NABOKV-L post 0027379, Sun, 7 May 2017 18:23:54 +0300

Subject
Faragod & bric-a-Braques in Ada
Date
Body
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau
milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and
cursing the notion of 'Terra,' are too well-known historically, and too
obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young
laymen and lemans - and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone
by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum
again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth
century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming
comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and
the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. (1.3)



Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Faragod: apparently, the god of electricity.



In VN’s story Istreblenie tiranov (“Tyrants Destroyed,” 1938) the
narrator mentions the gods and a man who dresses up in godly garb:



Когда боги, бывало, принимали земной обра
з и, в лиловатых одеждах, скромно и сильно
ступая мускулистыми ногами в незапылённы
х ещё плесницах, появлялись среди полевых
работников или горных пастухов, их божест
венность нисколько не была этим умалена;
напротив -- в очаровании человечности, обв
евающей их, было выразительнейшее обновл
ение их неземной сущности. Но когда огран
иченный, грубый, малообразованный челове
к, на первый взгляд третьеразрядный фанат
ик, а в действительности самодур, жестоки
й и мрачный пошляк с болезненным гонором
-- когда такой человек наряжается богом, т
о хочется перед богами извиниться.



When the gods used to assume earthly form and, clad in violet-tinted
raiment, demurely but powerfully stepping with muscular feet in still
dustless sandals, appeared to field laborers or mountain shepherds, their
divinity was not in the least diminished for it; on the contrary, the charm
of humanness enwafting them was a most eloquent reconfirmation of their
celestial essence. But when a limited, coarse, little-educated man―at first
glance a third-rate fanatic and in reality a pigheaded, brutal, and gloomy
vulgarian full of morbid ambition―when such a man dresses up in godly garb,
one feels like apologizing to the gods. (chapter 3)



According to the narrator (a humble teacher of drawing in a provincial high
school) of VN’s story, the simple white cube is, perhaps, the tyrant’s
best portrait:



Как мне избавиться от него? Я не могу боль
ше. Все полно им, все, что я люблю, оплеван
о, все стало его подобием, его зеркалом, и
в чертах уличных прохожих, в глазах моих б
едных школьников все яснее и безнадежнее
проступает его облик. Не только плакаты, к
оторые я обязан давать им срисовывать, ли
шь толкуют линии его личности, но и просто
й белый куб, который даю в младших класса
х, мне кажется его портретом,-- его лучшим
портретом быть может. Кубический, страшны
й, как мне избыть тебя?



How can I get rid of him? I cannot stand it any longer. Everything is full
of him, everything I love has been besmirched, everything has become his
likeness, his mirror image, and, in the features of passersby and in the
eyes of my wretched schoolchildren, his countenance shows ever clearer and
more hopelessly. Not only the posters that I am obliged to have them copy in
color do nothing but interpret the pattern of his personality, but even the
simple white cube I give the younger classes to draw seems to me his
portrait―perhaps his best portrait. O cubic monster, how can I eradicate
you? (chapter 15)



In his Notes VN says that Hitler, Lenin and Stalin dispute his tyrant’s
throne. The name of at least one of the three pretenders to the tyrant’s
throne in Tyrants Destroyed begins with an L. Like Van Veen (the narrator
and main character in Ada) and Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov (VN’s father,
one of the founders of the Constitutional Democratic Party), Lenin was born
in 1870.



Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): braques: allusion to a bric-à-brac painter.
George Braques (1882-1963) was a Cubist painter. On the other hand, “bric-
à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless
forefathers” bring to mind brikabrak (an antique shop, bric-à-brac in
Russian spelling) mentioned by Tolstoy in Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Death
of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886):



В столовой с часами, которым Иван Ильич та
к рад был, что купил в брикабраке, Пётр Ива
нович встретил священника и ещё нескольк
о знакомых, приехавших на панихиду, и увид
ал знакомую ему красивую барышню, дочь Ив
ана Ильича.



