's that? L'adorée? Wait a second' (to Lucette). 'Please, stay where you are.' (Lucette whispers a French child-word with two 'p's.). 'Okay' (pointing toward the corridor). 'Sorry, Polly. Well, is it l'adorée? No? Give me the context. Ah - la durée. La durée is not... sin on what? Synonymous with duration. Aha. Sorry again, I must stopper that orgiastic soda. Hold the line.' (Yells down the 'cory door,' as they called the long second-floor passage at Ardis.) 'Lucette, let it run over, who cares!'

He poured himself another glass of brandy and for a ridiculous moment could not remember what the hell he had been - yes, the polliphone.

It had died, but buzzed as soon as he recradled the receiver, and Lucette knocked discreetly at the same time.

'La durée... For goodness sake, come in without knocking... No, Polly, knocking does not concern you - it's my little cousin. All right. La durée is not synonymous with duration, being saturated - yes, as in Saturday - with that particular philosopher's thought. What's wrong now? You don't know if it's dorée or durée? D, U, R. I thought you knew French. Oh, I see. So long.

'My typist, a trivial but always available blonde, could not make out durée in my quite legible hand because, she says, she knows French, but not scientific French.'

'Actually,' observed Lucette, wiping the long envelope which a drop of soda had stained, 'Bergson is only for very young people or very unhappy people, such as this available rousse.'

'Spotting Bergson,' said the assistant lecher, 'rates a B minus dans ton petit cas, hardly more. Or shall I reward you with a kiss on your krestik - whatever that is?' (2.5)

In Opravdanie svobody (“Justification of Freedom,” 1924), a review of Berdyaev's book Filosofiya neravenstva (“The Philosophy of Inequality,” 1923), Zinaida Hippius (Dmitri Merezhkovski’s wife) mentions Bergson and la durée:

Революция не имеет дленья (la durée, по Бергсону), и когда мы говорим о "революции" -- мы говорим, в сущности, о временах, окружающих этот миг; о времени "послереволюционном", о революционных "эпохах"...

According to Hippius, Revolution does not have la durée.

Krestik is a diminutive of krest (cross). Van, who offers to kiss Lucette on her krestik, does not realize that it is one of Ada’s “tender-turret words” that comes from English “crest” (not from Russian krest) and makes an unintentional impure pun.

In his most famous poem, Emalevyi krestik v petlitse (1949), G. Ivanov describes a photograph of Nicholas II and his family and mentions a little enamel cross in the Heir’s lapel:

Эмалевый крестик в петлице
И серой тужурки сукно...
Какие печальные лица
И как это было давно.

Какие прекрасные лица
И как безнадежно бледны -
Наследник, императрица,
Четыре великих княжны...

Enamel cross in his lapel,
And a gray jacket cloth...
What sad faces,
And how long ago it was.

What beautiful faces,
and how hopelessly pale
are Heir, the Empress
and four Great Princesses...

In July of 1918 the last Russian tsar’s family was executed by the Bolsheviks in the Ipatiev house in Yekaterinburg. The dead bodies were secretly transported to Ganina Yama (“Ganya’s pit” in the Four Brothers mine 15 miles N of Yekaterinburg) and thrown into the pit. Ganina Yama brings to mind Ganin, the main character in VN’s Mashen’ka (“Mary,” 1926). VN’s early novels, including Mashen’ka, were criticized in an abusive article by G. Ivanov, one of the editors of Chisla (Numbers), the magazine in which Ivanov’s article appeared. Adamovich and Ivanov are the targets of VN’s satire in Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931), the story in which Euphratski is a recognizable portrait of Adamovich and Galatov (the editor of Arion) that of G. Ivanov. As he speaks to Ilya Borisovich, Euphratski calls Galatov “the Russian Joyce:”

-- Пошлите вашу вещь,-- Евфратский прищурился и вполголоса докончил: -- "Ариону".

-- "Ариону"? -- переспросил Илья Борисович, нервно погладив рукопись.

