NABOKV-L post 0018569, Sat, 12 Sep 2009 18:11:26 -0300

Subject
[NABOKOV-L] [ Explorers, Madmen, Mystics] NYT on hoaxes,
Cook and Peary, Johnson and Humbert
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Dear List,

Today's news in the New York Times describe two of the greatest frauds in science ( Frederick A. Cook's and Robert E. Peary's expedition to the Arctic and their story about having reached the North Pole, in 1909). To learn details about this controversial issue visit "nytimes.com/tierneylab."

I checked the N-List for mentions to Cook and Peary, but I only selected one, dated 15 Feb 2002 and discussing "Tesla and ADA" ( it is an exchange bt. Kurt Johnson and Michael Maar). There are various other entries found in the List, searchable via google, in connection to "third man", Amundsen, Tesla, North Pole.
Excerpts: Dr. Kurt Johnson:
"... In scientific circles, and I've been lucky enough to have cross-talked with people from many disciplines (and especially "systems" or "foundations research" folk), the situation with Tesla electricity ...is cited as a major ...paradigm constriction where, for purposes of being able to create profit alone for one sector of the society, mankind went for the kind of electrical system where one group can make money off another by controllings its channels and availability...This truncated all the possibilities that "free" Tesla electricity might have had for mankind and the topic, along with numerous other things about Tesla, have generally gone untalked about... Tesla also openly connected the mystical to the empirical re: his own manner of scientific inquirey (as did the Nobel- winning discoverer of cyclo-chemistry (he dreamed about it)). I guess the world has no shortage of "mad geniuses". Regarding the Siberian disaster..."

Johnson was answering Michael Maar:
"Reading the strange and thrilling book of the "Jane's Defence Weekly"-Aerospace Consultant Nick Cook, "The Hunt for Zero Point. One Man's Journey to Discover the Biggest Secret Since the Invention of the Atom Bomb" (Century, London), I find one passage not without possible connection to Nabokov. In chapter 25, Cook writes about the Serb engineer Tesla who in 1884 emigrated to America ...To quote Cook: "Tesla's wireless energy transmission system was initially based upon technology for sending power through the air...In a series of experiments in Colorado, Tesla showed that the earth could be adapted from its customary role as an energy sinkhole - a place to dump excess electricity - into a powerful conductor; a giant planet-wide energy transmission system that obviated the need for wire." And then Cook quotes a strange legend which, if known by Nabokov, could have been with some influence on "Ada". "One of the wilder theories that still cling to his memory revolves around a supposed experiment to beam some kind of message to the Arctic explorer Robert Peary, who in mid-1908 was making an attempt to reach the North Pole....The Tunguska 'incident' is generally ascribed to the impact of a comet or a meteorite, but the absence of evidence for the impact theory has enabled Tesla proponents to maintain the line that it was Tesla's 'death ray' that caused the blast. Certainly, Tesla himself seemed to believe he was resposible...". Could Nabokov have heard of that story? Certainly it would have supported his thoughts about electricity about which, as about time and space, he believed Man to know "nothing". And, curious enough, in Antiterra electricity is prohibited after some unspecified desaster. Could he have alluded to Tesla?"

Moving from this exciting mixture of science and mysticism (as also found in Pale Fire, with evolution theorist Wallace's séances), I focused on artic explorers, scientific articles and madness, as can be found in "Lolita" I, ch.9.
Excerpt: "One of my favorite doctors...had a brother, and this brother was about to lead an expedition into arctic Canada. I was attached to it as a "recorder of psychic reactions." With two young botanists and an old carpenter I shared now and then (never very successfully) the favors of one of our nutritionists, a Dr. Anita Johnson...I had little notion of what object the expedition was pursuing. Judging by the number of meteorologists upon it, we may have been tracking to its lair (somewhere on Prince of Wales' Island, I understand) the wandering and wobbly north magnetic pole...No temptations maddened me. The plump, glossy little Eskimo girls with their fish smell, hideous raven hair and guinea pig faces, evoked even less desire in me than Dr. Johnson* had. Nymphets do not occur in polar regions...I left my betters the task of analyzing glacial drifts, drumlins, and gremlins, and kremlins, and for a time tried to jot down what I fondly thought were "reactions" ... at the end of my twenty months of cold labor (as one of the botanists jocosely put it) concocted a perfectly spurious and very racy report that the reader will find published in he Annals of Adult Psychophysics for 1945 or 1946, as well as in the issue of Arctic Explorations devoted to that particular expedition ...for the nature of its real purpose was what is termed "hush-hush," and so let me add merely that whatever it was, that purpose was admirably achieved. The reader will regret to learn that soon after my return to civilization I had another bout with insanity..."

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* - Could HH's reference to Dr.Anita Johnson indicate VN's familiarity with Chapman's information about another Dr. Johnson, namely, Dr Samuel Johnson - and his ideas about arctic expeditions? From the internet I discovered, from the records of the 1773 Phipps Expedition, that "the great lexicographer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, expressed what may have become fairly general opinion on the subject: 'Talking of Phipps' voyage to the North Pole, Dr. Johnson observed, that it 'was conjectured that our former navigators have kept too near land, and so have found the sea frozen far north, because the land hinders the free motion of the tide; but in the wide ocean, where the .waves tumble at their full convenience it is imagined that the frost does not take effect' (Chapman, 1970:318)."

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