Quotations

Memorable phrases, sentences, images, and thoughts from Nabokov. Send in your own!

 

Ada

Unconsciousness, far from awaiting us, with flyback and noose, somewhere ahead, envelops both the Past and the Present from all conceivable sides, being a character not of Time itself but of organic decline natural to all things whether conscious of Time or not. (Pt 4)

I wish to examine the essence of Time, not its lapse, for I do not believe that its essence can be reduced to its lapse. I wish to caress Time. (Pt 4)

I wish to do something about it; to indulge in a simulacrum of possession. (Pt 4)

Man, in that sense, will never die, because there may never be a taxonomical point in his evolutionary progress that could be determined as the last stage of man in the cline turning him into Neohomo, or some horrible, throbbing slime. (Pt. 4)

Time is rhythm: the insect rhythm of a warm humid night, brain ripple, breathing, the drum in my temple — these are our faithful timekeepers; and reason corrects the feverish beat. (Pt 4)

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.” (Pt 4)

Physiologically the sense of Time is a sense of continuous becoming, and if “becoming” has a voice, the latter might be, not unnaturally, a steady vibration; but for Log’s sake, let us not confuse Time with Tinnitus, and the seashell hum of duration with the throb of our blood. (Pt 4)

To give myself time to time Time I must move my mind in the direction opposite to that in which I am moving, as one does when one is driving past a long row of poplars and wishes to isolate and stop one of them, thus making the green blur reveal and offer, yes, offer, its every leaf. (Pt 4)

The irreversibility of Time (which is not heading anywhere in the first place) is a very parochial affair: had our organs and orgitrons not been asymmetrical, our view of Time might have been amphitheatric and altogether grand, like ragged night and jagged mountains around a small, twinkling, satisfied hamlet. (Pt 4)

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. (Pt 4)

At best, the “future” is the idea of a hypothetical present based on our experience of succession, on our faith in logic and habit. Actually, of course, our hopes can no more bring it into existence than our regrets change the Past. The latter has at least the taste, the tinge, the tang, of our individual being. (Pt. 4)

The idea that Time “flows” as naturally as an apple thuds down on a garden table implies that it flows in and through something else and if we take that “something” to be Space then we have only a metaphor flowing along a yardstick. (Pt 4)

. . .but no one shall make me believe that the movement of matter (say, a pointer) across a carved-out area of Space (say, a dial) is by nature identical with the “passing” of time. Movement of matter merely spans an extension of some other palpable matter, against which it is measured, but tells us nothing about the actual structure of impalpable Time. (Pt 4)

A plasm in which matter — concentrations of Space plasm — is organized and enclosed. We can measure the globules of matter and the distances between them, but Space plasm itself is incomputable. (Pt 4)

We are told that if a creature loses its teeth and becomes a bird, the best the latter can do when needing teeth again is to evolve a serrated beak, never the real dentition it once possessed. The scene is Eocene and the actors are fossils. It is an amusing instance of the way Nature cheats but it reveals as little relation to essential Time, straight or round, as the fact of my writing from left to right does to the course of my thought. (Pt 4)

Space flutters to the ground, but Time remains between thinker and thumb, when Monsieur Bergson uses his scissors. Space introduces its eggs into the nests of Time: a “before” here, an “after” there—and a speckled clutch of Minkowski’s “world-points.” A stretch of Space is organically easier to measure mentally than a “stretch” of Time. (Pt 4)

In the same sense of individual, perceptual time, I can put my Past in reverse gear, enjoy this moment of recollection as much as I did the horn of abundance whose stucco pineapple just missed my head, and postulate that next moment a cosmic or corporeal cataclysm might — not kill me, but plunge me into a permanent state of stupor, of a type sensationally new to science, thus depriving natural dissolution of any logical or chronal sense. (Pt 4)

The 195 days preceding that event being indistinguishable from infinite unconsciousness, are not to be included in perceptual time, so that, insofar as my mind and my pride of mind are concerned, I am today (mid-July, 1922) quite exactly fifty-two, et trêve de mon style plafond peint. (Pt 4)

Furthermore, this reasoning takes care of the much less interesting (albeit important, important) Universal Time (“we had a thumping time chopping heads”) also known as Objective Time (really, woven most coarsely of private times), the history, in a word, of humanity and humor, and that kind of thing. (Pt 4)

. . .there is nothing more splendid than lone thought; and lone thought must plod on, or — to use a less ancient analogy— drive on, say, in a sensitive, admirably balanced Greek car that shows its sweet temper and road-holding assurance at every turn of the alpine highway. (Pt 4)

. . .while trying to take advantage of a red light in the coal black, with the wipers functioning metronomically, chronometrically: the blind finger of space poking and tearing the texture of time. (Pt 4)

The “passage of time” is merely a figment of the mind with no objective counterpart, but with easy spatial analogies. It is seen only in rear view, shapes and shades, arollas and larches silently tumbling away: the perpetual disaster of receding time, éboulements, landslides, mountain roads where rocks are always falling and men always working. (Pt 4)

Could I tell by its tint if it comes earlier or later, lower or higher, in the stratigraphy of my past? Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? (Pt 4)

Of course, I shave longer when my thought “tries on” words; of course, I am not aware of the lag until I look at my watch; of course, at fifty years of age, one year seems to pass faster because it is a smaller fraction of my increased stock of existence and also because I am less often bored than I was in childhood between dull game and duller book. (Pt 4)

Reviewing those last steps of the immediate Past involves less physical time than was needed for the clock’s mechanism to exhaust its strokes, and it is this mysterious “less” which is a special characteristic of the still-fresh Past into which the Present slipped during that instant inspection of shadow sounds. The “less” indicates that the Past is in no need of clocks and the succession of its events is not clock time, but something more in keeping with the authentic rhythm of Time. (Pt 4)

...it does not matter that we can never enjoy the true Present, which is an instant of zero duration, represented by a rich smudge, as the dimensionless point of geometry is by a sizable dot in printer’s ink on palpable paper. The normal motorist, according to psychologists and policemen, can perceive, visually, a unit of time as short in extension as one tenth of a second (I had a patient, a former gambler, who could identify a playing card in a five-times-faster flash!). (Pt 4)

The sharpest feeling of nowness, in visual terms, is the deliberate possession of a segment of Space collected by the eye. This is Time’s only contact with Space, but it has a far-reaching reverberation. To be eternal the Present must depend on the conscious spanning of an infinite expansure. Then, and only then, is the Present equatable with Timeless Space. (Pt 4)

The same, more vaguely, applies to the impressions received from perceiving the gaps of unremembered or “neutral” time between vivid events. (Pt 4)

This act of attention is what I called last year the “Deliberate Present” to distinguish it from its more general form termed (by Clay in 1882) the “Specious Present.” The conscious construction of one, and the familiar current of the other give us three or four seconds of what can be felt as now-ness. This now-ness is the only reality we know; it follows the colored nothingness of the no-longer and precedes the absolute nothingness of the future. Thus, in a quite literal sense, we may say that conscious human life lasts always only one moment, for at any moment of deliberate attention to our own flow of consciousness we cannot know if that moment will be followed by another. (Pt 4)

Our modest Present is, then, the time span that one is directly and actually aware of, with the lingering freshness of the Past still perceived as part of the nowness. (Pt 4)

At every moment it is an infinity of branching possibilities. A determinate scheme would abolish the very notion of time (here the pill floated its first cloudlet). The unknown, the not yet experienced and the unexpected, all the glorious “x” intersections, are the inherent parts of human life. (Pt 4)

“I wonder,” said Ada, “I wonder if the attempt to discover those things is worth the stained glass. We can know the time, we can know a time. We can never know Time. Our senses are simply not meant to perceive it. It is like —” (Pt 4)

 

The Art of Literature and Commonsense

The writer's pulpit is dangerously close to the pulp romance, and what reviewers call a strong novel is generally a precarious heap of platitudes or a sand castle on a populated beach, and there are few things sadder than to see its muddy moat dissolve when the holiday makers are gone and the cold mousy waves are nibbling at the solitary sands.

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words all being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.

If the mind were constructed on optional lines and if a book could be read in the same way as a painting is taken in by the eye, that is without the bother of working from left to right and without the absurdity of beginnings and ends, this would be the ideal way of appreciating a novel, for thus the author saw it at the moment of its conception.

