Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005790, Fri, 2 Mar 2001 07:39:34 -0800

Re: Nabokov, S. Holmes and SCIENCE (fwd)
From: "Brian Boyd (FOA ENG)" <b.boyd@auckland.ac.nz>

China, New Wye, New Jersey, Zembla

Vladimir Mylnikov's comment that he always wondered "what China was doing in
that passage" ("Finding your China right behind my house," in the second
verse paragraph of "Pale Fire") made me think I had better point out what
has always seemed to me the obvious referent (only because I happened to
know it). Which of course does not "irrelevate" Don Johnson's point that
some species of pheasant originate in China.

Nabokov liked the poet Richard Wilbur (whom he knew personally), and so I
think will you.

"Digging for China" appeared in Wilbur's aptly entitled 1956 collection
Things of This World, where it immediately followed his translation of a key
Nabokovian text, Baudelaire's "L'Invitation au Voyage," which ends, in his
version, "There [tam, là-bas], there is nothing else but grace and measure,
/ Richness, quietness, and pleasure." Then comes

Digging for China

"Far enough down is China," somebody said.
"Dig deep enough and you might see the sky
As clear as at the bottom of a well.
Except it would be real-a different sky.
Then you could burrow down until you came
To China! Oh, it's nothing like New Jersey,
There's people, trees, and houses, and all that,
But much, much different. Nothing looks the same."

I went and got the trowel out of the shed
And sweated like a coolie all that morning,
Digging a hole beside the lilac-bush,
Down on my hands and knees. It was a sort
Of praying, I suspect. I watched my hand
Dig deep and darker, and I tried and tried
To dream a place where nothing was the same.
The trowel never did break through to blue.

Before the dream could weary of itself
My eyes were tired of looking into darkness,
My sunbaked head of hanging down a hole.
I stood up in a place I had forgotten,
Blinking and staggering while the earth went round
And showed me silver barns, the fields dozing
In palls of brightness, patens growing and gone
In the tides of leaves, and the whole sky china blue.
Until I got my balance back again
All that I saw was China, China, China.

Interesting correlations with the "gradual and dual blue" of the "China"
verse paragaph in "Pale Fire," and the "reflected sky" of Shade's opening
paragraph; with Zembla, another blue remoteness, located right beside
Shade's house; with Shade's dizzy spells at boyhood play , when he feels
"distributed through space and time, . . . One ear in Italy, one eye in
Spain"; and generally with the Nabokovian and Shadean theme of the
unimaginably remote in the immediate, surrounding the sometimes cramped
house of life, etc.

Re Kurt's posting: How wonderful to think Conan Doyle (who became obsessed
with spiritualism, did he not, in later life?) might have rigged this most
successful of scientific hoaxes!

-----Original Message-----
From: Galya Diment [mailto:galya@u.washington.edu]
Sent: Thursday, 1 March 2001 4:04 p.m.
Subject: Nabokov, S. Holmes and SCIENCE (fwd)

From: Kurt Johnson <johnsonmejias@msn.com>

I see the Nabokov/ Sherlock Holmes thread has survived until today. So I
must convey a short story about the Sherlock Holmes connection to science of
which few of you are probably aware. I'll be brief, but it's fascinating.
One of the most notorious scientific frauds concerns the famous British
fossils of the "Piltdown Man". The skull was found just a piece down the
road from Arthur Conan Doyle's English estate. For years this skull, housed
in the British Museum, was considered authentic and confused the
evolutionary scheme of Homo sapiens. The confusion continued because the BM
would never allow outside scientists to see the original skull. They would
only allow casts to be examined. Eventually, when these "dukes" of the old
British establishment died off, outsiders were allowed to see the skull and
it was quickly show to be a clever fraud.... clever, but to modern
techniques obviously a fraud. The question of who forged the Piltdown
skull then bothered science for!
many years and a spate of books were written about it. The discoverers of
the skull were, again oddly, the Jesuit theologian/paleontologist Teilhard
de Chardin (author of the famous book The Phenomenon of Man), along with two
famous British paleontologists of the British Museum, both who seemed beyond
reproach but who WERE competitors. One book, The Piltdown Men, suggested
that one of the BM scientists planted the skull to embarrass his competitor
who, he thought, would end up taking the blame when the fraud was exposed.
However, when the forgery was never exposed, he had to die never revealing
this hidden secret. Stephen Jay Gould, in Natural History, during his
Marxist phase, fingered Teilhard, the Jesuit,...suggesting the usual
corruption inherent in religious adherents. However, a recent review of the
subject, the name of which excapes me at the moment, suggested that Conan
Doyle himself may have concocted the skull and placed it in the pit near his
home-- hoping to !
"plant" at least one other great mystery on par with his character
it was worth writing down. It would have never come up without the VN, S
Holmes thread.

Kurt Johnson<br clear=all><hr>Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at <a