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! (5.6)


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 describe.’

‘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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