Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027707, Fri, 6 Apr 2018 03:15:29 +0300

crowning paradox in Ada
In the epilogue of VN's novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main
character) mentions the crowning paradox of our boxed brain's eschatologies:

I had a schoolmate called Vanda. And I knew a girl called Adora, little
thing in my last floramor. What makes me see that bit as the purest sanglot
in the book? What is the worst part of dying?

For you realize there are three facets to it (roughly corresponding to the
popular tripartition of Time). There is, first, the wrench of relinquishing
forever all one's memories - that's a commonplace, but what courage man must
have had to go through that commonplace again and again and not give up the
rigmarole of accumulating again and again the riches of consciousness that
will be snatched away! Then we have the second facet - the hideous physical
pain - for obvious reasons let us not dwell upon that. And finally, there is
the featureless pseudo-future, blank and black, an everlasting
nonlastingness, the crowning paradox of our boxed brain's eschatologies!

Opyt paradoksal'noy etiki ("An Attempt of Paradoxical Ethics," 1931) and
Opyt eskhatologicheskoy metafiziki ("An Attempt of Eschatological
Metaphysics," 1947) are books by Berdyaev. In his MS poem O skol'ko nam
otkrytiy chudnykh: ("O how many wondrous discoveries:" 1829) Pushkin
mentions Opyt, syn oshibok trudnykh (Experience, the son of difficult
errors), and Geniy, Paradoksov drug (Genius, a friend of Paradox):

О сколько нам открытий чудных
Готовят просвещенья дух
И Опыт, [сын] ошибок трудных,
И Гений, [Парадоксов] друг,
[И Случай, бог изобретатель]

O how many wondrous discoveriesship

the spirit of Enlightenment prepares for us

and Experience, [the son] of difficult errors,

and Genius, a friend of [Paradox],

[and Chance, the inventor god]

Van arrives at the site of his duel with Captain Tapper in Paradox, his
second's cheap 'semi-racer:'

He shaved, disposed of two blood-stained safety blades by leaving them in a
massive bronze ashtray, had a structurally perfect stool, took a quick bath,
briskly dressed, left his bag with the concierge, paid his bill and at six
punctually squeezed himself next to blue-chinned and malodorous Johnny into
the latter's Paradox, a cheap "semi-racer." For two or three miles they
skirted the dismal bank of the lake-coal piles, shacks, boat-houses, a long
strip of black pebbly mud and, in the distance, over the curving bank of
autumnally misted water, the tawny fumes of tremendous factories. (1.42)

In his essay on Spengler, Predsmertnye mysli Fausta ("The Pre-Death Thoughts
of Faust," 1922), Berdyaev calls Spengler "a paradoxicalist" and says that
for Spengler and Nietzsche paradox is a means of cognition:

Шпенглер очень произволен, он не считает себя связанным никакой
общеобязательностью. Он, прежде всего, - парадоксолист. Для него, как и для
Ницше, парадокс есть способ познания. В книге Шпенглера есть какое-то
сходство с книгой гениального юноши Вейнингера "Пол и характер", несмотря на
различие тем и духовной настроенности. Книга Шпенглера - столь же
замечательное явление в духовной культуре Германии, как и книга Вейнингера.

Spengler is very capricious, he does not consider himself bound by anything
in general obligatory. He is, first of all -- a paradoxicalist. For him,
just as for Nietzsche, paradox is a means of cognition. In the book of
Spengler there is a sort of affinity with the book of the youthful genius
[Otto] Weininger, "Sex and Character", and despite all the different themes
and spiritual outlook, the book of Spengler -- is just as remarkable a
phenomenon in the spiritual culture of Germany, as is the book of Weininger.

In Pushkin's Stsena iz Fausta ("A Scene from Faust," 1825) Mephistopheles
says that he is a psychologist:

Я психолог... о вот наука!..

I'm a psychologist: O that's a scholarship!..

Van Veen is a professional psychiatrist. As she speaks to Van, Dorothy
Vinelander (Ada's sister-in-law) mentions Van's school of psychiatry:

'Incidentally, in her deathbed delirium - you don't mind, Ada, if I divulge
to him ces potins de famille? - our splendid Marina was obsessed by two
delusions, which mutually excluded each other - that you were married to Ada
and that you and she were brother and sister, and the clash between those
two ideas caused her intense mental anguish. How does your school of
psychiatry explain that kind of conflict?'

'I don't attend school any longer,' said Van, stifling a yawn; 'and,
furthermore, in my works, I try not to "explain" anything, I merely

'Still, you cannot deny that certain insights -' (3.8)

In his poem V nachale zhizni shkolu pomnyu ya... ("At the beginning of my
life I remember a school..." 1830) written, in imitation of Dante's
Inferno, in terza rima Pushkin mentions volshebnyi demon - lzhivyi, no
prekrasnyi (a magical demon, false but beautiful):

Другой женообразный, сладострастный,
Сомнительный и лживый идеал -
Волшебный демон - лживый, но прекрасный.

By volshebnyi demon Pushkin means a statue of Venus in the Yusupov garden in
Moscow. Van and Ada are the children of Demon Veen. Demon ("The Demon,"
1829-40) is a poem by Lermontov. Like Lermontov's poem Son ("A Dream,"
1841), Ada seems to be a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a
dream). One of the three dreamers in Ada is Eric Veen, the young author of
an essay entitled "Villa Venus: an Organized Dream." Eric's skull was
fatally fractured by a roof tile hurled at him by a hurricane in
Ex-en-Valais (2.3). Two other dreamers in Ada are Van Veen (who was born in
Ex) and VN himself.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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