Indeed, by digging a little deeper somewhere near the waistline of South America a lucky geologist may one day discover, as his spade rings against metal, the solid barrel hoop of the equator.

A madman is reluctant to look at himself in a mirror because the face he sees is not his own: his personality is beheaded; that of the artist is increased.

There is a species of butterfly on the hind wing of which a large eyespot imitates a drop of liquid with such uncanny perfection that a line which crosses the wing is slightly displaced at the exact stretch where it passes through—or better say under—the spot: this part of the line seems shifted by refraction, as it would if a real globular drop had been there and we were looking through it at the pattern of the wing.In the light of the strange metamorphosis undergone by exact science from objective to subjective, what can prevent us from supposing that one day a real drop had fallen and had somehow been phylogenetically retained as a spot?

That human life is but a first installment of the serial soul and that one's individual secret is not lost in the process of earthly dissolution, becomes something more than an optimistic conjecture, and even more than a matter of religious faith, when we remember that only commonsense rules immortality out.

Professor Pavlov's bell-hopping mice and Dr. Griffith's rotating rats may please the practical minds, and Rhumbler's artificial amoeba can make a very cute pet.

I take my hat off to the hero who dashes into a burning house and saves his neighbor's child; but I shake his hand if he has risked squandering a precious five seconds to find and save, together with the child, its favorite toy.

The fine specimen I intend to bag for the benefit of those who might like to see how it is done happens to be a rather
incredible cross between an elephant and a horse. His name is­ commonsense.

Commonsense is square whereas all the most essential visions and values of life are beautifully round, as round as the universe or the eyes of a child at its first circus show.

The inspiration of genius adds a third ingredient: it is the past and the present and the future (your book) that come together in a sudden flash; thus the entire circle of time is perceived, which is another way of saying that time ceases to exist.

The Russian language which otherwise is comparatively poor in abstract terms, supplies definitions for two types of inspiration, vostorg and vdokhnovenie, which can be paraphrased as "rapture" and "recapture."

Lunatics are lunatics just because they have thoroughly and recklessly dismembered a familiar world but have not the power- or have lost the power - to create a new one as harmonious as the old.

Likewise it may be a good cure for certain puzzled authors, groping for what they hope are morbid themes, to charm themselves back into the sweet normality of their little hometowns or to converse in apostrophic dialect with husky men of the soil, if such exist.

And the more brilliant, the more unusual the man, the nearer he is to the stake. Stranger always rhymes with danger.

And this being so, let us bless them, let us bless the freak; for in the natural evolution of things, the ape would perhaps never have become man had not a freak - appeared in the family.

 

The Art of Translation (I: A Few Perfect Rules)

Can every educated person know at least five foreign languages besides his own? - and as well as his own, - that is the point. English, mainly because of its poetry, obviously heads the least. French and Russian compete for the second place. Italian, Spanish and German come next - .  .

The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms. . .

Likewise, in a German edition of Chekhov, a certain teacher, as soon as he enters the classroom, is made to become engrossed in "his newspaper," which prompted a pompous reviewer to comment on the sad condition of public instruction in pre-Soviet Russia. But the real Chekhov was simply referring to the classroom "journal" which a teacher would open to check lessons, marks and absentees.

The other class of blunders in the first category includes a more sophisticated kind of mistake, one which is caused by an attack of linguistic Daltonism suddenly blinding the translator. Whether attracted by the far-fetched when the obvious was at hand (What does an Eskimo prefer to eat—ice cream or tallow? Ice cream). .

I knew a very conscientious poet who in wrestling with the translation of a much tortured text rendered "is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought" in such a manner as to convey an impression of pale moonlight.

. . .but how contemptible is the smug person who, although quite understanding the sense, fears it might stump a dunce or debauch a dauphin! Instead of blissfully nestling in the arms of the great writer, he keeps worrying about the little reader playing in a corner with something dangerous or unclean.

Perhaps the most charming example of Victorian modesty that has ever come my way was in an early English translation of Anna Karenin. Vronsky had asked Anna what was the matter with her. "I am beremenna" (the translator's italics), replied Anna, making the foreign reader wonder what strange and awful Oriental disease that was; all because the translator thought that "I am pregnant" might shock some pure soul,. . .

. . .incidentally it bowdlerized the Queen's digressions, granting her the gentility she so sadly lacked and dismissing the liberal shepherds; how anyone could make such a botanical collection beside the Helje or the Avon is another question.

Having at his disposal a sufficient number of hackneyed rhymes and taking up as he rode any hitch-hiking metaphor that
he happened to meet, he turned something that Poe had taken considerable pains to compose into something that any
Russian rhymester could dash off at a moment's notice.

First of all he must have as much talent, or at least the same kind of talent, as the author he chooses. In this,
though only in this, respect Baudelaire and Poe or Zhukovski and Schiller made ideal playmates.

What is to be done with this bird you have shot down only to find that it is not a bird of paradise, but an escaped parrot, still screeching its idiotic message as it flaps on the ground?

 

The Aurelian (short story)

At night, and especially when it was damp, with the asphalt shining like the back of a seal, passersby would stop for a second before that symbol of fair weather.

And, just because they were together with the butterflies, a few other objects would remain in one’s memory: a globe, pencils, and a monkey’s skull on a pile of copybooks.

. .the man would ponder for some time in silence and then, with a wet underlip pushing out from under the pipe like that of a feeding elephant. .

After the stroke which had almost killed him some time ago (like a mountain falling upon him from behind just as he had bent toward his shoestrings). .

. .for Pilgram belonged, or rather was meant to belong (something - the place, the time, the man - had been ill-chosen), to a special breed of dreamers, such dreamers as used to be called in the old days “Aurelians” - perhaps on account of those chrysalids, those "jewels of nature". .

Pilgram could not remember now when, exactly, butterflies had begun to oust the stuffed birds of paradise, the stale talismans, the fans with dragons, and the like. .

Father Dejean, stouthearted missionary climbing among the rhododendrons and snows, how enviable was thy lot!

In Italian gardens in the summer dusk, the gravel crunched invitingly underfoot, and Pilgram gazed through the growing darkness at clusters of blossoms in front of which suddenly there appeared an oleander hawk, which passed from flower to flower, humming intently and stopping at the corolla, its wings vibrating so rapidly that nothing but a ghostly nimbus was visible about its streamlined body.

In the twilight of the strangely still shop, eyed wings stared at him from all sides, and Pilgram perceived something almost appalling in the richness of the huge happiness that was leaning toward him like a mountain.

Night came; a slippery polished moon sped, without the least friction, in between chinchilla clouds. .

. .one can hardly doubt that he saw all the glorious bugs he had longed to see - velvety black butterflies soaring over the jungles, and a tiny moth in Tasmania, and that Chinese “skipper” said to smell of crushed roses when alive, and the short-clubbed beauty that a Mr. Baron had just discovered in Mexico.

 

Cloud, Castle, Lake (short story)

Because he had to get up unusually early, and hence took along into his dreams the delicate face of the watch ticking on his night table; but mainly because that very night, for no reason at all, he began to imagine that this trip, thrust upon him by a feminine fate in a low-cut gown, this trip which he had accepted so reluctantly, would bring him some wonderful, tremulous happiness.

The blue dampness of a ravine. A memory of love, disguised as a meadow. Wispy clouds - greyhounds of heaven.

. .a smear on the platform, a cherry stone, a cigarette butt - and would say to himself that never, never would he remember these three little things here in that particular interrelation, this pattern, which he now could see with such deathless precision. .

He was acknowledged the loser and was forced to eat a cigarette butt.

It was a pure, blue lake, with an unusual expression of its water. In the middle, a large cloud was reflected in its entirety. On the other side, on a hill thickly covered with verdure (and the darker the verdure, the more poetic it is), towered, arising from dactyl to dactyl, an ancient black castle.

. . but from the window one could clearly see the lake with its cloud and its castle, in a motionless and perfect correlation of happiness.

After returning to Berlin, he called on me, was much changed, sat down quietly, putting his hands on his knees, told his story; kept on repeating that he must resign his position, begged me to let him go, insisted that he could not continue, that he had not the strength to belong to mankind any longer. Of course, I let him go.

 

Conversation Piece, 1945 (short story)

I happen to have a disreputable namesake, complete from nickname to surname, . .

