Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027344, Sun, 2 Apr 2017 21:52:06 +0300

Martin Gradus & clockwork toy in Pale Fire; Darwin in Glory
According to Kinbote (one of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale
Fire, 1962), Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer) is a son of Martin Gradus, a
Protestant minister in Riga:

Jakob Gradus called himself variously Jack Degree or Jacques de Grey, or
James de Gray, and also appears in police records as Ravus, Ravenstone, and
d'Argus. Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era,
he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the
Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered,
making in Vinogradus. His father, Martin Gradus, had been a Protestant
minister in Riga, but except for him and a maternal uncle (Roman
Tselovalnikov, police officer and part-time member of the
Social-Revolutionary party), the whole clan seems to have been in the liquor
business. Martin Gradus died in 1920, and his widow moved to Strasbourg
where she soon died, too. (note to Line 17)

In Potestas clavium. Vlast’ klyuchey (“Power of the Keys,” 1923) Lev
Shestov quotes Martin Luther (1483-1546), a leader of the Protestant
Reformation who mentions fidei summus gradus (the highest degree of faith)
in De servo arbitrio (“On the Bondage of the Will,” 1525), Luther’s reply
to Erasmus of Rotterdam (the author De libero arbitrio diatribe sive
collatio, 1524):

Лютер опытом своей жизни был приведён к т
акому признанию, которое для нашего уха з
вучит, как кощунственный парадокс: "Hic est
fidei summus gradus, credere illum esse clementem, qui tam paucos salvat,
tam multos damnat, credere justum, qui sua voluntate nos necessario
damnabiles facit, ut videatur, referente Erasmo, delectari cruciatibus
miserorum et odio potius quam amore dignus. Si igitur ulla ratione
comprehendere, quomodo is Deus sit misericors et justus, qui tantam iram et
iniquitatem ostendit, non esset opus fide" (De servo arbitrio, Вейм. и
зд., т. XVIII, 633 стр.), т. е.: высшая степень вер
ы - верить, что тот милосерд, кто столь нем
ногих спасает и столь многих осуждает, чт
о тот справедлив, кто, по своему решению, с
делал нас преступными, так что, выражаясь
словами Эразма, кажется, что он радуется м
укам несчастных и скорей достоин ненавис
ти, чем любви. Если бы своим разумом я мог
бы понять, как такой Бог может быть справе
дливым и милосердным, не было бы нужды в в
ере. Я не могу здесь приводить дальнейших
признаний Лютера, но тот, кто поймёт весь
ужас человека, приведённого к таким призн
аниям, поймёт и смысл католического potestas

Luther's own experience forced him to that confession which resounds in our
ears like a blasphemous paradox: Hic est fidei summus gradus, credere illum
esse clementem, qui tam paucos salvat, tam multos damnat, credere justum,
qui sua voluntate nos necessario damnabiles facit, ut videatur, referente
Erasmo, delectari cruciatibus miserorum et odio potius quam amore dignus. Si
igitur possem ulla ratione comprehendere, quomodo si Deus sit misericors et
justus qui tantam iram et iniquitatem ostendit, non esset opus fide (De
servo arbitrio, ed. Weimar, I, XVIII, p. 633). That is, "the highest degree
of faith is to believe that He is merciful who saves so few and damns so
many men, that He is righteous who by His own will has necessarily made us
guilty so that, according to Erasmus, it seems that He rejoices in the
suffering of the miserable and is more worthy of being hated than loved. If
I could understand with my reason how such a God can be righteous and
merciful, faith would not be necessary." I cannot here quote other
confessions of Luther's, but he who has understood the horror that a man
forced to such confessions must have felt will also understand the meaning
of Catholicism's potestas clavium. (Part One, 4)

In this chapter of his book Shestov speaks of “The Legend of the Grand
Inquisitor” in Dostoevski’s novel Brat’ya Karamazovy (“Brothers
Karamazov,” 1880):

Если бы Бог открыто возвестил с неба, что
potestas clavium принадлежит Ему, а не людям, самы
е тихие возмутились бы. Лучшая иллюстраци
я тому - легенда о великом инквизиторе Дос
тоевского. В этой легенде Достоевский с п
роницательностью, граничившей с ясновиде
нием и совершенно непостижимой для его со
временников, раскрыл сокровеннейший смыс
л католических притязаний. Католичество
верит не Богу, а себе самому. Если бы Христ
ос вновь сошел на землю, великий инквизит
ор сжег бы Его, как он сжигал всех еретико
в, т. е. всех тех, кто осмеливался думать, ч
то полнота власти на земле и на небе не пр
инадлежит всецело наместнику св. Петра, и
бо credimus et confitemur unam Ecclesiam Romanam, extra quam neminem
salvari. И он поступил бы правильно, т. е. посл
едовательно: никто ведь не сомневается, ч
то последовательность есть не только усл
овие, но и сущность истины.

