Tender Interval & Golden Veil in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 07/29/2021 - 10:14

In his essay The Texture of Time Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the Tender Interval:


What nudged, what comforted me, a few minutes ago at the stop of a thought? Yes. Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval. The regular throb itself merely brings back the miserable idea of measurement, but in between, something like true Time lurks. How can I extract it from its soft hollow? The rhythm should be neither too slow nor too fast. One beat per minute is already far beyond my sense of succession and five oscillations per second make a hopeless blur. The ample rhythm causes Time to dissolve, the rapid one crowds it out. Give me, say, three seconds, then I can do both: perceive the rhythm and probe the interval. A hollow, did I say? A dim pit? But that is only Space, the comedy villain, returning by the back door with the pendulum he peddles, while I grope for the meaning of Time. What I endeavor to grasp is precisely the Time that Space helps me to measure, and no wonder I fail to grasp Time, since knowledge-gaining itself ‘takes time.’ (Part Four)


Paradoxically as it may seem, Van’s “Tender Interval” combines Vash nezhnyi, vash edinstvennyi (Your tender one, your only one), as Igor Severyanin calls himself in the penultimate line of his poem Moy otvet (“My Reply,” 1914), with atlasnyi interval (the satin interval) mentioned by Severyanin at the end of the first stanza of his poem Fioletovyi trans (“The Violet Trance,” 1911):


О, Лилия ликеров, – о, Crème de Violette!

Я выпил грез фиалок фиалковый фиал...

Я приказал немедля подать кабриолет

И сел на сером клене в атласный интервал.


Затянут в черный бархат, шоффер — и мой клеврет
Коснулся рукоятки, и вздрогнувший мотор,
Как жеребец заржавший, пошел на весь простор,
А ветер восхищенный сорвал с меня берэт.

Я приказал дать «полный». Я нагло приказал
Околдовать природу и перепутать путь!
Я выбросил шоффера, когда он отказал, —
Взревел! и сквозь природу — вовсю и как-нибудь!

Встречалась ли деревня, — ни голосов, ни изб!
Врезался в чернолесье, — ни дерева, ни пня!
Когда б мотор взорвался, я руки перегрыз б!!.
Я опьянел грозово, все на пути пьяня!..

И вдруг — безумным жестом остолблен кленоход:
Я лилию заметил у ската в водопад.
Я перед ней склонился, от радости горбат,
Благодаря: за встречу, за благостный исход...

Я упоен. Я вещий. Я тихий. Я грёзэр.
И разве виноват я, что лилии колет
Так редко можно встретить, что путь без лилий сер?..
О, яд мечты фиалок, — о, Crème de Violette...


Crème de Violette brings to mind Violet Knox, old Van’s typist whom Ada calls Fialochka and who marries Ronald Oranger (old Van’s secretary, the editor of Ada) after Van’s and Ada’s death:


Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is — ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir — the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her ‘Fialochka’ and allowed herself the luxury of admiring ‘little Violet’ ‘s cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze, and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen twenty years earlier. (5.4)


A great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow (Cointreau, the orange-flavored liqueur), Violet Knox was born in 1940. According to Van, Victor Vitry (a brilliant French director who made a film of Van’s novel Letters from Terra) dated Theresa’s visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940:


Ada, who resented the insufficiency of her brother’s fame, felt soothed and elated by the success of The Texture of Time (1924). That work, she said, always reminded her, in some odd, delicate way, of the sun-and-shade games she used to play as a child in the secluded avenues of Ardis Park. She said she had been somehow responsible for the metamorphoses of the lovely larvae that had woven the silk of ‘Veen’s Time’ (as the concept was now termed in one breath, one breeze, with ‘Bergson’s Duration,’ or ‘Whitehead’s Bright Fringe’). But a considerably earlier and weaker work, the poor little Letters from Terra, of which only half a dozen copies existed — two in Villa Armina and the rest in the stacks of university libraries — was even closer to her heart because of its nonliterary associations with their 1892-93 sojourn in Manhattan. Sixty-year-old Van crustily and contemptuously dismissed her meek suggestion to the effect that it should be republished, together with the Sidra reflections and a very amusing anti-Signy pamphlet on Time in Dreams. Seventy-year-old Van regretted his disdain when Victor Vitry, a brilliant French director, based a completely unauthorized picture on Letters from Terra written by ‘Voltemand’ half a century before.

