Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026184, Mon, 18 May 2015 21:26:37 -0300

Despair, Verzweiflung, Otchayanie: different readings
IÂ’m still unable to find the etymology of the Russian word Otchayanie or to
confirm its links with the German Verzweiflung and Zweifel. I did find two
different hints in V.NabokovÂ’s 1932 text. Anguish, as when he observes in
the foreword to his translation, that in Russian there’s a “far more
sonorous howl” than in the English “Despair”. Then we meet a clear reference
to Doubt (Zweifel) allied to Hopelessness (Despair): “ Listen, listen! I
bent over the shattered remains of my marvelous thing, and an accursed voice
shrieked into my ear that the rabble which refused me recognition was
perchance right.Â… Yes, I fell to doubting everything, doubting essentials,
and I understood that what little life still lay before me would be solely
devoted to a futile struggle against that doubt; and I smiled the smile of
the condemned and in a blunt pencil that screamed with pain wrote swiftly
and boldly on the first page of my work: “Despair”; no need to look for a
better title.” (Chapter 11, Despair).

In FassbinderÂ’s interpretation, following the hint obtained from the
artists he paid homage to in his movie (Van Gogh, Antonin Artaud and Unica
ZĂĽrn who passed from madness into suicide) and considering the subtitle the
director added to the film (“A Journey Into the Light”), madness is a
positive side of the creative genius. This is confirmed by the last scene
from FassbinderÂ’s movie in which Hermann is bathed in brightness when he
opens the window and sees the policemen surround the hotel. Gone are
Hermann’s anxieties and pain caused by despair after seeing his “master
piece,” the perfect murder and Felix’s immobile dead face, irrevocably
flawed. He no longer “smiles the smile of the condemned” (these elements,
related to what has been V.NabokovÂ’s main project, were omitted but V.
Nabokov wasnÂ’t around to watch them nor careÂ…).
If in Fassbinder, Hermann has “journeyed into the light,” in the novel this
additional philosophical proposition is absent. We read about a momentary
flash of compunction (“What on earth have I done?”) and soon after that come
the final lines: “Maybe it is all mock existence, an evil dream; and
presently I shall wake up somewhere; on a patch of grass near Prague. A good
thing, at least, that they brought me to bay so speedily./ I have peeped
again. Standing and staring. There are hundreds of them—men in blue, women
in black, butcher boys, flower girls, a priest, two nuns, soldiers,
carpenters, glaziers, postmen, clerks, shopkeepers Â… But absolute quiet;
only the swish of their breathing. How about opening the window and making a
little speech.…/ “Frenchmen! This is a rehearsal. Hold those policemen. A
famous film actor will presently come running out of this house. He is an
arch-criminal but he must escape. You are asked to prevent them from
grabbing him. This is part of the plot. French crowd! I want you to make a
free passage for him from door to car. Remove its driver! Start the motor!
Hold those policemen, knock them down, sit on them—we pay them for it. This
is a German company, so excuse my French. Les preneurs de vues, my
technicians and armed advisers are already among you. Attention! I want a
clean getaway. That’s all. Thank you. I’m coming out now.”


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