In the dining-room where the clock stood that Ivan Ilyich was so glad that
he had bought it at an antique shop, Pyotr Ivanovich met a priest and a few
acquaintances who had come to attend the service, and he recognized Ivan
Ilyich’s daughter, a handsome young woman. (chapter I)



Describing Ivan Ilyich’s love life, Tolstoy mentions poezdki v dal’nyuyu
ulitsu posle uzhina (after-supper visits to a certain outlying street of
doubtful reputation):



Была в провинции и связь с одной из дам, на
вязавшейся щеголеватому правоведу; была
и модистка; были и попойки с приезжими фли
гель-адъютантами и поездки в дальнюю улиц
у после ужина; было и подслуживанье начал
ьнику и даже жене начальника, но все это н
осило на себе такой высокий тон порядочно
сти, что все это не могло быть называемо д
урными словами: все это подходило только
под рубрику французского изречения: il faut
que jeunesse se passe. Всё происходило с чистыми ру
ками, в чистых рубашках, с французскими сл
овами и, главное, в самом высшем обществе,
следовательно, с одобрением высоко стоящ
их людей.



In the province he had an affair with a lady who made advances to the
elegant young lawyer, and there was also a milliner; and there were
carousals with aides-de-camp who visited the district, and after-supper
visits to a certain outlying street of doubtful reputation; and there was
too some obsequiousness to his chief and even to his chief's wife, but all
this was done with such a tone of good breeding that no hard names could be
applied to it. It all came under the heading of the French saying: "Il faut
que jeunesse se passe." It was all done with clean hands, in clean linen,
with French phrases, and above all among people of the best society and
consequently with the approval of people of rank. (chapter II)



At the beginning of Apofeoz bespochvennosti (“The Apotheosis of
Groundlessness,” 1905) Lev Shestov mentions dal’nie ulitsy zhizni (the
obscure streets of life) where there is no electric light:



Дальние улицы жизни не представляют тех у
добств, которыми привыкли пользоваться о
битатели городских центров. Нет электрич
еского и газового освещения, даже керосин
овых фонарей, нет мостовых - путнику прихо
дится идти наугад и в темноте ощупывать д
орогу. Если хочешь огня, нужно ждать молни
и, либо самому добыть искру тем первобытн
ым способом, какой существовал у наших от
даленных предков: выбить её из камня. При
мгновенном свете вдруг из темноты выступ
ят очертания незнакомых мест: что увидел
в одно мгновение - старайся удержать в пам
яти, ошибочно или правильно было твоё впе
чатление. Второй раз не скоро удастся доб
ыть свет - разве ушибешься лбом о стену и и
з глаз искры посыпятся. Что можно при тако
м свете увидеть? И как можно требовать отч
етливости и ясности в суждениях от тех лю
дей, которых любознательность (будем дума
ть, что любознательность достаточно в нас
сильна) осудила странствовать по окраина
м жизни? И как можно их дело приравнивать
к делу обитателей центров?



The obscure streets of life do not offer the conveniences of the central
thoroughfares: no electric light, no gas, not even a kerosene lamp-bracket.
There are no pavements: the traveler has to fumble his way in the dark. If
he needs a light, he must wait for a thunderbolt, or else, primitive-wise,
knock a spark out of a stone. In a glimpse will appear unfamiliar outlines;
and then, what he has taken in he must try to remember, no matter whether
the impression was right or false. For he will not easily get another light,
except he run his head against a wall, and see sparks that way. What can a
wretched pedestrian gather under such circumstances? How can we expect a
clear account from him whose curiosity (let us suppose his curiosity so
strong) led him to grope his way among the outskirts of life? Why should we
try to compare his records with those of the travelers through brilliant
streets? (Part One, 1)



After the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century electricity was
banned on Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set):



The unmentionable magnetic power denounced by evil lawmakers in this our
shabby country ― oh, everywhere, in Estoty and Canady, in ‘German’ Mark
Kennensie, as well as in ‘Swedish’ Manitobogan, in the workshop of the
red-shirted Yukonets as well as in the kitchen of the red-kerchiefed
Lyaskanka, and in ‘French’ Estoty, from Bras d’Or to Ladore ― and very
soon throughout both our Americas, and all over the other stunned continents
― was used on Terra as freely as water and air, as bibles and brooms. (1.3)



“The Death of Ivan Ilyich” is a favorite book of Nikolay Petrovich
Yatsenko, the investigator in Aldanov's novels Klyuch (“The Key,” 1929)
and Begstvo (“The Escape,” 1930). In "The Key" Yatsenko meets Fomin (a
young lawyer) and Prince Gorenski at an antique shop where there is a lot of
old furniture:



У антиквара Яценко не боялся соблазнов, т
ак всё там было недоступно для него по цен
ам. Но ему неловко было часто заходить в м
агазин, где он никогда ничего не покупал.