"Sinepuzov” (a surname meaning “blue belly,” which affects a Russian imagination in much the same way as Winterbottom does an English one) . .

. .it gradually dawned upon me that this was exactly the sort of place where one would expect to be introduced to some old fool who had had caviar in the Kremlin or to some wooden Soviet Russian, . .

"And nevertheless, I am going to say something very terrible about my former countrymen. Germans” - the soft-lashed eyes were half-closed again - “Germans are dreamers.”

Moreover, when I get excited, I stammer so badly that any attempt on my part to tell Dr. Shoe what I thought of him would have sounded like the explosions of a motorcycle which refuses to start on a frosty night in an intolerant suburban lane.

All, one could be certain, belonged to book clubs, bridge clubs, babble clubs, and to the great, cold sorority of inevitable death. All looked cheerfully sterile.

He turned out to be a compatriot of mine, a Colonel Malikov or Melnikov; in Mrs. Hall’s rendering it had sounded more like “Milwaukee.”

. . whom I at once visualized as a ruddy but unpalatable apple on my namesake’s family tree.

I had slammed the door behind me and was carrying my overcoat downstairs as one carries a child out of a house on fire.

As soon as I got home, I started writing a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but did not get very far.

Indeed, judging by the expression of that same sympathy continuously cropping up in the writings of certain well-known columnists, the whole thing might be perfectly legal, for all I knew.

It described a parabola and made a pancake landing in the middle of the street. There it turned a somersault, missed a puddle by a matter of inches, and lay gaping, wrong side up.

"Now in America, not content with having caused me all sorts of troubles in other countries, you have the arrogance to impersonate me and to appear in a drunken condition at the house of a highly respected person. This I will not tolerate. I could have you jailed and branded as an impostor, but I suppose you would not like that, and so I suggest that by way of indemnity…”

 

Lance (short story)

The name of the planet, presuming it has already received one, is immaterial. At its most favorable opposition, it may very well be separated from the earth by only as many miles as there are years between last Friday and the rise of the Himalayas—a million times the reader’s average age.

A rosy globe, marbled with dusky blotches, it is one of the countless objects diligently revolving in the infinite and gratuitous awfulness of fluid space.

In the present instance, the greater the magnification, the more the mottling of the planet’s surface looks as if it were seen by a submerged swimmer peering up through semitranslucent water.

Immortality must have a star to stand on if it wishes to branch and blossom and support thousands of blue-plumed angel birds all singing as sweetly as little eunuchs.

Just as our Pinedales, down here, have often little to offer beyond a shoe factory on one side of the tracks and the rusty inferno of an automobile dump on the other, so those seductive Arcadias and Icarias and Zephyrias on planetary maps may quite likely turn out to be dead deserts lacking even the milkweed that graces our dumps.

Only by a heroic effort can I make myself unscrew a bulb that has died an inexplicable death and screw in another, which will light up in my face with the hideous instancy of a dragon’s egg hatching in one’s bare hand.

They are like those “assorted” cookies that differ from one another only in shape and shade, whereby their shrewd makers ensnare the salivating consumer in a mad Pavlovian world where, at no extra cost, variations in simple visual values influence and gradually replace flavor, which thus goes the way of talent and truth.

Inhabitants of foreign planets, “intelligent” beings, humanoid or of various mythic makes, have one remarkable trait in common: their intimate structure is never depicted. In a supreme concession to biped propriety, not only do centaurs wear loincloths; they wear them about their forelegs.

Terrestrial space loves concealment. The most it yields to the eye is a panoramic view. The horizon closes upon the receding traveler like a trap door in slow motion.

The conjuror who displays the firmament has rolled up his sleeves and performs in full view of the little spectators. Planets may dip out of sight (just as objects are obliterated by the blurry curve of one’s own cheekbone); but they are back when the earth turns its head.

Lancelot is gone; the hope of seeing him in life is about equal to the hope of seeing him in eternity.

The classical ex-mortal leans on his elbow from a flowered ledge to contemplate this earth, this toy, this teetotum gyrating on slow display in its model firmament, every feature so gay and clear—the painted oceans, and the praying woman of the Baltic, and a still of the elegant Americas caught in their trapeze act, and Australia like a baby Africa lying on its side.

Deep in the human mind, the concept of dying is synonymous with that of leaving the earth. To escape its gravity means to transcend the grave, and a man upon finding himself on another planet has really no way of proving to himself that he is not dead—that the naive old myth has not come true.

 

Lolita

a shining example of moral leprosy (Foreword)

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. (Pt 1, Ch 1)

a salad of racial genes (Pt 1, Ch 2)

. . .for I often noticed that living as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would become strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss something she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, purified, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed—an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baudelaire, God or Shakespeare, anything of a genuine kind. (Pt 2, Ch 32)

I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her—after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred—I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever—for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation)—and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again—and “oh, no” Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure - all would be shattered. (Pt 2, Ch 32)

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred to me—not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like that, but merely as a novel experience—that since I had disregarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the rules of traffic. (Pt 2, Ch 36)

Reader! What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic—one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets. I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord. (Pt 2, Ch 36)

 

Lik (short story)

Loneliness as a situation can be corrected, but as a state of mind it is an incurable illness.

It was hard to say, though, if Lik (the word means “countenance” in Russian and Middle English) possessed genuine theatrical talent or was a man of many indistinct callings who had chosen one of them at random but could just as well have been a painter, jeweler, or ratcatcher.

Such a person resembles a room with a number of different doors, among which there is perhaps one that does lead straight into some great garden, into the moonlit depths of a marvelous human night, where the soul discovers the treasure intended for it alone.

 

The Luzhin Defense

Rereading this novel today, replaying the moves of its plot, I feel rather like Anderssen fondly recalling his sacrifice of both Rooks to the unfortunate and noble Kieseritsky - who is doomed to accept it over and over again through an infinity of textbooks, with a question mark for monument. (Foreword)

The entire sequence of moves in these three central chapters reminds one - or should remind one - of a certain type of chess problem where the point is not merely the finding of a mate in so many moves, but what is termed “retrograde analysis,” the solver being required to prove from a back-cast study of the diagram position that Black’s last move could not have been castling or must have been the capture of a white Pawn en passant. (Foreword)

The whole summer - a swift country summer consisting in the main of three smells: lilac, new-mown hay, and dry leaves. . (Ch 1)

A ten-year-old boy knows his knees well, in detail - the itchy swelling that had been scrabbled till it bled, the white traces of fingernails on the suntanned skin, and all those scratches which are the appended signatures of sand grains, pebbles and sharp twigs. (Ch 1)

A daguerreotype of his maternal grandfather - black sidewhiskers, violin in hand - stared down at him, but then completely vanished, dissolving in the glass, as soon as he regarded the portrait from one side. . (Ch 1)

The page with crisscross blue lines grew blurry; the white numbers on the blackboard alternately contracted and broadened; the arithmetic teacher’s voice, as if steadily receding, would get more and more hollow and incomprehensible. . (Ch 2)

. .Sherlock endowing logic with the glamour of a daydream, Sherlock composing a monograph on the ash of all known sorts of cigars and with this ash as with a talisman progressing through a crystal labyrinth of possible deductions to the one radiant conclusion. (Ch 2)

The vertical one was infinite, like all lines, and the inclined one, also infinite, sliding along it and rising ever higher as its angle decreased, was doomed to eternal motion, for it was impossible for it to slip off, and the point of their intersection, together with his soul, glided upwards along an endless path. (Ch 2)

. .the feeling that out there, in infinity, where he had forced the inclined line to jump off, an unthinkable catastrophe had taken place, an inexplicable miracle, and he lingered long in those heavens where earthly lines go out of their mind. (Ch 2)

. .where they were supposed to fit - whether they were to fill up the piebald hide of a cow, already almost completed, or whether this dark border on a green background was the shadow of the crook of a shepherd whose ear and part of whose head were plainly visible on a more outspoken piece. (Ch 2)

From time to time a faint glimmer sped over the ceiling in a mysterious arc and a gleaming dot showed on the desk - he did not know what: perhaps one facet of a paperweight in the guise of a heavy crystal egg or a reflection in the glass of a desk photograph. (Ch 3)

Sometimes however there were unbearable disappointments: in place of the sick teacher the predatory little mathematics teacher would come creeping into the room, and, having closed the door soundlessly, would begin to select pieces of chalk from the ledge beneath the blackboard with an evil smile on his face. (Ch 3)

