Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002440, Mon, 6 Oct 1997 10:39:23 -0700

*Dark Ice* Notes lines 111-192 [Notes #3] (fwd)

Lines 111-123

Grimm Bolsheviks, faithfully paraphrasing
Leon Trotsky.

Line 123

See note to line 1,001. Also:

The great Achilles, whom Opinion crownes,
The sinew, and the fore-hand of our Hoste,
Hauing his eare full of his ayery Fame,
Growes dainty of his worth, and in his Tent
Lyes mocking our designes. With him, Patroclus,
Vpon a lazie Bed, the liue-long day
Breakes scurrill Iests,
And with ridiculous and aukward action,
(Which Slanderer, he imitation call's)
He Pageants vs. Sometime great Agamemnon,
Thy toplesse deputation he puts on;
And like a strutting Player, whose conceit
Lies in his Ham-string, and doth thinke it rich
To heare the woodden Dialogue and sound
'Twixt his stretcht footing, and the Scaffolage,
Such to be pittied, and ore-rested seeming
He acts thy Greatnesse in: and when he speakes,
'Tis like a Chime a mending. With tearmes vnsquar'd,
Which from the tongue of roaring Typhon dropt,
Would seemes Hyperboles. At this fusty stuffe,
The large Achilles (on his prest-bed lolling)
From his deepe Chest, laughes out his lowd applause,
Cries excellent, 'tis Agamemnon iust.
Now play me Nestor; hum, and stroke thy Beard
As he, being drest to some Oration:

Line 129

James Joyce. The famous remark of Stephen
Dedalus to the anti-Semitic Mr Deasy, in the
second chapter or episode of *Ulysses*:

"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

Line 141
thesis, synthesis, antithesis

Hegel-wreckage. According to antonym theory,
burning raked leaves at night is photoantithesis;
but does it follow that we must spread this sticky
lotion on our subsequent moonburn?
Scattered leaflets, footprinted, are figured
with diagrams: branching logic-charts that look
much more complicated than they are.
A rambling letter I received four or five years
ago from a young friend--too young to know
better at the time--contained this apostrophe to
political power: "Free us enough to eat. Help
extend us; but admit you are not all. No incised
dialectic. No 'draw the map first, force the
country to it.' People suffer from such
mappery...! 'O kind dreams, O nightmare
implementations....'" And: "My people are tired.
Your people are tired. Our people. Tired and
cold! Help or leave us thoughtfully alone. Don't
reduce it to this cruel simplicity...."

Line 155

Statues came down in 1918, too.

Line 177

Russian measure of distance; roughly
two-thirds of a mile.

Line 178

Grammatical cases expressing a position
above or on top of.