Магазин этот в последнее время вошёл в мо
ду. В двух густо заставленных комнатах бы
ло всё: гравюры, картины, фарфор, безделуш
ки, книги. Всего больше было старинной меб
ели. Спрос на всё старинное рос беспрерыв
но. ?Журнал красивой жизни? имел в обществ
е огромный успех, и люди, желавшие красиво
жить, собирали трубки, табакерки, миниатю
ры, фарфор, коробочки, первые издания книг
и делали на толкучем рынке самые изумител
ьные находки. Не было ни одного хорошего д
ома, ни одного модного романа без карельс
кой березы, резного дуба, ?пузатых комодо
в? и ?золочёной гарнитуры? (полагалось гов
орить в женском роде: гарнитура). (Part One,
chapter XVI)



At the end of Peshchera (“The Cave,” 1932), the third novel of Aldanov’s
trilogy, Braun commits suicide by inhaling "une forte dose d’acide
cyanhydrique qu’il a fait dégager dans un curieux appareil de sa
construction." When Braun rushes home, tovarishch Faradey (“Comrade
Faraday”) pops up in his stream of consciousness:



На углу боковой улицы висела огромная, мн
огоцветная, с жёлто-красными фигурами, чу
довищная афиша кинематографа, залитая си
ним светом, страшная неестественным безо
бразием. ?На дона Педро работали, товарищ
Фарадей… Это судьба хочет облегчить мои п
оследние минуты: в самом прекрасном из го
родов показывает всё уродливое… Да, так у
ходить легче… Знаю, знаю, что есть другое,
мне ли не знать? Прощай, Париж, благодарю з
а всё, за всё…?

"It is Don Pedro for whom you worked, Comrade Faraday... The Fate wants to
relieve my last minutes by showing me the ugliest things in the most
beautiful of cities... Goodbye, Paris, I thank you for everything, for
everything..."



Faragod hints at Michael Faraday (1791-1867), the discoverer of
electromagnetic induction. Faraday is mentioned by Aldanov in Povest' o
smerti ("The Tale about Death," 1952).



A journalist who becomes a movie man in emigration, Don Pedro (a character
in Aldanov’s trilogy) brings to mind G.A. Vronsky, the movie man with whom
Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) had a brief affair and who
left her for another long-lashed Khristosik (1.3), and Pedro, a young Latin
actor whom Marina had brought from Mexico and was keeping at a hotel in
Ladore:



The shooting script was now ready. Marina, in dorean robe and coolie hat,
reclined reading in a long-chair on the patio. Her director, G.A. Vronsky,
elderly, baldheaded, with a spread of grizzled fur on his fat chest, was
alternately sipping his vodka-and-tonic and feeding Marina typewritten pages
from a folder. On her other side, crosslegged on a mat, sat Pedro (surname
unknown, stagename forgotten), a repulsively handsome, practically naked
young actor, with satyr ears, slanty eyes, and lynx nostrils, whom she had
brought from Mexico and was keeping at a hotel in Ladore. (1.32)



At a hotel in Ladore Pedro occupies room 222:



‘I had hoped you’d sleep here,’ said Marina (not really caring one way or
another). ‘What is your room number at the hotel ― not 222 by any
chance?’

She liked romantic coincidences. Demon consulted the tag on his key: 221 ―
which was good enough, fatidically and anecdotically speaking. Naughty Ada,
of course, stole a glance at Van, who tensed up the wings of his nose in a
grimace that mimicked the slant of Pedro’s narrow, beautiful nostrils.
(1.38)



2 + 2 + 2 = 6. The name Shestov comes from shest’ (six). Shestov is the
author of Potestas Clavium. Vlast’ klyuchey (“Power of the Keys,” 1923).



After Pedro had suddenly left for Rio, Marina offers Van a scarf that her
lover had left behind:



Tell me, is there anything I could do for you? Do think up something! Would
you like a beautiful, practically new Peruvian scarf, which he left behind,
that crazy boy? No? It’s not your style? (1.37)



During his conversation with Marina Van sits on ivanilich (a kind of old
hassock):



'Sit down, have a spot of chayku,' she said. 'The cow is in the smaller jug,
I think. Yes, it is.' And when Van, having kissed her freckled hand, lowered
himself on the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in
leather): 'Van, dear, I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall
never have to repeat it again. Belle, with her usual flair for the right
phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage - I mean
"adage," I always fluff that word - and complained qu'on s'embrassait dans
tous les coins. Is that true?' (1.37)



Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Ivanilich: a pouf plays a marvelous part in
Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich, where it sighs deeply under a friend of
the widow's.



According to Marina, one of the Zemskis (the ancestors of the Veen-Durmanov
family) was crazy about one of his mares:



“The Zemskis were terrible rakes (razvratniki), one of them loved small
girls, and another raffolait d’une de ses juments and had her tied up in a
special way-don’t ask me how’ (double hand gesture of horrified ignorance
‘― when he dated her in her stall.” (1.37)



In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stulyev (“The Twelve Chairs,”
1928) the caretaker Tikhon to Bender’s question “are there any
marriageable young girls in this town” replies that for some a mare would
be a bride:



― А что, отец, ― спросил молодой человек, з
атянувшись, ― невесты у вас в городе есть?
Старик дворник ничуть не удивился.

― Кому и кобыла невеста, ― ответил он, охот
но ввязываясь в разговор.



"Tell me, dad," said the young man, taking a puff, "are there any
marriageable young girls in this town? "

The old caretaker did not show the least surprise.

"For some a mare'd be a bride," he answered, readily striking up a
conversation. (chapter 5)



Marina compares genes to chess knights and tells Van that they must play
chess again:



“Kstati (à propos), I could never understand how heredity is transmitted
by bachelors, unless genes can jump like chess knights. I almost beat you,
last time we played, we must play again, not today, though ― I’m too sad
today.” (1.37)



In “The Twelve Chairs” Ostap Bender plays simultaneous chess in Vasyuki.
In an introductory lecture, Plodotvornaya debyutnaya ideya (“A Fruitful
Opening Idea”), Bender proposes to rename the Vasyuki chess club Klub
Chetyryokh Koney (“the Club of Four Knights”). The Vasyuki chapter of Ilf
and Petrov’s novel is entitled Mezhduplanetnyi shakhmatnyi turnir (“The
Interplanetary Chess Tournament”). Describing the discrepancy between Terra
and Antiterra, Van mentions two chess games with identical openings and
identical end moves:



There were those who maintained that the discrepancies and ‘false
overlappings’ between the two worlds were too numerous, and too deeply
woven into the skein of successive events, not to taint with trite fancy the
theory of essential sameness; and there were those who retorted that the
dissimilarities only confirmed the live organic reality pertaining to the
other world; that a perfect likeness would rather suggest a specular, and
hence speculatory, phenomenon; and that two chess games with identical
openings and identical end moves might ramify in an infinite number of
variations, on one board and in two brains, at any middle stage of their
irrevocably converging development. (1.3)



The three main characters in “The Twelve Chairs,” Bender, Vorobyaninov and
Father Fyodor, are hunting for the diamonds concealed in the seat of a Hambs
chair. One of the novel’s chapters is entitled Muzey mebeli (“The
Furniture Museum”).



The title of Ilf and Petrov’s novel brings to mind Blok’s poem
Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918). The last words in “The Twelve” are
Isus Khristos (Jesus Christ). Khristosik (as G. A. Vronski called all pretty
starlets) means “little Christ.” In Ilf and Petrov’s Zolotoy telyonok
(“The Golden Calf,” 1931), the sequel novel of “The Twelve Chairs,”
Ostap Bender says that he once impersonated Jesus Christ. The characters of
“The Golden Calf” include nich’ya babushka (no one’s grandmother), one
of the inhabitants of Voron’ya slobodka (“the Crow’s Nest”) who is
afraid of electricity and uses a kerosene lamp in her entresol apartment. At
the beginning of a Flavita (Russian Scrabble) game that Van, Ada and Lucette
play in Ardis Ada’s letters form the word kerosin (kerosene):



Lots had been cast, Ada had won the right to begin, and was in the act of
collecting one by one, mechanically and unthinkingly, her seven ‘luckies’
from the open case where the blocks lay face down, showing nothing but their
anonymous black backs, each in its own cell of flavid velvet. She was
speaking at the same time, saying casually: ‘I would much prefer the Benten
lamp here but it is out of kerosin. Pet (addressing Lucette), be a good
scout, call her ― Good Heavens!’

The seven letters she had taken, S,R,E,N,O,K,I, and was sorting out in her
spektrik (the little trough of japanned wood each player had before him) now
formed in quick and, as it were, self-impulsed rearrangement the key word of
the chance sentence that had attended their random assemblage. (1.36)



The Flavita set was given to Marina’s children by one of her former lovers,
Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov).