Vitry dated Theresa’s visit to Antiterra as taking place in 1940, but 1940 by the Terranean calendar, and about 1890 by ours. The conceit allowed certain pleasing dips into the modes and manners of our past (did you remember that horses wore hats — yes, hats — when heat waves swept Manhattan?) and gave the impression — which physics-fiction literature had much exploited — of the capsulist traveling backward in terms of time. Philosophers asked nasty questions, but were ignored by the wishing-to-be-gulled moviegoers.

In contrast to the cloudless course of Demonian history in the twentieth century, with the Anglo-American coalition managing one hemisphere, and Tartary, behind her Golden Veil, mysteriously ruling the other, a succession of wars and revolutions were shown shaking loose the jigsaw puzzle of Terrestrial autonomies. In an impressive historical survey of Terra rigged up by Vitry — certainly the greatest cinematic genius ever to direct a picture of such scope or use such a vast number of extras (some said more than a million, others, half a million men and as many mirrors) — kingdoms fell and dictatordoms rose, and republics, half-sat, half-lay in various attitudes of discomfort. The conception was controversial, the execution flawless. Look at all those tiny soldiers scuttling along very fast across the trench-scarred wilderness, with explosions of mud and things going pouf-pouf in silent French now here, now there!

In 1905, Norway with a mighty heave and a long dorsal ripple unfastened herself from Sweden, her unwieldy co-giantess, while in a similar act of separation the French parliament, with parenthetical outbursts of vive émotion, voted a divorce between State and Church. Then, in 1911, Norwegian troops led by Amundsen reached the South Pole and simultaneously the Italians stormed into Turkey. In 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and the Americans tore up Panama. In 1918 they and the French defeated Germany while she was busily defeating Russia (who had defeated her own Tartars some time earlier). In Norway there was Siegrid Mitchel, in America Margaret Undset, and in France, Sidonie Colette. In 1926 Abdel-Krim surrendered, after yet another photogenic war, and the Golden Horde again subjugated Rus. In 1933, Athaulf Hindler (also known as Mittler — from ‘to mittle,’ mutilate) came to power in Germany, and a conflict on an even more spectacular scale than the 1914-1918 war was under way, when Vitry ran out of old documentaries and Theresa, played by his wife, left Terra in a cosmic capsule after having covered the Olympic Games held in Berlin (the Norwegians took most of the prizes, but the Americans won the fencing event, an outstanding achievement, and beat the Germans in the final football match by three goals to one). (5.5)


In the second line of his poem Ekstsesserka (“Excess-loving Girl,” 1912) Severyanin mentions the girl’s zolotaya vual’ (golden veil):


Ты пришла в шоколадной шаплетке,

Подняла золотую вуаль.

И, смотря на паркетные клетки,

Положила боа на рояль.


Ты затихла на палевом кресле,

Каблучком молоточа паркет...

Отчего-то шепнула: «А если?..»

И лицо окунула в букет.


У окна альпорозы в корзине

Чуть вздохнули, – их вздох витьеват.

Я не видел кузины в кузине,

И едва ли я в том виноват...


Ты взглянула утонченно-пьяно,

Прищемляя мне сердце зрачком...

И вонзила стрелу, как Диана,

Отточив острие язычком...


И поплыл я, вдыхая сигару,

Ткя седой и качелящий тюль, –

Погрузиться в твою Ниагару,

Сенокося твой спелый июль...


Severyanin’s poem Moy otvet (“My Reply”) written at the end of 1914 (during World War I) ends in the line Ya povedu vas na Berlin! (“I’ll lead you to Berlin!”):


Ещё не значит быть сатириком —
Давать озлобленный совет
Прославленным поэтам-лирикам
Искать и воинских побед…


Неразлучаемые с Музою
Ни под водою, ни в огне,
Боюсь, мы будем лишь обузою
Своим же братьям на войне.


