Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026375, Thu, 20 Aug 2015 12:18:28 -0300

Ada and Despair: " a clash of cymbals"
Reading the present English edition of "Despair" I came across a combination
of words that reminded me of certain passages in ADA (I've underlined the

ADA: "His nights in the hammock (where that other poor youth had cursed
his blood cough and sunk back into dreams of prowling black spumas and a
crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra - as suggested to him by career
physicians) were now haunted not so much by the agony of his desire for Ada,
as by that meaningless space overhead, underhead, everywhere, the demon
counterpart of divine time, tingling about him and through him, as it was to
retingle - with a little more meaning fortunately - in the last nights of a
life, which I do not regret, my love" (73.26/30, I,12);

" The unpleasant colossus kept strutting up and down the stage for a while,
then the strut changed to the restless walk of a caged madman, then he
whirled, and to a clash of cymbals in the orchestra and a cry of terror
(perhaps faked) in the gallery, Mascodagama turned over in the air and stood
on his head." (p.183, I,30)

and Darkbloom's note: "p.61. horsecart: an old anagram. It leads here to a
skit on Freudian dream charades ('symbols in an orchal orchestra'), p.62."*


Btw: Spuma seems to be related to "foam", as it might have been found in
uncle Ivan's blood cough. However, a resulting wordplay may falsely
associate two words (foam and spit).
In Latin there is "spuma" (foam) related to "pumex,pumicis" (pumice). These
foamy sputters were once thought to be related to "spuere" (spit) and to
"exspumare" (fester), but this is a mistaken comparison ( if my source is
correct), for "spuere" derives from the Greek "Spyeu" (related, in fact, to
hemoptisis, one of the symptoms of tuberculosis and of Van's uncle Ivan's


The irresistible "Freudian" sound-play with an "orchal orchestra" probably
refers to the Greek orkhis (genitive orkheos) "orchid," literally
"testicle," from PIE *orghi-, the standard root for "testicle
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=orchid and, like Darkbloom, I don't
see where this sexual "crashing cymbal" fits in. Nevertheless, if one
abandons the critical suggestion of some Freudian "clashing symbols,"
perhaps there's another inroad into the "horsecart/orchestral" noise, as
found in the paragraph from "Despair".
The striking similarity and apparent importance of the words "orchestra,
cymbals, crash" cannot be easily dismissed.

(It's also interesting to consider that Mascodagama's act, strangely related
to the hammock scene, is presented as causing fright in small children who
could be watching a strong male's somersault which later, in an inverted
stance, will reveal him wearing women's clothes (cf. p.183). Or something

In the novel these words allude to the noises of an operatic tenor's angry
scolding, a "vocal outburst" interspersed with orchestral rumbles that end
with a crash of cymbals. These may describe and reproduce the tone of verbal
intimidation imprinted on a terrified child's recollection after it has
heard a family fight, witnessed some other kind of intercourse or while the
infant is being reprimanded.

Here are the lines from DESPAIR:

"Placing one foot on the footboard of the car and like an enraged tenor
slashing my hand with the glove I had taken off, I glared steadily at Felix.
Grinning uncertainly, he came out of the ditch.
"You scoundrel," I uttered through my teeth with extraordinary
operatic force, "you scoundrel and double-crosser," I repeated, now giving
my voice full scope and slashing myself with the glove still more furiously
(all was rumble and thunder in the orchestra between my vocal outbursts).
"How did you dare blab, you cur? How did you dare, how did you dare ask
others for advice, boast that you had had your way and that at such a date
and at such a place-Oh, you deserve to be shot!"-(growing din, clangor, and
then again my voice)-"Much have you gained, idiot! The game's up, you've
blundered badly, not a groat will you see, baboon!" (crash of cymbals in the
orchestra)." Cf. VN, "Despair" ch.9.


* Cf. notes from Brian Boyd ADA Online:

<http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada112.htm> 72.19-20: had awoken once
because a stink-bomb had burst among the instruments in the horsecart:
Darkbloom: "horsecart: an old anagram. It leads here to a skit on Freudian
dream charades ('symbols in an orchal orchestra')." Cf. 73.26-30 and nn.
Both passages anticipate Van's later work as a psychologist, especially his
attack on Freudian and other symbolism in dreams, 363.03-364.07. MOTIF:
<http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm> dream.

<http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada130.htm> 183.34: to a clash of symbols in
the orchestra: Cf. 73.28-29: "a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra.

**" "Van on the stage was performing organically what his figures of
speech were to perform later in life - acrobatic wonders that had never been
expected from them and which frightened children." It is not clear to me,
though, what final image is suggested by Van's maniambulatory act: I've seen
images of performances of a tuxedoed actor dancing with a female puppet who
then turns upside down and reveals a single male acrobat, but Van Veen
tangoed with Rita, a real dancer. I've seen puppets that, when turned upside
down, become their opposites (the red-riding hood and the wolf; an angel and
a demon, a male and a female, etc. ) All I know is that VV enters on stage
looking like a giant, then he dances with Rita and there's a crashing
noise: he stands on his feet and .what is then discovered by the astonished
audience ?

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