If God Himself announced from heaven that the potestas clavium belongs not
to men but to Himself alone, even the gentlest would rebel. The legend of
the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky makes us see this in striking fashion.
With a perceptiveness that bordered on clairvoyance and appeared completely
incomprehensible to his contemporaries, Dostoevsky laid bare in this legend
the secret of Catholicism's pretensions. Catholicism believes not in God but
in itself. If Christ descended to earth a second time, the Grand Inquisitor
would have him burned, as he dealt with all heretics, i.e., all those who
dared believe that power over heaven and earth does not belong entirely to
the successors of St. Peter, for credimus et confitemus unam Ecclesiam
Romanam, extra quam neminem salvari [we believe and confess one Roman Church
outside of which no man is saved]. And the Grand Inquisitor would have acted
very justly, that is, logically. No one can doubt - can he? - that rigorous
logic is not only the condition but the very essence of truth. (ibid.)

In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of
Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions Fra Karamazov (brother Ivan, the
author of “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor”):

Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept (ll. 641-642).

Part Three of Potestas clavium consists of three essays the first of which
is entitled Momento mori. In his Commentary Kinbote (a practicing Roman
Catholic) describes a clockwork toy that Shade kept as a kind of memento
mori and mentions the key:

By a stroke of luck I have seen it! One evening in May or June I dropped in
to remind my friend about a collection of pamphlets, by his grandfather, an
eccentric clergyman, that he had once said was stored in the basement. I
found him gloomily waiting for some people (members of his department, I
believe, and their wives) who were coming for a formal dinner. He willingly
took me down into the basement but after rummaging among piles of dusty
books and magazines, said he would try to find them some other time. It was
then that I saw it on a shelf, between a candlestick and a handless alarm
clock. He, thinking I might think it had belonged to his dead daughter,
hastily explained it was as old as he. The boy was a little Negro of painted
tin with a keyhole in his side and no breadth to speak of, just consisting
of two more or less fused profiles, and his wheelbarrow was now all bent and
broken. He said, brushing the dust off his sleeves, that he kept it as a
kind of memento mori--he had had a strange fainting fit one day in his
childhood while playing with that toy. We were interrupted by Sybil's voice
calling from above; but never mind, now the rusty clockwork shall work
again, for I have the key. (note to Line 143)

At the end of his almost finished poem Shade mentions some neighbor's
gardener (according to Kinbote, it was his black gardener) who goes by
trundling an empty barrow up the lane:

And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly--
Some neighbor's gardener, I guess--goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 996-999)

Shestov’s Potestas clavium has a Preface entitled Tysyacha i odna noch’
(“A Thousand and One Nights”). It seems that, in its finished form,
Shade’s poem should have a thousand and one lines. Line 1000 is identical
to Line 1 (I was the shadow of the waxwing slain) and Line 1001 (By its own
double in the windowpane) is the poem’s coda.

Shestov wrote the Preface to Potestas clavium in Kiev, in January of 1919.
In April of that year VN left Russia forever on a small and shoddy Greek
ship Nadezhda (Hope; Speak, Memory, p. 194). Hazel Shade’s “real” name
seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. According to Kinbote, Martin Gradus died in
1920. In VN’s Podvig (“Glory,” 1932) Martin Edelweiss (the novel’s the
main character) and his Cambridge friend Darwin are in love with Sonya
Zilanov (a flirt who mentions Darwin’s “apian” name). Sonya is a form of
Sophia. Sophia is the name of Martin’s mother. In PF Sybil Shade’s
“real” name seems to be Sophia Botkin. An American scholar of Russian
descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and
Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda. There is a hope
(nadezhda) that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and
commits suicide (on October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum),
Botkin will be “full” again.

The pseudonym Shestov comes from shest’ (six). In the names Botkin, Darwin
and Шестов (Shestov) and in the words gradus and podvig (heroic deed;
exploit) there are six letters. One of the chapters in Shestov’s Potestas
clavium is entitled “Darwin and the Bible.” In one of the preceding
chapters, “The Fixed Stars,” Shestov quotes Pushkin’s words that poetry
must be foolish, suggests that prose should not be too intelligent either
and says that philosophy, like our entire existence, must be insane:

Не только поэзии, но и прозе иной раз не ме
шает быть глуповатой. И не слишком всезна
ющей. Нет более противного и отталкивающе
го зрелища, как зрелище человека, вообраз
ившего, что он всё понял и на всё умеет дат
ь отвёт. Вот почему выдержанная и последо
вательная философия à la longue становится не
выносимой. Уж если нужно философствовать,
то изо дня в день, не считаясь сегодня с те
м, что ты говорил вчера. Если поэзия должн
а быть глуповатой, то философия должна бы
ть сумасшедшей, как вся наша жизнь.

It does no harm not only for poetry but for prose as well to be, at times,
not too intelligent and not to know everything. There is no spectacle more
disagreeable and more repugnant than that offered us by the man who imagines
he understands everything and can give an answer to everything. That is why
a philosophy that is consistent with itself and rigorously logical ends at
length by becoming unbearable. If one must philosophize, let it at least be
from day to day - without taking into account today what one said yesterday.
If poetry must not be too intelligent, then philosophy must be insane, like
our entire existence.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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