For the second time in his life Luzhin noticed how unstable a thing chess was. (Ch 3)

He usually went to school in a cab and always made a careful study of the cab’s number, dividing it up in a special way in order the better to store it away in his memory and extract it thence whole should he require it. (Ch 3)

Luzhin turned aside so abruptly that a mysterious object rattled heavily in his satchel. Only when the teacher, like a blind wind, had swept past him did Luzhin become aware that he was standing before a hairdresser’s window and that the frizzled heads of three waxen ladies with pink nostrils were staring directly at him. (Ch 3)

. . he had taken his aunt a large box of chocolates, half of which he had himself eaten and the remainder of which he had rearranged so that it would not be noticed. (Ch 3)

. .on this last day, after a long exciting struggle during which the old man revealed a capacity for breathing hard through the nose - Luzhin perceived something, something was set free within him, something cleared up, and the mental myopia that had been painfully beclouding his chess vision disappeared. (Ch 4)

Similarly he was able to "read" a game already perused once without using the board at all; and this was all the more pleasant in that he did not have to fiddle about with chessmen while constantly listening for someone coming; (Ch 4)

The avenue was paved with sunflecks, and these spots, if you slitted your eyes, took on the aspect of regular light and dark squares. (Ch 4)

The urns that stood on stone pedestals at the four corners of the terrace threatened one another across their diagonals. (Ch 4)

Swallows soared: their flight recalled the motion of scissors swiftly cutting out some design. (Ch 4)

. .the most obvious explanation did not occur to him, just as sometimes in solving a problem its key turns out to be a move that seemed barred, impossible, excluded quite naturally from the range of possible moves. (Ch 4)

Out of all this, out of all this crude mish-mash that stuck to the pen and tumbled out of every corner of his memory, degrading every recollection and blocking the way for free thought. . (Ch 5)

The nails, tawny with nicotine, had ragged cuticles around them; fat little furrows ran across the finger joints, and a few hairs grew lower down. He placed his hand on the table next to her hand, milky-pale and soft to look at. . (Ch 6)

She made his acquaintance on the third day after his arrival, made it the way they do in old novels or in motion pictures: she drops a handkerchief and he picks it up - with the sole difference that they interchanged roles. (Ch 6)

. .there was no one to compare him with except those inspired eccentrics, musicians and poets whose image one knows as clearly and as vaguely as that of a Roman Emperor, an inquisitor or a comedy miser. (Ch 6)

And as he limped past them, nimbly dragging his foot on its double heel and with his right hand, cutting the air up into regular slices, or else smoothing it out like cloth, he spoke swiftly and at length about the lectures in sociology he would be giving and about an imminent merger with a boys’ school - and restrained laughter made one’s jaws ache and caused spasms in one’s throat. (Ch 6)

. .each of whom tinted her recollection his own particular color (blue geographer, khaki commissar, the writer’s black overcoat and a youth all in white lobbing a fir cone with his tennis racket) were followed by glinting and dissolving images. . (Ch 6)

During the whole time that he lived with Luzhin he unremittingly encouraged and developed his gift, not bothering for a second about Luzhin as a person, whom, it seemed, not only Valentinov but life itself had overlooked. (Ch 6)

. .he came later, set off for the cemetery, tramped around in the rain among the graves in mud-caked rubbers, failed to find his father’s grave and behind some trees caught sight of a man who was probably the caretaker, but a strange feeling of inertia and shyness prevented him from inquiring. . (Ch 6)

And suddenly, as in a fairground booth when a painted paper screen is burst starwise, admitting a smiling human face, there appeared from no one knew where a person who was so unexpected and so familiar, and who spoke with a voice that seemed to have been sounding mutely all his life and now had suddenly burst through the usual murk. (Ch 6)

He sat leaning on his cane and thinking that with a Knight’s move of this lime tree standing on a sunlit slope one could take that telegraph pole over there. . (Ch 6)

The daughter was completely indifferent to this gimcrack apartment, so unlike their quiet St. Petersburg house, where the furniture and other things had their own soul, where the icon-cabinet harbored an unforgettable garnet gleam and mysterious orange tree blossoms, where a fat, intelligent cat was embroidered on the silk back of an armchair, and where there were a thousand trifles, smells and shades that all together constituted something ravishing, and heartrending, and completely irreplaceable. (Ch 6)

. .she experienced a kind of legendary eclipse - when inexplicable night comes down and ash flies and blood appears on the walls - and it seemed that if at once, at once, she did not help, did not cut short another’s torture. . (Ch 6)

And the fact that her daughter called him by his surname was also unpleasant - but when she remarked upon it the other replied with a laugh: "Turgenev’s heroines did it. Am I worse than they?" (Ch 7)

And to hold her on his lap was nothing compared to the certainty that she would follow him and not disappear, like certain dreams that suddenly burst and disperse because the gleaming dome of the alarm clock has floated up through them. (Ch 7)

With one shoulder pressed against his chest she tried with a cautious finger to raise his eyelids a little higher and the slight pressure on his eyeball caused a strange black light to leap there, to leap like his black Knight which simply took the Pawn if Turati moved it out on the seventh move, as he had done at their last meeting. (Ch 7)

But the moon emerged from behind the angular black twigs, a round, full-bodied moon - a vivid confirmation of victory - and when finally Luzhin left the balcony and stepped back into his room, there on the floor lay an enormous square of moonlight, and in that light - his own shadow. (Ch 7)

A chandelier with pale translucent pendants answered him with an oddly familiar vibration; and on the yellow parquetry that reflected the legs of Empire armchairs, a white bearskin with spread paws lay in front of the piano, as if flying in the shiny abyss of the floor. (Ch 8)

. .by that time he no longer felt distinctly the boundary between chess and his fiancée’s home, as if movement had been speeded up, and what at first had seemed an alternation of strips was now a flicker. (Ch 8)

. .in the darkness of his memory, as in two mirrors reflecting a candle, there was only a vista of converging lights with Luzhin sitting at a chessboard, and again Luzhin at a chessboard, only smaller, and then smaller still, and so on an infinity of times. (Ch 8)

His body and the unknown’s body and the body of Kurt, who was sitting on the floor, came into soft, involuntary contact at every turn and subsequently Kurt finished up on the seat and Karl and most of the unknown fellow on the floor. When the car stopped and the driver opened the door he was unable at first to make out how many people were inside. (Ch 9)

Tiny yellow leaves gleamed in this blueness, throwing a speckled shadow on a white tree trunk, that was concealed lower down by the dark green paw of a fir tree; and immediately this vision filled with life, the leaves began to quiver, spots crept over the trunk and the green paw oscillated, and Luzhin, unable to support it, closed his eyes, but the bright oscillation remained beneath his lids. (Ch 10)

A tender optical illusion took place: he returned to life from a direction other than the one he had left it in, and the work of redistributing his recollections was assumed by the wondrous happiness that welcomed him first. (Ch 10)

It seemed as though that distant world was unrepeatable; through it roamed the by now completely bearable images of his parents, softened by the haze of time, and the clockwork train with its tin car painted to look like paneling went buzzing under the flounces of the armchair, and goodness knows how this affected the dummy engine driver, too big for the locomotive and hence placed in the tender. (Ch 10)

. .as if the dapples of light scattered over the footpaths of the manor garden had now grown together into a single warm radiance. (Ch 10)

And when you woke up, there was sober, gray light outside the windows and the sun slipped through a milky haze in the sky, looking like the moon, and suddenly in the distance - a burst of military music: it approached in orange waves, was interrupted by the hurried beat of a drum, and soon everything died down, and in place of the puffed-out sounds of trumpets there came again the imperturbable clopping of hoofs and the subdued rattling of a St. Petersburg morning. (Chap 11)

. .she tried to expel a terrifying picture from her imagination: Luzhin disrobed, aflame with simian passion, and her stubbornly submissive, cold, cold daughter. Meanwhile the frame for this picture was also ready. (Chap 11)

The future appeared to him vaguely as a long, silent embrace in a blissful penumbra, through which the diverse playthings of this world of ours would pass by, entering a ray of light and then disappearing again, laughing and swaying as they went. (Chap 11)

She would get up and change the record, holding the disc up to the light, and one sector of it would be a silky shimmer, like moonlight on the sea. (Chap 12)

From a shop of talking and playing machines came the sound of fragile music and someone closed the door so the music would not catch cold. (Chap 13)

It is difficult, difficult to hide a thing: the other things are jealous and inhospitable, holding on firmly to their places and not allowing a homeless object, escaping pursuit, into a single cranny. (Chap 13)

. .he revolved in other circles in which revolving was essential, and Mrs. Luzhin’s head began to spin as it used to in the amusement park on the revolving disk. (Chap 14)

And the net result had been something very peaceful and melancholy, and all smiled with dead smiles - the falsely swaggering peasant women in the pictures, the oval mirrors, the Berlin samovar, the four people at table. (Chap 14)

In the upper part, a black rectangle of night was sheened mirror-like. (Chap 14)

 

The Original of Laura

I loathe my belly, that trunkful of bowels, which I have to carry around, and everything connected with it - the wrong food, heartburn, constipation’s leaden load, or else indigestion with a first installment of hot filth pouring out of me in a public toilet three minutes before a punctual engagement. (marked as D10)

efface, expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out, obliterate (Title Page, End Page)

To all contraceptive precautions, and indeed to orgasm at its safest and deepest, I much preferred—madly preferred—finishing off at my ease against the softest part of her thigh. (from Eric's notes)

....you were among the close-set columns of moonlight and I lifted the hem of your dress—something I never had done in the past—and stroked, moulded, pinched ever so softly your pale prominent nates.. (from Aurora Lee)

At the height of your guarded ecstasy I thrust my cupped hand from behind between your consenting thighs and felt the sweat-stuck folds of a long scrotum and then, further in front, the droop of a short member. (from Aurora Lee)

I wish to add that this was no homosexual manifestation but a splendid example of terminal gynandrism. (from Aurora Lee)

...her little bottom, so smooth, so moonlit, a replica, in fact, of her twin brother’s charms, sampled rather brutally on my last night at boarding school, remained inset in the medal[l]ion of every following day. (from Aurora Lee)

I do not believe that the spinal cord is the only or even main conductor of the extravagant messages that reach my brain. I have to find out more about that—about the strange impression I have of there being some underpath, so to speak, along which the commands of my will power are passed to and fro along the shadow of nerves, rather [than] along the nerves proper. (from Wild's note)

The only way he could possess her was in the most [ ...] position of copulation: he reclining on cushions: she sitting in the fauteuil of his flesh with her back to him. Like toads or tortoises neither saw each other’s faces. (from I, near Penult. End)

In experimenting on oneself in order to pick out the sweetest death, one cannot, obviously, set part of one’s body on fire or drain it of blood or subject it to any other drastic operation, for the simple reason that these are one-way treatments: there is no resurrecting the organ one has destroyed. (Marked as D one)

Mrs Carr’s nephew, Anthony Carr, and his wife Winny, were one of those easygoing, over-generous couples that positively crave to lend their flat to a friend, any friend, when they and their dog do not happen to need it. (Chap. 1)

....which evidently had be[en] already done to lamentation in Heaven and laughter in Hell. (Chap. 1)

The conspicuous knobs of her hipbones framed a hollowed abdomen, so flat as to belie the notion of “belly”. (Chap. 1)

Her exquisite bone structure immediately slipped into a novel—became in fact the secret structure of that novel, besides supporting a number of poems. (Chap. 1)

...the mobile omoplates of a child being tubbed, the incurvation of a ballerina’s spine, narrow nates of an ambiguous irresistable charm. (Chap. 1)

...what contemporary descriptions of intercourse so seldom convey, because newborn and thus generalized, in the sense of primitive organisms of art as opposed to the personal achievement of great English poets dealing with an evening in the country, a bit of sky in a river, the nostalgia of remote sounds—things utterly beyond the reach of Homer or Horace. (Chap. 1)

And with tigerish zest, monstrously magnifying a trivial tiff she had had with him whose pyjamas (the idiot subject of the tiff) were changing the while, in the spectrum of his surprise and distress, from heliotrope to a sickly gray, she dismissed the poor oaf for ever. (Chap. 1)

...but from the cancer of oblivion invading his once famous pictures such as “April in Yalta” or “The Old Bridge[..] Let us not dwell on the choice of the wrong place of exile. (Chap 2)

Three years after her birth Adam discovered that the boy he loved had strangled another, unattainable, boy whom he loved even more. (Chap 2)

Adam Lind had always had an inclination for trick photography and this time, before shooting himself in a Montecarlo hotel (on the night, sad to relate, of his wife’s very real success in Piker’s “Narcisse et Narcette”), he geared and focussed his camera in a corner of the drawing room so as to record the event from different angles. (Chap 2)

He looked now like a not too successful conjuror paid to tell fairytales to a sleepy child at bedtime, but he sat a little too close. (Chap 2)

Freeing themselves from the tumbled sheets her pedalling legs hit him in the crotch. (Chap 2)

She observed with quiet interest the difficulty Jules had of drawing a junior-size sheath over an organ that looked abnormally stout and at full erection had a head turned somewhat askew as if wary of receiving a backhand slap... (Chap 3)

The girls would compare the dimensions of their companions. Exchanges would be enjoyed with giggles and cries of surprise. Games of blindman’s buff would be played in the buff. Sometimes a voyeur would be shaken out of a tree by the vigilant police. (Chap 3)

Of art, of love, of the difference between dreaming and waking she knew nothing but would have darted at you like a flatheaded blue serpent if you questioned her. (Chap 3)

A sweet Japanese girl who took Russian and French because her stepfather was half French and half Russian, taught Flora to paint her left hand up to the radial artery (one of the tenderest areas of her beauty) with minuscule information, in so called “fairy” script.. (Chap 3)

a joke on the part of that fun loving little Japanese [girl] who would twist her limbs into a pretzel when entertaining Flora’s Lesbian friends... (Chap 3)

So let it be “Landskaya” — land and sky and the melancholy echo of her dancing name. (Chap 4)

It showed Flora kneeling belatedly in the act of taking her mother’s non-existent pulse, and it also showed a man of great corpulence and fame, still unacquainted with Flora... (Chap 4)

She saw their travels in terms of adverts and a long talcum-white beach with the tropical breeze tossing the palms and her hair; he saw it in terms of forbidden foods, frittered away time, and ghastly expenses. (Chap 5)

The “I” of the book is a neurotic and hesitant man of letters, who destroys his mistress in the act of portraying her. (Chap 5)

I taught thought to mimick an imperial neurotransmitter an aw[e]some messenger carrying my order of self destruction to my own brain. (tentatively marked Chap 6)

The student who desires to die should learn first of all to project a mental image of himself upon his inner blackboard.(labelled D1)

To ensure a complete smoothness of background, care must be taken to eliminate the hypnagogic gargoyles and entoptic swarms which plague tired vision after a surfeit of poring over a collection of coins or insects. (labelled D1)

Our complicated exertions, which to an onlooker might have seemed some sort of exotic wrestling match[,] would take us from one room to another and end by my sitting on the floor, exhausted and hot, with the bottom of my trousers mis-clothing my heaving abdomen. (Marked as Legs 3/9)

A deep probe of one’s darkest self, the unraveling of subjective associations, may suddenly lead to the shadow of a clue and then to the clue itself. (Marked as D three)

In a recurrent dream of my childhood I used to see a smudge on the wallpaper or on a whitewashed door, a nasty smudge that started to come alive,turning into a crustacean-like monster. (Marked as D3)

when some trick of position, some dimple of pillow, some fold of bedclothes made me feel brighter and braver than usual, I let the smudge start its evolution and, drawing on an imagined mitten, I simply rubbed out the beast. Three or four times it appeared again in my dreams but now I welcomed its growing shape and gleefully erased it. (Marked as D5)

at least two such rivals of mine — you, Curson, and you, Croydon — who will clap their claws like crabs in boiling water. (Chap 7*)

After swallowing my disappointment I scrambled out of the tub, landed on the tiled floor and fell on my face. To my intense joy I could not stand properly because my ten toes were in a state of indescribable numbness. (Chap 7*)

...but all sensation had been slashed away by a razor of ice. I crept on all fours into the adjacent bedroom and with infinite effort into my bed. (Chap 7*; Wild [5])

I was working in the right direction and that (unless some hideous wound or excruciating sickness joined the merry pallbearers) the process of dying by auto-dissolution afforded the greatest ecstasy known to man. (Chap 7*)

