NABOKV-L post 0026169, Mon, 11 May 2015 13:22:31 -0300

"Monumementos" in the Gift and in Despair: self-judgements and
promotion. Correction
Former posting: Leafing thru an old copy of “The Gift” to check marginalia
and sentences I’d underlined before throwing it away, for its replacement
had just reached me, I was struck by wonder once again after finding among
the highlighted lines V.Nabokov’s concise comment on his view of Tamerlane’s
lust for power, vanity and the price paid for his conquests: “Gradually, as
a result of all these raids on the past of Russian thought, he developed a
new yearning for Russia (…)And while piling up knowledge, while extracting
his finished creation out of this mountain, he remembered something else: a
pile of stones on an Asian pass; warriors going on campaign each placed a
stone there; on the way back each took a stone from the pile; that which was
left represented forever the number of those fallen in battle. Thus in a
pile of stones Tamerlane foresaw a monument.”(The Gift, Penguin

Present posting: Here is another sentence from “The Gift” while Fyodor
attends Chernychevski’s cremation and funereal rites (Penguin, 286):

“his soul refused to budge and lay there, sleepy eyes shut, content with its
cage. The braked line from King Lear, consisting entirely of five ‘nevers’
– that was all he could think of.”

The interconnecting tunnels, golden canyons and dark caves with their echoes
in VN’s novels add a different sort of resonance to them*. Brian Boyd
observes (Cf. Ada Online <>
92.03-09: my revised monologue of his mad king . . ./. . / N’est vert, n’est
vert, n’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert:…) that Nabokov was fascinated by
this [Shakespeare’s] last line in King Lear, 5.3.306-09. He describes other
references: in “Despair he echoed Hamlet, then King Lear, then Macbeth,
when he ironically has Hermann argue against immortality […] “There is the
rub, there is the horror; the more so as the acting will go on and on,
endlessly; never, never, never, never, never will your soul in that other
world be quite sure that the sweet gentle spirits crowding about it are not
fiends in disguise, and forever, forever, and forever shall your soul remain
in doubt” (Despair 112). As noted by Brian Boyd, also in “ his discussion of
meter in his “Appendix on Prosody” to Eugene Onegin, Nabokov wrote: “ […] a
note: “Even within the last one, if we regard the famous (perhaps,
accidentally fivefold, or, perhaps, meant as a prose interpolation) ‘Never,
never, never, never, never!’ in King Lear (V, iii, 309) as a masculine line
in iambic pentameter, entirely consisting of five tilted scuds and thus
representing a maximal disembodiment of meter” (EO3.462-463 and n.) and
again, much later in Ada, we read: “Standing on a railway platform, and
feeling near-suicidal, Van in 1888 will recall Anna Karenin and Ada: “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.” (299-300).

In those moments in which the lines “never, never…” haunt a character and
there’s a reference to “soul” lying close to them, we encounter not only an
experience of another person’s death or of loss but, in a different level,
there is “disembodiment of meter.” The “soul” (mostly a damned soul) is
powerless as a guarantee for the recovery of what has been lost or for a new
encounter in the hereafter. In these instances a similar impotence may be
observed as regards the author’s theories about time and the surrounding
parallel dimension (from Henri Bergson’s ideas) concerning the formulation
“never, never, never, never, never,” since now it emphasizes the menace of a
second abyss, an irreparable void. In “Speak, Memory” he writes: “Nature
expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as
stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between […]I rebel
against this state of affairs. I feel the urge to take my rebellion outside
and picket nature. Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to
distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on
both sides of my life.” This could be why the reader in Ada inhabits the
incestuous and successful love between siblings for, in this novel,
diverging from John Shade’s moralistic and anthropomorphic hereafter, a
different immortality is granted to its lovers (a Bergsonian immortality?)
since, in Ada, V.N finally fulfilled his intention to “picket nature” to
reach “personal glimmers on both sides”. Unlike “Lolita,” where conventional
timelines rule the narrative, in “Ada” we plunge into circular or, perhaps,
spherical time surrounded by a transparent parallel dimension…


* As I see it (but I know very little about that and would love to hear a
correction) in VN’s writings one cannot simply endorse the assertion related
to dialogism: “ Every word has a history of usage to which it responds, and
anticipates a future response.” (
Nabokov’s words belong or apply to his created worlds and it’s to these that
they respond and anticipate future responses. This might occur because the
“future response” VN expects isn’t “socially minded” but derives from his
“future self,” i.e., from his most constant favorite reader.

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