NABOKV-L post 0014325, Sat, 9 Dec 2006 11:42:49 -0200

Re: zesty, bot, formulae, dichten

CHW opines:1. My revision of my remarks was intended as a would-be gracious concession in the interests of courteous debate...The gulf between European and American sensibilities seems to me daily to be growing wider than the Atlantic. Earlier I suggested that American taste is democratic, whereas European taste is elitist. VN was writing verse composed by an American. I suppose that is one of the reasons he is photographed with an enormous Webster’s open in front of him. An unhappy image for anyone addicted to the OED.
2... What a maestro that Willy Shakespeare was; even though estimable authorities may opine that “English poetry has few things better to offer than ‘Pale Fire’”, and “VN's adjectival precision and aptness have no rival.” I wonder if VN ever consulted Wright .
3 ...“Koestler once remarked that German dichten, to compose poetry, means ‘to compress, thicken, concentrate’. [However] The verb presumably really means merely to speak, cf Latin dictare, dicere. Or does ‘dight’ connote ‘tight’?” Frankly, I think Koestler was mistaken in his etymology, and that the resemblance of “dichten” to “thicken” is accidental. Besides which, it only applies in modern German. Swedish “dikta”, compose, bears little resemblance to Swedish “tjock”, thick or fat.

JM: By all means, let's continue to concede in the interests of democratic debate ( the word "courteous" in this context is misleading, but I have no wright to stand by me now. Shakespeare and Nabokov would have managed without it, not me...not me). The OED explored and incorporated extensive usages of colonial and independent English and future List collaborators might find Nabokovianisms to consult, after awls harden into stillicidal needles.

I'm not sure that the word "condensation" comes from dictare, dicere exclusively, nor if it remains tightly tied to this one meaning ( that would be too unusual).
In many languages it describes a physical, non verbal thickening, as in clouded skies or one's breath in a mirror, also like in "condensed" or, as you have it, "evaporated" milk. This sense is totally unrelated to what is "dictated", a matter of greater or lesser density.

There's no German dictionary by me now, but I'm certain that Dichter means poet, Gedicht, a poem and Verdichten the process that encompasses primitive confabulation and abstract creation of "metaphors" ( British James Strachey, who translated Freud from the German, chose "condensation" to express "Verdichten" and I don't imagine he would have been the first one there).
My trivial use of "condensation" as a thickening process, due to the convergence of unrelated images and sensations creating fables and meanings, was intended both as a condensation and a metaphor, i.e, VN's memorable effectiveness through which words can express more than a dictionary thing...

This memorability goes way beyond what he states in his introduction to "Bend Sinister" as:
"The term 'bend sinister' means a heraldic bar or band drawn from the left side...This choice of title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life, a sinistral and sinister world". The title suggests both "emblem", aristocracy and Admiral butterflies ( it flies in full colours along "Pale fire/'), with red bands and droplets designed by Nature, wrong turns, sinister dicators and dumb followers, plus left-handed sinistrality ( extended in other novels). It accomodates interactively the reader's additional associations, rather it counts on them to continue its growth....

MR to A.Bouazza:Nabokov who seems to have read everything, but I suspect that he hasn't heard of Hildebrand's book when he wrote his "Kamera Obskura" (what you say of the Dutch "Camera Obscura" seems to confirm that Nabokov's novel has little in common with it)
JM: Unfamiliar with my present laptop I cannot google "Roland Barthes" to confirm the French title of his work, and if it applies to Nabokov's instrumental "camera lucida" and microscopes. Do you think VN's original chiaro-scuro choice for this title played with those optic instruments known since medieval days to represent 3D objects on a bidimensional plane.

Victor Fet to List: But this versipellous name is also heavily present in Russian folklore and could have much earlier roots. In Christian tradition, "volkhvs" are three Magi who saw the Star of
Bethlehem. O. Henry's "Gifts of the Magi" Russian translation is "Dary volkhvov".
Jansy M: The legend you described about "Volkh also is a son of a Serpent. His mother is a human girl, Marfa Vseslavyevna ...Volkh could turn into an ermine "..( just like the shoes of Cinderella and Blanche?), reminded of some of the stories written by Gogol, but I cannot pinpoint it from memory at the moment. Gogol and old legends "thicken" VN's wordworlds...
I was thinking along the lines of my present "re-readings" when VN explains the metamorphoses of a small puddle that becomes like a cilliate infusoria or as the footprint/sole from a Friday (venus) soul: I wonder if these can be seen as "'versipellous condensations"...

Search the archive:
Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies: