NABOKV-L post 0027308, Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:41:34 +0300

Mr Dean, Pandean hum & Alexis Avenue in Ada
In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van mentions Mr Dean, “a perfect gentleman, dwelling on the floor below,” and “the Pandean hum:”

Cursing and shaking both fists at breast level, he returned into the warmth of his flat and drank a bottle of champagne, and then rang for Rose, the sportive Negro maid whom he shared in more ways than one with the famous, recently decorated cryptogrammatist, Mr Dean, a perfect gentleman, dwelling on the floor below. With jumbled feelings, with unpardonable lust, Van watched her pretty behind roll and tighten under its lacy bow as she made the bed, while her lower lover could be heard through the radiator pipes humming to himself happily (he had decoded again a Tartar dorogram telling the Chinese where we planned to land next time!). Rose soon finished putting the room in order, and flirted off, and the Pandean hum had hardly time to be replaced (rather artlessly for a person of Dean's profession) by a crescendo of international creaks that a child could decipher, when the hallway bell dingled, and next moment whiter-faced, redder-mouthed, four-year-older Ada stood before a convulsed, already sobbing, ever-adolescent Van, her flowing hair blending with dark furs that were even richer than her sister's. (2.6)

The epithet Pandean means “pertaining to the god Pan, or his pipes.” On the other hand, it brings to mind Alexis Pan, the futurist poet mentioned in VN’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). According to V. (Sebastian’s half-brother, the narrator in TRLSK), Alexis Pan was the inventor of the ‘submental grunt:’

It appears that Sebastian had developed a friendship with the futurist poet Alexis Pan and his wife Larissa, a weird couple who rented a cottage close to our country estate near Luga. He was a noisy robust little man with a gleam of real talent concealed in the messy obscurity of his verse. But because he did his best to shock people with his monstrous mass of otiose words (he was the inventor of the 'submental grunt' as he called it), his main output seems now so nugatory, so false, so old-fashioned (super-modern things have a queer knack of dating much faster than others) that his true value is only remembered by a few scholars who admire the magnificent translations of English poems made by him at the very outset of his literary career – one of these at least being a very miracle of verbal transfusion: his Russian rendering of Keats's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'. (Chapter 3)

Van Veen and Mr Dean live in a skyscraper on Alexis Avenue in Manhattan:

In the meantime Van had arrived at Alexis Avenue, had lain in bed for an hour, then shaved and showered, and almost torn off with the brutality of his pounce the handle of the door leading to the terrace as there came the sound of a celestial motor. (2.6)

The avenue’s name also seems to hint at the tsar Aleksey Mikhaylovich (nicknamed Tishayshiy, “the Gentlest”), the father of Peter the First (nicknamed Velikiy, “the Great”). In a conversation with Ada (that takes place in their Alexis apartment) Van mentions his fencing master, Pierre Legrand (whose name hints at Peter the Great):

'Ada girl, adored girl,' cried Van, 'I'm a radiant void. I'm convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended. You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.' (2.8)

Pierre Legrand is a namesake of Pierre Bezukhov, one of the main characters in Tolstoy’s novel Voyna i mir (“War and Peace,” 1869). Tolstoy is the author of Pyotr Khlebnik (“Peter the Baker,” 1894), a play. In Eugene Onegin (One: XXXV: 12-14) Pushkin mentions khlebnik, nemets akkuratnyi (the baker, a punctual German) who has more than once already opened his vasisdas (“a small spy-window or transom with a mobile screen or grate”):

И хлебник, немец аккуратный,
В бумажном колпаке, не раз
Уж отворял свой васисдас.

There is a restaurant in the entresol of a tall building crowned by Van's penthouse (that once belonged to Cordula de Prey, Van’s mistress):

In no sense could Cordula be compared to a writer’s muse but the evening stroll back to her apartment was pleasantly saturated with the afterglow and afterthought of the accomplished task and the expectation of her caresses; he especially looked forward to those nights when they had an elaborate repast sent up from ‘Monaco,’ a good restaurant in the entresol of the tall building crowned by her penthouse and its spacious terrace. The sweet banality of their little ménage sustained him much more securely than the company of his constantly agitated and fiery father did at their rare meetings in town or was to do during a fortnight in Paris before the next term at Chose. Except gossip — gossamer gossip — Cordula had no conversation and that also helped. She had instinctively realized very soon that she should never mention Ada or Ardis. He, on his part, accepted the evident fact that she did not really love him. Her small, clear, soft, well-padded and rounded body was delicious to stroke, and her frank amazement at the variety and vigor of his love-making anointed what still remained of poor Van’s crude virile pride. She would doze off between two kisses. When he could not sleep, as now often happened, he retired to the sitting room and sat there annotating his authors or else he would walk up and down the open terrace, under a haze of stars, in severely restricted meditation, till the first tramcar jangled and screeched in the dawning abyss of the city.

When in early September Van Veen left Manhattan for Lute, he was pregnant. (1.43)

Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): the last paragraph of Part One imitates, in significant brevity of intonation (as if spoken by an outside voice), a famous Tolstoyan ending, with Van in the role of Kitty Lyovin.