At worst I was ready to face an anatomical prep[ar]ation of ten bare phalanges sticking out of my feet like a skeleton’s claws. Actually all I saw was the familiar rows of digits. (marked as Toes)

 

Pale Fire

"Although those notes, in conformity with custom, come after the poem, the reader is advised to consult them first and then study the poem with their help, rereading them of course as he goes through its text, and perhaps, after having done with the poem, consulting them a third time so as to complete the picture. I find it wise in such cases as this to eliminate the bother of back-and-forth leafings by either cutting out and clipping together the pages with the text of the thing, or, even more simply, purchasing two copies of the same work which can then be placed in adjacent positions on a comfortable table" (Foreword)

            I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

            By the false azure in the windowpane;

            I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I

            Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky. ("Pale Fire," 1-4)

We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. (Commentary to ln. 991)

I know also that the world could not have occurred fortuitously and that somehow Mind is involved as a main factor in the making of the universe. In trying to find the right name for that Universal Mind, or First Cause, or the Absolute, or Nature, I submit that the Name of God has priority. (Commentary to ln. 549)

Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences. (Commentary to ln. 894)

 

Spring in Fialta (short story)

Far away, in a watery vista between the jagged edges of pale bluish houses, which have tottered up from their knees to climb the slope (a cypress indicating the way), the blurred Mount St. George is more than ever remote from its likeness on the picture postcards which since 1910, say (those straw hats, those youthful cabmen), have been courting the tourist from the sorry-go-round of their prop, among amethyst-toothed lumps of rock and the mantelpiece dreams of seashells.

I had come on the Capparabella express, which, with that reckless gusto peculiar to trains in mountainous country, had done its thundering best to collect throughout the night as many tunnels as possible.

Back into the past, back into the past, as I did every time I met her, repeating the whole accumulation of the plot from the very beginning up to the last increment - thus in Russian fairy tales the already told is bunched up again at every new turn of the story.

. . as if woman’s love were springwater containing salubrious salts which at the least notice she ever so willingly gave anyone to drink.

How familiar to me were her hesitations, second thoughts, third thoughts mirroring first ones, ephemeral worries between trains.

. . and in that life-quickening atmosphere of a big railway station where everything is something trembling on the brink of something else, thus to be clutched and cherished. .

. . I held a platform ticket crumpled beyond recognition, while a song of the last century (connected, it has been rumored, with some Parisian drama of love) kept ringing and ringing in my head, having emerged, God knows why, from the music box of memory, a sobbing ballad which often used to be sung by an old maiden aunt of mine, with a face as yellow as Russian church wax. .

. . and even later arose at increasing intervals like the last flat little waves sent to the beach by a passing ship, lapping ever more infrequently and dreamily, or like the bronze agony of a vibrating belfry after the bell ringer has already reseated himself in the cheerful circle of his family.

Having mastered the art of verbal invention to perfection, he particularly prided himself on being a weaver of words, a title he valued higher than that of a writer. .

. . were I a writer, I should allow only my heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory, that long-drawn sunset shadow of one’s personal truth.

Among these I recall: an artist with an impeccably bald though slightly chipped head, which under various pretexts he constantly painted into his eye-and-guitar canvases; a poet, whose special gag was the ability to represent, if you asked him, Adam’s Fall by means of five matches; a humble businessman who financed surrealist ventures (and paid for the aperitifs) if permitted to print in a corner eulogistic allusions to the actress he kept. .

Again and again she hurriedly appeared in the margins of my life, without influencing in the least its basic text.

Occasionally, in the middle of a conversation her name would be mentioned, and she would run down the steps of a chance sentence, without turning her head.

. . I shall never forget my first night there: how I waited, how certain I was that without my having to tell her she would steal to my room, how she did not come, and the din thousands of crickets made in the delirious depth of the rocky garden dripping with moonlight, the mad bubbling brooks, and my struggle between blissful southern fatigue after a long day of hunting on the screes and the wild thirst for her stealthy coming, low laugh, pink ankles above the swan’s-down trimming of high-heeled slippers, but the night raved on, and she did not come. . .

I grew apprehensive because something lovely, delicate, and unrepeatable was being wasted: something which I abused by snapping off poor bright bits in gross haste while neglecting the modest but true core which perhaps it kept offering me in a pitiful whisper.

Even in the absence of any sentimental discord, I felt myself bound to seek for a rational, if not moral, interpretation of my existence, and this meant choosing between the world in which I sat for my portrait, with my wife, my young daughters, the Doberman pinscher. . . and what?

And moreover was she not chained to her husband by something stronger than love - the staunch friendship between two convicts?

Fialta consists of the old town and of the new one; here and there, past and present are interlaced, struggling either to disentangle themselves or to thrust each other out; each one has its own methods: the newcomer fights honestly - importing palm trees, setting up smart tourist agencies, painting with creamy lines the red smoothness of tennis courts; whereas the sneaky old-timer creeps out from behind a corner in the shape of some little street on crutches or the steps of stairs leading nowhere.

. .I glanced back and foresaw, in an almost optical sense, as it were, what really happened an hour or so later: the three of them wearing motoring helmets, getting in, smiling and waving to me, transparent to me like ghosts, with the color of the world shining through them, and then they were moving, receding, diminishing (Nina’s last ten-fingered farewell); but actually the automobile was still standing quite motionless, smooth and whole like an egg. .

But the stone was as warm as flesh, and suddenly I understood something I had been seeing without understanding - why a piece of tinfoil had sparkled so on the pavement, why the gleam of a glass had trembled on a tablecloth, why the sea was ashimmer: somehow, by imperceptible degrees, the white sky above Fialta had got saturated with sunshine, and now it was sun-pervaded throughout, and this brimming white radiance grew broader and broader, all dissolved in it, all vanished, all passed, and I stood on the station platform of Mlech with a freshly bought newspaper, which told me that the yellow car I had seen under the plane trees had suffered a crash beyond Fialta, having run at full speed into the truck of a traveling circus entering the town, a crash from which Ferdinand and his friend, those invulnerable rogues, those salamanders of fate, those basilisks of good fortune, had escaped with local and temporary injury to their scales, while Nina, in spite of her long-standing, faithful imitation of them, had turned out after all to be mortal.

 

"That in Aleppo once..." (short story)

It was love at first touch rather than at first sight.

...and my own plight, by contrast, acquired a commonplace air of irreality while I sat in some crowded café with the milky blue sea in front of me and a shell-hollow murmur behind telling and retelling the tale of massacre and misery, and the gray paradise beyond the ocean, and the ways and whims of harsh consuls.

I come to you like that gushing lady in Chekhov who was dying to be described.

...brown birthmark on her downy forearm, as one concentrates upon a punctuation mark in an illegible sentence.

...tore a hole through its veil and saw a stranger’s unlovable face.

...what was driving us on was something more than a booted and buckled fool with his assortment of variously propelled junk—something of which he was a mere symbol, something monstrous and impalpable, a timeless and faceless mass of immemorial horror..

The sky was a chaos of black and flesh-colored clouds with an ugly sunburst beyond a hooded hill,..

But the little boy was still scratching and scraping and tugging until he tumbled a flat stone and forgot the object of his solemn exertions as he crouched on his haunches, his thin, eloquent neck showing all its vertebrae to the headsman, and watched with surprise and delight thousands of minute brown ants seething, zigzagging, dispersing, heading for places of safety in the Gard, and the Aude, and the Drôme, and the Var,..

...and I crushing and crushing the mad molar till my jaw almost burst with pain, a flaming pain which seemed somehow preferable to the dull, humming ache of humble endurance.

Viewing the past graphically, I see our mangled romance engulfed in a deep valley of mist between the crags of two matter-of-fact mountains: life had been real before, life will be real from now on, I hope.

 

Time and Ebb (short story)

...since tracking the name of an Asiatic town or the title of a Spanish novel through a maze of jumbled syllables on the last page of the evening newsbook (a feat which my youngest great-granddaughter performs with the utmost zest) strikes me as far more strenuous than toying with animal tissue.

Solitaire, on the other hand, is worthy of consideration, especially if one is sensitive to its mental counterpart; for is not the setting down of one’s reminiscences a game of the same order, wherein events and emotions are dealt to oneself in leisurely retrospection?