-- Ничего страшного. Название журнала. Неужели не знаете? Ай-я-яй! Первая книжка вышла весной, осенью выйдет вторая. Нужно немножко следить за литературой, Илья Борисович.

– Как же так -- просто послать?

-- Ну да, в Париж, редактору. Уж имя-то Галатова вы, небось, знаете?

Илья Борисович виновато пожал толстым плечом. Евфратский, морщась, объяснил: беллетрист, новые формы, мастерство, сложная конструкция, русский Джойс...

-- Джойс,-- смиренно повторил Илья Борисович.

-- Сперва дайте перестукать,-- сказал Евфратский.-- И, пожалуйста, ознакомьтесь с журналом.

“Send your thing” (Euphratski narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice) “to Arion.”
“Arion? What’s that?” said I.B., nervously patting his manuscript.
“Nothing very frightening. It’s the name of the best émigré review. You don’t know it? Ay-ya-yay! The first number came out this spring, the second is expected in the fall. You should keep up with literature a bit closer, Ilya Borisovich!”
“But how to contact them? Just mail it?”
“That’s right. Straight to the editor. It’s published in Paris. Now don’t tell me you’ve never heard Galatov’s name?”
Guiltily Ilya Borisovich shrugged one fat shoulder. Euphratski, his face working wryly, explained: a writer, a master, new form of the novel, intricate construction, Galatov the Russian Joyce.
“Djoys,” meekly repeated Ilya Borisovich after him.
“First of all have it typed,” said Euphratski. “And for God’s sake acquaint yourself with the magazine.”

In a parenthetical note Ada pairs Joyce with Proust, the writer whom Van discussed with her and Cordula de Prey (Ada’s schoolmate at Brownhill who did not read Proust):

'Ada, what on earth is he talking about? Some Italian film he has seen?'

'Van,' said Ada in a tired voice, 'you do not realize that the Advanced French Group at my school has advanced no farther than to Racan and Racine.'

'Forget it,' said Van.

'But you've had too much Marcel,' muttered Ada.

The railway station had a semi-private tearoom supervised by the stationmaster's wife under the school's idiotic auspices. It was empty, save for a slender lady in black velvet, wearing a beautiful black velvet picture hat, who sat with her back to them at a 'tonic bar' and never once turned her head, but the thought brushed him that she was a cocotte from Toulouse. Our damp trio found a nice corner table and with sighs of banal relief undid their raincoats. He hoped Ada would discard her heavy-seas hat but she did not, because she had cut her hair because of dreadful migraines, because she did not want him to see her in the role of a moribund Romeo.

(On fait son grand Joyce after doing one's petit Proust. In Ada's lovely hand.)

(But read on; it is pure V.V. Note that lady! In Van's bed-buvard scrawl.)

As Ada reached for the cream, he caught and inspected her dead-shamming hand. We remember the Camberwell Beauty that lay tightly closed for an instant upon our palm, and suddenly our hand was empty. He saw, with satisfaction, that her fingernails were now long and sharp.

'Not too sharp, are they, my dear,' he asked for the benefit of dura Cordula, who should have gone to the 'powder room' - a forlorn hope.

'Why, no,' said Ada. (1.27)

Dura is feminine of durak (fool; Lucette’s father Daniel Veen is known in society as Red Veen or Durak Walter, 1.1). “Dura Cordula” brings to mind Van’s spelling out to his secretary (“a trivial but always available blonde”) la durée: “D, U, R.” As she speaks to Van, Cordula (whom Van suspects of being a lesbian) mentions la Rousse:

'How could I get in touch with you?' he asked. 'Would you come to Riverlane? Are you a virgin?'

'I don't date hoodlums,' she replied calmly, 'but you can always "contact" me through Ada. We are not in the same class, in more ways than one' (laughing); 'she's a little genius, I'm a plain American ambivert, but we are enrolled in the same Advanced French group, and the Advanced French group is assigned the same dormitory so that a dozen blondes, three brunettes and one redhead, la Rousse, can whisper French in their sleep' (laughing alone).

