I would like to say how much I appreciate the new feature, “Classics From the Nabokovian.” It’s hard to be “up” on everything that’s been written on Nabokov, even though we have this great resource here. I really enjoyed Gennady Barabtarlo's "See under Sebastian," The Nabokovian 1990.24: 24-28.
I have a few further thoughts on Barabtarlo’s brilliant anagram discovery of “Knight is absent” for “Sebastian Knight.”
He writes that the anagram has “only the indefinite article left on the emptied rack,” that is, the letter “a.” He later finds the “a” in LATH, “in the phrase that may be relevant to this note: “…or the chess set (in Pawn Takes Queen) with a missing Knight ‘replaced by some sort of counter, a little orphan from another, unknown, game?’”
It seems to me that there are some pregnant implications and insights that either have not been fully developed here or perhaps they were simply meant to be implied and I merely feel the need to concretize them. So, this is not a criticism, but a few remarks meant to extend these insights.
I don’t see why the left-over “a” should not very well be used as “A knight is absent.” It would still make sense for Sebastian in the particular, as well as for a generic chess knight, but Barabtarlo clearly sees it as an incomplete anagram: “The superfluous a in the anagram is so minuscule a fault that it only underscores VN’s awesome glossal power…”
He begins by questioning the alternate Russian spelling of “Sevastian” as Knight’s christened name, which implies that the “v” is important. I’m not sure if he was also implying that it suggests Sebastian’s brother “V” is being substituted, and thus subsumed into the name. In this way, “V” becomes one with Sebastian. “V” in fact is a bit of a cipher as a personality. “V” is clearly the “counter,” the unknown “orphan” in this game of chess. In LATH Nabokov is clearly dropping relevant clues to TRLSK, with perhaps “V” as pawn besting Nina as Queen, by refusing her seductions. Likely the pawn is promoted to knight upon this event.
An anagram for “Sevastian Knight” is “Knight is savant” (plus this time a superfluous “e”). When V. feels he has merged with his brother, he has a classic mystical experience of Oneness. The fact that it was not really his brother, but a stranger, only amplifies the meaning of mystical oneness and brotherly love. This mystical state is often referred to as “ultimate knowledge” and a “savant” is a person of knowledge.