Мы избало́ваны вниманием,
И наши ли, pardon, грехи,
Когда идут шестым изданием
Иных «ненужные» стихи?!.


— Друзья! Но если в день убийственный
Падёт последний исполин,
Тогда ваш нежный, ваш единственный,
Я поведу вас на Берлин!


In Vitry’s film, Theresa (played by Norwegian-born Gedda Vitry) leaves Terra in a cosmic capsule after covering the Olympic Games held in Berlin (the Norwegians took most of the prizes, but the Americans won the fencing event, an outstanding achievement, and beat the Germans in the final football match by three goals to one). Norvezhskie fyordy (“The Norwegian Fjords,” 1918) is a poem by Severyanin:


Я – северянин, и фиорды

Норвежские – моя мечта,

Где мудро, просто, но и гордо

Живёт Царица Красота.


Лилово-стальные заливы

В подковах озерносных гор;

В них зорь полярных переливы,

Меж сосен белой розы взор.


И синеглазые газели,

Чьи игры созерцает лось,

Устраивают карусели,

Где с серым синее слилось...


Там тишина невозмутима,

И только гордый орлий клич

Ласкает ухо пилигрима,

Способного его постичь...


The maiden name of Severyanin’s mother was Shenshin, and she was a relative of the poet Afanasiy Fet (the illegitimate son of Afanasiy Shenshin, a Russian landowner, and Charlotte Becker, a German girl who was married to Johann Foeth). In VN’s novel Lolita (1955) Charlotte Becker is the maiden name of Lolita’s mother. In his farewell letter to Marina (Van's, Ada's and Lucette's mother) Demon Veen (Van's and Ada's father) mentions his aunt's ranch near Lolita, Texas:


‘Adieu. Perhaps it is better thus,’ wrote Demon to Marina in mid-April, 1869 (the letter may be either a copy in his calligraphic hand or the unposted original), ‘for whatever bliss might have attended our married life, and however long that blissful life might have lasted, one image I shall not forget and will not forgive. Let it sink in, my dear. Let me repeat it in such terms as a stage performer can appreciate. You had gone to Boston to see an old aunt — a cliché, but the truth for the nonce — and I had gone to my aunt’s ranch near Lolita, Texas. Early one February morning (around noon chez vous) I rang you up at your hotel from a roadside booth of pure crystal still tear-stained after a tremendous thunderstorm to ask you to fly over at once, because I, Demon, rattling my crumpled wings and cursing the automatic dorophone, could not live without you and because I wished you to see, with me holding you, the daze of desert flowers that the rain had brought out. Your voice was remote but sweet; you said you were in Eve’s state, hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear, you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been overeager to castrate him). Now that is the sketch made by a young artist in Parma, in the sixteenth century, for the fresco of our destiny, in a prophetic trance, and coinciding, except for the apple of terrible knowledge, with an image repeated in two men’s minds. Your runaway maid, by the way, has been found by the police in a brothel here and will be shipped to you as soon as she is sufficiently stuffed with mercury.’ (1.2)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Lolita, Texas: this town exists, or, rather, existed, for it has been renamed, I believe, after the appearance of the notorious novel.

penyuar: Russ., peignoir.


"A prophetic trance" in which Parmigianino made his sketch brings to mind Severyanin's "Violet Trance." In his Rondeau (1914) Severyanin mentions his mistress' lilovyi penyuar (mauve peignoir):


Читать тебе себя в лимонном будуаре,
Как яхту грëз, его приняв и полюбя…
Взамен неверных слов, взамен шаблонных арий,
‎Читать тебе себя.

Прочувствовать тебя в лиловом пеньюаре,
Дробя грядущее и прошлое, дробя
Второстепенное, и сильным быть в ударе.

Увериться, что мир сосредоточен в паре:
Лишь в нас с тобой, лишь в нас! И только для тебя,
И только о тебе, венчая взор твой царий,
‎Читать тебе себя!


