Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003556, Mon, 28 Dec 1998 14:38:27 -0800

Re: VN's reptilian memory (fwd)
From: ROakes1019@aol.com

I certainly agree that Nabokov has equated the writing of SPEAK, MEMORY with
the movement of a snake (correctly, a diamondback rattlesnake) but I think the
process is not so innocent. He has chosen a poisonous snake to coil on a
life-giving sunstruck stone, as though to devour new life, not just memories,
or memories transposed by art into a new version of lived life. After the
initial image of the snake, the diamond pattern of art reminded me of LOOK AT
THE HARLEQUINS. The clownish harlequin, adorned fetchingly in his diamonded
costume, is pure Nabokov. Things are never quite what they seem at first
blush in Nabokov and there's frequently a bite beneath the lucious words. I
know somewhere in the novel one of his wives exclaims, _Look at the
harlequins!_ but I've been unable to locate the passage. I did find this
description of the narrator's view of his genitals in a mirror:

Apically, the white of the abdomen, brought out in frightening repousse, with
an ugliness never noticed before, a man's portable zoo, a symmetrical mass of
animal attributes, the elephant proboscis, the twin sea urchins, the baby
gorilla, clinging to my underbelly with its back to the public.

In the next paragraph he says that the fiends of his incurable ailment,
_flayed consciousness_, were shoving aside his harlequins. The harlequins, of
course, are the animals of his portable zoo, ridiculous looking but capable of
creating life. Nabokov never attempts to mimic natural life but, through his
clownish art, creates novel life.