NABOKV-L post 0006900, Fri, 11 Oct 2002 13:56:27 -0700

Fw: Nabokov and Music

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Sent: Friday, October 11, 2002 12:44 PM
Subject: Nabokov and Music

Vladimir Nabokov's lack of interest in music seems to be a function of just too much else going on in his head. Consider: 1) He professed to see all letters as vivid and distinct colors; 2) He said that he didn't think in words but in images and shadows of images; 3) He was perpetually stricken by the ineluctable passage of time, the evanescence of which so often thwarted his enjoyment of any given moment; 4) His sensory input was filtered far less than most of us--as a consequence he saw everything with acute focus--the pin in the moth quality of his writing. All of this suggests a mind that works (or overworks) differently than most others. Roughly correlating with the above, it would seem that VN found music unbearable because: 1) Possibly, musical notes seemed drab and drear and uninteresting to a mind so hypersensitive to both the written word and to visual stimulus (I've know several people who see musical notes as distinct colors; VN clearly did not.); 2) He wasn't interested in the extended musings of another's mind when it took such an abstract, non-allusive form; 3) By its nature, music is fleeting--this is a man who could stare at a single spot on a moth's wing for hours on end--the most evanescent of all art forms; 4) Because his mind was attuned to the incessant accumulation and cataloguing of all data the senses encounter, which music doesn't allow, he found music overwhelming.

Words are entirely abstract things in and of themselves, but they connect to, or extend from, images and emotions with a rigourousness, relationship, and proportionality, which an extended succession of musical notes does not. Most of us exult in the abstract emotions and, what Nietzsche said of Wagner's music, "intimations" (though he used the word pejoratively) elicited by great music. Was Nabokov actually daunted, or even frightened by the same thing?