In his poem Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy (“By Life Tormented and by Cunning Hope,” 1864), with the epigraph from Schopenhauer, Afanasiy Fet says that he gazes direct from time into eternity:


Die Gleichmässigkeit des Laufes
der Zeit in allen Kopfen beweist
mehr, als irgend etwas, dass wir
Alle in denselben Traum versenkt
sind, ja dass es Ein Wesen
ist, welches ihn träumt.

("That regularity of the passage of time in all our heads indicates, more than anything else, that we are all sunk in the same dream, and that it is a single Being that is dreaming it." Schopenhauer, Parerga II, § 29.)


Измучен жизнью, коварством надежды,
Когда им в битве душой уступаю,
И днём и ночью смежаю я вежды
И как-то странно порой прозреваю.

Ещё темнее мрак жизни вседневной,
Как после яркой осенней зарницы,
И только в небе, как зов задушевный,
Сверкают звёзд золотые ресницы.

И так прозрачна огней бесконечность,
И так доступна вся бездна эфира,
Что прямо смотрю я из времени в вечность
И пламя твоё узнаю, солнце мира.

И неподвижно на огненных розах
Живой алтарь мирозданья курится,
В его дыму, как в творческих грёзах,
Вся сила дрожит и вся вечность снится.

И всё, что мчится по безднам эфира,
И каждый луч, плотской и бесплотный, —
Твой только отблеск, о солнце мира,
И только сон, только сон мимолётный.

И этих грёз в мировом дуновеньи
Как дым несусь я и таю невольно,
И в этом прозреньи, и в этом забвеньи
Легко мне жить и дышать мне не больно.


В тиши и мраке таинственной ночи
Я вижу блеск приветный и милой,
И в звёздном хоре знакомые очи
Горят в степи над забытой могилой.

Трава поблекла, пустыня угрюма,
И сон сиротлив одинокой гробницы,
И только в небе, как вечная дума,
Сверкают звёзд золотые ресницы.

И снится мне, что ты встала из гроба,
Такой же, какой ты с земли отлетела,
И снится, снится: мы молоды оба,
И ты взглянула, как прежде глядела.


By life tormented, and by cunning hope,
When my soul surrenders in its battle with them,
Day and night I press my eyelids closed
And sometimes I'm vouchsafed peculiar visions.

The gloom of quotidian existence deepens,
As after a bright flash of autumn lightning,
And only in the sky, like a call from the heart,
The stars' golden eyelashes sparkle.

And the flames of infinity are so transparent,
And the entire abyss of ether is so close,
That I gaze direct from time into eternity
And recognize your flame, universal sun.

Motionless, encircled by fiery roses,
The living altar of the cosmos smolders
And in its smoke, as in creative slumber,
All forces quiver, eternity's a dream.

And all that rushes through the abyss of ether,
And every ray, embodied or ethereal,-
Is but your reflection, O universal sun,
It is but a dream, but a fleeting dream.

Through the worldly breath of these reveries
I fly like smoke, involuntarily disperse,
And in this vision, in this delirium,
I can live with ease and breathe without pain.


In the darkness and still of a mysterious night
I see a fond and welcoming spark,
From the chorus of spheres, familiar eyes
Shine upon a grave forgotten in the steppe.

The grass has faded, the desert is grim,
A lonely tomb dreams an orphan's dream,
And only in the sky, like an eternal idea,
The stars' golden eyelashes sparkle.

And I dream you've risen from the dead,
Unchanged since you departed the earth,
And I dream a dream: we both are young,
And you've looked at me as you did back then.


V tishi i mrake tainstvennoy nochi (“In the darkness and still of a mysterious night”) was the favorite poem of VN’s father (who was assassinated on March 28, 1922, in Berlin). In Chapter Three of VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor mentions Fet’s incomparable “Butterfly” and Severyanin’s collection The Thunder-Bubbling Cup:


