Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026931, Thu, 31 Mar 2016 22:46:15 -0300

L Lettrocalamity and Kim's flashing bulbs
Reading Brian’s annotations in print in “The Nabokovian” has been a source
of detailed information and surprise since my early acquaintance with the
magazine and the VN-L. These experiences are, for me, quite diferent from
the equally instigating ones obtained by reading AdaOnline and, of course,
some of the separate articles and the thematic book “Nabokov’s Ada, the
Place of Consciousness” - but I cannot explain why, except by a sort of
“lack of immediacy”.

This time, while I was going through BBÂ’s Annotations (284.31;284.31-32 in
particular) a word, quite accidentally, got stuck in my consciousness. As
Brian observes: “Note the pun on flash-back (and lightning flash)” [ ] “
the word ‘flashback’ itself offers a clue to how the lightning will strike:
it occurs four times in an earlier scene” (201.04-11). Therefore, I
obediently checked VN’s uses of the word “flash” and noticed that he employs
it in the sense of: a quick glance, a warning look, speed, a sudden
illumination, sheet lightning, flash-bulbs and flash-back/flash-forward.

Because of relation of the flash-bulb to photography I selected a few
references in ADA to this theme, moving from young Kim’s “flashes” to
Lettrocalamity. I came across several anachronistic details related to
photography itself (there are a couple of references to an imaginary
predecessor and to the Lumière Brothers - & what an apposite name they
have...) * How can the “unmentionable lammer”, the “antiamberians” and
“Lettrocalamity prohibitions” connect with a photographer’s flash in the
early days in Ardis?
Such flashes were originally produced by chemical reactions (magnesium,
cobalt) but, in one way or another, they are related to man-controlled
electricity. How did a humble kitchen-boy get hold of such efficient
technology to obtain clear and compromising photographs?

“…technologists (the so-called Eggheads) all over the world were trying to
make publicly utile and commercially rewarding the extremely elaborate and
still very expensive, hydrodynamic telephones and other miserable gadgets
that were to replace those that had gone k chertyam sobach’im (Russian ‘to
the devil’) with the banning of an unmentionable ‘lammer.’.” (Ada - 1,3) //
“Note p.25. lammer: amber (Fr: l’ambre), allusion to

[…] “There he sprawled, curled up, uncurled, turned off and turned on the
bedside light (a gurgling new surrogate — real lammer having been forbidden
again by 1930), and physical despair pervaded his unresolvable being.”(5,2)

“Van regretted that because Lettrocalamity (Vanvitelli’s old joke!**) was
banned all over the world, its very name having become a ‘dirty word’ among
upper-upper-class families [Â…] and had been replaced by elaborate surrogates
only in those very important ‘utilities’ — telephones, motors — what else? —
well a number of gadgets for which plain folks hanker [Â…] such trifles as
tape recorders, the favorite toys of his and AdaÂ’s grandsires [Â…] were not
manufactured any more, except in Tartary where they had evolved ‘minirechi’
(‘talking minarets’) of a secret make. Had our erudite lovers been allowed
by common propriety and common law to knock into working order the
mysterious box they had once discovered in their magic attic, they might
have recorded (so as to replay, eight decades later) Giorgio VanvitelliÂ’s
arias as well as Van VeenÂ’s conversations with his sweetheart.[ ]ADA 1,24
// Note p.118. Lettrocalamity: a play on Ital. elettrocalamita,
electromagnet. (Darkbloom).

‘What was that?’ exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more
than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.

‘Sheet lightning,’ suggested Van.

‘If you ask me,’ said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing
drapery, ‘I’d guess it was a photographer’s flash. After all, we have here a
famous actress and a sensational acrobat.Â’ (1,38)


* “…‘Sumerechnikov! He took sumerographs of Uncle Vanya years ago.’ / ‘The
Twilight before the Lumières.” (2,7);
“ … nicely brailled books on new processes in chromophotography.’/ There are
other possible forkings and continuations that occur to the dream-mind, but
these will do.” (2,11).

**-Vanvitelli was an architect, an engineer with a special interest in
hydraulics, book collector, musician, printerÂ…Cf

Calamita in Italian indicates magnets and magnetism, as Darkbloom points
out. It is also related to “calamity” (would this double meaning be seen as
Vanvitelli’s “joke”?).
Cf. also Pale Fire’s commentaries by Kinbote: “Science tells us, by the way,
that the Earth would not merely fall apart, but vanish like a ghost, if
Electricity were suddenly removed from the world.” (line 347). In “ADA”, the
fictional removal of electric devices (“electricity”) is distinct from those
that arise after the abolishment of “electromagnetism”, I suppose. Does VN
intend to put them together?

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