Line 182
*Homer Pushkin*

Conflation of an American, Homer Adolph
Plessy (dates of birth and death unknown)--
probably a carpenter from New Orleans--
who, with the support of Comité des
Citoyens, a New Orleans organization of
African-Americans, became the plaintiff in
a U.S. Supreme Court decision with terrible
ramifications; and a Russian, Aleksandr
Pushkin (1799-1837), author of *Eugene
Onegin* and other works, long revered as
"Russia's greatest poet." Both men were
Caucasians of partly African descent via a
great-grandparent. Pushkin's great-
grandfather, Abram Gannibal, was from
Abyssinia. Enslaved and brought to Russia,
he was freed and subsequently adopted as
a godchild by Peter the Great (1672-1725;
Tsar from 1689-1725). See Pushkin's
unfinished story "The Blackamoor of
Peter the Great," and Vladimir Nabokov's
essay on Abram Gannibal, appended to
Nabokov's translation of *Eugene Onegin*.
*Plessy v. Ferguson* is the 1896 U.S.
Supreme Court decision that, as the 20th
century was about to begin, validated the
"separate but equal" doctrine--supporting
institutionalized racism (including state
and local "Jim Crow" laws, voter registration
laws that circumvented African-American
suffrage, and the segregation of the federal
armed forces). Plessy "looked white," but
was an "octoroon," and known to have
African blood. When he refused to move
to a "colored" car of the East Louisiana
Railway train on which he was a paying
passenger, he was arrested. The Court
decided in favor of Judge John H.
Ferguson of the Criminal District Court
for the Parish of New Orleans, who had
found Plessy guilty of violating an 1890
Louisiana state law, "An Act To Promote
the Comfort of Passengers." With a single
decision, the court of last resort reneged
on Reconstruction, voiding the promises
of the 15th Amendment, while making a
farce of the 14th.
Justice John Marshall Harlan, the former
slaveowner from Kentucky who cast the sole
dissenting vote, wrote in his opinion: "...in the
eye of the law, there is in this country no
superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.
There is no caste here. ...it is, therefore, to be
regretted that [the Supreme Court] has
reached the conclusion that it is competent
for a state to regulate the enjoyment by
citizens of their civil rights solely on the
basis of race." (That sense of the word
*enjoy* is very good.) "The arbitrary
separation of citizens, on the basis of race,
while they are on a public highway, is a
badge of servitude wholly inconsistent
with the civil freedom and the equality
before the law established by the
constitution. It cannot be justified on
legal grounds. ...The judgment this day
rendered will, in time, prove to be quite
as pernicious as the decision made by
this tribunal in the Dred Scott case"
[in which it was ruled that no slave or
descendant of slaves was a citizen of the
United States--stripping away the few rights
then left to African-Americans. Chief
Justice Roger Taney wrote explicitly in
*Dred Scott v. Sanford* that the many
Americans with African ancestors had
"no rights any white man is bound to
Justice Harlan's dissenting opinion
continues: "In respect of civil rights, all
citizens are equal before the law. The
humblest is the peer of the most powerful.
"We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our
people over all other peoples. But it is difficult
to reconcile that boast with a state of law
which, practically, puts the brand of servitude
and degradation upon a large class of our
fellow citizens--our equals before the law.
The thin disguise of 'equal' accommodations
for passengers in railroad coaches will not
mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong
this day done."
The theme of common travel, "race" with
"race," in the history of the African-American
civil rights movement, initiated in *Dred Scott
v. Sanford* (the issue of travel to a free state),
continued in *Plessy v. Ferguson* (the issue of
unrestricted accommodations in train travel),
is picked up in the 1950s with the issue of
Linda Brown's schoolbus ride (*Brown v.
Board of Education of Topeka*, 1954), and
culminates in Montgomery, Alabama with
Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
and most of the city's African-American
citizens--"tired of being kicked about by
the brutal feet of oppression"--and their
successful boycott of the Montgomery
City Lines bus company.
As Lt. Tomás Hob of the Arkansas
National Guard later remarked, "We
have always traveled together on this
continent, through space and time,
through history, through one another's
ways and bloodlines: now we move closer
to admitting it."

Line 183

Forty million Russian serfs were liberated
in March, 1861 by Aleksandr II (four years
after the U.S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott
decision of March 6,1857); some African-
American slaves were "released from their
bondage and into a troubled freedom" by
executive order of Abraham Lincoln, almost
two years later, on January 1, 1863. Many
others remained enslaved for three more
years, until the ratification of the 13th
Amendment on December 18,1865.

Lines 184-185
*E.A. Gogol's* Masque of the Red Death...
Twice-Told Tales

Conflation of Poe, Gogol, and Hawthorne.

Line 186
*Peter Michailoff*

Peter the Great's incognito during his travels
in Europe. He worked as a ship's carpenter in
shipyards in England and Holland, and while
in those countries studied European technology,
printmaking techniques, and human and animal

Lines 190-191
*Government ... Petersburg, District of Columbia...*

Two capitals founded amid swamps, on rivers
(St. Petersburg in 1703, on the Neva;
Washington, D.C. in 1790, on the Potomac).
The Russian parliament and the American
president's residence are both "the White
House" (see note to line 8).

Line 192

Dr. Evgenii Bótkin was the personal physician
to the last Tsar, Nicholas II; he was murdered
along with the Tsar and his family in
Ekaterinberg in the early morning of July 17,
1918, and buried with them, temporarily,
near a group of large pines that grew from
a single root, known locally as the "Four
Brothers"--where his false teeth were later
found, along with other remains, including
a severed finger and some stray jewelry, by
White Russian investigators in 1919.
There is a pronounced dental theme in
Russo-American literature.