NABOKV-L post 0026094, Sun, 29 Mar 2015 17:57:17 -0300

On catterpillars, chrysalis,
cocoons and transparencies... the future in the present
In a lecture on caterpillars and butterflies at Cornell in 1951,Vladimir
Nabokov told his students: "After two or three weeks something begins to
happen. The pupa hangs quite motionless but you notice one day that through
the wing cases, which are many times smaller than the wings of the future
perfect insect---you notice that through the horn-like texture of each wing
case you can see in miniature the pattern of the future wings, the lovely
flush of the ground color, a dark margin in a rudimentary eyespot."
<> It's been
published in Nabokov's Butterflies (as ED Steve Blackwell let me know)by
Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle. Beacon Press, Boston, 2000.

Last week I bought a copy of another translation of V.Nabokov's "Speak,
Memory - An Autobiography Revisited" and, when I read it, I realized that,
differently from the former ones, namely those that followed the Vintage
International 1989 edition, this one offered one more chapter added as an
appendix from Chapter Sixteen of "Conclusive Evidence." With the distance
provided by another language, I read of the "rhythmic patterns", the
"contrapunctal' nature of destiny" . and was reminded of Pale Fire. I even
found a very Freudian reference to "stepping stones.the various smiling
disguises of this or that one thematic line that runs through the book" (the
expected departure away from Freud came afterwards when, instead of
describing "symptoms", V.Nabokov compares the process to "chess
compositions" in an "an apotheotic form of chess"). Then I reached the image
that I connected to my first quote: "In a way Nabokov went through all the
sorrows and delights of nostalgia long before the Revolution had removed the
scenery of his young years. He is out to prove that his childhood contained,
on a much reduced scale, the main components of his creative maturity; thus,
through the thin sheath of a ripe chrysalis one can see, in its small wing
cases, the dawning of colour and pattern, a miniature revelation of the
butterfly that will soon emerge and let its flushed and diced wings expand
to many times their pupal size." *

I'm certain that I found a similar image, of seeing through the film that
envelops the chrysalis, when Nabokov was referring to "watching his future
in retrospect," ( like seeing the future butterfly in her transparent
coffin), while he rereads his early writing in Russian. Unfortunately I
cannot remember where I read it. I did try hard to find it, though.A
consoling thought is that most Nablers will certainly remember this passage
and excuse me for not being able to quote it here.
Another consolation derives from all that googling offers in exchange
(Pieldner's and Richardson's texts, for example). **


* Cf. The New Yorker: A Critic at Large (December 28,1998 issue) Conclusive
Evidence by Vladimir Nabokov - review of the writer's autobiography "Speak,
Memory," to read the article that was later included in a new edition of
V.Nabokov's "Speak,Memory.".

**Judit Pieldner - Sapientia University, Miercurea Ciuc: The Self as Myth,
Mask and construct in Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory. University of
Bucharest Review, Vol. X, no. 1, 2008 81.
"Under a pseudonym, Nabokov published a review of his own autobiography;
this delusion or literary game of his was discovered in 1998." (end note)
".speaking about the self - as literary construct, we should also mention
Nabokov's personality as a great player. Known also for his composing chess
problems, Nabokov considers literature as a playground, a puzzle, and he
expects the readers to find the solutions. Chess provides an "exhilarating
order of sensation", it is defined as "the maniacal manipulation of carved
figures", "suggesting new harmonies and new conflicts" (Nabokov 226), and as
such, it offers a suitable strategy for writing/reading the text. In his
pseudo-review on Conclusive Evidence he suggests solving puzzles as a
possible - and proper - reading strategy, by arguing that . "The unraveling
of a riddle is the purest and most basic act of the human mind" (Nabokov
Among her quotes there's another image, related to the "crystal ball," and
it carried me back to "Speak, Memory" 'proper:' "Neither in environment nor
in heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous
roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique
design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life's

