Vladimir Nabokov

Metzger, Sabine. Dark Chambers: Nabokov and the Second Sense. 2019

Bibliographic title
Dark Chambers: Nabokov and the Second Sense
Periodical or collection
Nabokov Online Journal
Periodical issue
v. 13
Publication year
The article argues that while the visual in Nabokov’s oeuvre has gained much scholarly attention, sound has been relegated to a relatively silent existence within the Nabokovian sensorium, and thus to the status of the second, or – to use Daniel Barenboim’s phrase – “neglected” sense that is assigned to it by the Western tradition in which “thinking has been thought in terms of seeing.” Although Nabokov situates himself within this tradition by claiming “I think in images,” his writings are highly sonorous and address hearing as much as sight, alone on the account of the fact that his language, rich in alliterations, evokes the voces paginarum, “the voices of the page,” which turn reading simultaneously into a listening. As this paper will argue, Nabokov’s novels explore sound in all its dimensions. By “dark chambers” – such as nocturnal rooms, Albinus’ blindness, Cincinnatus’ prison cell – he creates acousmatic situations which dissociate sounds from their visible sources and foreground the akoumenal. “Sounds unseen” indicate not only Nabokov’s heightened awareness of the peculiarities of sound and hearing as such; they provide the starting point of his inquiry into sounds’ physical properties, and into its aesthetic and metaphysical implications that challenges ocularcentrism by giving the second sense what it is due.