Arthur Freeman is reported to have said of memoirists that they are men who have too little imagination to write fiction and too bad a memory to write the truth.

Attainment and science, retainment and art - the two couples keep to themselves, but when they do meet, nothing else in the world matters.

Admirable monsters, great flying machines, they have gone, they have vanished like that flock of swans which passed with a mighty swish of multitudinous wings one spring night above Knights Lake in Maine, from the unknown into the unknown: swans of a species never determined by science, never seen before, never seen since - and then nothing but a lone star remained in the sky, like an asterisk leading to an undiscoverable footnote.

Thus a man looking through a tremendous telescope does not see the cirri of an Indian summer above his charmed orchard, but does see, as my regretted colleague, the late Professor Alexander Ivanchenko, twice saw, the swarming of hesperozoa in a humid valley of the planet Venus.

They were still up to their waists in its prudery and prejudice. They clung to tradition as a vine still clings to a dead tree.

In their letters they addressed perfect strangers by what was... the equivalent of “beloved master” and prefaced a theoretically immortal signature with a mumble expressing idiotic devotion to a person whose very existence was to the writer a matter of complete unconcern.

Mountain gorges seemed to have been ransacked for echoes; these were subjected to a special treatment on a basis of honey and rubber until their condensed accents could be synchronized with the labial movements of serial photographs on a moon-white screen in a velvet-dark hall.

Richard Sinatra remained, while he lived, an anonymous “ranger” dreaming under a telluride pine or reading his prodigious verse to the squirrels of San Isabel Forest, whereas everybody knew another Sinatra, a minor writer, also of Oriental descent.

Our denominations of time would have seemed to them “telephone” numbers.

Upon reaching New York, travelers in space used to be as much impressed as travelers in time would have been by the old-fashioned “skyscrapers”; this was a misnomer, since their association with the sky, especially at the ethereal close of a greenhouse day, far from suggesting any grating contact, was indescribably delicate and serene.

Old men resembling the hoary ferryman of still more ancient fairy tales chanted out their intermittent “nextations” and checked the tickets of the travelers...

I remember the sun-splashed garden chairs under the apple tree, and a bright copper-colored setter, and a fat, freckled boy with a book in his lap, and a handy-looking apple that I picked up in the shadow of a hedge.

 

Transparent Things

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. (Ch 1)

A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced miracle-worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish. (Ch 1)

The tap expostulated, letting forth a strong squirt of rusty water before settling down to produce the meek normal stuff—which you do not appreciate sufficiently, which is a flowing mystery, and, yes, yes, which deserves monuments to be erected to it, cool shrines! (Ch 2)

A knife and a brass sharpener have thoroughly worked upon it and if it were necessary we could trace the complicated fate of the shavings, each mauve on one side and tan on the other when fresh, but now reduced to atoms of dust whose wide, wide dispersal is panic catching its breath but one should be above it, one gets used to it fairly soon (there are worse terrors). (Ch 3)

Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here’s the tree! This particular pine! It is cut down. Only the trunk is used, stripped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here’s the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). (Ch 3)

We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes. (Ch 3)

Thus the entire little drama, from crystallized carbon and felled pine to this humble implement, to this transparent thing, unfolds in a twinkle. Alas, the solid pencil itself as fingered briefly by Hugh Person still somehow eludes us! But he won’t, oh no. (Ch 3)

One should follow her, it would be a good lesson—follow her instead of going to gape at a waterfall: good lesson for the old man. With an oath and a sigh Hugh retraced his steps, which was once a trim metaphor, and went back to the shop. (Ch 5)

This Henry Emery Person, our Person’s father, might be described as a well-meaning, earnest, dear little man, or as a wretched fraud, depending on the angle of light and the position of the observer. (Ch 6)

For optical and animal reasons, sexual love is less transparent than many other much more complicated things. (Ch 6)

Like many a young man of dark genius who feels in a wad of bills all the tangible thickness of immediate delights, he had no practical sense, no ambition to make more money, and no qualms about his future means of subsistence (these proved negligible when it transpired that the cash had been more than a tenth of the actual inheritance).  (Ch 6)

What they do with the other, much greater, portion, how and where their real fancies and feelings are housed, is not exactly a mystery - there are no mysteries now - but would entail explications and revelations too sad, too frightful, to face. Only experts, for experts, should probe a mind’s misery. (Ch 8)

My job! I replied: ‘Ask me what I can do, not what I do, lovely girl, lovely wake of the sun through semitransparent black fabric. I can commit to memory a whole page of the directory in three minutes flat but am incapable of remembering my own telephone number. I can compose patches of poetry as strange and new as you are, or as anything a person may write three hundred years hence, but I have never published one scrap of verse except some juvenile nonsense at college. I have evolved on the playing courts of my father’s school a devastating return of service—a cut clinging drive—but am out of breath after one game. Using ink and aquarelle I can paint a lakescape of unsurpassed translucence with all the mountains of paradise reflected therein, but am unable to draw a boat or a bridge or the silhouette of human panic in the blazing windows of a villa by Plam. I have taught French in American schools but have never been able to get rid of my mother’s Canadian accent, though I hear it clearly when I whisper French words. Ouvre ta robe, Déjanire that I may mount sur mon bûcher. I can levitate one inch high and keep it up for ten seconds, but cannot climb an apple tree. I possess a doctor’s degree in philosophy, but have no German. I have fallen in love with you but shall do nothing about it. In short I am an all-round genius.’ (Ch 9)

He did do something about it, despite all that fond criticism of himself. (Ch 10)

In matters of art, “avant garde” means little more than conforming to some daring philistine fashion, so, when the curtain opened, Hugh was not surprised to be regaled with the sight of a naked hermit sitting on a cracked toilet in the middle of an empty stage. Julia giggled, preparing for a delectable evening. (Ch 11)

No matrimonial agency could have offered its clients such variations on the theme of one virgin. (Ch 12)

"Tell her,” he continued, now walking down a slippery path among cranes and power shovels immobilized in the gold of the late afternoon, “tell her that my system is poisoned by her, by her twenty sisters, her twenty dwindlings in backcast, and that I shall perish if I cannot have her.” (Ch 12)

One might have said to fat, vulgar Madame Chamar: how dare you exhibit your child to sensitive strangers? (Ch 12)

The lady’s mother had been a country veterinary’s daughter, same as Hugh’s mother (by the only coincidence worth noting in the whole rather sad affair). Take those pictures away, you stupid nudist! (Ch 12)

The charm of the Past Tense lay in its secrecy. Knowing Julia, he was quite sure she would not have told a chance friend about their affair—one sip among dozens of swallows. (Ch 13)

Once already he had made Jack show her his implement but she had stamped her foot and made them behave themselves. She was ready to be ultramodern, socially and sexually, but this was offensive, and vulgar, and as old as Greece. (Ch 15)

A shiver of tenderness rippled her features, as a breeze does a reflection. Her eyelashes were wet, her shoulders shook in his clasp. That kiss, and not anything preceding it, was the real beginning of their courtship. (Ch 15)

Major surgery offered one of the most useful means of draining off the destructive urge: a respected though not always lucky practitioner had admitted privately how difficult he found it to stop himself from hacking out every organ in sight during an operation. (Ch 16)

Per contra, something he said by chance, not planning the pang and the poetry, some trivial phrase, would prompt suddenly a hysterically happy response on the part of that dry-souled, essentially unhappy woman. Conscious attempts failed. (Ch 17)

The most ardent addresses he could think up—my princess, my sweetheart, my angel, my animal, my exquisite beast—merely exasperated her. (Ch 17)

He tried to kiss the hem of her skirt or bite the crease of her trouserleg, her instep, the toe of her furious foot—and as he groveled, his unmusical voice muttering maudlin, exotic, rare, common nothings and everythings, into his own ear.. (Ch 17)

..the simple expression of love became a kind of degenerate avian performance executed by the male alone, with no female in sight—long neck straight, then curved, beak dipped, neck straightened again. (Ch 17)

It all made him ashamed of himself but he could not stop and she could not understand, for at such times he never came up with the right word, the right waterweed. (Ch 17)

Armande had many trying, though not necessarily rare, traits, all of which he accepted as absurd clues in a clever puzzle. (Ch 17)

Our Person’s capacity to condone all this, to find reasonable explanations and so forth, endears him to us, but also provokes limpid mirth, alas, at times. (Ch 17)