'What fun. Okay, thanks. The even number means bunks, I guess. Well, I'll be seeing you, as the hoods say.' (1.27)

Like 16 (the number of beds in Ada’s and Cordula’s dormitory), 6 is an even number. The penname Shestov (of the philosopher who used the first and the last lines of Verlaine’s Art Poétique as the epigraph to his essay “The Power of Ideas”) comes from shest’ (six). Numbers are also important in Lips to Lips, VN’s satire on the editors of Chisla.

Arion (1827) is a poem by Pushkin in which the poet calls himself tainstvennyi pevets (mysterious bard):

Нас было много на челне;

Иные парус напрягали,

Другие дружно упирали

В глубь мощны вёслы. В тишине

На руль склонись, наш кормщик умный

В молчанье правил грузный чёлн;

А я - беспечной веры полн,-

Пловцам я пел... Вдруг лоно волн

Измял с налёту вихорь шумный...

Погиб и кормщик и пловец! -

Лишь я, таинственный певец,

На берег выброшен грозою,

Я гимны прежние пою

И ризу влажную мою

Сушу на солнце под скалою.

We were a crowd inside the boat

Some of us trimmed the sails,

While others gamely plunged

The mighty oars into the deep. While in the calm,

Our skillful helmsman, leaning to the wheel,

Steered the craft without a word;

And I - abrim with carefree hope -

I sang to all the crew....A sudden gust

Then roared, and swept the ocean's breast . . .

The helmsman and the crew were lost!

And I alone, mysterious bard,

Was tossed upon the stormy shore

And sang my anthems as before

While spreading out my sodden robe

To dry upon a sunny cliff.

dura + school + vesna/naves/Sevan = Cordula + shoe + Svan

Ganin + pevets + Arion + dar = Paganini + venets + ardor

Ada + michman Tobakov = Adamovich + atom + bank = Adam + man + Tobakovich

vesna – Spring

naves – penthouse; awning

Sevan – lake in Armenia

Svan – Swann (the main character in Proust’s Du côté de chez Swann) in Russian spelling

pevets – singer, bard

Arion – legendary Greek lyre player and poet who was kidnapped by pirates and solved by dolphins

dar – gift; a novel (1937) by VN

Paganini – Italian violinist and composer (1782-1840) who, like Columbus, was born in Genoa

venets – crown; Tyutchev’s poem Kolumb (“Columbus,” 1844) begins: Tebe, Kolumb, tebe venets (“To you, Columbus, to you the crown”)

michman Tobakov – ancestor of Cordula’s first husband, Ivan G. Tobak; as he speaks to Lucette, Van mentions michman (midshipman) Tobakoff: 'When michman Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam around comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches of old songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued him - one of those miracles that require a minimum of cooperation from all concerned, I imagine.' (3.5)

Adamovich – literary critic (1892-1972) who, according to VN, had only two passions in life: Russian poetry and French sailors

atom – G. Ivanov is the author of Raspad atoma (“Disintegration of an Atom,” 1938)

Tobakovich – Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father) calls Cordula’s husband (who worked for a Phoenix bank) “Tobakovich:” 'Oh, of course!' cried Demon. 'How stupid of me! I remember Ada's fiancé telling me - he and young Tobak worked for a while in the same Phoenix bank. Of course. Splendid broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blond chap. Backbay Tobakovich!' (2.10); She [Lucette] drank a 'Cossack pony' of Klass vodka - hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich! (3.5)

“The Proustian bed” in Van’s Texture of Time is a play on Procrustean bed. In his essay Pushkin (1896) Merezhkovski mentions the Procrustean bed of Leo Tolstoy’s complicated syllogisms:

