Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026915, Tue, 22 Mar 2016 21:24:26 +0300

Mascodagama & Ada's castle of cards
At Chose (Van’s English University) Van begins to perform in variety shows
as Mascodagama. Van (who dances on his hands) compares Mascodagama’s stunt
to Ada’s castle of cards:

We devote so much space to the description of his act not only because
variety artists of the 'eccentric' race are apt to be forgotten especially
soon, but also because one wishes to analyze its thrill. Neither a
miraculous catch on the cricket field, nor a glorious goal slammed in at
soccer (he was a College Blue in both those splendid games), nor earlier
physical successes, such as his knocking out the biggest bully on his first
day at Riverlane School, had ever given Van the satisfaction Mascodagama
experienced. It was not directly related to the warm breath of fulfilled
ambition, although as a very old man, looking back at a life of unrecognized
endeavor, Van did welcome with amused delight - more delight than he had
actually felt at the time - the banal acclaim and the vulgar envy that
swirled around him for a short while in his youth. The essence of the
satisfaction belonged rather to the same order as the one he later derived
from self-imposed, extravagantly difficult, seemingly absurd tasks when V.V.
sought to express something, which until expressed had only a twilight being
(or even none at all - nothing but the illusion of the backward shadow of
its imminent expression). It was Ada's castle of cards. It was the standing
of a metaphor on its head not for the sake of the trick's difficulty, but in
order to perceive an ascending waterfall or a sunrise in reverse: a triumph,
in a sense, over the ardis of time. Thus the rapture young Mascodagama
derived from overcoming gravity was akin to that of artistic revelation in
the sense utterly and naturally unknown to the innocents of critical
appraisal, the social-scene commentators, the moralists, the ideamongers and
so forth. 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. (1.30)

According to Ada, she was building not a castle of cards, but a Pompeian

'Fine,' said Van, 'that's certainly fascinating; but I was thinking of the
first time you might have suspected I was also a sick pig or horse. I am
recalling,' he continued, 'the round table in the round rosy glow and you
kneeling next to me on a chair. I was perched on the chair's swelling arm
and you were building a house of cards, and your every movement was
magnified, of course, as in a trance, dream-slow but also tremendously
vigilant, and I positively reveled in the girl odor of your bare arm and in
that of your hair which now is murdered by some popular perfume. I date the
event around June 10 - a rainy evening less than a week after my first
arrival at Ardis.'

'I remember the cards,' she said, 'and the light and the noise of the rain,
and your blue cashmere pullover - but nothing else, nothing odd or improper,
that came later. Besides, only in French love stories les messieurs hument
young ladies.'

'Well, I did while you went on with your delicate work. Tactile magic.
Infinite patience. Fingertips stalking gravity. Badly bitten nails, my
sweet. Forgive these notes, I cannot really express the discomfort of bulky,
sticky desire. You see I was hoping that when your castle toppled you would
make a Russian splash gesture of surrender and sit down on my hand.'

'It was not a castle. It was a Pompeian Villa with mosaics and paintings
inside, because I used only court cards from Grandpa's old gambling packs.
Did I sit down on your hot hard hand?'

'On my open palm, darling. A pucker of paradise. You remained still for a
moment, fitting my cup. Then you rearranged your limbs and reknelt.'

'Quick, quick, quick, collecting the flat shining cards again to build
again, again slowly? We were abominably depraved, weren't we?'

'All bright kids are depraved. I see you do recollect -'

'Not that particular occasion, but the apple tree, and when you kissed my
neck, et tout le reste. And then - zdravstvuyte: apofeoz, the Night of the
Burning Barn!' (1.18)

Pompeya (“Pompeii,” 1891) is a poem by Merezhkovski, Ital’yanskaya villa
(“The Italian Villa,” 1837) is a poem by Tyutchev. The phrase et tout le
reste used by Ada occurs in the last line of Verlaine’s poem Art Poétique
(1885): Et tout le reste est littérature (And all the rest is literature).
Verlaine’s poem begins: De la musique avant toute chose (Of music before
everything). The first and the last lines of Verlaine’s poem were used by
Shestov as the epigraph to Vlast’ idey (“The Power of Ideas,” 1905), a
review of Merezhkovski’s “Tolstoy and Dostoevski” (1902). Shestov is the
author of Potestas Clavium (“Power of the Keys,” 1923). Russian for
“key” and “clue,” klyuch also means “spring, source.” In that sense
the word klyuchi (pl. of klyuch) is used by Tyutchev in Silentium! (1835):

Взрывая, возмутишь ключи, \xa8C
Питайся ими \xa8C и молчи.

Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Van’s stage name hints at Vasco da Gama, the navigator who discovered the
sea route from Portugal across the continent of Africa to India. Tyutchev is
the author of Kolumb (“Columbus,” 1844).

Silentium is Greg Erminin’s motorcycle on which he arrives at the picnic on
Ada’s sixteenth birthday (1.39). Greg Erminin is Jewish. And so were Lev
Shestov (Jehuda Leyb Shvartsman, 1866-1938) and Osip Mandelshtam
(1891-1938), the poet who also wrote Silentium (1910). Mandelshtam’s poem
ends in the lines:

Останься пеной, Афродита,

И, слово, в музыку вернись,

И, сердце, сердца устыдись,

С первоосновой жизни слито!

Stay as foam Aphrodite \xa8C Art \xa8C
and return, Word, where music begins:
and, fused with life’s origins,
be ashamed heart, of heart!

In his poem V neprinuzhdyonnosti tvoryashchego obmena… (“In the Ease of
Creative Exchange…” 1908) Mandelshtam asks “who could combine Tyutchev’s
severity with Verlaine’s childishness giving to the combination his own

В непринужденности творящего обмена

Суровость Тютчева ― с ребячеством Верлэн
а ―

Скажите ― кто бы мог искусно сочетать,

Соединению придав свою печать?

А русскому стиху так свойственно величье,

Где вешний поцелуй и щебетанье птичье!

Alexey Sklyarenko

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