For example, he told himself that she refused to strip because she was shy of her tiny pouting breasts and the scar of a ski accident along her thigh. Silly Person! (Ch 17)

One of his characters is consulting a Michelin, and says: there’s many a mile between Condom in Gascogne and Pussy in Savoie. (Ch 19)

In the first method, the eight fingers stiffly encircle the victim’s neck while the two thumbs compress his or her throat; one runs, however, the risk of her or his hands seizing one’s wrists or otherwise fighting off the assault. The second, much safer way, from behind, consists in pressing both thumbs hard against the back of the boy’s or, preferably, girl’s neck and working upon the throat with one’s fingers. The first hold is dubbed among us “Pouce,” the second “Fingerman.” (Ch 20)

..but then we all are pilgrims, and all dreams are anagrams of diurnal reality. (Ch 20)

What luck that Mr. Romeo still gripped and twisted and cracked that crooked cricoid as X-rayed by the firemen and mountain guides in the street. Superman carrying a young soul in his embrace! (Ch 20)

For a moment he wondered what his wife was doing there, prone on the floor, her fair hair spread as if she were flying. Then he stared at his bashful claws. (Ch 20)

In that House I shall be proofread by cherubim—or misprinted by devils, depending on the department my poor soul is assigned to. (Ch 21)

According to my almond-eyed little spy, the great surgeon, may his own liver rot, lied to me when he declared yesterday with a deathhead’s grin that the operazione had been perfetta. (Ch 21)

Actually, they ripped me open, cast one horrified look at my decayed fegato, and without touching it sewed me up again. (Ch 21)

As you know—as everybody, even Marion, knows—he gnawed his way into all my affairs, crawling into every cranny, collecting every German-accented word of mine, so that now he can boswell the dead man just as he had bossed very well the living one. (Ch 21)

Every cent and centime I possess as well as all literary remains that can be twisted out of Tamworth’s clutches must go to her.. (Ch 21)

My wretched liver is as heavy as a rejected manuscript; they manage to keep the hideous hyena pain at bay by means of frequent injections but somehow or other it remains always present behind the wall of my flesh like the muffled thunder of a permanent avalanche which obliterates there, beyond me, all the structures of my imagination, all the landmarks of my conscious self. (Ch 21)

Total rejection of all religions ever dreamt up by man and total composure in the face of total death! If I could explain this triple totality in one big book, that book would become no doubt a new bible and its author the founder of a new creed. (Ch 21)

It was either raining or pretending to rain or not raining at all, yet still appearing to rain in a sense that only certain old Northern dialects can either express verbally or not express, but versionize, as it were, through the ghost of a sound produced by a drizzle in a haze of grateful rose shrubs. (Ch 23)

“Raining in Wittenberg, but not in Wittgenstein.” An obscure joke in Tralatitions. (Ch 23)

Direct interference in a person’s life does not enter our scope of activity, nor, on the other, tralatitiously speaking, hand, is his destiny a chain of predeterminate links: (Ch 24)

...some “future” events may be likelier than others, O.K., but all are chimeric, and every cause-and-effect sequence is always a hit-and-miss affair, even if the lunette has actually closed around your neck, and the cretinous crowd holds its breath. (Ch 24)

How much more dreadful it would be if the very awareness of your being aware of reality’s dreamlike nature were also a dream, a built-in hallucination! (Ch 24)

One should bear in mind, however, that there is no mirage without a vanishing point, just as there is no lake without a closed circle of reliable land. (Ch 24)

It is generally assumed that if man were to establish the fact of survival after death, he would also solve, or be on the way to solving, the riddle of Being. Alas, the two problems do not necessarily overlap or blend. (Ch 24)

For some people, alas, a gal is nothing but a unit of acceleration used in geodesy. (Ch 25)

If I were a poet (but I’m only a proofreader) I would describe to you the celestial nature of solitary confinement, the bliss of an immaculate toilet, the liberty of thought in the ideal jail. (Ch 25)

The purpose of prisons is certainly not to cure a killer, nor is it only to punish him (how can one punish a man who has everything with him, within him, around him?). (Ch 25)

To put it concisely a killer who sees himself as a victim is not only a murderer but a moron. (Ch 25)

This was, in fact, his main “umbral companion” (a clownish critic had taken R. to task for that epithet) and had he been without that transparent shadow, we would not have bothered to speak about our dear Person. (Ch 25)

A mess of sprouts and mashed potatoes, colorfully mixed with pinkish meat, could be discerned, if properly focused, performing hand-over-fist evolutions in Person’s entrails, and one could also make out in that landscape of serpents and caves two or three apple seeds, humble travelers from an earlier meal. (Ch 26)

Now flames were mounting the stairs, in pairs, in trios, in redskin file, hand in hand, tongue after tongue, conversing and humming happily. (Ch 26)

Rings of blurred colors circled around him, reminding him briefly of a childhood picture in a frightening book about triumphant vegetables whirling faster and faster around a nightshirted boy trying desperately to awake from the iridescent dizziness of dream life. (Ch 26)

This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. (Ch 26)

 

The Vane Sisters (short story)

I might never have heard of Cynthia’s death, had I not run, that night, into D., whom I had also lost track of for the last four years or so; and I might never have run into D. had I not got involved in a series of trivial investigations.

The day, a compunctious Sunday after a week of blizzards, had been part jewel, part mud.

There was a rhythm, an alternation in the dripping that I found as teasing as a coin trick.

I was rewarded at last, upon choosing one, by the sight of what might be described as the dot of an exclamation mark leaving its ordinary position to glide down very fast - a jot faster than the thaw-drop it raced.

I walked on in a state of raw awareness that seemed to transform the whole of my being into one big eyeball rolling in the world’s socket.

The lean ghost, the elongated umbra cast by a parking meter upon some damp snow, had a strange ruddy tinge; this I made out to be due to the tawny red light of the restaurant sign above the sidewalk. .

"Please, Monsieur le Professeur, contact ma soeur and tell her that Death was not better than D minus, but definitely better than Life minus D."

And then, holding that limp notebook as if it were a kind of passport to a casual Elysium (where pencil points do not snap and a dreamy young beauty with an impeccable complexion winds a lock of her hair on a dreamy forefinger, as she meditates over some celestial test). .

Her coily hairdo, on a part-and-bun basis, might have looked feral and bizarre had it not been thoroughly domesticated by its own soft unkemptness at the vulnerable nape.

I have always wished to stand genealogy on its head, and here I have an opportunity to do so, for it is the last scion, Cynthia, and Cynthia alone, who will remain of any importance in the Vane dynasty.

. .Seen Through a Windshield - a windshield partly covered with rime, with a brilliant trickle (from an imaginary car roof) across its transparent part and, through it all, the sapphire flame of the sky and a green-and-white fir tree.

Contrary to Cynthia, he cared nothing for the thrill of obscure predictions; all he sought was the freak itself, the chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks like a flower; and Cynthia, a much more perverse amateur of misshapen or illicitly connected words, puns, logogriphs, and so on, had helped the poor crank to pursue a quest that in the light of the example she cited struck me as statistically insane.

Finally, with a great crash and all kinds of shudderings and jiglike movements on the part of the table, Leo Tolstoy visited our little group and, when asked to identify himself by specific traits of terrene habitation, launched upon a complex description of what seemed to be some Russian type of architectural woodwork ("figures on boards — man, horse, cock, man, horse, cock"), all of which was difficult to take down, hard to understand, and impossible to verify.

And still later there would be flurries of intersexual chumminess, jocular reconciliations, a bare fleshy arm flung around another woman’s husband (he standing very upright in the midst of a swaying room), or a sudden rush of flirtatious anger, of clumsy pursuit - and the quiet half-smile of Bob Wheeler picking up glasses that grew like mushrooms in the shade of chairs.

. .I looked with the apprehension of solitude at the two kinds of darkness in the two rows of windows: the darkness of absence and the darkness of sleep.

The silence, too, was suspiciously compact as if deliberately forming a black backdrop for the nerve flash caused by any small sound of unknown origin.

I thumbed a mental ride with a very remote automobile but it dropped me before I had a chance to doze off.

Who knows, if recorded and then run backward, those bird sounds might not become human speech, voiced words, just as the latter become a twitter when reversed?

I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemed blurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her inept acrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies - every recollection formed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemed yellowly blurred, illusive, lost.