И в тех же произведениях уродливо и оскорбительно выступают наружу части, не соединённые никакою внутреннею связью с художественною тканью произведения, как будто написаны другим человеком. Это - убийственное резонерство Пьера Безухова, детски неуклюжие и неестественные христианские перерождения Константина Лёвина. В этих мёртвых страницах могучая плотская жизнь, которая только что била ключом, вдруг замирает. Самый язык, который уже достигал пушкинской простоты и ясности, сразу меняется: как будто мрачный аскет мстит ему за недавнюю откровенность - беспощадно насилует, ломает, растягивает и втискивает в прокрустово ложе многоэтажных запутанных силлогизмов. "Две души", соединённые в Пушкине, борющиеся в Гоголе, Гончарове, Тургеневе, Достоевском, совершенно покидают друг друга, разлучаются в Толстом, так что одна уже не видит, не слышит, не отвечает другой. (chapter IV)

In the next paragraph Merezhkovski mentions Tolstoy’s puritanical speeches about tobacco smoking:

Слабость Льва Толстого заключается в его бессознательности - в том, что он язычник не светлого, героического типа, а тёмного, варварского, сын древнего хаоса, слепой титан. Малый, смиренный пришёл и расставил великому хитрую западню - страх смерти, страх боли; слепой титан попался, и смиренный опутал его тончайшими сетями нравственных софизмов и галилейской жалости, обессилил и победил. Еще несколько мучительных содроганий, отчаянных борений, порывов - и всё навеки замолкло, замерло: наступила тишина Царствия Божия. Только изредка сквозь монашеские гимны и молитвы, сквозь ледяные пуританские речи о курении табаку, о братстве народов, о сечении розгами, о целомудрии - доносится из глубины подземный гул, глухие раскаты: это голос слепого титана, неукротимого хаоса - языческой любви к телесной жизни и наслаждениям, языческого страха телесной боли и смерти. (ibid.)

According to Merezhkovski, in Russian literature Tolstoy is Pushkin’s antipode:

Лев Толстой есть антипод, совершенная противоположность и отрицание Пушкина в русской литературе. И, как это часто бывает, противоположности обманывают поверхностных наблюдателей внешними сходствами. И у Пушкина, и у теперешнего Льва Толстого - единство, равновесие, примирение. Но единство Пушкина основано на гармоническом соединении двух миров; единство Льва Толстого - на полном разъединении, разрыве, насилии, совершённом над одной из двух равно великих, равно божественных стихий. (ibid.)

Merezhkovski speaks of the two worlds that are harmoniously united in Pushkin but split in Leo Tolstoy. The action in VN’s novel takes place on Earth’s twin planet Demonia or Antiterra. At the beginning of Ada the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (1877) is turned inside out:

'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

In his essay Merezhkovski quotes Pushkin’s poem (written in terza rima) V nachale zhizni shkolu pomnyu ya… (“At the beginning of life I remember the school…” 1830), in which volshebnyi demon – lzhivyi, no prekrasnyi (the magic demon, false but beautiful) is mentioned:

Красота этих божественных призраков ближе сердцу его, чем "полные святыни словеса" строгой женщины в тёмных одеждах. Более всех других привлекают отрока два чудесные творенья:

То были двух бесов изображенья.
Один (Дельфийский идол) - лик младой -
Был гневен, полон гордости ужасной,
И весь дышал он силой неземной.
Другой - женообразный, сладострастный,
Сомнительный и лживый идеал,
Волшебный демон - лживый, но прекрасный.

Эти два демона - два идеала языческой мудрости: один - Аполлон, бог знания, солнца и гордыни, другой - Дионис, бог тайны, неги и сладострастия. (chapter III)

Merezhkovski speaks of two demons, two ideals of pagan wisdom that attracted young Pushkin: Apollo (the god of knowledge, sun and arrogance) and Dionysus (the god of secret, languor and voluptuousness). In his “Ode to Beethoven” (1914) Mandelshtam compares Beethoven to Dionysus. Verlaine’ Art Poétique begins: De la musique avant toute chose (Of music before everything). The characters of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” include Monsieur Vinteuil, the composer who dies of a broken heart after his daughter engages in a lesbian relationship. One of Ada’s lovers is the composer Philip Rack, Lucette’s teacher of music whose name hints at the Spanish Inquisition. A character in Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov (1880), Ivan Karamazov is the author of “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” Merezhkovski is the author of “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” (1902).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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