Bosch: triptych, strawberries, butterflies and Van Veen.
In "Ada, or Ardor" Nabokov writes more explicitly about the triptych painted by H. Bosch and offers several interpretations about the spacial disposition of the pannels as "past- present-future" and the butterflies represented in them.
(The quotations are in blue. I underlined the most significant parts in relation to the "triptych" theme.)
1. 'If I could write,' mused Demon, 'I would describe, in too many words no doubt, how passionately, how incandescently, how incestuously - c'est le mot - art and science meet in an insect, in a thrush, in a thistle of that ducal bosquet. Ada is marrying an outdoor man, but her mind is a closed museum, and she, and dear Lucette, once drew my attention, by a creepy coincidence, to certain details of that other triptych, that tremendous garden of tongue-in-cheek delights, circa 1500, and, namely, to the butterflies in it - a Meadow Brown, female, in the center of the right panel, and a Tortoiseshell in the middle panel, placed there as if settled on a flower - mark the "as if," for here we have an example of exact knowledge on the part of those two admirable little girls, because they say that actually the wrong side of the bug is shown, it should have been the underside, if seen, as it is, in profile, but Bosch evidently found a wing or two in the corner cobweb of his casement and showed the prettier upper surface in depicting his incorrectly folded insect. I mean I don't give a hoot for the esoteric meaning, for the myth behind the moth, for the masterpiece-baiter who makes Bosch express some bosh of his time, I'm allergic to allegory and am quite sure he was just enjoying himself by crossbreeding casual fancies just for the fun of the contour and color, and what we have to study, as I was telling your cousins, is the joy of the eye, the feel and taste of the woman-sized strawberry that you embrace with him, or the exquisite surprise of an unusual orifice - but you are not following me...'
2. "I dismiss it. Life, love, libraries, have no future....Time is anything but the popular triptych: a no-longer existing Past, the durationless point of the Present, and a 'not-yet' that may never come. No. There are only two panels. The Past (ever-existing in my mind) and the Present (to which my mind gives duration and, therefore, reality). If we make a third compartment of fulfilled expectation, the foreseen, the foreordained, the faculty of prevision, perfect forecast, we are still applying our mind to the Present."
(this idea comes up again in the opening paragraphs of Transparent Things*)
3. 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!
4. "In every individual life there goes on from cradle to deathbed the gradual sharpening and strengthening of the backbone of consciousness, which is the Time of the strong. 'To be' means to know 'one has been'. 'Not to be' implies the only 'new' kind of (sham) time: the future" (A,559) because unconsciousness "envelops both the Past and the Present from all conceivable sides".
(But then, in the novel such theories are voiced only by Van Veen and not even Ada seems to agree with him) .
5. In full, deliberate consciousness, at the moment of the hooded click, he bunched the recent past with the imminent future and thought to himself that this would remain an objective perception of the real present and that he must remember the flavor, the flash, the flesh of the present (as he, indeed, remembered it half a dozen years later - and now, in the second half of the next century).
* - Transparent Things:
Perhaps if the future existed, concretely and individually, as something that could be discerned by a better brain, the past would not be so seductive: its demands would be balanced by those of the future. Persons might then straddle the middle stretch of the seesaw when considering this or that object. It might be fun.
But the future has no such reality (as the pictured past and the perceived present possess); the future is but a figure of speech, a specter of thought...When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!
The "hereafter" ( such a curious word) is not indicated here, nor the fourth image that arises from the closed triptych. Nabokov's intent look towards the past and the backbone of personal conscious memories might be related to his despair of recovering Arcadia, if we follow Walter Benjamin's ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History, inspired by the painting "Angelus Novus", by Paul Klee. The "angel of history" is blown backwards into the future by the storm of progress that comes from Paradise: " Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage ..."
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