NABOKV-L post 0024009, Tue, 23 Apr 2013 13:54:39 -0700

Re: BIRTHDAY: Returning to the party
What a lovely passage - and I have absolutely no recollection of it. Sigh. Shall
have to re-re-read Speak Memory I guess. Interestingly, I recently invited some
friends to a silent dinner, at which no one was to be allowed to speak, only to
make gestures. There was to be a 'sound track' of popular songs from the silent
era, and singing along was to be allowed - dancing too.

I was turned down. Obviously not Nabokovians. Oh,well.

From: "NABOKV-L, English" <nabokv-l@HOLYCROSS.EDU>
Sent: Tue, April 23, 2013 12:31:41 PM
Subject: [NABOKV-L] BIRTHDAY: Returning to the party

Nabokov says, at the close of Chapter 8 of Speak, Memory, "I witness with
pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes
of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering
tonalities of the past. I like to imagine, in consummation and resolution of
those jangling chords, something as enduring, in retrospect, as the long table
that on summer birthdays and namedays used to be laid for afternoon chocolate
out of doors, in an alley of birches, limes and maples at its debouchment on the
smooth-sanded space of the garden proper that separated the park and the house.
I see the tablecloth and the faces of seated people sharing in the animation of
light and shade beneath a moving, a fabulous foliage, exaggerated, no doubt, by
the same faculty of impassioned commemoration, of ceaseless return, that makes
me always approach that banquet table from the outside, from the depth of the
park--not from the house--as if the mind, in order to go back thither, had to do
so with the silent steps of a prodigal, faint with excitement."

This is the opening of one of my favorite passages in Nabokov's memoir -- where
one particular memory, presented as a silent film, comes to life with the
addition of sound, culminating in "the confused and enthusiastic hullabaloo of
bathing young villagers [who remain unseen], like a background of wild
applause." I love the way the movement of the remembered faces (and later even
their "mute lips serenely moving in forgotten speech") shifts to the dappled
patterning of light and shade (a favorite motif of Nabokov's) and, best of all,
the mental tiptoeing of the narrator as he retraces, as quietly as possible, the
steps that will lead him back.

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
Co-Editor, NABOKV-L

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