NABOKV-L post 0010744, Thu, 9 Dec 2004 09:06:46 -0800

Fw: RE: more on lunette
----- Original Message -----
From: Dmitri Nabokov
To: 'D. Barton Johnson'
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 2:50 PM
Subject: FW: RE: more on lunette

Dear Don and Brian,

"Hit-or-miss" maybe not, but we remember how the beheadings misfired in INVITATION and THE GRAND-DAD -- I guess reinforcing my dad's attitude toward capital punishment (but not mine).

Warm greetings,

-----Original Message-----
From: Sandy Klein []
Sent: mercredi, 8. décembre 2004 19:23
Subject: Fwd: RE: more on lunette

From: Donald B. Johnson []
Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 12:29 PM
Subject: Fwd: RE: more on lunette

Dear Akiko and All,

OED has "lunette" in VN's sense (9: "In the guillotine, the circular hole which receives the neck of the victim"). Using the COD for Nabokov is a little like hoping to catch a blue whale with a bent needle and thread.

The reasons VN uses words like this is because: 1) they're right in themselves. No other word could do in 7 letters what VN does here; 2) their rightness can be amusing (as here: see below); 3) they often invite readers to discovery.

In this case, there is a fine if macabre Nabokovian joke: "some 'future' events may be likelier than others, O.K., but all are chimeric, and every cause-and-effect sequence is always a hit-and-miss affair, even if the lunette has actually closed around your neck, and the cretinous crowd holds its breath." Not only does this seethe with VN's contempt for capital punishment; not only does it replay the ending of INVITATION TO A BEHEADING, and even more precisely, the turning point of the early play THE GRANDFATHER; but the guillotine was devised as a "humane" form of killing, where the executioner's axe wouldn't descend at the wrong angle, or with insufficient force, or the head wouldn't move in panic to be sliced into in an agonizing but non-lethal way. The lunette ensured the head and neck were exactly in place; so guillotining supposedly guaranteed that decapitation wasn't "a hit-and-miss affair." Yet even here, where the very design seems to rule out all leeway, all chance for accident or error, "every cause-and-effect sequence is still a hit-and-miss affair."

Remember VN's response to Edmund Wilson's objection to VN's "addiction to rare and unfamiliar words": "It does not occur to him that I may have rare and unfamiliar things to convey; that is his loss." (SO 250)

Brian Boyd

----- Forwarded message from -----
Date: Tue, 7 Dec 2004 23:49:15 +0900
From: Akiko Nakata <>

Jansy sent me the difinitions of "lunette" given by COD. When I translated TT, I was satisfied with the 3rd definition in Webster 2 (as Jansy cited, "the hole in a guillotine for the victim's neck") and did not think about its meaning any more. I confess I did not know the other dictionaries did not give that meaning. I have just found Webster 3 does not have it either!
Why did VN choose such rare terms--anide, lunette, kix? Another definition of lunette in Webster 2, "a watch crystal flattened in the center" reminds me of "The entire solar system is but a reflection in the crystal of my (or
your) wrist watch" in the last letter from Mr. R. It sounds close to the kix too. But I have no idea about the meaning of the crystal connection.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jansy Berndt de Souza Mello" <>
To: "Akiko Nakata" <>
Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 2004 10:34 AM
Subject: Fw: more on lunette

> Concise Oxford Dictionary:
> 1. an arched aperture in a domed ceiling to admit light; 2. a
> crescent-shaped (meniscus? JM ) or semicircular space or alcove which
> contains a painting, statue ( not a Pauline Anide, I´m sure...); 3. a
> watch-glass of flattened shape; 4. a ring through which a hook is
> placed to attach a vehicle to the
> towing it;
> 5. a temporary fortification with two faces forming a salient angle,
> and
> flanks;
> 6. RC Church a holder for the consecrated host in a monstrance.
> French diminutive of lune.
> In the Oxford Dic. there is no entry for the "guillotine", as in the
> mailing with: " the hole in the guillotine for the victim´s neck" by
> L. Taylor in the Websters! ( I wonder why )

----- End forwarded message -----

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