Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000783, Wed, 25 Oct 1995 17:26:23 -0700

RJ: Cloud, Castle, Lake" discussion (fwd)
EDITORIAL NOTE. Roy Johnson's discussion of "Cloud, Castle, Lake" has led
to a spirited and informative exchange of ideas. The posting below
continues the discussion. I find it encouraging that more people are
now being drawn into the discussion of the short stories that Roy Johnson
has launched with the regular excerpts from his book manuscript. It is
especially appropriate in view of the current publication of all 65 of
VN's stories.
Mark Levandoski <levandoski@poly.biochem.wisc.edu> writes:

I consider Nabokov's *Cloud, Castle, Lake* in a similar light
to that suggested recently by Dieter Zimmer and developed extensively in
Maxim Shrayer's article in *Nabokov Studies (v.1)*; namely, this story
contains elements of Nabokov's metaphysics in the attempt of Vasili
Ivanovich to attain the 'otherworld.' The importance of the story, and
its relationship to *Invitation to a Beheading*, is encapsulated in the
relationship of the narrator and the protagonist. Shrayer points out that
all references to this relationship in the English version are given as
Vasili Ivanovich being the 'representative' of the narrator, including,
importantly, one instance in which the original Russian would have been
more literally translated as 'employee.' Thus, there is no real indication
(as pointed out by Zimmer) that the narrator is Vasili Ivanovich's 'boss.'
This idea is not, however, unreasonable; it stems mostly, I think, from the
phrases '...as my representative, he was earning enough...,' '...repeating
that he must resign his position,' and 'Of course. I let him go.' I believe
these are deliberate textual tricks that succeed because 'representative'
has many connotations. The key is that Vasili Ivanovich 'kept on repeating
that he must resign his position, begged me to let him go, insisted that
he could not continue, that he had not the strength to belong to mankind
any longer.' It is only after this mention of belonging to mankind that
the narrator reports that he 'let him go.' The strength Vasili Ivanovich
lacked is probably that which he was about to gain in the scene describing
his epiphany: '...only entirely surrendering to an attraction the truth
of which consisted in its own strength, a strength he had never experienced
before....' Of course the themes of totalitarianism and imprisonment are
common to *Cloud, Castle, Lake* and *Invitation to a Beheading*, but the
endings of both are also directly parallel. Cincinnatus makes his way
toward 'beings akin to him,' amid the disintegration of the stage and
properties of his own execution, accomplishing this 'by [him]self.' Vasili
Ivanovich, perhaps not having suffered as much as Cincinnatus, must 'beg'
for such an end. He apparently receives it.