NABOKV-L post 0026112, Wed, 8 Apr 2015 00:28:17 -0300

Stream of consciousness, visual puns...synesthesia? a correction
While reading through Matt Roth's blog "Kobaltana" (for Oct 04, 2013), I
came across the conjunction of “wordplay, visual puns and aesthetic rhymes”
set against the purely verbal associative “stream of consciousness” that
Nabokov criticized in James Joyce’s reproduction of Molly’s mental flow in

“Ware says Spiegelman, through Maus, ushered in a visual language of
expression that was both mature and exciting. “He actually knows what his
wordplay, visual puns and aesthetic rhymes will provoke in the reader’s
mind, and he builds on them very carefully. There are only a handful of
prose writers who can manage that; Nabokov comes to mind. In the great
debate of highbrow versus lowbrow, with comics often unfairly dumped into
the latter category, Ware notes that Nabokov himself criticised Joyce for
relying too much on language for his simulacra of streams of consciousness
in Ulysses, pointing out that humans think in pictures as well as words.”

See also:

Pity that there were no further remarks about VN’s own brief direct
rendering of this literary procedure in Ada (where it breaks off the notion
of time’s linearity by introducing, for example, a reference to one of the
novel’s initial scenes in the attic), nor on his encounter of it in
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, as mentioned in the quoted example, and in Lectures
on Literature.

ADA: “Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now!
Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end
of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus’-hair fern. She
walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy’s novel. First exponent of the
inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N’est vert,
n’est vert, n’est vert. L’arbre aux quarante écus d’or, at least in the
fall. Never, never shall I hear again her ‘botanical’ voice fall at biloba,
‘sorry, my Latin is showing.’ Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as
Salisbury’s adiantofolia, Ada’s infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream
of Consciousness, marée noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall!”

My interest on “visual puns” in V. Nabokov arose quite recently, in
association to an illustrated book by Joan Steiner and Thomas Lindley I was
reading with my grandkids. The authors created sham sceneries that look like
a “real thing”* and, although one cannot consider their illustrations as
constituting visual puns or mimetic games, their allure happened to have a
similar effect on me as when I’m reading certain passages in “Pnin” or
“Ada,” in which the subtle metamorphosis of mottled trees into dappled
patterns on wall paper or on a car boot are described. The project to
enlarge my understanding of the effects of VN’s synesthesia on the manner by
which he registers his everyday experiences in writing, hasn’t yet gained
form, but puns, visual puns in particular, and his own understanding about
what occurs in a “stream of consciousness” and in mimetism seem to be
related to it.

In V. Nabokov’s “Father’s Butterflies” we find another kind of
transformation that is not intended to be considered as the product of
artifacts mounted by human beings (except that at least one has captured
them with his imagination and acumen)

“A crawling root, the extremity of a tropical creeper vivified by the wind,
turned into a snake solely because nature, noticing movement, wished to
reproduce it, as a child amused by the flight of a forest leaf picks it up
and tosses it back up. But it is only in nature's fingers that the leaf
could turn into a Kallima. It would be more accurate to say, though, that it
was not the work of the wind, but some energizing, thought-engendering
rotation -- not just the earth's rotation, but the even force that so
festively animates the Dance of the Planets that is the universe[…] At times
nature found it amusing, or artistically valid, to retain, near a selected
species, an elegant corollary, generically quite unrelated, but simply
picked up from the ground simultaneously back in the times when a dragonfly
might simultaneously be a butterfly. Or else it pained nature to disjoin two
of its initial creations, which, despite the abyss of differences separating
them, nonetheless modulated between one another. From one angle, you see a
lichen; from another, an inchworm moth. Whatever subsequent alterations this
plant and this insect underwent, the ripply-grayish something that, in the
depths of ages, corresponded to them was conserved by nature (which had not
given up mythogenesis for the sake of scientific system, but had cunningly
united them). As soon as a creature capable of appreciating the unexpected
resemblance, its poetry and magical antiquity, had matured on earth, this
phenomenon was proffered to him by nature for admiration and amusement.”


*- Look-Alikes [See ISBN 0316713481] by Joan Steiner, Author, Thomas
Lindley, Author, Thomas Lindley, Illustrator : " In this dazzling debut,
first-time picture book author/artist Steiner employs clever visual puns to
create a whimsical parallel world. Using found objects, she painstakingly
assembles three-dimensional collages that re-create everyday scenes, then
photographs the results. What ensues is a tour de force of trompe l'oeil.
Pistachio nuts on stems form a bouquet of ""tulips"" in a hotel lobby scene,
where a tiny guest sits cozily on a ""couch"" made from a pair of cupped
gloves. A city skyline reveals a modern skyscraper composed of a stack of
CDs; two doors down a cowbell perched atop a vintage cookbook mimics the
architecture of an earlier era. Dog biscuits laid end-to-end form the
brick-like facade of yet another building, while at a park, a shoehorn
""slide"" and a sandbox made from an inverted tambourine abut a ""water
fountain"" that's really a shell perched atop a chess piece. In this world
where nothing is quite what it seems, slices of bread pave a sidewalk;
infant pacifiers double as gaslights; pretzels affixed to round crackers
become chairs at an old-fashioned soda fountain. Readers will pore over the
enchanting visual similes, nearly 100 in each scene, in their attempts to
detect each one. There's even a key at the end that offers a complete list
of the look-alikes, to ensure none are overlooked. The amount of work that
went into each tableau is staggering; the end result sheer delight. Bursting
with creativity, this work of visual genius will set imaginations soaring."

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