Мой отец мало интересовался стихами, делая исключение только для Пушкина: он знал его, как иные знают церковную службу, и, гуляя, любил декламировать. Мне иногда думается, что эхо "Пророка" ещё до сих пор дрожит в каком-нибудь гулко-переимчивом азиатском ущелье. Ещё он цитировал, помнится, несравненную "Бабочку" Фета и тютчевские "Тени сизые"; но то, что так нравилось нашей родне, жиденькая, удобозапоминаемая лирика конца прошлого века, жадно ждущая переложения на музыку, как избавления от бледной немочи слов, проходило совершенно мимо него. Поэзию же новейшую он считал вздором, -- и я при нем не очень распространялся о моих увлечениях в этой области. Когда он однажды перелистал, с готовой уже усмешкой, книжки поэтов, рассыпанные у меня на столе, и как раз попал на самое скверное у самого лучшего из них (там, где появляется невозможный, невыносимый "джентльмен" и рифмуется "ковер" и "сöр"), мне стало до того досадно, что я ему быстро подсунул "Громокипящий Кубок", чтобы уж лучше на нем он отвел душу. Вообще же мне казалось, что если бы он на время забыл то, что я, по глупости, называл "классицизмом", и без предубеждения вник бы в то, что я так любил, он понял бы новое очарование, появившееся в чертах русской поэзии, очарование, чуемое мной даже в самых нелепых ее проявлениях. Но когда я подсчитываю, что теперь для меня уцелело из этой новой поэзии, то вижу, что уцелело очень мало, а именно только то, что естественно продолжает Пушкина, между тем, как пёстрая шелуха, дрянная фальшь, маски бездарности и ходули таланта -- все то, что когда-то моя любовь прощала и освещала по-своему, а что отцу моему казалось истинным лицом новизны, -- "мордой модернизма", как он выражался, -- теперь так устарело, так забыто, как даже не забыты стихи Карамзина; и когда мне попадается на чужой полке иной сборник стихов, когда-то живший у меня как брат, то я чувствую в них лишь то, что тогда, вчуже, чувствовал мой отец. Его ошибка заключалась не в том, что он свально охаял всю "поэзию модерн", а в том, что он в ней не захотел высмотреть длинный животворный луч любимого своего поэта.


My father took little interest in poetry, making an exception only for Pushkin: he knew him as some people know the liturgy, and liked to declaim him while out walking. I sometimes think that an echo of Pushkin’s “The Prophet” still vibrates to this day in some resonantly receptive Asian gully. He also quoted, I remember, the incomparable “Butterfly” by Fet, and Tyutchev’s “Now the dim-blue shadows mingle”; but that which our kinsfolk liked, the watery, easily memorized poesy of the end of the last century, avidly waiting to be set to music as a cure for verbal anemia, he ignored utterly. As to avant-garde verse, he considered it rubbish—and in his presence I did not publicize my own enthusiasms in this sphere. Once when with a smile of irony already prepared he leafed through the books of poets scattered on my desk and as luck would have it happened on the worst item by the best of them (that famous poem by Blok where there appears an impossible, unbearable dzhentelmen representing Edgar Poe, and where kovyor, carpet, is made to rhyme with the English “Sir” transliterated as syor), I was so annoyed that I quickly pushed Severyanin’s The Thunder-Bubbling Cup into his hand so that he could better unburden his soul upon it. In general I considered that if he would forget for the nonce the kind of poetry I was silly enough to call “classicism” and tried without prejudice to grasp what it was I loved so much, he would have understood the new charm that had appeared in the features of Russian poetry, a charm that I sensed even in its most absurd manifestations. But when today I tote up what has remained to me of this new poetry I see that very little has survived, and what has is precisely a natural continuation of Pushkin, while the motley husk, the wretched sham, the masks of mediocrity and the stilts of talent—everything that my love once forgave or saw in a special light (and that seemed to my father to be the true face of innovation—“the mug of modernism” as he expressed it), is now so old-fashioned, so forgotten as even Karamzin’s verses are not forgotten; and when on someone else’s shelf I come across this or that collection of poems which had once lived with me as brother, I feel in them only what my father then felt without actually knowing them. His mistake was not that he ran down all “modern poetry” indiscriminately, but that he refused to detect in it the long, life-giving ray of his favorite poet.


See also the updated version of my previous post, “Ronald Oranger & Violet Knox as super-imperial couple.”