NABOKV-L post 0007094, Sat, 16 Nov 2002 08:19:23 -0800

Brian Boyd: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust
----- Original Message -----
EDNOTE. In reply to Jerry (Friedman, was it?), I preface Brian Boyd's
posting by remarking that much of my old book _Worlds in Regression_ is
devoted to showing that VN's wordplay is very much "thematic" and not merely
fancy fun--although it is that as well.
From: "Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)" <>
To: "'Vladimir Nabokov Forum'" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>

> Since Jerry wants VN's wordplay to do something (double back on itself,
> reinforce itself, be paradoxical), can I suggest it does?
> Here are two aspects of Temnosiniy (apart from the compound play on the
> comically improbable but as it turns out surprisingly actual Russian noble
> name Temnosiniy [imagine being tricked into snorting at the absurdity, in
> thoroughly English novel, of naming a character Lord Darkblue--and then
> discovering that there WAS such an English noble family], and the compound
> play on Proust, both already discussed) that might suggest Nabokov's
> word-play is not inert. Both are from my Annotations to ADA in The
> Nabokovian or updated:
> [from the gloss on pp. [vii-viii], Family Tree, top line, Prince Vseslav
> Zemski and Princess Sofia Temnosiniy]:
> First, Russian Zemski ("earthly") derives from the root zem, "earth,
> land" (as in zemlya, "earth, land,"; zemskiy, zemnoy "earthly") and
> Temnosiniy, "dark blue," is the "traditional epithet for the sky" (Johnson
> 1985:129). In this sense the Veen family tree evokes old cosmogonies, as
> the Veens represented a whole world-as in some sense they do.
> Specifically the beginning of the family tree with a Zemski and a
> Temnosiniy (and the bracketing of the first chapter with these names:
> 9.14-18) evokes the myth of Terra and Coelus, Earth and Sky, most
> pertinently summarized in the following excerpt from the novel Pierre, or
> the Ambiguities (1852), by Herman Melville (1819-91), which Nabokov
> to in Lolita I.9, and which plays with the shadow of brother-sister incest
> between the American aristocrat Pierre Glendinning and his illegitimate
> half-sister, Isabel Banford. In a dream-vision Pierre sees an outcrop on
> old family lands as representing represent "Enceladus the Titan, the most
> potent of all the giants, writhing from out the imprisoning earth . . .
> deathless son of Terra" (Pierre, in Herman Melville, Pierre, Israel
> The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Uncollected Prose, Billy Budd,
> ed. Harrison Hayford [New York: Library of America, 1984], XXV.iv, 400),
> then ruminates on the fable: "Old Titan's self was the son of incestuous
> Coelus and Terra, the son of incestuous Heaven and Earth. And Titan
> his mother Terra, another and accumulatively incestuous match. And thereof
> Enceladus was one issue. So Enceladus was both the son and grandson of an
> incest; and even thus, there had been born from the organic blended
> heavenliness and earthiness of Pierre, another mixed, uncertain,
> heaven-aspiring, but still not wholly earth-emancipated mood; which again,
> by its terrestrial taint held down to its terrestrial mother, generated
> there the present doubly incestuous Enceladus within him; so that the
> present mood of Pierre-that reckless sky-assaulting mood of his, was
> nevertheless on one side the grandson of the sky." (XXV.v, 402)
> gloss on 8.20, "by the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother":
> Van says "the sea, his dark-blue great-grandmother" in allusion to the
> opening chapter of another famous novel, Ulysses (pub. 1922), by James
> (1882-1941). In the opening chapter Buck Mulligan, looking seaward, and
> Van and Ada also showing off in the first conversation in the novel,
> exclaims: "Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The
> snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton."
> ([Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986], 4; 1.77-78) "Algy" here is Algernon
> Swinburne (1837-1909): "I will go back to the great sweet mother, / Mother
> and lover of men, the sea" ("The Triumph of Time," pub. 1866, ll. 257-58).
> "Epi oinopa ponton" means "over the wine-dark sea," a Homeric formula
> recurring throughout the Odyssey.
> Although the Ulysses allusion is unmistakable, the Byron Jerry points to
> also be there.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: D. Barton Johnson []
> Sent: Saturday, November 16, 2002 12:43 PM
> Subject: Fw: Fw: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Jerry Friedman" <>
> To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
> > ----------------- Message requiring your approval (63
> lines) ------------------
> > ...
> >
> > > ----- Original Message -----
> > > From: alex
> > > To: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
> > > Sent: Monday, November 04, 2002 5:55 PM
> > > Subject: Colors and shades: the Temnosiniy and Proust allusions
> >
> > [big snip]
> >
> > > Do you still find Nabokov's wordplay unrewarding? Don't you think
> > > is well worth to learn a couple of languages so as to be able to read
> > > wonderful books in them and to enjoy Nabokov still more immensly?
> >
> > This is probably addressed to me, as Mary Bellino's question was.
> > I knew I shouldn't have said that I find a lot of Nabokov's wordplay
> > unsatisfying, because people would call me on it! I should have
> > just said that when the question whether Nabokov meant some
> > suggested wordplay, my opinion isn't worth much because my taste is
> > different from his.
> >
> > Anyway, since you ask, yes, I'm sure I'd find more to enjoy in
> > Nabokov's English writing if I knew Russian.
> >
> > On the other hand, the "temnosiniy" connections (which I thank you
> > for, Alex!) are a perfect example of wordplay that leaves me
> > unsatisfied. If I may summarize it: Among Van's ancestors we find
> > a real but extinct Russian patrician surname whose English
> > translation is "dark blue". In a poem by a Russian poet who,
> > Alex tells us, is alluded to repeatedly in _Ada_, that word occurs
> > in an image of death as "dark blue night". This "night" is picked
> > up later in _Ada_ in the phrase "Oceanus Nox" in connection with
> > death. (Lucette's, right? I don't remember _Ada_ very well.)
> >
> > Nothing there doubles back on itself, or reinforces itself, or is
> > paradoxical, or anything else that I'd enjoy. What helps a little
> > is that dark blue, the ocean, and death remind me of some of Byron's
> > most famous lines:
> >
> > Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean - roll!
> > Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
> > Man marks the earth with ruin - his control
> > Stops with the shore; - upon the watery plain
> > The wrecks are all thy deed, nor does remain
> > A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
> > When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
> > He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
> > Without a grave, unknell'd, uncoffin'd, and unknown.
> >
> > _Childe Harold's Pilgrimage_, Canto the Second, CLXXIX, thanks to
> > <>.
> >
> > For all I know the scene may have other references to Byron (Spenser,
> > Berlioz, Don Juan...) or his alleged incest with his half-sister, or
> > his daughter Ada Lovelace, which would help even more. But there's
> > still not enough for me. In contrast, I like "eavesdrop; cavesdrop".
> >
> > Jerry Friedman
> >
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