According to Van, Ada plays Flavita much better than chess:



Van, a first-rate chess player ― he was to win in 1887 a match at Chose
when he beat the Minsk-born Pat Rishin (champion of Underhill and Wilson, N.
C.) ― had been puzzled by Ada’s inability of raising the standard of her,
so to speak, damsel-errant game above that of a young lady in an old novel
or in one of those anti-dandruff color-photo ads that show a beautiful model
(made for other games than chess) staring at the shoulder of her otherwise
impeccably groomed antagonist across a preposterous traffic jam of white and
scarlet, elaborately and unrecognizably carved, Lalla Rookh chessmen, which
not even cretins would want to play with ― even if royally paid for the
degradation of the simplest thought under the itchiest scalp. Ada did
manage, now and then, to conjure up a combinational sacrifice, offering,
say, her queen ― with a subtle win after two or three moves if the piece
were taken; but she saw only one side of the question, preferring to ignore,
in the queer lassitude of clogged cogitation, the obvious counter
combination that would lead inevitably to her defeat if the grand sacrifice
were not accepted. On the Scrabble board, however, this same wild and weak
Ada was transformed into a sort of graceful computing machine, endowed,
moreover, with phenomenal luck, and would greatly surpass baffled Van in
acumen, foresight and exploitation of chance, when shaping appetizing long
words from the most unpromising scraps and collops. (ibid.)



Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Pat Rishin: a play on ‘patrician’. One may
recall Podgoretz (Russ. ‘underhill’) applying that epithet to a popular
critic, would-be expert in Russian as spoken in Minsk and elsewhere. Minsk
and Chess also figure in Chapter Six of Speak, Memory (p.133, N.Y. ed.
1966).



In Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), the Russian version of his
autobiography Speak, Memory, VN mentions Morozov’s drawing of Leo Tolstoy
and A. B. Goldenweiser at a chess board:



Помню, как я медленно выплыл из обморока ш
ахматной мысли, и вот, на громадной англий
ской сафьяновой доске в бланжевую и красн
ую клетку, безупречное положение было сба
лансировано, как созвездие. Задача действ
овала, задача жила. Мои Staunton'ские шахматы
(в 1920-ом году дядя Константин подарил их м
оему отцу), великолепные массивные фигуры
на байковых подошвах, отягощённые свинцо
м, с пешками в шесть сантиметров ростом и
королями почти в десять, важно сияли лако
выми выпуклостями, как бы сознавая свою р
оль на доске. За такой же доской, как раз у
местившейся на низком столике, сидели Лев
Толстой и А. Б. Гольденвейзер 6-го ноября
1904-го года по старому стилю (рисунок Мороз
ова, ныне в Толстовском Музее в Москве), и
рядом с ними, на круглом столе под лампой,
виден не только открытый ящик для фигур, н
о и бумажный ярлычок (с подписью Staunton), пр
иклеенный к внутренней стороне крышки. Ув
ы, если присмотреться к моим двадцатилет
ним (в 1940-ом году) фигурам, можно было заме
тить, что отлетел кончик уха у одного из к
оней, и основания у двух-трех пешек чуть п
одломаны, как край гриба, ибо много и дале
ко я их возил, сменив больше пятидесяти кв
артир за мои европейские годы; но на верху
шке королевской ладьи и на челе королевск
ого коня все ещё сохранился рисунок красн
ой коронки, вроде круглого знака на лбу у
счастливого индуса. (Chapter Thirteen, 4)



I remember slowly emerging from a swoon of concentrated chess thought, and
there, on a great English board of cream and cardinal leather, the flawless
position was at last balanced like a constellation. It worked. It lived. My
Staunton chessmen (a twenty-year-old set given to me by my father’s
Englished brother, Konstantin), splendidly massive pieces, of tawny or black
wood, up to four and a quarter inches tall, displayed their shiny contours
as if conscious of the part they played. Alas, if examined closely, some of
the men were seen to be chipped (after traveling in their box through the
fifty or sixty lodgings I had changed during those years); but the top of
the king’s rook and the brow of the king’s knight still showed a small
crimson crown painted upon them, recalling the round mark on a happy Hindu’
s forehead. (Chapter Fourteen, 3)



Alexey Sklyarenko


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