Other interesting connections related to "transparencies" and cocoons at
<> by Frances W.
Richardson, The Rhetoric of Memory: Nabokov's Symbolist Technique, in
November 1989, for a paper in English 570. The "multi-sensual, symbolic
transmittal of memory and emotion permeates the entire autobiography.
Nabokov, like a sucking butterfly, recounts visceral, almost gustatory
memories of his babyhood sensory explorations: "The recollection of my crib,
with its lateral nets of fluffy cotton cords, brings back, too, the pleasure
of handling a certain beautiful, delightfully solid, garnet -dark crystal
egg left over from some unremembered Easter; I used to chew a corner of the
bed-sheet until it was thoroughly soaked and then wrap the egg in it
tightly, so as to admire and re-lick the warm, ruddy glitter of the snugly
enveloped facets that came seeping through with miraculous completeness of
glow and color. But that was not yet the closest I got to feeding upon
beauty (24).Often Nabokov's mind, as in the passage above, acquires an
aspect of the silent butterfly awaiting transformation. Hoarding visual,
auditory, and tactile data as though constructing a chrysalis, "feeding upon
beauty," the boy Vladimir, viewing his life through a prismatic insect eye,
also anticipates through contrast in auditory sensation each new pulsation
of the cycle, each metamorphosis:"I witness with pleasure the supreme
achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate
harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities
of the past. I like to imagine, in consummation and resolution of those
jangling chords, something as enduring, in retrospect, as the long table
that on summer birthdays and namedays used to be laid for afternoon
chocolate out of doors. . . (171). Less benign is the youth's view of
impending war, juxtaposed with his shaky new discovery of a poetic gift, as
though he senses that the hopeful cocoon has split and prematurely spilled
its damp life into a hostile world. The symbolist technique equates a
malignant universe with the individual's "dissolving path".(226). Nabokov
chooses sentimental and earthy symbols from nature to represent the lost
homeland: "Tamara, Russia., the wildwood grading into old gardens ., et la
montagne et le grand chene- -these are things that fate one day bundled up
pell-mell and tossed into the sea, completely severing me from my boyhood."
(249-250) [ADA!]. Nabokov examines stored memories and constructs linkages
between physical objects and the spiritual realities which lie beyond
appearance. Like the French symbolists, his interest lies in expressing the
interrelationships and correspondences of the symbols preserved in memory.

Stephen Blackwell also mentions a symbolic chrysalis but it's applied to a
different context: ".Nabokov emerged from his chrysalis at a time when his
core identity was rejected and negated in his homeland, both practically and
philosophically. His life and career, as artist and scientist, was set in a
contest with the positivist materialist philosophy embodied by the
Bolsheviks, and in many ways it was a life-or-death battle waged in ink." In
The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov's Art and the Worlds of Science,
Introduction: Nabokov's Science and Art. (p.6).

We will also find that in this "appendix," ("Chapter Sixteen"), Nabokov
compares Nabokov's "autobiography" to "Barbara Braun's 'When Lilacs Last'.
by fleetingly showering praise without detail throughout the review..".[Cf.
old message at the VN-L: "Dear Nabokovians of the List: In case not
everybody remembers, I would like to point out that WHEN LILACS LAST (from
Walt Whitman) is the title of a novel Charlotte is reading in LOLITA: A
SCREENPLAY, published version of 1974, page 47. It is in one of the scenes
Nabokov had cut when he left Beverly Hills in 1960 but which he restored
from the unused material when he prepared his screenplay for publication in
1970.WHEN LILACS LAST (no author given) here is the title of a trashy
bestseller ("300,000 copies in print") which H.H. sees advertised and which
Charlotte has read but H.H. has not (and certainly will not)."CHARLOTTE: Oh,
you should [read it]. It was given a rave review by Adam Scott. It's about a
man from the North and a girl from the South who build up a beautiful
relationship-he is her father image and she is his mother image, but later
she discovers that as a child she had rejected her father, and of course
then he begins to identify her with his possessive mother. You see, it works
out this way: he symbolizes the industrial North, and she symbolizes the
old-fashioned South, and-//LOLITA (casually) and it's all silly nonsense."
As far as I can make out, there is no mention of such a book in LOLITA, at
least not in the German version which I can search automatically (and where
obviously a few setters were lost). Still I would be reluctant to assume
that "Barbara Braun's" book of this title was all that trashy, simply
because it would make the person of the imaginary reviewer too inconsistent.
Somebody who has written so perceptively on CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE, slipping
into the mind of its author, can hardly proceed to praise mere kitsch. Or if
he does, it would imply that in a corner of his mind Nabokov too had a
faible for kitsch.In any case, to me it seems too far-fetched to read
something particularly nasty into the name of ist author, "Barbara Braun".
If you find a barbarian in Barbara and a Nazi in Braun, WHEN LILACS LAST
would have been written by an American Nazi barbarian, and an imaginary
reviewer who finds such a book suffused by a "deep human glow" would seem to
be utterly unqualified to speak well of CONCLUSIVE EVIDENCE. There are a few
books written by American lady authors and published between 1940 and 1960
with lilacs in their title in the LoC catalog. I don't know any of them.
Perhaps someone wants to check whether one of them is similar to the book
described by Charlotte in LOLITA or in the appendix to CONCLUSIVE
EVIDENCE.." Dieter E. Zimmer Hamburg, Germany // EDITOR's NOTE. Dieter
Zimmer, Editor of the German Rowohlt series (most recently a fully restored
version of the Nabokov Lolita screen play), once again displays the sort of
knowledge that makes his Rowohlt Nabokov indispensable for the serious


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