Leaving Manhattan, Van is pregnant with his first novel (Letters from Terra). Lute is the Antiterran name of Paris. VN wrote TRLSK, his first novel in English, in Paris. Chose (Van’s English University) corresponds to Cambridge, VN’s (and Sebastian Knight’s) alma mater. In TRLSK Cambridge University and its Dean are mentioned:

The first of these stories (which Mr Goodman considers to be extremely typical of 'post-war undergraduate life’) depicts Sebastian showing a girl friend from London the sights of Cambridge. 'And this is the Dean's window,' he said; then smashing the pane with a stone, he added: 'And this is the Dean.' Needless to say that Sebastian has been pulling Mr Goodman's leg: the story is as old as the University itself. (Chapter 7)

The name Alexis Pan seems to hint not only at the futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov (panis is Latin, khleb is Russian for “bread”), but also at Peter Pan (a character created by J. M. Barrie, a Scottish novelist and playwright).

In his poem Tam, gde zhili sviristeli (“There, where the Waxwings Lived…” 1908) Khlebnikov mentions besporyadok dikiy teney (a wild confusion of shadows) and staya lyogkikh vremirey (a flock of light timefinches):

В беспорядке диком теней,
Где, как морок старых дней,
Закружились, зазвенели
Стая лёгких времирей.

At the beginning (and at the end) of his poem Pale Fire John Shade (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) compares himself to the shadow of the waxwing:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane (ll. 1-2)

In its unfinished form Shade’s poem consists of 999 lines. Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) believes that Shade’s poem should have 1000 lines. 999 is an odd and 1000 is an even number. At the end of his poem Pen pan (“Master of Foams,” 1915) Khlebnikov (who considered himself one of the 117 chairmen of the globe) mentions ischezayushiy nechet (a vanishing odd number):

И свист пролетевших копыток

Напомнил мне много попыток

Прогнать исчезающий нечет

Среди исчезавших течений.

Alexis + pen = Alex + penis

Alexis + pan = Alex + panis/spina/Spain = Alexis Pan

panis – Lat., bread

spina – Russ., back

At least once Alexis Avenue loses its ending and becomes “Alex Avenue:”

He judged it would take him as much time to find a taxi at this hour of the day as to walk, with his ordinary swift swing, the ten blocks to Alex Avenue. He was coatless, tieless, hatless; a strong sharp wind dimmed his sight with salty frost and played Medusaean havoc with his black locks. Upon letting himself in for the last time into his idiotically cheerful apartment, he forthwith sat down at that really magnificent desk and wrote the following note:

Do what he tells you. His logic sounds preposterous, prepsupposing [sic] a vague kind of ‘Victorian’ era, as they have on Terra according to ‘my mad’ [?], but in a paroxysm of [illegible] I suddenly realized he was right. Yes, right, here and there, not neither here, nor there, as most things are. You see, girl, how it is and must be. In the last window we shared we both saw a man painting [us?] but your second-floor level of vision probably prevented your seeing that he wore what looked like a butcher’s apron, badly smeared. Good-bye, girl.

Van sealed the letter, found his Thunderbolt pistol in the place he had visualized, introduced one cartridge into the magazine and translated it into its chamber. Then, standing before a closet mirror, he put the automatic to his head, at the point of the pterion, and pressed the comfortably concaved trigger. Nothing happened — or perhaps everything happened, and his destiny simply forked at that instant, as it probably does sometimes at night, especially in a strange bed, at stages of great happiness or great desolation, when we happen to die in our sleep, but continue our normal existence, with no perceptible break in the faked serialization, on the following, neatly prepared morning, with a spurious past discreetly but firmly attached behind. (2.11)

After completing his Commentary, Kinbote commits suicide and Botkin becomes “full” again. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of her father’s poem). Nadezhda Botkin drowned herself in a lake. In Khlebnikov’s poem Pen pan the author is sitting on a tree stump above the lake:

У вод я подумал о бесе

И о себе,

Над озером сидя на пне.

It seems that to be completed Shade’s unfinished poem needs two lines (and the total number of lines is odd, after all):

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the windowpane. (ll. 1000-1001)

Vremiri (“timefinches”) in Khlebnikov’s poem about the waxwings is the author’s neologism that blends vremya (time) with snegir’ (bullfinch). In his essay Texture of Time Van mentions John Shade, a modern poet:

‘Space is a swarming in the eyes, and Time a singing in the ears,’ says John Shade, a modem poet, as quoted by an invented philosopher (‘Martin Gardiner’) in The Ambidextrous Universe, page 165. (Part Four)

In his essay Van denies the future the status of Time:

Here a heckler asked, with the arrogant air of one wanting to see a gentleman’s driving license, how did the ‘Prof’ reconcile his refusal to grant the future the status of Time with the fact that it, the future, could hardly be considered nonexistent, since ‘it possessed at least one future, I mean, feature, involving such an important idea as that of absolute necessity.’

Throw him out. Who said I shall die? (ibid.)

A futurist poet, Khlebnikov is the author of the futurological Doski sud’by (“Plates of Destiny”).

In the last day of their long lives Van and Ada translate Shade’s poem into Russian:

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:

…Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke…

(…We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another…) (5.6)

Sovety is plural of sovet (advice, counsel; council; Soviet). Khlebnikov (who was a widower) is the author of Noch’ pered Sovetami (“A Night before the Soviets,” 1921), a long poem.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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