NABOKV-L post 0017389, Wed, 26 Nov 2008 15:04:24 -0200

[NABOKOV-L] A secondary sighting
Dear List,

A few days ago, while rummaging in the attic, I discovered an old magazine bearing an excellent essay to celebrate TRLSK - set in comparison with revealing excerpts from Speak Memory - by Fernando Monteiro. Needless to say, I went back after more surprises.
I discovered that Monteiro had received a special prize in 1999 and that he'd written another essay on Borges in 1998. Perhaps his immersion in both authors led him to formulate his conclusions on JLB in a way that was suggestive of VN's mood ( H.Bloom's theory of influence?)
I retrieved one of B.Boyd's quotes, where VN speaks about Borges: "At first VĂ©ra and I were delighted by reading him. We felt we were on a portico, but we have learned that there was no house," Time, May 23, 1969, p. 83.Cp. with Monteiro's words, on "[the Argentine author, who sculpts] doors of unreality whose promise is soon exhausted on its other side ( in the original: "portas de estranheza cuja promessa logo se esgota do outro lado." ).
Of course, I cannot agree with either VN or Monteiro, although Borges is not an author whose short-stories can be read with profit when the reader attempts more than one or two in a single day:they demand a particular "timelessness" from his reader.

A.Sklyarenko has recently brought to our attention VN's "Lik" ( written in 1939), in relation to Borges. He asked: "if I were an Anglophone VN fan with no Russian, I would have asked Dmitriy Vladimirovich, if he plans to translate Zud (it had appeared in 1940 in Novoe Russkoe Slovo and was reprinted in Volume V of the Symposium edition of VN's works, in the Notes section) into English?" ( Had I known about it before AS mentioned this story, I would have asked Dmitri for a translation of Zud before now: how about that additional project, DN?)
There are also outstanding resemblances bt. LIK and VN's later work in "Transparent Things". This subject is related to Sandy P. Klein's post of Nov.16, under the heading of "Nabokov once dismissed his reviewers ..." and Listers comments on "thin ice" and VN's "film", as in "if you stop and stare at any one spot for too long, you'll crack the surface of the ice and fall through." Cf. former postings by Sergei Soloviev and Stan K-B.
Check SK's original reference to:

TT: "A thin veneer of immediate reality," ". is spread over natural and artificial things, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now should please not break its tension film. Otherwise the inexperienced miracle worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish."*
LIK:"Lik might hope [...] to tread, as it were, on a quicksandy spot; something would give, and he would sink forever in a newborn element, unlike anything known[...] find himself in a world of ineffable tenderness - a bluish, delicate world where fabulous adventures of the senses occur, and unheard-of metamorphoses of the mind [...] he would not notice his death, crossing over instead into the actual world of a chance play, now blooming anew because of his arrival [p.461...] "Koldunov...his was that peculiarly Russian hopelessness of the seemingly bewitched dunce as he sinks, in a vertical position, through the transparent strata of several repeated classes...[p.465]
Other samples from TT:
On a pencil: "It was not a hexagonal beauty of Virginia juniper or African cedar [...]Now comes the act of attention[...] It issues in one continuous appetizing rodlet (watch for our little friend!), which looks as if it retained the shape of an earthworm's digestive tract (but watch, watch, do not be deflected!)[...] Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead [...] Here's the tree![...] We recognize its presence in the log as we recognized the log in the tree and the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built. We recognize that presence by something that is perfectly clear to us but nameless, and as impossible to describe as a smile to somebody who has never seen smiling eyes [...] Thus the entire little drama, from crystallized carbon and felled pine to this humble implement, to this transparent thing, unfolds in a twinkle. Alas, the solid pencil itself as fingered briefly by Hugh Person still somehow eludes us! But he won't, oh no."
On love: "For optical and animal reasons sexual love is less transparent than many other much more complicated things"

* -
BTW: In TT we find the word "meniscus" applied to the shape of the moon. It is also applicable to the "thin veneer" that shapes a film of water. "Meniscus" was discussed here in 2005 or so: "the thin meniscus overhead was too wan to illumine the roofs of the houses descending toward the invisible lake; the light of a garage picked out the steps of desolate stairs leading into a chaos of shadows; it was all very dismal and very distant, and our acrophobic Person felt the pull of gravity inviting him to join the night and his father."

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: