Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026100, Fri, 3 Apr 2015 02:23:08 -0300

Anatomical transformations, synesthesia and art
One of the quotes I came across in Sandy DrescherÂ’s article about Signs&
Symbols: "The silhouettes of his blood corpuscles, magnified a million
times, flit over vast plains; and still farther, great mountains of
unbearable solidity and height sum up in terms of granite and groaning firs
the ultimate truth of his being." S&S [599-600], reminded me that there are
many references in V. Nabokov not only to blood corpuscles, or to a body
distributed through time and space: “And then black night. That blackness
was sublime./ I felt distributed through space and time:/ One foot upon a
mountaintop, one hand / Under the pebbles of a panting strand,/ One ear in
Italy, one eye in Spain,/ In caves, my blood, and in the stars, my brain” (
Pale Fire,147-152), but also to different kinds of heart-ailments (many,
hereditary) that seem to be associated to a particular theme I cannot
identify (I donÂ’t mean now the more conspicuous themes of loss, death and
decay). Quite often a throbbing heart is simply a pulsating organ in the
body or it results from metaphorical variations of loverÂ’s emotions. The
uses that interest now me are of a different sort.

I wonder if there are academic articles about the images which are closely
associated to physiology but that we see being applied (almost)
metaphorically, in connection to philosophical ideas, as in: “Dick strolled
back to the table. His man came in with the wine. Van retired to the W.C.
and started to ‘doctor the deck,’ as old Plunkett used to call the process.
He remembered that the last time he had made card magic was when showing
some tricks to Demon — who disapproved of their poker slant. Oh, yes, and
when putting at ease the mad conjurer at the ward whose pet obsession was
that gravity had something to do with the blood circulation of a Supreme
Being.” (Ada I,28) or Humbert Humbert’s “ a theory of perceptual time based
on the circulation of the blood and conceptually depending (to fill up this
nutshell) on the mind's being conscious not only of matter but also of its
own self, thus creating a continuous spanning of two points (the storable
future and the stored past).” (Lolita 2,26). Also in Lolita we read how “ In
and out of my heart flowed my rainbow blood.” Lolita 1,28 and the link
between “rainbow” and “Rimbaud” invites me to consider V.Nabokov’s attempt
to render his experiences with synesthesia in an artistic way (and more
ambitiously still). I found a peculiar warning note once: “Physiologically
the sense of Time is a sense of continuous becoming,Â…; but for LogÂ’s sake,
let us not confuse Time with Tinnitus, and the seashell hum of duration with
the throb of our blood. Philosophically, on the other hand, Time is but
memory in the making.” Ada 4

Samples from different novels:

“The eyes. Ada’s dark brown eyes. What (Ada asks) are eyes anyway? Two holes
in the mask of life. What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from
another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal
parasite resembling the written word ‘deified.”’ (Ada I,17)

“Elaborating anew, in irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana and
‘physics fiction’ would have been not only a bore but an absurdity, for
nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets with cottages and
cows, might be situated in outer or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not
assume their microcosmic presence in the golden globules ascending
quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s
—(or my, Ada Veen’s)— bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto’s ripe boil
newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton.” Ada 2,2.

“I can listen to Time only between stresses, for a brief concave moment
warily and worriedly, with the growing realization that I am listening not
to Time itself but to the blood current coursing through my brain, and
thence through the veins of the neck heartward, back to the seat of private
throes which have no relation to Time.” (Ada 4)

“Two fallacies should be dealt with…The second dismissal is that of an
immemorial habit of speech. We regard Time as a kind of stream, having
little to do with an actual mountain torrent showing white against a black
cliff or a dull-colored great river in a windy valley, but running
invariably through our chronographical landscapes. We are so used to that
mythical spectacle, so keen upon liquefying every lap of life, that we end
up by being unable to speak of Time without speaking of physical motion.
Actually, of course, the sense of its motion is derived from many natural,
or at least familiar, sources — the body’s innate awareness of its own
bloodstream, the ancient vertigo caused by rising stars, and, of course, our
methods of measurement, such as the creeping shadow line of a gnomon, the
trickle of an hourglass, the trot of a second hand — and here we are back in
Space. Note the frames, the receptacles. The idea that Time ‘flows’ as
naturally as an apple thuds down on a garden table implies that it flows in
and through something else and if we take that ‘something’ to be Space then
we have only a metaphor flowing along a yardstick.” (Ada 4)

“ 'I am not handsome, I am not interesting, I am not talented. I am not even
rich. But Lise, I offer you everything I have, to the last blood corpuscle,
to the last tear, everything…” Pnin, 3

“I can’t tell you how /] I knew — but I did know that I had crossed/ The
border. Everything I loved was lost / But no aorta could report regret./ A
sun of rubber was convulsed and set; / And blood-black nothingness began to
spin/a system of cells interlinked within/Cells interlinked within cells
interlinked / Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct/ Against the dark, a
tall white fountain played.” (PF, 698-707)

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